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Old 08-15-2019, 11:16 AM
dalej42 is online now
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Questions on the education system in England: GCSE, A Levels, Universities


Iím particularly interested in England, but comments about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are appreciated as well.

So, today on Twitter, #alevelresults is trending.

From my very basic understanding, a GCSE is similar to an American high school test. Are there specific subjects for the GCSE or is it more similar to the American SAT or ACT, more of a basic knowledge test?

Again from my basic understanding, you would go on to A levels if you did well on the GCSE. It seems like A level tests are subject specific, similar to an AP or SAT achievement test in the USA. Do you attend additional classes for A levels or is it self study?

So, is it just now, on 15 August, that students will learn if theyíre admitted to university? This seems awful late in the year. I understand that UK universities donít really have the same structure as in the USA, you donít come in and take a bunch of liberal arts classes the first two years. From my understanding, you do well on a subject specific A level and thatís what youíll study at university and you donít get to Ďchange majorsí if you decide itís not for you.

Do I have this correct? Thanks for any help. Yes, I have googled but it seems most websites are written that you already know the basics of the system.

Oh, as a bonus, what is clearing?
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Old 08-15-2019, 11:19 AM
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Supplementary question: did GCSEs replace O levels, that I used to read about?
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Old 08-15-2019, 11:36 AM
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GCSEs are subject specific. There is no equivalent of "graduating high school" in the UK - you leave after four, five or six years with a bunch of subject-specific qualifications. You might get GCSEs in English, Maths, Physics, History and French, then go on to do A levels in Maths and Physics if that's the route you want to take at University.

GCSEs and O Levels ran concurrently for a while, but O Levels no longer exist.

I'm in Scotland, where we have our own system - the equivalent of a GCSE is a National 5.

Yes, you really can find yourself only in August finding out which University you are going to in a few weeks. You will have had a "conditional offer", based on specific achievement in the exams. This makes it easy for everything to fall into place if that's what you achieve.

"Clearing" is a system offered by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) which matches up candidates who failed to get admitted to their first choice with Colleges and Universities that will have them. Say you have a conditional offer from a more prestigious University based on a particular result, and you fall a bit short. What you have achieved will probably be good enough to get you in elsewhere, and the "Clearing" system will find that place for you. My boyfriend back when I was an age to be going through all this stuff had everything planned to go to Newcastle University but didn't get the required qualification. He found himself heading off to University of Ulster instead, with about two weeks notice.
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Old 08-15-2019, 12:14 PM
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Scoug has covered the admissions side, so let me try to explain in a bit more detail how this all works in schools.

GCSEs are normally the culmination of two-three years of class work in a specific subject. They're normally taken at 16 (and of sophomore year in US terms), but can be taken at any age. They are nationally set and marked by a handful of exam boards, so should be marked consistently across the country. The standard minimum is 5 GCSEs including maths and English, but almost all students take 8-10.

A-levels are again the end of two years' work in class, and are normally taken at 18. Again, nationally set and marked so theoretically consistent. A normal student takes 3 A-levels, but 4 is common for bright students and a few take even more.

The link between A level subjects and university courses varies. I studied physics at Uni: most courses required A-levels in physics and maths to apply. In other subjects (e.g. theology) the A-level is not normally available, so universities look for good grades in similar subjects (so for theology it might be history or English).
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Old 08-15-2019, 12:35 PM
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"Clearing" is a system offered by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) which matches up candidates who failed to get admitted to their first choice with Colleges and Universities that will have them. Say you have a conditional offer from a more prestigious University based on a particular result, and you fall a bit short. What you have achieved will probably be good enough to get you in elsewhere, and the "Clearing" system will find that place for you. My boyfriend back when I was an age to be going through all this stuff had everything planned to go to Newcastle University but didn't get the required qualification. He found himself heading off to University of Ulster instead, with about two weeks notice.
I work in university admissions, and am just finishing a 13-hour shift doing Clearing. Clearing's increasingly popular these days - even with those who meet the conditions of their original offer - as universities will often lower their entry requirements in order to fill vacancies on courses, so budding students can essentially 'trade up' and land a place on a more prestigious course, with lower grades than earlier in the year.

