Are A levels very very simple? (This is an interesting case)

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jay71483
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Hello all,

Today let me admit I am going to ask a potentially weird question. One of my friends who had done A levels a year ago (Chemistry, Biology, Music) recently claimed that it is 100% (and not 99%, as he says) possible to score a perfect A* in all A levels without working too hard. According to him, Chemistry was the simplest A-level exam ever (he got A*A*A* by the way).

Now this is not to say that he was a super-kid. He (shockingly to me) claims that "A-level has nothing which makes it difficult to the extent that you can even miss one mark if you just simply read everything from the "thin" coursebook carefully"....further adding that the thin coursebook is far too less for a curriculum for 12th graders.

I was completely surprised and I did some research about A levels and the education systems of different countries. (I found India and China are the hardest systems in the world). Then I found some answers on Quora that high-school students from the US claim that A levels are a bit harder than what they study for their high school diploma. This simply threw me off! I looked at A level papers, but can't really figure out how hard or easy it is from my eyes as I already know all the concepts and even more advanced concepts at my level. I have no idea how hard it is for high-schoolers. One thing, though, which I noticed is that A levels do not have as much the syllabus as I encountered in India nor did they have as much requirement for exam preparation as in India.

(1) So my question is that whether A-levels are really that simple? (If yes, then I can't comprehend why US people say their diploma is easier)

(2) Is it the case that UK students are given really less material to read right from GCSEs that they face A levels with difficulty?

(3) By the way, do you require any additional book except your coursebook to get a guaranteed A* ? Perhaps that would help answering the question, as in India it is very very hard to do well without what we call "reference books", which have information in more detail than in the textbook.

I am really curious about this.

Thanks and stay safe!
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999tigger
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(Original post by jay71483)
Hello all,

Today let me admit I am going to ask a potentially weird question. One of my friends who had done A levels a year ago (Chemistry, Biology, Music) recently claimed that it is 100% (and not 99%, as he says) possible to score a perfect A* in all A levels without working too hard. According to him, Chemistry was the simplest A-level exam ever (he got A*A*A* by the way).

Now this is not to say that he was a super-kid. He (shockingly to me) claims that "A-level has nothing which makes it difficult to the extent that you can even miss one mark if you just simply read everything from the "thin" coursebook carefully"....further adding that the thin coursebook is far too less for a curriculum for 12th graders.

I was completely surprised and I did some research about A levels and the education systems of different countries. (I found India and China are the hardest systems in the world). Then I found some answers on Quora that high-school students from the US claim that A levels are a bit harder than what they study for their high school diploma. This simply threw me off! I looked at A level papers, but can't really figure out how hard or easy it is from my eyes as I already know all the concepts and even more advanced concepts at my level. I have no idea how hard it is for high-schoolers. One thing, though, which I noticed is that A levels do not have as much the syllabus as I encountered in India nor did they have as much requirement for exam preparation as in India.

(1) So my question is that whether A-levels are really that simple? (If yes, then I can't comprehend why US people say their diploma is easier)

(2) Is it the case that UK students are given really less material to read right from GCSEs that they face A levels with difficulty?

(3) By the way, do you require any additional book except your coursebook to get a guaranteed A* ? Perhaps that would help answering the question, as in India it is very very hard to do well without what we call "reference books", which have information in more detail than in the textbook.

I am really curious about this.

Thanks and stay safe!
1. Part of the issue with A level is that you have to learn a lot, but an exam paper may only cover a small part of the spec. Imo that makes it harder because if you havent learned that part then you are in big trouble.
2. Dont kniow I get the feeling you are misguiding yourself. they are differe nnt exams for different age groups. A levels are a nig step up because rather than value memorisiation they are more about individual thought and application.
3. Depends what your coursebook and subjetcs are. Certain subjects you will be expected to read beyond. Again it depends whether your textbooks are comparable.

I'm not sure your comparison will work as I get the feeling you have a misunderstanding what they are and how they fit in.
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A-levels are 100% harder than American Exams no doubt IMO especially if you want to do your A-levels in England
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A-levels are hard, but it will depend on you as a person. Take someone who struggles with their mental health, they may be unmotivated and constantly fatigued, a-levels are going to be way harder for them than the average person (sometimes, of course, not always).
Also depends on the subjects you take, what if you take essay heavy subjects to find out you don't enjoy them? Or a mathsy subject and see that you aren't good at it and would be better suited to a more essay based subject? Vice Versa.

