The difference between GCSE and A level
Many students, and parents, think that if they had experienced any kind of success at GCSE level then the transition to A levels will be painless. In truth, there is an enormous difference between GCSEs and A levels and the move from one to the other represents a very big jump. Top grades at GCSE are no guarantee of success at A level.
A level requires the development of certain academic skills, which are not necessarily needed at GCSE. Rather than just being able to recall facts and information, A level students need to be able to evaluate, analyse and deal critically with this information. They need to apply their knowledge to situations and to the real world. Perhaps the biggest difference is the requirement to learn significant amounts of complex theory.
In terms of assessment, for most subjects, essay answers are required and even when a question needs only a short answer, it will need to be written in continuous prose. For this reason, the ability to produce writing of an excellent standard is imperative to A level success.
There is less coursework with the reformed A levels. Even where a subject involves some coursework, such as geography, there are still three-hour exams requiring essay-style answers.
Even in subjects where ‘there is no right or wrong answer’, a student still needs to be able to write a well-argued, articulate, academic essay to justify his or her answer.
Moreover, A level students are expected to take greater responsibility for their own learning and there will be greater expectations from teachers that students are completing a significant amount of independent learning each week. Whilst A level students usually have more ‘free’ time, as they are not in lessons all day, they would be expected to use this time for study purposes. It therefore requires a great deal of self-discipline and motivation to be successful at A level.