This is a risk though, as not all courses will still have vacancies; and a bit of a pain for universities, as it piles more admissions work into the final month before courses start (generally September).
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Old 08-15-2019, 12:47 PM
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In the past O-levels (formally known as GCE Ordinary Level) were supposed to be for the academically able, while CSE's (Certificate of Secondary Education, a.k.a Certificate of Second-rate Education) were a sort of consolation prize for the less able. We were repeatedly assured that a Grade One CSE pass was fully equal in parity of esteem to a O-Level Grade 'C', the equivalent of the Pass grade back when O-Level was still a pass/fail examination, but employers didn't believe it either.
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Old 08-15-2019, 01:24 PM
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From my understanding, you do well on a subject specific A level and thatís what youíll study at university and you donít get to Ďchange majorsí if you decide itís not for you.
I'm interested in this part of the OP. A few years back I toured Trinity College in Dublin (I know, not England but...) and was told by the student guide that you basically had to decide on you major when you were around 16. When I was 16 I wanted to be a mathematician. Senior year in high school (well into the college admission process) I decided that maybe chemistry would be it. During my freshman year in college I switched to computer science, before switching to electrical engineering sophomore year.

If I had grown up in England would I now be miserable teaching math in some second-rate public school, having made my bed at 16 and then having to sleep in it?
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Old 08-15-2019, 08:16 PM
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I'm interested in this part of the OP. A few years back I toured Trinity College in Dublin (I know, not England but...) and was told by the student guide that you basically had to decide on you major when you were around 16. When I was 16 I wanted to be a mathematician. Senior year in high school (well into the college admission process) I decided that maybe chemistry would be it. During my freshman year in college I switched to computer science, before switching to electrical engineering sophomore year.



If I had grown up in England would I now be miserable teaching math in some second-rate public school, having made my bed at 16 and then having to sleep in it?


You do not have to choose your major at 16, although as you do only 3 or 4 subjects at A level, it is normal to choose either a science track (choose from maths, physics, chemistry, biology, further maths (if that still exists)), or arts subjects.

I did maths, biology and chemistry, thinking I would go into medicine. Instead, I decided on Biochemistry and got a BSc in that. I ended up as a software engineer, though, without having to take any extra courses.
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Old 08-15-2019, 09:14 PM
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In the past O-levels (formally known as GCE Ordinary Level) were supposed to be for the academically able, while CSE's (Certificate of Secondary Education, a.k.a Certificate of Second-rate Education) were a sort of consolation prize for the less able. We were repeatedly assured that a Grade One CSE pass was fully equal in parity of esteem to a O-Level Grade 'C', the equivalent of the Pass grade back when O-Level was still a pass/fail examination, but employers didn't believe it either.
Is that now the case with A levels and GCSE? Is there any reason an academically talented student wouldn't take A levels?
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Old 08-15-2019, 11:39 PM
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Is there any reason an academically talented student wouldn't take A levels?
There is an argument to be had about whether the A-level route is too narrowly academic and specialised, and whether some pupils would be better off doing advanced technical qualifications (and how to ensure that great British will o' the wisp "parity of esteem"). Some schools offer the International Baccalaureate, which is a broader, but still academic, programme.

It"s not the case that an A-level in subject X means that you're tied to subject X at university. Some subjects are "linear" (university degree syllabuses are designed on the assumption that students will have the relevant grounding at A-level), but many aren't (many of the humanities and social sciences). There are some subjects offered at A-level that university academics in the field would almost prefer their students didn't have - because they would want them to have experience of other disciplines and modes of thought (Law is a case in point)
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Old 08-16-2019, 02:13 AM
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It's misleading to call the University topic a 'major' in the UK- it's simply the topic. There's no 'minor' and may well be a fixed set of modules, all directly associated with that topic. Once you have entered University, it may be possible to switch subject within a department- say, zoology to botany, in the first year or so, as many of the modules and skillsets will be similar if not identical, but switching to a different department may mean starting again at the beginning, if it's allowed at all.

One slightly bewildering aspect of the UK exam system is the system of exam boards. Although the results are pooled together, different boards sometimes have different reputations for difficulty in certain subjects- my school used exams from 3 different boards; some of the subjects may be only offered by one, some are offered by all. There are also, for GCSE, tiered exams in some subjects- so kids may take an exam where the highest possible grade is a 5, while the maximum for the subject as a whole goes up to 9 (number grades replaces letters 2 years ago, it might be 4 instead of 5). This is supposed to make it easier for low achieving kids to get a decent pass, which makes no sense to me.
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Old 08-16-2019, 02:33 AM
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Good answers so far. I thought I'd just answer your specific questions a bit more.