The consensus from every student I've ever spoken to is that a-levels are hard, I've never heard anyone say they're easy.
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(Original post by 1st superstar)
A-levels are 100% harder than American Exams no doubt IMO especially if you want to do your A-levels in England
Multiple-choice SATs compared to long answer A-Levels. :lol:
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If you're someone preparing to take the IIT-JEE Advanced, Korea's CSAT or the gaokao, I would hope that A Level content and questions seemed trivial. Those pre-university exams, administered in Asia, are in a league of their own; however, that does not necessarily mean that A Levels are ‘easy’ or incredibly accessible objectively. That is next to impossible to determine.

I still occasionally see debates about whether the IB Diploma or A Level route is more ‘demanding’, ‘gruelling’ or ‘rigorous’. Here is the thing that we sometimes forget though: difficulty is subjective. In fact, I could argue that the term can appear to be rather vague at times. It really comes down to perception, which depends upon the pupil. Are they more suited to exams? Are they more suited to non-exam assessment? Do they have a good work ethic? Are they motivated? These questions themselves are inherently subjective. It's not something that can be measured and quantified.

Due to the subjective nature of this question, I don't think you will ever get a ‘true’ or ‘definite’ answer. I apologise in advance if this is not what you were looking for, but I think it's the fairest way to address such a question.
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(Original post by 5hyl33n)
Multiple-choice SATs compared to long answer A-Levels. :lol:
LOL on top of that:
1. You get told EXACTLY what you need to revise sometimes or heck even what questions will come up!!.
2. You sometimes get this thing called a “cheatsheet” whereby you can write down anything you can’t remember for the exams (e.g you get this for Maths exams apparently) and you TAKE it in to the exam, here you can’t even have a label on your water bottle!!
3. You don’t have to do long 2hr exams back-to-back for 2-5 weeks
4. The exams are modular i think? Or you only tested on one topic at a time just like in Wales and N.I
5. Here you get some thick *** paper for them it’s like what maybe 5 double sided pages max although i could be VERY wrong
6. You can drop out of ANY subject etc
7. The questions are easier e.g for English in America a 15-16 year old kid is not expected to write a 3-4 page essay on a 100-400 year old book. The questions are multiple choice (read an extract then pick ONE from letter A-F as your answer)
Ngl Americans have it way easier than people in England so IMO if I were to have a child in America I would expect nothing less than Straight A’s/A*’s from them.
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jay71483
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(Original post by Tolgarda)
If you're someone preparing to take the IIT-JEE Advanced, Korea's CSAT or the gaokao, I would hope that A Level content and questions seemed trivial. Those pre-university exams, administered in Asia, are in a league of their own; however, that does not necessarily mean that A Levels are ‘easy’ or incredibly accessible objectively. That is next to impossible to determine.

I still occasionally see debates about whether the IB Diploma or A Level route is more ‘demanding’, ‘gruelling’ or ‘rigorous’. Here is the thing that we sometimes forget though: difficulty is subjective. In fact, I could argue that the term can appear to be rather vague at times. It really comes down to perception, which depends upon the pupil. Are they more suited to exams? Are they more suited to non-exam assessment? Do they have a good work ethic? Are they motivated? These questions themselves are inherently subjective. It's not something that can be measured and quantified.

Due to the subjective nature of this question, I don't think you will ever get a ‘true’ or ‘definite’ answer. I apologise in advance if this is not what you were looking for, but I think it's the fairest way to address such a question.
Tolgarda and everyone else thank you for your answers.

First of all, you don't need to apologise at all as you did answer my question in the best way possible. Thank you!

I am not preparing for those Asian exams, rather I have done them some years ago. They were hell, as you might be knowing already. There are equivalent exams to A-levels in India and of course you are not confusing them with those entrance exams, although I will definitely say neither of them were easy.

You seem to appreciate the fact that for IIT JEE/gaokao aspirants, A levels are as easy as standing up or sitting down. Anyone else who is reading this, in case you are baffled, this is true. The reason for this is that they are "trained" to outperform other students in the exams so rigorously and insanely that there is no time for appreciating whatever they are studying. [Note this isn't about the equivalent exam of A-level in India] So it is totally natural they will certainly know the answers to "technical" questions without even thinking as they have practiced nearly a thousand similar problems before appearing in the exams. So basically, they are "drilled" throughout their high school years. Not all students take that journey though. And my friend had got All-India-Rank 10 in IIT JEE.

