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are university exams different than a level exams? Watch

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    Hi. Im a 17 year old guy, just took as levels, and am hoping to go on to a levels next year. I intend to go to university at 20/21, after doing extra as levels and also going travelling.
    However, as I think most people do, I get sick and very frustrated of this 'exam technique' thing, where basically students are not marked on their ability to think or their intelligence, but rather basically their ability to regurgitate facts in a structured essay (at least in essay based subjects anyway), in timed conditions. Examiners then have to mark using this ridiculous 'Ao 2, Ao 3, Ao 4' things, and lots of people every year who are very intelligent and who work hard don't get the grades they deserve because of this. Obviously this is not to dismiss those people who get As, because I respect them for doing well, but you get my point.
    Lately, I have been hearing alot of people talking about getting not particularly good grades at A level, but then excelling at university. I heard about one person who got BCE and is doing a Phd in computer science, another who got BCED and got 86 percent in the first year, and others whose exact grades I can't remember who are also doing similarly well. This has led me to come to the conclusion that somehow, university exams are different, not necessarily easier, but different and fairer.
    Is this true? if so, in what way?
    also, does getting very good grades in your 1st and 2nd year contribute alot towards the 3rd
    thanks
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    Depends on your university, and the course you're doing.
    In first/second year, a lot of the marks can be gained by regurgitating facts from your books. As you get into final year, you'll be expected to do more free thinking, and have a general knowledge of your subject area, rather than what has been handed to you.
    In my course, first and second year didn't count towards final year. I know some people who have been on courses where second year has had a small weighting.
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    All I can speak for is the subject I studied, biology. It's NOTHING like A level biology.

    The first year is pretty similar. Multiple choice papers and short answer papers. Regurgitating facts without any thinking.

    Second and third year are a LOT different. All my papers involved being given 4-6 possible essay titles and have to choose 2 of them. For decent makrs you need to do a lot of extra reading, and lecturers encourage people to learn dates and names of scientists for referencing specific studies.

    Obviously with biology, most papers are more about facts and papers, and not freethinking, but there's definitely more thinking involved than A level. With extra reading you can really go into the subject as deeply as you want to.

    As for fairer, it's difficult to say. I honestly found with my degree that hard work didn't necessarily directly translate into good grades, which was definitely a hard obstacle to get past after finding A level so easy. my main problem was I specifically chose A level subjects that were extremely factual like biology and maths. You wrote the answer as you learnt it and you get a mark for each step along the way. Get it all right, you get all the marks. I was not used to essay exams at all, they're obviously much more subjective and depend a lot more on structure etc. besides facts. I found it much harder to get a better grade because even the best of essays can be ripped apart by lecturers if they so wish. I guess I would have found it easier if I did more essay concentrated courses like english or history, but I finished alright so can't complain.
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    I have found during my whole 3 years at University that the exams are FAR fairer than those at A Level.
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    in all honesty, for my course (Physics, imperial college) it was alot to do with exam technique and memory. Think A-levels but 20 times the amount of stuff to learn and regurgitate each year. For me first and second year combined counted for %40 of my final grade.

    But obviously different courses are different. Some will have dissertations that are heavily weighted for example.
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    So far comparing my 1st year at Uni to A Levels I think there is quite a big difference. One big one is that revision for exams are different. At A Level you could get away with cramming, but at Uni you're unlikely to get very far doing this. Good essay technique is not the be all and end all at uni, there's more focus on essay content and reasoning where as at A Level you could argue that for some subjects writing out the answers in a good structure would get you quite a lot of marks.
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    I have to say that I completely sympathise with your views, as I found A levels the most infuriating point in my education!
    For instance with Biology I did alot of reading outside of the course, and had an enormous detailed text book which I used instead of the OCR textbook because it explained things in a far more satisfactory and detailed manner. I found the wording of Biology exam questions so overly simplified that they were ambiguous. I occasionally put down ten points for 2 mark questions simply because I wasn't sure which of the several relevant pieces of information I had they were most likely to be after. At the end I had my A2 Biology remarked from a B to an A. After requesting the marked paper back, we discovered that I had been incorrectly marked wrong for several basic answers which I'd written entirely correctly (for instance I was marked wrong on all of the three suggestions I gave for "list three ways in which HIV/AIDs can be transmitted" :eyeball: In Chemistry I had an E in AS despite working diligently and performing adequately in class and set work. On recognising that my answers weren't matching the specific stylistic requirements of the exam board I spent second year focusing on memorising the mark scheme rather than reading around the subject as I'd first done, with the result of shifting the entire A level up to a C.