GCSEs aren't similar to the SAT at all. They're mostly essay-based, and you take two or three exams per subject, and usually about 10 subjects, plus there might be some coursework. Here's an example paper for English: http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/sample-p...P-NOV17-CR.PDF

Recent changes took away a lot of the coursework elements except for practical subjects like drama, and the grading was changed from A*-G to 9-1, with 9 being the highest grade.

The only similarity to the SAT is that the marking is done blind, so it doesn't matter where you studied, an A is an A. Well, if you got an A at a rough inner city school you might well be brighter than a kid at an expensive private school, but the exam itself is the exact same thing. So it doesn't matter if your teachers want to bump your grade up or down, they can't.

I think the name is a bit confusing; General Certificate of Secondary Education does sound like it's one single certificate, like a high school diploma. But it's always plural. "He took his GCSEs this year."

And yep, they're the replacement for O levels.

A levels are the exams you take at 18 (usually), like the others said. You don't attend additional classes or do self-study, they're what you're in school to study for. The level is similar to an AP course or slightly higher. Again they're marked blind. Some A levels, like drama and art, include coursework, but it's mostly exams.

AS levels (Advanced Supplementary) are, essentially, in between GCSEs and A levels. It's fairly common to do an extra AS level as well as three or four A levels (this is also in a state of flux but that's a level of detail you don't really need). So you might do physics, chemistry and biology if you want to study medicine, with maths or a language or psychology or almost anything, really, as an AS level as well.

There are alternatives, like BTEC awards, usually for more practical subjects. The IBac is another option but very few schools offer it, and you couldn't, as a pupil, say "I want to do this instead."

This is how it works in England and Wales. Scotland's system is completely different.

You don't choose a single subject specific A level, you do three or, very often these days, 4. The girl at the college was exaggerating a bit. It definitely helps to choose the right A levels for your specific course, but unless you decide to switch from history to medicine, or something like that, it won't usually be a problem. Then you'd have to take extra A levels, which you can do at any age.

At university you do specialise early on, but if you realise after the first term/semester (some universities have terms, some have semesters), that you're on the wrong course it's usually possible to switch paths.
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Old 08-16-2019, 07:31 AM
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There has been some mention of O-levels and GCSE courses.

Most folk these day do not understand the difference, O-levels were a competition whereas GCSE are achievement courses.

What this means is that obtaining a O-Level pass was not just a matter of obtaining a certain score, only a certain percentage were allowed to pass and then those pass grades would also be subject to percentage rules. The idea was to chase excellence rather than just those who simply undertook the course and achieved a particular standard.

In practice it still tended to mean that if you did the work you would pass and if you didn't then you would fail, but in failing you received absolutely no recognition. In the end the O-level and A-level changed subtly so that they came to resemble achievement course instead of competitive exams. I'm pretty sure this was entirely by design because the GCSE O-level and GCSE A-Level ran in parallel for a short period but it was clear that they were accepted as equivalent to the old O and A levels which were then shelved.

Mos of these changes took place when less than 5% of the population went on to further or Higher education, further education is not the same as higher education. This level of education for the UK population was clearly inadequate for a modern economy so there as a huge effort made to expand advanced education and training.

Nowadays those going on to further and higher are the majority, with close to 50% going on to higher education (education with degrees as their primary outcome)

Around 35% go on to further education (education whose primary outcome will be diplomas or higher vocation qualifications)

These figures are only for school leavers, many adults go on to further and higher - especially for vocation qualifications which are directly related to employment such as apprenticeships, skilled occupational training - all of which can be the lead on to degrees and beyond.
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Old 08-16-2019, 07:44 AM
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From my very basic understanding, a GCSE is similar to an American high school test. Are there specific subjects for the GCSE or is it more similar to the American SAT or ACT, more of a basic knowledge test?
GCSEs are subject specific, and taken at age 16. People will take anything from 6-10 different GCSEs, in subjects they would have selected at the age of 14.

Most people will take English Language and Maths, as pretty much anything you do from this point demands these two as a minimum.

I then also took French, German, Biology, Physics, Art, History, English Literature. As you can see, I leaned much more towards arts than sciences (my school made us take two sciences, or I might have dropped them).

