If your teen is about to start studying A Levels, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to A Level exam boards. You may have even heard some of the acronyms already and were unsure what they stood for. Or perhaps you really paid attention during their GCSE’s so you’re well aware of what exam boards are, but don’t know how that affects their upcoming exams. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
There are lots of similarities as well as significant differences between the current A Level exam boards out there today, and it’s well worth being aware of what these are. But before we go into such detail, let’s go back to the beginning.
So, what’s an A Level exam board anyway?
If you live in England or Northern Ireland, when you hear your teachers or tutors talk about A Level exam boards, they are most likely referring to:
The exam boards are the organisations which set the exams and mark them. This means they decide on the content of your exams and the questions that should be asked. So, you will often see their name on practice papers, textbooks and of course, your exam when the time comes.
In the vast majority of cases, your teacher or school will have picked the A Level exam board they would like their class to study, on a per subject basis.
This means you may be doing AQA Chemistry, but Edexcel Geography, at the same time. This is down to individual preference of your school, 6th form college or teacher, and it is unlikely you would be able to change this.
Not all A level exam boards offer all subjects. For example, only Edexcel offers A Level Arabic, only AQA offers A Level Polish, and only OCR offers A Level Portuguese. So, your teacher or school might not even have a choice in some circumstances!
Where there is choice, there is no established methodology for picking one exam board over another – they often have lots of overlaps too, because they ultimately follow content approved by the Department of Education.
Some A Level exam boards for example are known to have more multiple-choice questions than others, and some give greater weighting to ongoing assessment.
This means you need to be aware of which exam board you are studying, to give yourself the best chance of success, and prep yourself for the most likely style of exams you are likely to encounter. The techniques to practice for multiple-choice exams are very different from essay-based exams!
Let’s work with an example, as it can all seem a little complex. To break this down, let’s use the example of A Level Geography.
For instance, A Level Geography is taught across A Level exam boards: AQA, Edexcel and OCR. They look very similar in many ways. There is a balance between topics on physical and human geography. There is the opportunity for fieldwork or an independent investigation. All three do cover migration and globalisation, as well as glacier and coastal landscapes, for instance.
However, there are differences in the structures of the a level courses, the weighing of each module, and the content does vary, as does the style of questioning in the exam papers.
At first glance the themes and broad topics of exam boards may appear almost the same, the actual detail and the focus, as well as the case studies used, do differ. So, do make sure you buy the right textbook for your exam course – your teacher and tutor can help if you’re unsure.
Usually, if you are re-sitting your A Levels, you will be following the same A Level exam board you previously studied. Part of the reason does relate to the variations between exam boards which can affect the style of exam and the exact content. If you have done your research and feel you would feel more motivated if you switched to another exam board, it is recommended that you have an open conversation with your teacher or tutor about this, to make sure it is the right decision for you.
There has long been speculation about this among students and teachers alike. It has even sparked national debate on a broader educational level. In fact, the Department of Education issued a blog post not too long ago to try and dispel this myth, noting that there is a whole lot that goes behind the scenes to make the A Level exam boards comparable.
In other words, try not to panic if you find out your A Level Physics exam board is OCR, if you heard AQA was ‘easier’ – as that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.
When you’ve just started your courses, the last thing you need is more confusion or uncertainty. That’s why if you’re still unsure about what exam boards are and how they affect your A Levels, do reach out to us to help find you a tutor, who can guide you through all this and point you to additional resources. You will be familiar with all the acronyms in no time!