Tolgarda, since you apparently know about this with quite an insight, might I ask for your opinion about the following?

I understand that hard or easy are not objective things. They depend on the student and the state of mind they are studying with and lots of other criteria. But millions of students across Asia give either IIT JEE, gaokao and the South Korean one. Also, their equivalent high school final exams are also comparably tough but not as much as those "hell" entrance exams. These Asian students are drilled so much that they probably think that A-levels are trivial. This is just my theory. I am not `100% sure about this. But even if this is true, (1) does this mean that "the average" student in the UK (or the Western World) claim something to be hard or difficult or challenging (in technical aspects) while the average Asian student feels it is very obvious? I saw a mechanics problem in Physics A level past year paper. I would rate it moderately hard. But at the same time if you just take a look at IIT JEE mechanics problems, you would think that if one can do IIT JEE, there is no chance one could fail in A-levels or lose even a single mark in A-levels (my friend's quote). (2) Am I wrong to imply that Asian students' brains are technically fast (of course they are trained to become technically fast) than Western students' brains (just because they are not exposed to rigorous training)? Innovation does not depend upon how fast one can think or how difficult a problem one can solve on the test (this is the reason the East barely matches the West in creativity and scientific progress). But my question is are Asians technically over-trained or are Westerners technically lowly trained? Is it the case that western students are too lazy or take things for granted that they consider even moderately difficult things as hard? You can take an average UK student to study this question as there is no hard or easy for students who are passionate about their chosen subject. (average in the sense that they like the subject but they are not extremely mathematical or analytically gifted, you know, things like that)

I would really appreciate if you could answer that and that would really solve my curiosity about my friend's quote.

Thanks and stay safe all!

EDIT: I am sorry I forgot to tell the main thing. I liked your answer as it was very insightful and helpful.

EDIT 2: I am pasting here a question which I posted in reply to what 999tigger had written: "This really makes me wonder whether Asian students' understanding of "too much" is totally different from how UK or US students understand "too much"?"
Perhaps this is a clearer question.
Last edited by jay71483; 6 months ago
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jay71483
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(Original post by 999tigger)
1. Part of the issue with A level is that you have to learn a lot, but an exam paper may only cover a small part of the spec. Imo that makes it harder because if you havent learned that part then you are in big trouble.
2. Dont kniow I get the feeling you are misguiding yourself. they are differe nnt exams for different age groups. A levels are a nig step up because rather than value memorisiation they are more about individual thought and application.
3. Depends what your coursebook and subjetcs are. Certain subjects you will be expected to read beyond. Again it depends whether your textbooks are comparable.

I'm not sure your comparison will work as I get the feeling you have a misunderstanding what they are and how they fit in.
Thanks for your answer!

I am aware that GCSE is a whole different thing than A level. GCSEs are equivalent to Indian 10th grade exams.

'". Part of the issue with A level is that you have to learn a lot, but an exam paper may only cover a small part of the spec. Imo that makes it harder because if you havent learned that part then you are in big trouble."

In my friend's opinion, A-level syllabus is so less, which contradicts your saying that you have to learn a lot. (of course what you say is true; see the next paragraph) Now that I have also taken a look at A level past papers and syllabus for Chemistry and Biology, I feel that it is less than what I was supposed to learn a few years ago. And don't get me started over how much content we have to memorize here in India.

This really makes me wonder whether Asian students' understanding of "too much" is totally different from how UK or US students understand "too much"?

Thanks!
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jay71483
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(Original post by Tolgarda)
"Those pre-university exams, administered in Asia, are in a league of their own; however, that does not necessarily mean that A Levels are ‘easy’ or incredibly accessible objectively."
But can that necessarily mean that students who are, right from the beginning, taught the principles of working hard (and harder), given assignments containing nearly a thousand difficult problems, given a big syllabus to complete etc. are more adept at doing "easy" exams like A-levels? Is it right to use the word "easy" in this manner?

