I remember in year 11 (last year of secondary school in the UK) when we were figuring out whether we wanted to apply to a sixth-form or a college and getting ready to take our GCSE’s, our teachers would always say “It’s a big jump from GCSEs to A-levels.” Back then I remember thinking this was a given, it seemed like common sense to me that every year you progress in education, it gets more difficult. But of course once I started A – levels for myself I truly understood what they all meant and the reason they emphasised the issue so much.
Transition from secondary school to A-levels is definitely a big step. At secondary school, from my experience there was a lot more hands on teaching. Teachers that genuinely had a passion for their subjects and working with young people went out of their way to help you with learning. In this type of environment, it can be easy to become too dependent.
Transition from A-levels to university is another big step. In a 2012 Guardian article, ‘How big is the jump from GCSE to A-level?’, it is stated that ‘The academic work you’ll be set at university will be a big step up in difficulty level than A-levels. You’ll have to get used to a new way of thinking, … new styles of teaching (such as lectures) and more demanding essays. You’ll even have a new mark scheme to get used to …”
Many first year university students are disappointed with their initial grades from their first assignments as they are used to achieving top grades from A – levels. It takes time to be acquainted with the new method of marking and the different writing skills required.
Some criticise the teaching method at both A-level and university for teaching with the purpose of passing exams rather than teaching to understand the curriculum. I actually had my A-level Economics teacher tell the class once that his job was solely to have everyone get a pass (E grade) and that the rest was up to us.
Another area criticised is the quick pace of covering topics. When I was doing my Maths A-level we would literally start a new topic each lesson, (1 hour lessons) covering like 3 topics in a week. It goes without saying that someone cannot master a topic in one lesson when they have just been introduced to it. But the students are expected to practice outside of lessons with the use of text books and attend after school help sessions etc. Sometimes this results in grades not actually reflecting the student’s true abilities.
Nothing really could completely prepare someone for the challenges they will face at university, there will always be a period of adjustment. Many universities offer a lot of support to help students deal with the difficult transition, especially during fresher’s week. For example, Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) provides study support through both the department and the LUMS Effective Learning Team to help students find ways of studying that are effective for them.
Also every undergraduate student in LUMS is allocated an academic tutor. This is a faculty member in your department who you can seek advice from about module choices and overall progress on your degree. Academic skills workshops are available to help you develop effective study strategies and practices. Regular emails are sent out about available spaces in the Academic Writing Zone and the Maths and Stats Help Centre (MASH).
Overall there is a benefit of taking this approach to teaching and learning. Both A levels and university aim to improve independent learning. Independent learning is when an individual is able to think, act and pursue their own studies autonomously, without the same levels of support you receive from a teacher at school. This method of studying brings about independence, and enhances problem solving skills as well as increasing your confidence. These are all attributes and skills which are required in the real world and sought after by employers. But don’t forget as stated above there are still plenty of ways to get support.