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Again from my basic understanding, you would go on to A levels if you did well on the GCSE. It seems like A level tests are subject specific, similar to an AP or SAT achievement test in the USA. Do you attend additional classes for A levels or is it self study?
A Levels are higher grade subject specific qualifications you take after GCSEs in two years of additional school. They aren't compulsory - you could leave school at this point and go and do an apprenticeship or BTEC if you preferred. But A Levels are the traditional qualifications for University.

With my arts-bent, I chose Art, History and English Literature. During your final year of school you'll be applying for Uni, and most courses will make you a conditional offer - conditional on achieving certain grades in your A Levels.

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From my understanding, you do well on a subject specific A level and thatís what youíll study at university and you donít get to Ďchange majorsí if you decide itís not for you.
Not exactly - there'a a million subjects at University which you don't study at school. But if you want to do something in sciences, for example, you stand a better chance if your A Levels have been in science subjects. I studied graphic design, which my arts-based A Levels were more leaning towards. But I didn't study any graphic design at school.

Switching subjects isn't unheard of, if you do it within the first year. Depends on the course, and the attitude of your course leaders.
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Old 08-16-2019, 07:48 AM
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It's not necessarily easy to switch majors in American universities, either. Yeah, a lot of schools let you stay undeclared for a year or even two, and switch majors at will... but if you didn't start as a physics major, you're not going to graduate with a physics major. It might be allowed, but you'd need to add an extra year to have any chance of finishing all of your required classes, and it basically never happened. Though it is quite common for students who start as physics majors to switch to other subjects (often "General Science").

I went from Astronomy in undergrad to Physics in grad school, and even that involved taking a couple of remedial courses.
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Old 08-16-2019, 10:49 AM
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Not sure if this has been covered but in England, after GCSEs, you are free to go. You can leave school at 16 and start work, or go into an apprenticeship, or go to another school (sometimes called a Sixth Form College) to take a specific career-oriented syllabus like accounting or surveying for example. I got 8 O Levels (and a CSE in French), and rather than doing my A Levels and going to a Uni, I joined an engineering outfit at 17 that put me through school (part-time) culminating in two decent technical degrees and ultimately an Undergrad Degree along with 8 years of really good work experience.

This needs to be done in the USA. IMO.

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Old 08-16-2019, 11:31 AM
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A couple years ago I had a student apply for several universities in the UK, and they made her acceptances conditional on her final round of AP exams. It was very different, because all her peers were committed May 1st and she had to wait. I think she went ahead and paid the enrollment fee/committed to a school in the US just in case, but she got the score she needed.

Last edited by Manda JO; 08-16-2019 at 11:32 AM.
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Old 08-16-2019, 11:34 AM
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It sort of is: A lot of high schools have career technical programs, to prepare students for trades such as construction or car repair or plumbing or whatever. In my state (Ohio), not every school has such a program, but every public high school is partnered with a nearby school that does (so, for instance, students in the Cleveland suburbs of Rocky River or Westlake who are interested in going into the trades can take a bus to Lakewood for part of the day, because that's where the career tech program is around here).

But you still have to be in some sort of high school program or other until you either graduate or turn (IIRC) 18.
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Old 08-16-2019, 12:38 PM
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Not sure if this has been covered but in England, after GCSEs, you are free to go.
You are not "free to go", you have to stay in full time education, apprenticeship or work until you are 18. You can no longer leave school at 16 with nothing lined up.


I was one of the first to take GCSEs, from 1988 until 1991. I did sufficiently bad in them that I took a one year BTEC course in general engineering which got me into a two year course on electrical engineering. That course had an entry qualification of 4 GCSEs of C or above, but the initial year gave me the equivalent - I never had to test whether employers would take it as equivalent.
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Old 08-16-2019, 01:01 PM
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You are not "free to go", you have to stay in full time education, apprenticeship or work until you are 18. You can no longer leave school at 16 with nothing lined up.
That's an England-only thing.
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Old 08-16-2019, 01:37 PM
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That's an England-only thing.
Well, he was replying to someone who said England. You can leave school at 16 (and if your school doesn't have a sixth form then you have no choice but to leave that particular school), but you can't completely leave education. You can also leave school at 14 and go to a vocational college (called a University Technical College) or study at an FE college that has courses for under-16s. This a fairly recent development.

The compulsory subjects at GCSE are now English language, maths, and science. (Obviously this doesn't always apply to students with special educational needs). This is for England and Wales only, of course, because of the Scottish system being so different, and in Northern Ireland the compulsory subjects are technically English, maths and RE, though RE doesn't have to be a full course. And NI still has the A*-F grading.
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:24 PM
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What's RE?

