Record numbers of students have made it to university this year, despite the reduction in applications.  Numbers of people going through the UCAS system dropped by nearly 10% during the last cycle, yet 401,000 students managed to secure a place at university in August 2013.  This is a rise of around 9%.


Of course, there are many delighted parents out there who have expressed such joy and are looking forward to hearing about their son/daughter’s first experiences of university life.

And then, of course, there’s another group.  These are the people who say the same thing every year.  I am of course talking about the “Who cares, exams are getting easier anyway” group.

The notion that ‘exams are getting easier’ was first theorised when people realised that the pass rate and the proportion of kids getting the top grades at A Level were increasing year on year.  Why, I hear you ask, is that?

  • The most obvious solution is that the student taking the A Level subjects were getting cleverer.  With different options open to kids when they reach 16 years A Levels appear to have become the most-academic option – a route for the very brightest.  With only the very brainiest taking A Levels, it stands to reason that the pass rate would climb.  Indeed, the overall pass rate for A Levels stands at 98.1% this year.  This figure has consistently risen for the last 30 years!
  • The alternative solution is that kids are getting no cleverer.  Therefore, for there to be an increase in pass rates and top grades being awarded, the exams have to be getting easier.  Critics of the system point to the high pass rate and the fact that the percentage of A* and A grades had been rising for over 20 years.
    Then, of course, things changed.  In 2012 the percentage of top grades awarded dipped slightly to 26.6% and then to 26.3% this year…

What caused this?  Well immediately the critics are likely calling our kids dumber, especially if the exams are getting easier.  Simpler papers and falling results has to mean that.


If the exams were getting easier, the proportion of top grades being awarded would be keeping pace with the pass rate.

Instead, we are seeing a high pass rate (telling us we have got clever students taking these A Levels) but we also have a falling percentage of top grades.  This tells us that, to reach the highest grades, A Level candidates are going to have to work harder.

Stop complaining and being cynical – you should be supporting some great successes.  When every student started blasting out A*s and As, then we might have something to worry about.  Until then, let us appreciate the hard work that goes into these A Levels and celebrate some very clever people indeed…

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.