Examinations in the UK


UK independent schools achieve the very highest academic standards. Of the 250 schools listed by The Times as achieving the highest A level results in 2001, nearly 200 were independent schools. More than 80% of pupils at independent schools (including special schools) gain five or more GCSE passes at grades A*-C (compared with a national average of 45%). Eighty-five per cent of independent school A level candidates gain three or more passes, compared with a national average of 63%. Nine out of ten post A level leavers from independent schools go on to higher education. At the primary level, most prep schools taking part in national curriculum testing report attainment levels well above national averages.

Common Entrance
The Common Entrance exam is used by independent senior schools, particularly boarding schools, to assess whether or not a child has the right level of ability to do well at the school. It can be taken for entry at 11+, 12+ or 13+. It is set by a central, independent examination board - the Independent Schools Examinations Board, but is marked individually by the school to which parents have applied for a place. There is no common "pass" mark. More selective schools set a higher pass mark, less selective schools a lower one. Day2schools often set their own entrance exam.

A levels
A levels remain the most usual means of entry to British universities. A full A level is normally a two-year course. In the first year students take AS (Advanced Subsidiary) Levels. The AS Level is a qualification in its own right and is recognised for the purposes of university entry, but it also forms the first part of a full A level. The final year's study, known as A2, represents the second half of the A level course. A full A level is only awarded upon successful completion of AS and A2. The second year alone (A2) does not represent a qualification. Students are encouraged to take up to four or five subjects at AS Level, which are narrowed down to two or three at A2.

A2 levels may require exams at the end of the second year or may follow a modular structure with assessment made at the end of each module. AS levels were introduced for the first time in 2000 with a view to broadening sixth-form studies. In their first year they have attracted much comment and some criticism, based chiefly on the heavy workload placed upon students, the lack of time available for wider activities and university choices and the fact that students now face three consecutive years of major examinations from GCSE to A level. It is not yet clear whether modifications will be made.

Vocational A levels
The vocational A level is more directly related to specific careers. It is a two-year course, and students are expected to have achieved at least four or five GCSEs at grades A* - C or an Intermediate GNVQ. Students can combine vocational A levels with A levels in more traditional subjects, although the availability of vocational A levels in independent schools is more limited than in state schools and colleges. There are no formal examinations. Assessment is made on the basis of projects and assignments to show that the required standards have been met.

Students in Scotland take Standard grade examinations at 16. Depending upon their results they may then move on to further study at one of five levels. The first three - Access, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 - are for students who need a better grounding in a subject before moving on to the top two levels - Higher and Advanced Higher. Students with aptitude for a subject may go on immediately to Highers and Advanced Highers, which form the basis for university entry in Scotland. This system of awards includes both traditional academic and vocational subjects.
Boarding schools in Scotland tend to follow the English examination system, although some may also offer preparation for Scottish exams. Independent day schools generally follow the Scottish system only.

The International Baccalaureate (IB)
The IB is a two-year programme leading to the IB Diploma, which is recognized and accepted by universities in the UK and worldwide. It is available in some 40 schools and colleges in the UK, both state and independent, and in some 930 schools and colleges in 105 countries. The IB can be an attractive alternative to A levels for academically able students who seek a broader and more challenging programme of study. It embraces languages, mathematics, arts and sciences and creative subjects.

Sixth Form
The sixth form is the final (optional) two years of secondary schooling when students are sixteen to eighteen years of age and normally prepare for their A-level examinations.

The first five years of English secondary schooling were previously known as forms.

The system was changed for the 1990-1991 academic year and school years are now numbered consecutively from primary school onwards.

However, the term Sixth Form has still been retained as a vestige of the old system and is used as a collective term for years 12 and 13. Private schools, together with a few state schools, tend to use the old system of numbering.

Sixth form is not compulsory in England and Wales, however university entrance normally requires 4 AS's (obtained in the lower sixth) and 3 A2's.. The marks attained in both sets of exams are converted into UCAS points, which must meet the offer made by the student's chosen university.

Sixth Form College
In the English and Welsh state educational systems, those wishing to continue may either stay on at a secondary school with an attached sixth form, transfer to a local sixth form college, or go to a more vocational further education college. In the independent sector, sixth forms are an integral part of secondary schools (public schools).