    (Original post by EierVonSatan)
    It's generally accepted that A-levels are not ideal good indicators of performance at degree level. In my opinion this is due to a number of factors which include the rigidity of A-level specifications and mark schemes, educational immaturity and subject interest. These sorts of things can lead to a disparity between A-level and university results.
    :ditto: this. After sub-optimal A level performance due to the rigidity of the marking schemes, I've just achieved a first in my second year (had a 2.1 in first year)

    In my experience, University has definitely been much better. Nonetheless its not completely different. As others say, hard work definitely does not translate into high marks here, and understanding and engagement with the material is essential. However, taking that as read, there are still subtle things which they want from you in the exam, and its often quite hard to work out exactly what those things are. I was very frustrated after working my bum off in first year and only getting a 2.1 while people in my college had time for a great social life and lots of extra curriculars and got firsts. Throughout second year I paid alot more attention to any consistent patterns in the feedback I was getting for my supervision essays and put alot more effort during revision into practising timed essays. We were told we had to summarise our main argument really clearly in the introduction and didactically relate every paragraph back to the overall question in an obvious way. So while my supervisors were saying all year 'wow you really know your stuff' and 'this essay demonstrates a really good understanding' - I was still forced to artificially alter the way in which I wrote my essays purely to pick up the marks. What it came down to was that the examiners go through the papers really quickly and expect to see certain information there and they want to see it presented in a certain way. While I presume they don't intentionally overlook your points if you state them subtly, they apparently might miss it unless you hit them over the head with it. This is REALLY annoying. Especially when the point you're supposed to flag up is one you've mentioned but not attached massive weight to because its actually a minor point in the scale of the whole issue. I became pretty convinced this year that some of my peers were scoring higher than I was because they'd made absolutely certain to ram in all of the really small unimportant details (basically regurgitate the lecture content) where I'd put in loads of the points and ideas I gained from extra reading :mad:
    For this set of exams one of the questions I was preparing consisted of 1) the main argument/concepts of a theorist (2) the main criticisms of the theory.
    I found after alot of reading and time spent on this theorist that I profoundly disagreed with many of these criticisms, and that I could disprove them using several details in the theorist's writings to demonstrate that they'd missed fundamental points or plausible interpretations. I really wanted to include a critique of these criticisms in my exam essay, and I discussed this at length with my supervisor. She warned me that I should be very careful about doing this, and should first make sure that I'd demonstrated that I was familiar with the criticisms and that I'd appreciated their logic before saying anything controversial. She also pointed out I'd be writing this essay in the space of an hour and wouldn't be likely to squeeze my own theory in alongside the required information I needed to regurgitate. So this was profoundly frustrating. In the end I did squeeze in a few of my points out of sheer stubbornness, but it was abundantly clear that had I allocated more time to developing my point in the exam and failed to spend sufficient time covering the familiar basic points they had taught us I'd haemorrhage marks!

    This is quite hard for me to accept and I feel its akin to the lack of representation you see in A level marking. Having spoken to several people I think a significant factor (in the case of my subject: social sciences) is that many of the points we have to convey in an essay are nuanced and complex, so if you try to develop your own sophisticated argument in an exam situation its almost doomed not to come out clear enough to be understood properly. Essentially what they want is five points and good thorough explanation of those points. So perhaps, on some level, the nature of exams don't lend themselves to contraversial/unusual styles. Still it is bloody annoying!
    (as it happens I'm actually writing my dissertation on said theorist now, partly out of mutiny :p:)

    Still to agree roughly with the previous posts. I think you can expect it to become much better. Even if the exams are still narrow and prescriptive, they're definitely ALOT more geared towards emphasising genuine engagement and understanding. Also - as others have observed - I find that the first year was the most prescriptive and the second year and presumably my third place much more emphasis on originality, understanding and lots of extra depth reading.
    Overall I really wish that Universities placed more emphasis on coursework, which is far more representative. Sadly my University is really traditional and has very tight limits on what percentage of any course in any department can comprise coursework :dry: Frankly I can't wait for Masters and PhD when it will all be 'coursework' :p:

    In terms of how much first and second year count, this depends on the University you go to. At Cambridge each year is totally seperate from the other. Conventionally our final year marks are the only things which we're left with on graduation, but in some situations employers or departments reviewing a postgrad application will look at your previous marks on your transcript.

    Sorry for the uber post - as you can see its quite a big issue for me :p:
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    I'm going into my third year, and I'm still frustrated about how much of it is still ticking boxes.
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    (Original post by *Star*Guitar*)
    I'm going into my third year, and I'm still frustrated about how much of it is still ticking boxes.
    How is that a bad thing?

    Especially in Law...

    You have to write a lot so you hardly have time so just ticking a few answers will be much more time-saving than writing an Essay.

    Have I gone wrong somewhere? :p:
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    (Original post by Craghyrax)
    I have to say that I completely sympathise with your views, as I found A levels the most infuriating point in my education!
    For instance with Biology I did alot of reading outside of the course, and had an enormous detailed text book which I used instead of the OCR textbook because it explained things in a far more satisfactory and detailed manner. I found the wording of Biology exam questions so overly simplified that they were ambiguous. I occasionally put down ten points for 2 mark questions simply because I wasn't sure which of the several relevant pieces of information I had they were most likely to be after. At the end I had my A2 Biology remarked from a B to an A. After requesting the marked paper back, we discovered that I had been incorrectly marked wrong for several basic answers which I'd written entirely correctly (for instance I was marked wrong on all of the three suggestions I gave for "list three ways in which HIV/AIDs can be transmitted" In Chemistry I had an E in AS despite working diligently and performing adequately in class and set work. On recognising that my answers weren't matching the specific stylistic requirements of the exam board I spent second year focusing on memorising the mark scheme rather than reading around the subject as I'd first done, with the result of shifting the entire A level up to a C.
    I ended up reading around law for 'A' level and felt I was not being given credit when I had answered the question because my answers weren't on the mark sheet. Had it had been a degree paper I would have got credit for it. Yet, I did reading around for a unit on the British constitution in my politics exam and aced it. :confused:
 
 
 
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