And FE college, for that matter.
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:50 PM
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What's RE?

And FE college, for that matter.
RE = Religious Education (I know what that sounds like, but the actuality of it might well be different from what you might expect. It certainly was in Scotland when I was at school - comparative religion stuff, and musings on what it means to be good iirc. No idea about NI though)

FE = Further Education
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:58 PM
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It used to be called RI (Religious Instruction).
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Old 08-16-2019, 08:51 PM
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It's not necessarily easy to switch majors in American universities, either. [...] It might be allowed, but you'd need to add an extra year to have any chance of finishing all of your required classes, and it basically never happened. Though it is quite common for students who start as physics majors to switch to other subjects (often "General Science").

I went from Astronomy in undergrad to Physics in grad school, and even that involved taking a couple of remedial courses.
This is interesting to me. My undergrad degree is in philosophy but I went to grad school for mechanical engineering. And no, it wasnít an easy transition.

I had way more math and lab science than most people expect of someone with a philosophy degree, but I still had to take three undergrad engineering courses and one math class (linear algebra). That wasnít the hard part. The hard part was paying for it.

You canít get federal loans or grants in the US for a second undergrad degree, so it was much cheaper for me to get a masterís degree (paid for by teaching and/or working in a lab).

The mechanical engineering department was deeply skeptical of my background, so I marched my liberal-arts ass across the street to the engineering physics department. They were more reasonable and a whole lot more interesting.

My department routinely accepted students with math or physics undergrad degrees who wanted to do applied math and applied physics. The engineering physics department valued creative problem-solving from first principles, while the ME department focused more on the plug-and-chug approach. My department and my cohort both had a certain island-of-misfit-toys vibe. It was fantastic.

In the end, I paid cash for two semesters of undergrad catch-up and then paid with sweat for my MS (via teaching and research). Iím glad I did it, but I definitely had to blaze my own trail (and come up with about $12,000).
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Old 08-17-2019, 03:27 AM
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Recent changes took away a lot of the coursework elements except for practical subjects like drama, and the grading was changed from A*-G to 9-1, with 9 being the highest grade.
Do Art and Chemistry retain coursework?
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Old 08-17-2019, 11:08 PM
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Do Art and Chemistry retain coursework?
Art does. Chemistry doesn't, exactly. There are controlled practical assessments, but they don't count towards the grade. Same for biology and physics.
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Old 08-17-2019, 11:29 PM
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It's misleading to call the University topic a 'major' in the UK- it's simply the topic. There's no 'minor' and may well be a fixed set of modules, all directly associated with that topic. Once you have entered University, it may be possible to switch subject within a department- say, zoology to botany, in the first year or so, as many of the modules and skillsets will be similar if not identical, but switching to a different department may mean starting again at the beginning, if it's allowed at all.
Here in the U.S., I majored in English and minored in history and philosophy. You might think of it as the trifecta of useless subjects, but it worked well for me, and I'd do it again. Each of the three subjects broadened and deepened my understanding of the others. Is my understanding correct that in England, I'd perhaps have matriculated with more coursework in English but less in history and philosophy?
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Old Yesterday, 01:02 AM
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Not sure what you mean by "matriculated".

If you mean the qualifications to enter university, you'd be unlikely to have done any formal programme and examination in Philosophy at school, though it might be referred to, and you might be encouraged to read some basic introduction as background.

You wouldn't be assessed for either A-level or a university degree to any great extent on coursework rather than final examination, though university degrees might allow coursework in some form, or a dissertation, to contribute some proportion of the final overall assessment.

I think it's worth pointing out that, although academic education is traditionally more specialised at an earlier stage than AIUI in the US, there are many university first degree programmes that offer combinations of subjects or encourage some extra diversity (and sometimes using the major/minor terminology).:But that would be within planned limits. Most wouldn't allow a completely free cafeteria option.
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Old Yesterday, 04:17 AM
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Here in the U.S., I majored in English and minored in history and philosophy. You might think of it as the trifecta of useless subjects, but it worked well for me, and I'd do it again. Each of the three subjects broadened and deepened my understanding of the others. Is my understanding correct that in England, I'd perhaps have matriculated with more coursework in English but less in history and philosophy?
In order to take that combo, you'd have to find a university offering it as a set course or one of the very few that allow you to mix and match- like the Open university 'Open Degree', or a few 'Combined Honours' or 'Liberal Arts' degrees.

