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EPQ or AS or A levels?

(23 Posts)
Catwin0 Thu 14-Apr-16 16:50:08

My son is in Yr 11 and choosing his A levels. His school have sadly stopped doing most ASs and are encouraging everyone to do three A Levels and an EPQ instead of four AS levels, saying that unis prefer EPQs and are happy to make offers based on predicted grades. Most schools in our area are continuing with the old system, and say that universities prefer making offers based on AS results.

My son really wants to do four different subjects and is reluctant to give one up, but we are not sure about him doing four full A levels. The school have said it is OK (when he mentioned he might go elsewhere if they would not let him!).

I know unis are fine about three A levels, but I am thinking of the longer term, and it would be a shame if he closed a door now by giving one of the subjects up. I feel he would learn more from doing an A level than an EPQ. If he changed schools he could do the four subjects as AS/A level, and drop one after a year, but he really wants to stay where he is.

Any comments most welcome, particularly from any university admissions experts.

originaldoozy Thu 14-Apr-16 16:59:36

I can confirm that my University would rather someone do three A Levels and an EPQ and in fact a student doing this would get a differential offer. E.g. course requires ABB at A Level. They would be offered BBB if a B also obtain in the EPQ.

EPQs allow students to study/research something in depth that they are passionate about and help to develop the nescessary independant learning skills so much needed at University level.

originaldoozy Thu 14-Apr-16 17:03:49

Also to mention that the A levels will all be based on predicted grades with no AS results available as there will be no opportunity to take AS exams ... see how you do and see which to drop. You would be applying for 3 A Levels and an AS level. I would also be wary about studying four A Levels if the risk run is that it would lower the grades across the board due to taking on too much work. Unis would rather see three strong A Levels than 4 week ones.

originaldoozy Thu 14-Apr-16 17:14:41

Sorry ... Im typing in a train so it keeps cutting me off. Final thing to say is that SOME A Level subjects have already moved over to new A Level set up whilst some don't change until later. Therefore it is worth finding out what system the subjects he is interested in are under. If they are under a new style A Level he won't be choosing an AS he will be choosing a full A Level which he must take for the full 2 years to come out with anything. There is no half way AS point at which he could leave it behind but still have a qualification for that years work.

titchy Thu 14-Apr-16 17:16:15

Are you aware A levels have changed and that the exams are all at the end of the 2nd year. AS exams won't count towards final grade and as AS and first year A level aren't necessarily taught together most schools are not in fact going down the 4 AS route next year at all (except in a handful of subjects which aren't changing till 2017).

SecretSquirrils Thu 14-Apr-16 17:23:18

I think it's more important for him to keep his options open. A fourth subject will do that. Schools are discouraging 4th subjects for other reasons to do with funding IMO and not because EPQs are better.
I know that AS are being phased out and my DC have done the old system but neither did EPQ and both got offers from 5 top unis.
DS2 in particular changed his preferences at the end of Y12 and dropped a 4th subject that had been his favourite at GCSE.

Catwin0 Thu 14-Apr-16 17:40:05

Thanks for the mixed replies. Like parents round here, many of those who replied have a different understanding of what is changing. Not all subjects have changed and many schools are still offering ASs.

The trouble is, at my son's school they are not; so the only way for him to do 3 A Levels plus an AS (the best option in my view) would be for him to change school, which he really does not want to do. The school have presented it to parents as if this is a national change and most parents are unaware that other schools are not changing. If he stays in his current school, his choice is either three A levels and an EPQ; or four A Levels (his preference).

I myself work in a school and I know how variable the actual educative value of an EPQ is, even if it is not that hard to get a top grade as students can get help from anyone. The worst outcome would be for him to start the four A levels, then find it too much and give one up, and end up without an EPQ or AS.

I still welcome any else's views.
Many thanks

SecretSquirrils Thu 14-Apr-16 17:47:26

The worst outcome would be for him to start the four A levels, then find it too much and give one up, and end up without an EPQ or AS
While I understand your worry I don't think that need be a disaster.

Many of DS's friends did 4 AS in Y12 then dropped one subject and did an EPQ2 in Y13.
Most loathed the EPQ but that's a different discussion.

titchy Thu 14-Apr-16 17:58:44

Most subjects will have changed. What about the ones your dd wants? Yes lots of places are still offering ASs, but they won't necessarily be taught with the A level students. They'll be an extra to the standard 3 A levels which universities are expecting.

GinandJag Thu 14-Apr-16 18:00:06

My DD is in Lower Sixth now and is doing 4 ASs (2 legacy and 2 reformed), a crash GCSE, and an EPQ.

The universities on her radar screen want to see AS module results.

The decoupling of AS and A2 simply means that they have to sit the AS modules again in UVI.

Sitting ASs means taking a few weeks out of curriculum time, and will incur entry fees, but other than that, I think it is a great idea to do them.

Of my three that have already gone through the system, they have all made changes at the mid-point. A 16 year old pre-GCSE will not necessarily be the same person as a 17 year old A-level student.

sendsummer Thu 14-Apr-16 22:31:34

I take the same viewpoint as Secretsquirrils having one DC currently in sixth form whose 4th choice turned out to the preferred subject once started at A level.

