Learning in Quarantine – How will the Pandemic Affect A-Levels in 2021?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been unpredictable and unprecedented on most fronts. In addition to the uncertainty it poses for national and global economy and society, it has created many challenges for educational institutes.

With data and research still being collected and assessed, the jury is still out on how the pandemic has affected student learning as a whole. However, the general consensus among most experts, parents, and students is that school closures and the lack of in-person instruction students were used to have negative effects on student learning.

Regardless, students set to take their GSCEs or A-levels exams in 2021 faced a heightened challenge. In early January, the government in the UK announces that A-Levels and GSCE exams will be cancelled. This meant that students and parents were now looking at problems they encountered in 2020, wondering about how it will impact their education.

Last year, the cancellation of exams led to the development of an algorithm teachers were asked to use to predict students’ grades. The results were calculated based on the student’s ranking relative to other students and how they fared over the academic year. In addition, it counted the school’s historical performance in GCSE exams as well.

While seeming effective on paper, the algorithm caused some disruption and controversy among students and parents alike. It was reported that approximately 39% of the students that were supposed to sit their GSCE/A-Levels exams in 2020 had their grades moved one or two ranks down from their teachers’ estimates.

As the 2021 exam season approached nearer, students preparing for their A-Levels exams grew uneasy. Concerns about fair results and how they should be preparing to obtain good grades caused confusion.

A-Levels & GCSE Exams in 2021 – What is the Current Situation?

In light of the criticism faced last year in regards to A-levels exam results, the UK government proposed a new plan. It suggested that instead of estimates, grades for each subject should be based on the teacher’s assessment of the student’s performance throughout the year. It also announced plans for providing training and guidance for teachers to help them make fair decisions.

As of now, A-level exam results are set to be announced in August 2021. The assessments are to begin in May and end in June. Teachers will be submitting the grades to the exam board by mid-June, prompting a quality assurance check.

What Options do Students Preparing for A-Levels Exams Have?

Students who are satisfied with the government’s proposal can continue working on on-going assignments and tests, performing to the best of their abilities. If needed, they can start searching for A-level maths revision help to ensure their hard work is reflected in the grades their teachers assign them at the end of the school year.

In case students are not happy with their teacher-assigned A-Level grades or think they are unfair, they can appeal. The first option they have is to make the appeal through the college or school.

If needed, their appeals can be taken further to the exam board (Ofqual in England) for further assessment. However, it’s not yet clear how the board will be assessing the fairness of grades under the current circumstances.

Typically, the board would review exam papers. Since there will be no A-levels exams in 2021, examination boards have to come up with new arrangements. Most likely, some form of an independent review will be undertaken.

Sitting Exams Later

If students or their parents are not comfortable with how A-level grades will be assessed in 2021, they have two options. This first is to wait for autumn and sit the exams than to get fairer grades.

The second option is to take a gap year. Whether students are unhappy with the grades their teachers assigned or are struggling to perform well, they can take the year out. They can retake the exams in the spring or summer of 2022.

Addressing the Pandemic’s Impact on Student Performance

This raises questions about how student performance, and in turn, their grades, have been affected during the pandemic. The rigorous GSCE and A-levels curricula along with the sudden shift in social and economic dynamics due to lockdowns have been challenging for students.

In addition to education, their mental health and overall wellbeing have been affected. It’s inevitable that these changes had previously and will further result in fluctuating performance for many students.

This is where students can use the option to take the exams later in autumn or next year. In the meantime, they can focus on A-level maths revision along with other subjects and take their time prepping for the exams at a slower pace.

In the case the student thinks they are suffering from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression and it’s impacting their grades, they must contact a GP to get a formal diagnosis. The student or their parents should also contact the school. This will create a record of the issue, which may come in handy in case they appeal their grades.

It’s quite clear that the pandemic has had a profound impact on student’s personal and academic life. While this doesn’t mean there aren’t any ways for them to make improvements and rise through the challenges.

Things can gradually improve by getting organised, asking for additional help from their parents or tutors, and sticking to a schedule where they spend a few hours studying every day.

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