Courses consisting of two different subjects are not all that rare (English and History is certainly available), but very few places would allow you to combine 3 topics, and I think the Open Uni is the only one that will allow you to study 3 different subjects after the first year, or just add a random module that looks interesting to an otherwise unrelated programme of study. You can sit in lectures for unrelated stuff in many universities, but just for interest, you can't usually make it count as part of your course.

The Open University is a bit different anyway, being a correspondence university that will, as the name suggests, take any applicants into entry level modules, where you sign up for each module independently, whereas in most UK universities you would sign up for a programme of study, with maybe a few choices to specialise, but choices between set options. The Open Uni is not a scam place however; everyone can join, far from everyone who signs up and pays up graduates.
  #31  
Old Yesterday, 07:22 AM
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GCSEs are subject specific. There is no equivalent of "graduating high school" in the UK - you leave after four, five or six years with a bunch of subject-specific qualifications. You might get GCSEs in English, Maths, Physics, History and French, then go on to do A levels in Maths and Physics if that's the route you want to take at University.

GCSEs and O Levels ran concurrently for a while, but O Levels no longer exist.

I'm in Scotland, where we have our own system - the equivalent of a GCSE is a National 5.

Yes, you really can find yourself only in August finding out which University you are going to in a few weeks. You will have had a "conditional offer", based on specific achievement in the exams. This makes it easy for everything to fall into place if that's what you achieve.

"Clearing" is a system offered by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) which matches up candidates who failed to get admitted to their first choice with Colleges and Universities that will have them. Say you have a conditional offer from a more prestigious University based on a particular result, and you fall a bit short. What you have achieved will probably be good enough to get you in elsewhere, and the "Clearing" system will find that place for you. My boyfriend back when I was an age to be going through all this stuff had everything planned to go to Newcastle University but didn't get the required qualification. He found himself heading off to University of Ulster instead, with about two weeks notice.
This is a really informative response. I especially like the clearing system.

But... why are these tests taken in August? Or are they taken earlier and simply marked in August? I would have thought these tests should be taken during the school year.
  #32  
Old Yesterday, 07:48 AM
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But... why are these tests taken in August? Or are they taken earlier and simply marked in August? I would have thought these tests should be taken during the school year.
The exams are taken during the school year - usually in late May, early June. The marking process in both England and Scotland is a bit of a badly-funded binfire as far as I can tell.
  #33  
Old Yesterday, 08:05 AM
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This is a really informative response. I especially like the clearing system.

But... why are these tests taken in August? Or are they taken earlier and simply marked in August? I would have thought these tests should be taken during the school year.
You sit the exams at the end of the school year in May and June. You get the results in August. All results are issued simultaneously on a single day.

To go into a bit more detail on the whole "choosing a major" thing, I'll give you my experience. Things have probably changed a bit in the last 35 years (yikes) but won't have changed that much. In Scotland, we have a three tier system - in my day it was O Grades, then Highers, then Sixth Year Studies. O Grades were equivalent to English O levels, Sixth Year Studies equivalent to A Levels, and Highers somewhere inbetween.

In fourth year (my eleventh year in education, I turned sixteen at the end of it) I sat eight O levels:
English, Maths, Arithmetic, Physics, Chemistry, French, History, Music
In fifth year I sat five Highers:
English, Maths, Physics, French, Music
I stayed on to sixth year and did two different Maths papers at Sixth Year Studies level. I also did Higher Modern Studies, redid Higher English (I only got a C first time), and filled up my timetable by adding an O Grade Secretarial Studies (where I learned to touch type, probably the single most useful thing I learned that year).

At some point in Sixth Year - can't remember when - the University application process started. I applied to a handful of Scottish Universities to study Maths and Computing Science. Based on my Higher results, I got an unconditional offer from Aberdeen, a conditional offer from Edinburgh requiring A grades in the two additional Highers I was sitting, and a conditional offer from St Andrews with really stiff requirements in the Highers and Sixth Year Studies I was sitting. I took the easy route and took the unconditional offer from Aberdeen so I knew what I was doing and where I was going.

In first year you had to do four modules - I chose Maths, Computing Science, Statistics and Music. None of them were classed as a "Major". I was in the science faculty, heading for a BSc. Most of the friends I made were all in the Arts faculty, and they only had to do three modules.

