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Son struggling at A level

(52 Posts)
rusty100 Fri 17-May-13 17:21:47

Hi - I am new here and am hoping there might be someone who can give me some advice. Hope that's ok.

My son is 17 and in his 1st year of A levels. He seems happy, works hard, has lots of interests and friends and likes college.
The problem is that he is seriously struggling, and may drop out of college after this year. I am trying not to put pressure on him and just supporting giving advice, he is very sensible.
He failed all his exams at Christmas, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English, and has now dropped Chemistry.

He has been a straight A student all his life and always wanted to be a vet, hence his A level choices. I am mystified about how such a successful and intelligent, and hard working person can suddently be unable to pass a single exam.

He claims everyone is struggling and that he is just not as intelligent as we always thought. This may be true but seems a bit unlikely.

I've spoken to his teachers and they say he just needs to work harder and grasp the difference in answering questions at A level as opposed to GCSE.

It is unusual to struggle this much at A level or normal? If he doesn't fail all his retakes, then I will find a tutor and see if we can help him raise his grades at least.

I am at a bit of a loss though so please do comment if you feel I Should be doing something obvious or if you think I am worrying unnecessarily.

notfluffy Fri 17-May-13 17:30:18

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Mosschops30 Fri 17-May-13 17:49:38

Watching with interest as dd also struggling with biology at a level.
We now have a tutor but he's told me she's way behind

The only thing I can offer is that the sciences are notoriously more difficult at a level and lots of students suffer

ShipwreckedAndComatose Fri 17-May-13 18:23:34

I've spoken to his teachers and they say he just needs to work harder and grasp the difference in answering questions at A level as opposed to GCSE.


It is likely that he can do it but the jump between exams is massive and some get it quicker than others.
I would recommend trying past papers and really dissecting the markschemes. I think about 20% of the marks on a paper my year 13 students did were for using the correct specific terminology. If he doesn't know his key words then he will fall down.

As one of my students worked out; he was getting about 80% towards each mark but not quite nailing it to the depth required. So he always felt he had done ok but actually was missing far too many marks to get the grade he wanted.

creamteas Fri 17-May-13 18:34:17

Not sure if this is the case, but this is how I explain things to my students who cruised in with straight As then struggle at uni.

Most people have a 'level' of education that comes relatively easy to them, and although they do work, they only need 'surface learning' to get good grades rather than really have to think hard in order to understand.

At some point in their life, they need to go to the next level, and they hit a wall, because their previous learning strategies are no longer enough. They need to learn how to learn.

For some this happens in primary, for others at uni. But when it happens you need different strategies to learn.

It is not a question of intelligence, and most will get through it, but it will need a different sort of effort.

gillviola Fri 17-May-13 19:38:54

I have a similar problem but I have just found out that it won't be possible for my ds to resit his as levels in January as these have been stopped. The only way for my ds to re sit is to resit it in May just before his A2 exams or to see if his college will let him repeat the AS year. I too am at a loss and am dreading results day in August.

deleted203 Fri 17-May-13 19:50:00

As a teacher, I would say that the AS year is the hardest year any of them will ever do. It is a HUGE jump from GCSE (which most able students should be able to piss their way through with very little actual effort, TBH). A2 isn't really any harder - and the first year of uni is often relatively easy as students have got used to having to take responsibility for their own learning.

AS level always leaves the majority of students reeling with shock at how much independent work they are expected to do - and at the level of depth required when answering questions. Students who were happily getting A and B grades at GCSE, without honestly putting in an awful amount of sweat, suddenly discover that they are working hard at AS and getting E/U grades. The major problem, I believe, is that they are spoonfed everything they need at GCSE and suddenly there is a massive leap to AS and they are expected to do a tremendous amount of independent research/study.

Shipwrecked writes a good post about looking at past papers/mark schemes and looking at what examiners are really looking for. Particularly in the sciences, I think, (not my subject, unfortunately) you can write a really sound answer - but fail to include the subject specific keywords that examiners need and you will drop a lot of marks.

I would believe him when he says everyone else is struggling. It is very, very common.

rusty100 Fri 17-May-13 21:46:32

this is very helpful guys thank you very much. I think you have reassured me that with application, and perhaps additional tutoring he should be ok.
He has said he doesn't want to be a vet anyway, but is keen to be a chiropractor so we're hoping he can get the grades required for this.

notfluffy Fri 17-May-13 22:10:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

WorrySighWorrySigh Fri 17-May-13 22:26:45

Thank you for starting this thread Rusty my DD is struggling with similar subjects. Your tips Shipwrecked, will be passed on to DD, I am not sure if she is truly aware of this.

BackforGood Fri 17-May-13 23:10:25

I think it's common to do very well at GCSE and then really struggle with the jump to ASs. Everyone acknowledges this is by far and away the biggest jump in your education journey. Don't know why, but I've been led to believe maths and physics are notorious for this, with pupils who've always found them so easy, suddenly having to work, and learn to answer questions in different ways, and a lot of bright dcs struggle.

