Compulsory AS-levels credited with helping students perform better at A-level

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The Independent Online

The introduction of the new AS-level examination has led to thousands of youngsters earning higher A-level grades.

The introduction of the new AS-level examination has led to thousands of youngsters earning higher A-level grades.

This year's A-level results, due out on Thursday, are expected to show a rise for the 20th year in succession in the number of candidates getting top-grade passes. The failure rate is also expected to fall.

Much of the improvement is being attributed by academics to the AS-level, which is taken at the end of the first year of the sixth form.

They say the system has given pupils the opportunity to drop subjects in which they are not making progress – thereby cutting the percentage of failures. Students can concentrate instead on completing the full A-levels in subjects in which they have already obtained good AS-level marks.

The 300,000 or so candidates sitting this year's AS-level exams are the first to have been educated under an exams shake-up put in place by the Government two years ago.

The exam has also allowed candidates to resit units of A-level courses they failed during their first year, a move that has led traditionalists to claim that it has become easier to obtain higher grades.

George Turnbull, a spokesman for the National Council for General Qualifications, the umbrella body representing exam boards, said: "In the past, candidates have had to struggle on for two years in subjects before being labelled a failure. A poor showing in their mock examinations only meant they were told they had to improve.

"Now, if they do poorly in a subject at AS-level, they can drop it at A-level." In its place, they can take another subject in which they have done better.

Normally, a pupil will pursue four or five subjects to AS-level and continue with three of them to A-level.

This year's results have also rekindled a controversy over marking delays; thousands of students face the prospect of not receiving their results by Thursday as planned.

The exam boards say they have been plagued the number of "pirate entries" from GCSE, A-level and AS-level candidates. These are candidates who have been entered late and for whom the exam boards have no candidate number or records. In some cases, they have not paid their exam fees.

At a time when exam boards must mark a record number of scripts – about 24 million – administrative time is taken up checking on the validity of these candidates, time that could have been spent marking and sending off other scripts, the boards say.

One board has already warned schools and colleges that it might not be able to give A-level marks to pirate entries by Thursday. This could mean candidates missing out on deadlines to accept this year's university places.