Second year it trimmed down to three modules - Maths, Computing Science and Numerical Analysis.

Only by third year did you really have to specialise. In Scotland you could graduate with an Ordinary degree at the end of year three, or do another year to make it an Honours degree.
  #34  
Old Yesterday, 09:25 AM
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At some point in Sixth Year - can't remember when - the University application process started. I applied to a handful of Scottish Universities to study Maths and Computing Science. Based on my Higher results, I got an unconditional offer from Aberdeen, a conditional offer from Edinburgh requiring A grades in the two additional Highers I was sitting, and a conditional offer from St Andrews with really stiff requirements in the Highers and Sixth Year Studies I was sitting.
I got an unconditional from Edinburgh after my Higher results, and I could have gone then. There was no way in any shape or form that I was mature enough to do so though!

So sixth year was very much pressure-off, and I did CSYS Physics and Chemistry, and somehow got talked into doing three Maths papers.

With the pressure off, sixth year at school was a period of doing a lot of growing up. The teachers treated you like an adult, for a start, and there's all the usual late teenage stuff going on as well. The first couple of terms at uni were pretty straightforward too - the CSYS syllabus for Physics, and some of the Maths stuff, covered a lot of the same ground so the jump wasn't too hard.

I think the old Scottish system was probably the ideal way into higher education, quite frankly. Add in the fact I qualified for a full grant, could claim Housing Benefit to cover accommodation (never stayed in halls), and could sign on in the summer months...

That was back when less than 10% of the population went to university. It's massively more difficult for kids nowadays, it's a big financial commitment, and the expectation is that around 50% of school-leavers will enter higher education, so the job market is adjusted correspondingly.

You know what value my physics degree from a decent university gave me when it came to my first job, for a company I stayed at for a couple of decades, and did very well out of?

"Is numerate". Honestly, my Higher and CSYS results demonstrated that.

Of almost equal importance was my address, which hit one of their must-have criteria at the time:

"Lives locally"
  #35  
Old Yesterday, 01:09 PM
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Baron Greenback, five CSYS? I doff my cap to you, sir.
  #36  
Old Yesterday, 01:33 PM
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This has been an amazing thread and thanks for all the responses.

One other question: what is revision? I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos on the English education system the past couple of days.

To me as an American, revision is when I’d write an essay or a paper and then take a second look at it the next day and usually get input from friends or classmates.

Is revision in England basically the same as studying? I hear a lot of talk about ‘revision period.’ We never really had one in American high school although often you’d get the last class period before finals as an open day to just study for the midterm or final. If you chose to read comic books, well, that’s your decision.

In college, we had a few days, including a weekend, to get ready for finals. The dorms were pretty strict about noise enforcement during that time as well, even on a Saturday night.
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  #37  
Old Yesterday, 01:50 PM
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Is revision in England basically the same as studying? I hear a lot of talk about Ďrevision period.
it's British English.
To "Revise" translates loosely as "to review", but with a serious attitude. So, yes, it means to study.
  #38  
Old Yesterday, 02:21 PM
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Specifically "revision" means going over what you have already studied, with a view to making sure it's in your "live" memory in time for an examination - and depending on your teachers some work on exam strategies and techniques (working through past exam papers to get a sense of what sorts of questions might be asked, for one thing, and working how you can frame your answers to show off how the work you've done relates to what they've asked - that sort of thing).

If we're swapping histories, I went to a very academically-oriented grammar school, where they put the top streams through the "basic" five O-levels a year early, at 15 it so - in my case, English Language, Maths, French, Latin and Physics, and a second set of 5 a year later (EngLit, Additional Maths, i e., differential equations and all that, Music, German and History). After that it was languages all the way through A-levels (EngLit, French and German, but I still regret not having been able to carry on with History as well) and the Cambridge entrance exams. But that was mumblety-odd years ago.
  #39  
Old Yesterday, 02:32 PM
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Baron Greenback, five CSYS? I doff my cap to you, sir.
Thank you ma'am The Maths papers thing didn't really equate to three separate qualifications tho. If I remember rightly there were six options under the CSYS Maths umbrella, and I took three of them. Not as much commitment needed as the Physics or Chemistry courses by a long way, maybe a course and a half between them.
  #40  
Old Yesterday, 07:03 PM
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Thank you ma'am The Maths papers thing didn't really equate to three separate qualifications tho. If I remember rightly there were six options under the CSYS Maths umbrella, and I took three of them. Not as much commitment needed as the Physics or Chemistry courses by a long way, maybe a course and a half between them.
Well, I always have, and always will, count my CSYS Maths Paper I and Paper II as two separate qualifications. Not that it really matters after all these years.