Is this all relative, that (perhaps Asian) people who study round the clock think that A-levels are very easy, while in the West, students are given more freedom to explore whatever they want to in their high school years (like reading books, playing music as a hobby, or playing cricket; no high school student in India gets the time to do that) and hence they think that they've got so much to learn for getting a good grade in A-levels?
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jay71483
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(Original post by 1st superstar)
LOL on top of that:
1. You get told EXACTLY what you need to revise sometimes or heck even what questions will come up!!.
2. You sometimes get this thing called a “cheatsheet” whereby you can write down anything you can’t remember for the exams (e.g you get this for Maths exams apparently) and you TAKE it in to the exam, here you can’t even have a label on your water bottle!!
3. You don’t have to do long 2hr exams back-to-back for 2-5 weeks
4. The exams are modular i think? Or you only tested on one topic at a time just like in Wales and N.I
5. Here you get some thick *** paper for them it’s like what maybe 5 double sided pages max although i could be VERY wrong
6. You can drop out of ANY subject etc
7. The questions are easier e.g for English in America a 15-16 year old kid is not expected to write a 3-4 page essay on a 100-400 year old book. The questions are multiple choice (read an extract then pick ONE from letter A-F as your answer)
Ngl Americans have it way easier than people in England so IMO if I were to have a child in America I would expect nothing less than Straight A’s/A*’s from them.
Hahaha...
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(Original post by jay71483)
Hahaha...
lol just stating why I believe that A-levels are way harder than American exams
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jay71483
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(Original post by 1st superstar)
lol just stating why I believe that A-levels are way harder than American exams
I wonder that if things are so much simple in America, how do American high school students spend the whole day? Any idea? How do you spend a typical high school day in Britain after you come to home from School? I just wanted to get an idea for comparison.
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(Original post by jay71483)
I wonder that if things are so much simple in America, how do American high school students spend the whole day? Any idea? How do you spend a typical high school day in Britain after you come to home from School? I just wanted to get an idea for comparison.
tbh don't know how American students spend their high school day tbh (i think that they have "gym class" every day and only get a 30 min lunch break or idk) all I know is that their exams look waaayy easier. Never stepped foot in the USA before
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(Original post by 1st superstar)
LOL on top of that:
1. You get told EXACTLY what you need to revise sometimes or heck even what questions will come up!!.
2. You sometimes get this thing called a “cheatsheet” whereby you can write down anything you can’t remember for the exams (e.g you get this for Maths exams apparently) and you TAKE it in to the exam, here you can’t even have a label on your water bottle!!
3. You don’t have to do long 2hr exams back-to-back for 2-5 weeks
4. The exams are modular i think? Or you only tested on one topic at a time just like in Wales and N.I
5. Here you get some thick *** paper for them it’s like what maybe 5 double sided pages max although i could be VERY wrong
6. You can drop out of ANY subject etc
7. The questions are easier e.g for English in America a 15-16 year old kid is not expected to write a 3-4 page essay on a 100-400 year old book. The questions are multiple choice (read an extract then pick ONE from letter A-F as your answer)
Ngl Americans have it way easier than people in England so IMO if I were to have a child in America I would expect nothing less than Straight A’s/A*’s from them.
also I think they credit for doing homework and even showing up:cry:jealous
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(Original post by mpaprika)
also I think they credit for doing homework and even showing up:cry:jealous
lol
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Tolgash
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(Original post by jay71483)
(1) does this mean that "the average" student in the UK (or the Western World) claim something to be hard or difficult or challenging (in technical aspects) while the average Asian student feels it is very obvious? I saw a mechanics problem in Physics A level past year paper. I would rate it moderately hard. But at the same time if you just take a look at IIT JEE mechanics problems, you would think that if one can do IIT JEE, there is no chance one could fail in A-levels or lose even a single mark in A-levels (my friend's quote).

I would agree with your friend that a ‘good’ performance in the IIT-JEE is probably comparable to a near-flawless performance in an A Level exam. If I remember correctly, IIT-JEE exams cover mathematics, physics and chemistry. The pupils that sit those are trained to think very quickly under pressure, and they are trained to understand and use concepts that would probably be deemed undergraduate material in the UK because of how competitive they are. I feel that in those exams, every advantage counts.

I feel that most pupils who are able to study for these exams greatly exceed much of what is needed to ace the UK exams. Having friends who know the Asian systems pretty well (at least from my perspective), it is truly a very different environment over there. Education and results are paramount. That mindset is already quite different and more tailored to the exams-based A Levels than the usual one in the UK, which definitely places less emphasis on education. Now, I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's something that I feel most persons would agree with.