WorrySighWorrySigh Fri 17-May-13 23:20:03

Interesting comment from my DH which might be relevant:

With the AS/A2 approach rather than the straight A level approach of yore (and my day) students are expected to work at far closer to full A level standard right from the start even if it is only on a small part of the syllabus. In the old days you had a two year run up at achieving the full A level standard.

deleted203 Fri 17-May-13 23:25:25

Would agree with your DH Worry. Pupils come confidently into the 6th Form armed with their GCSE knowledge and are suddenly and immediately faced with essays/questions being marked at 'A' level standard and can't believe their marks have suddenly plummeted. What was a good answer to a GCSE question is simply nowhere near good enough for an A level.

WorrySighWorrySigh Sat 18-May-13 00:03:45

Just had a quick chat with DD and she has confirmed that the terminology thing is something she is struggling with.

At GCSE using the wrong terminology is not picked up on to anything like the same extent. At AS suddenly it matters and marks are lost.

MoominMammasHandbag Sat 18-May-13 00:12:41

Are you happy with his college OP? The results obtained by different colleges can vary enormously.
My eldest two went to different A level colleges; the level of support and commitment to the students' learning was massively higher where my daughter went than where my son went. It was definitely reflected in the colleges' results.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 18-May-13 07:21:06

I give my students key words lists from the syllabus and their text book. I get them to write out the definitions and then learn 5 at a time.

I am trying to teach them to develop an internal dialogue with themselves about what must be on the markschemes; to actively think what must be on the markscheme. What I have told them is to always ask themselves what key words would be appropriate to the answer expected.
I have also pointed out that any word in bold, not defined in the question, should be defined in the answer.

My subject is Biology btw!

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 18-May-13 07:26:40

Also, if your DS is thinking medicine then he will need to nail an A in his exams this summer. if this is unlikely to happen it is worth thinking of back up plans (as suggested earlier).

One of my students went on to study biomedical studies at Sussex university on this basis a couple of years ago.

And twenty years ago, another student of mine failed to get into medicine. however he had worked out that a biomedical course at one university shared the same foundation first year course with the medicine course and so he got himself on that course with lower grades...and then transferred internally a year later.

Not saying that this is what your DS should do, I'm just pointing out that there are various roads he could think about taking.

WorrySighWorrySigh Sat 18-May-13 09:52:02

Thank you Shipwrecked, I will pass that top tip onto DD. Those sound like wise words. DD's school does seem to be deepening DD's love of Biology & Chemistry but I am not always sure that they are preparing them well for the exams.

DD wants to study Biochemistry at university BTW.

secretscwirrels Sat 18-May-13 13:05:33

I agree with the general view that most able students can cruise through GCSEs but in order to get the good grades at AS they need to up their game.
They have to do more than the work that is set in class. Read all about their subject and revise continuously.

DS1 got all A* /As at GCSE with frighteningly little revision.
He started 6th form with a different attitude and worked much harder. He got all As in his January modules but not the UMS that he wanted. Since then he has moved up another gear. He works really hard. He is doing 5 subjects so not many frees but he spends every free and every lunchtime working plus several hours most evenings. For the current exam revision he is doing 3 practice papers every day. His social life is zero.
He is entirely self motivated and I hope it pays off for him.

rusty100 Sat 18-May-13 13:14:44

Mine is nowhere near as committed as some kids it seems. I kind of don't want him spending all his time working, I am a bit shocked that he has to work 10 (?) hours a day to get his A's. Although the original plan was Veterinary I have slightly encouraged him to think of other options, I think unless you are comfortable with the academic side, then the added pressure of incredibly long hourse and massive (£100k) debts at the end of it is unreasonable - especially on a starting salary of £25k.
Equine & human chiropractor seems a much better balance IMO.

secretscwirrels Sat 18-May-13 13:49:00

Mosschops the sciences are notoriously more difficult at a level.
I think this is true and to some extent it is because they are rather too easy and insufficiently challenging for the more able at GCSE. DS is doing 3 sciences, Maths and FM. He finds the Biology by far the hardest simply because of the sheer quantity of material. The Exam is in 3 weeks and they haven't yet finished the last topic. He is looking forward to dropping Biology after AS.

WorrySighWorrySigh Sat 18-May-13 19:32:59

Something which I think you get with the sciences and maths at AS & A level is that IMO these subjects proceed in steps of comprehension. You can have been perfectly happy with GCSE algebra but then struggle to grasp calculus at all.

You dont get the same progressions in the discursive subjects. I dont think that this means that the discursive subjects are easier just that where it is necessary to make such steps you can hit a dead end at any moment.

Mosschops30 Sat 18-May-13 20:54:48

If dd fails her AS levels, which looks likely im thinking she coukd maybe leave and do an access to health course in one year.
Does anyone know if there are any disadvantages to this for a young student.
I did an access but was late twenties

eland Sat 18-May-13 23:15:32

shipwrecked, do you teach OCR biology by any chance?

If so, is there a list of there keywords online anywhere? Thanks.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sun 19-May-13 08:26:02

I do!

I used the syllabus and the purple OCR text book that we use with them to compile lists myself after realising the direction the exams are taking. It didn't take too long and I can update with any I missed out.

However, I do know a colleague found some online from some free bio zone resources she came across

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