But we just go to prove that the Dope really is populated by smart people :-)
  #41  
Old Today, 04:16 AM
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The Scottish system is slightly different at the University level from the English/Welsh system as well. For a start, the typical degree course in England is 3 years, in Scotland it's 4.

I've heard the first year in Scotland is more general and gives more flexibility. I guess the extra year gives more time to be flexible on such things, but as I've only been through the English system, as did most of my friends.

The course I dropped out of years ago in England was zoology; the first year of modules was entirely fixed. One basic computing module (early 2000s, not everyone at that point was really using a computer at school), the rest were, in theory, related to the course, so genetics, animal physiology (and one weird stray module about ion uptake by plants which had no relevance to anything but couldn't be skipped or dropped). The second year was likewise fully planned out, with an option in the third year to pick either a behaviour or, iirc, genetics speciality.

The course I am currently on, at a different university, is completely fixed, although the project work which takes up much of the third year is my choice and very flexible, the taught modules are all fixed.

And "revise" means to stare at your notes thinking "What the hell is that illegible squiggle supposed to represent, and why did I only write down 5 words from an hour long lecture?!" while drinking all of the coffee at 3am
  #42  
Old Today, 04:25 AM
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I went from Astronomy in undergrad to Physics in grad school, and even that involved taking a couple of remedial courses.
Heh, I never would have thought it was possible to get an undergrad degree in Astronomy.

In Spain Astronomy is considered a specialty within Physics. It used to be exactly that, back when most undergrad degrees were 3 years of "common coursework" followed by two of "specialization" (now you get 2 years of "common coursework" followed by 2 with some "requireds" and some "optionals", but your optionals still come in bundles). Nowadays a quick look at the programs of several universities tells me it's moved to the Masters level (as have most former "specializations").

Under our old system, you would have started Physics with the idea of specializing in Astronomy, decided that wasn't really for you (hopefully during the first three years) and picked another branch. Under the new one, you would study Physics, choose between "Fundamental" and "Applied" (or similar labels) for your undergrad specialization, then decide that you were not going to take that Masters in Astronomy after all...
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  #43  
Old Today, 04:27 AM
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Well, I always have, and always will, count my CSYS Maths Paper I and Paper II as two separate qualifications.
I do of course count my CSYS Maths Paper III (Calculus) as at least the equivalent of an A level.
  #44  
Old Today, 04:33 AM
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And "revise" means to stare at your notes thinking "What the hell is that illegible squiggle supposed to represent, and why did I only write down 5 words from an hour long lecture?!" while drinking all of the coffee at 3am
What would be the expression for "copying your squiggles into a more-legible form before they become completely illegible"? The Spanish one is such a weirdo I can't even come up with a literal translation to English.

Last edited by Nava; Today at 04:33 AM.
  #45  
Old Today, 07:05 AM
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Am I to understand that those two "math papers" were published research in some sort of scholarly journal? That sounds pretty ambitious for a teenager.

Nava, majoring in astronomy is very much like just a specialized branch of physics. But even with that degree of similarity, I was still short on some classes that a pure physics major would have been expected to take. Most notably, I had plenty of classical mechanics (including an extremely fun class entirely focused on orbital mechanics), but I was thin on E&M and quantum. I think majoring in physics would also have included an introductory course or two in chemistry, which I never did take (a bit to my regret, now).
  #46  
Old Today, 10:28 AM
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Am I to understand that those two "math papers" were published research in some sort of scholarly journal? That sounds pretty ambitious for a teenager.
Exam papers, not the research kind.
  #47  
Old Today, 12:10 PM
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What would be the expression for "copying your squiggles into a more-legible form before they become completely illegible"? The Spanish one is such a weirdo I can't even come up with a literal translation to English.
Dunno, write up your notes? That's not very specific though.

I clearly don't do it often enough, regardless.
  #48  
Old Today, 01:19 PM
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What would be the expression for "copying your squiggles into a more-legible form before they become completely illegible"? The Spanish one is such a weirdo I can't even come up with a literal translation to English.
There's no standard expression for that. You might say "I need to recopy my notes into a legible form," but that's not the only thing you can say.
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