(Original post by jay71483)
(2) Am I wrong to imply that Asian students' brains are technically fast (of course they are trained to become technically fast) than Western students' brains (just because they are not exposed to rigorous training)? Innovation does not depend upon how fast one can think or how difficult a problem one can solve on the test (this is the reason the East barely matches the West in creativity and scientific progress). But my question is are Asians technically over-trained or are Westerners technically lowly trained? Is it the case that western students are too lazy or take things for granted that they consider even moderately difficult things as hard? You can take an average UK student to study this question as there is no hard or easy for students who are passionate about their chosen subject. (average in the sense that they like the subject but they are not extremely mathematical or analytically gifted, you know, things like that)
In my humble opinion, I think Asian exams force pupils to be over-trained, giving their pupils' brains more technical speed. A lot of this knowledge is taught later in the UK, but far more advanced concepts may be taught earlier to truly differentiate between pupils in such a large population (e.g. China). Any pupil passionate enough from the West can definitely study for the sort of questions you'd see in Asia. After all, there are exams in the UK like national Olympiads which make A Levels look like child's play, and the few thousand that can complete those with minimal difficulty can probably handle Asia's pre-university exams.

(Original post by jay71483)
But can that necessarily mean that students who are, right from the beginning, taught the principles of working hard (and harder), given assignments containing nearly a thousand difficult problems, given a big syllabus to complete etc. are more adept at doing "easy" exams like A-levels? Is it right to use the word "easy" in this manner?
I guess you could, yes. You're looking at it from a certain perspective, and that can definitely make it a lot easier to understand what may be easy or difficult.

(Original post by jay71483)
Is this all relative, that (perhaps Asian) people who study round the clock think that A-levels are very easy, while in the West, students are given more freedom to explore whatever they want to in their high school years (like reading books, playing music as a hobby, or playing cricket; no high school student in India gets the time to do that) and hence they think that they've got so much to learn for getting a good grade in A-levels?
I think you've hit the nail on the head there! Precisely! Our attitude to education starkly contrasts with the Orient's! We have more freedom on top of our revision, along with a more relaxed view of education, which is why we think this way. We are certainly a little more indolent than our peers in the Far East.
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(Original post by Tolgarda)
I would agree with your friend that a ‘good’ performance in the IIT-JEE is probably comparable to a near-flawless performance in an A Level exam. If I remember correctly, IIT-JEE exams cover mathematics, physics and chemistry. The pupils that sit those are trained to think very quickly under pressure, and they are trained to understand and use concepts that would probably be deemed undergraduate material in the UK because of how competitive they are. I feel that in those exams, every advantage counts.

I feel that most pupils who are able to study for these exams greatly exceed much of what is needed to ace the UK exams. Having friends who know the Asian systems pretty well (at least from my perspective), it is truly a very different environment over there. Education and results are paramount. That mindset is already quite different and more tailored to the exams-based A Levels than the usual one in the UK, which definitely places less emphasis on education. Now, I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's something that I feel most persons would agree with.



In my humble opinion, I think Asian exams force pupils to be over-trained, giving their pupils' brains more technical speed. A lot of this knowledge is taught later in the UK, but far more advanced concepts may be taught earlier to truly differentiate between pupils in such a large population (e.g. China). Any pupil passionate enough from the West can definitely study for the sort of questions you'd see in Asia. After all, there are exams in the UK like national Olympiads which make A Levels look like child's play, and the few thousand that can complete those with minimal difficulty can probably handle Asia's pre-university exams.



I guess you could, yes. You're looking at it from a certain perspective, and that can definitely make it a lot easier to understand what may be easy or difficult.



I think you've hit the nail on the head there! Precisely! Our attitude to education starkly contrasts with the Orient's! We have more freedom on top of our revision, along with a more relaxed view of education, which is why we think this way. We are certainly a little more indolent than our peers in the Far East.
Tolgarda I think with your and others' help, I have finally found answers that satisfy my curiosities completely.
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I would love to hear what he thinks about Leaving Cert exams. I looked at A-level papers (in Physics, Maths and Economics) and they are really hard compared to LC subjects especially Economics which is crazy (LC Economics, however, is hard in a different and cheaper way). Maths isn't too bad though. LC subjects are a real pisstake compared to A-levels, that's for sure (especially Maths, the standard of Maths is shocking at LC level). That being said, you typically do 7-8 subjects for the LC (although 5 is the minimum, you'll get nowhere with just 5) and Maths is compulsory.
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