Continuing with 4 full A levels is not so difficult for able mathematicians doing maths and FM compared to those taking mainly humanities so that would be a consideration depending on your DS's subject choice and abilities.
If there is a risk that he might have to drop one through workload plus his 4th subject is not one of the group that changes last to the decoupled system then the question is what does he and you value more, keeping subject choice and interests open or the credit of an EPQ qualification?
A compromise would be to start with four and make a decision at the end of the first term. IMO that allows a reasonable time to gauge preferences and workload. If he drops one of his subjects at that time he can still take up the EPQ or do some essay competition.

sendsummer Thu 14-Apr-16 22:37:25

GinaJag my understanding is that at least for some subjects the decoupled AS level may not be the same syllabus as the first year of the full A level.

seven201 Thu 14-Apr-16 22:51:19

What subjects is he interested in?

I'm a secondary teacher and have had to mark some EPQ work this year - the students were stressed at having so much to do on top of their other subjects. Quite a lot of students dropped it early in year 13 as they realised they didn't need it for uni eg if their offers didn't require it.

Catwin0 Thu 14-Apr-16 23:21:39

Thanks for all comments. Sendsummer, your suggestion to decide at the end of the first term, and still be able to do epq is really helpful. His subjects are Politics,,Economics, maths and History.

catslife Fri 15-Apr-16 08:58:55

Hi "catwin*. I have a child in Y11 too my understanding is that all the facilitating subjects (apart from Maths) will be reformed to the new linear syllabus from September 2016.
Since he is taking Maths, he will still be taking AS Maths in Summer 2017 as this subject will still be taken under the old system.
I am not sure about Politics but under this schedule (see link), it looks as if government and politics hasn't been reformed yet either so could still have AS levels too.
History and Economics are definitely now linear.
Just to confirm what sendsummer says the syllabus (and exam structure) for the new linear A levels is different to that of the former modular courses.
I hope that helps .

GinandJag Fri 15-Apr-16 17:29:09

Send, Science A-levels definitely have the same modules for AS and the full A-level.

cricketballs Fri 15-Apr-16 17:37:07

The problem with listening to previous experience is the new system; secret's DC would have has AS grades in all subjects for uni's to base their offers. Another aspect to think about not only has the exam system changed but also the specs - they are a lot harder now which is why so many 6th forms are advocating only doing 3

SecretSquirrils Fri 15-Apr-16 18:13:26

cricketballs is right, although I did make a clear caveat that mine both did the old system.

It's difficult. MNers on secondary and Higher education topics have given me some solid gold advice over the last few years. Some academics and most parents who've been through the system and learned from the experience. The A level is changing so much that even teachers don't know how it will pan out.
So OP, beware of advice from all angles, some will be out of date and others will be guesswork.

catslife Fri 15-Apr-16 18:23:13

Science A-levels definitely have the same modules for AS and the full A-level.
That was true until very recently. Under the new linear system they don't have modules any more.
It's 2 shorter exams for the new AS level and 3 longer exams for the full A level.
The OPs child isn't taking science A levels though.

GinandJag Sat 16-Apr-16 05:19:44

Same teaching topics then.

mummytime Sat 16-Apr-16 06:26:36

In my experience of local schools here: most are still using AS levels. The syllabuses for AS and A'level do not have to be aligned, but in practise are (makes financial sense - schools are more likely to pay for ASs if they are 1/2 and A'level). Yes the AS result can no longer be used to the A'level, and those papers/that material will have to be re-examined with the A'level exams, but it does provide a 1/2 way benchmark, and gives flexibility for dropping an a'level.

Some people only sit 3 A'levels (there is usually a reason) and that is enough for university.

roguedad Sat 16-Apr-16 08:04:22

I think the choice depends a bit on what you might be aiming for and at which university. I'd certainly advise going for the four A levels if you are aiming for STEM at a top university, given the intense competition for places. Given the subject combination you mention later on you might be a bit more relaxed about a fourth vs an EPQ, but I'd advise looking at the scores on the Complete University Guide for uni subjects of interest to get an idea of the standard of successful candidates at the full A level point. It can help to take off maybe 60-140 points to allow for UCAS points from a completed AS and maybe an ABRSM grade 8 or something, but it shows in what subjects the successful cohort is averaging 4 full levels with good grades, in the past. Of course that is past data and there is all kinds of speculation on how the new A levels will impact the number being taken, but I have been advising people to aim to be "above average", rather than aiming for frankly misleading uni web site minimum offer levels - aiming for the minimum is not a recipe for success. I did admissions at Oxford, King's and UCL in a STEM topic and was shocked at the huge numbers doing 4-5 to A2. Of course things can change, and the OP's child has a different focus, but aiming high rather than listening to the "what unis are telling us" claim is a good plan. That story is confounded by access policy and a misguided interpretation that minimum offer levels somehow represent the general standard. Neglecting past experience in the light of the fact that things are changing is kinda dumb IMHO in that you are neglecting to account for the sheer ferocity of the competition for places, which is not going to go away. You can always rejig things in the light of offers. If my kids' schools said that all pupils could only do three I'd move to somewhere else for 6th form. DS is in school where people are expected to start 4, but to start 5 if they are doing further maths. They can drop back to 3 post offer if it helps optimise making the offer, or if they really cannot cope down the road.

teta Sat 16-Apr-16 10:18:51

Dd1's Gdst school have recommended 3 for everyone with the exception of Oxbridge candidates.DD doing 3 plus an EPQ for vet . science has confirmed with the vet schools that offers will be based on 3 only + or - an EPQ.The EPQ is equivalent to an AS level and offers for vet. School can often include an EPQ.

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