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Courses A-level courses in the US?

  1. Feb 1, 2006 #1
    I've been comming across the term A-level courses in PF lately. Having lived in US and attended the US educational system (including college), I am embarassed to say I had never heard of this term before. After having wikipedia-ed it, I was still wondering if A-level courses exist only outside the US. Any ideas?

    I'm familiar with AP courses in US high schools, but that can't be the same thing as A-level, can it?
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  3. Feb 1, 2006 #2


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    A-levels are the UK exams which are traditionally taken at the end of college (not the same as US college!), or 6th form, when you're 17 or 18. They've been semi-superceded by AS and A2 levels, which are essentially A-levels split into two halves.

    They're generally the exams which most universities base their entry criteria on. Students traditionally took 3 A-levels, but now it's typical to take the equivalent of anywhere between 2 and 5.

    Not heard of them having been taken in the US, but American students coming over to the UK to study are often required to prove that they're up to A level standard before being admitted into university.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2006
  4. Feb 1, 2006 #3
    A-levels are also offered in several countries outside the UK, but not in the states as far as I know.
  5. Feb 1, 2006 #4
    Here in Kuwait they are indeed offered... so I know they're international... (As are the courses that preceed A-levels, "GCSE" in the UK but "IGCSE" in the rest of the world)
    Google for edexcel or cambridge international and you might find your answer.
  6. Feb 1, 2006 #5
    allow me to post one of the pure maths question from HK A-level past exams.
    and here is the question
    Let f(x) and g(x) be polynomials.

    Prove that a non-zero polynomial u(x) is a common factor of f(x) and g(x) if and only if u(x) is a common factor of f(x) - g(x) and g(x).

    That is just first part of the question. I am Applied maths major in university and it is a shame that i have no clue how to do it.

    For HK A-level's pure maths, it includes linear algebra, basic set theory, int and d calculus, series, maths induction and anaylsis.
    and the analysis is even more complex than my math3310...... ~_~
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2006
  7. Feb 1, 2006 #6
    If u|f and u|g then surely u|f-g. Conversely, if u|f-g and u|g, then u|f-g+g=f.
  8. Feb 1, 2006 #7
    It is just something i have never seen how it is done....
    I am just asking honestly and without any offensive means, how soon can US education catch up with A-level exams? I roughtly think at least 85% of college applicants wont be able to solve it.
  9. Feb 2, 2006 #8


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    A-level isn't as hard as the question above anymore the hardest thing we have is STEP II and III, which are two exams i am dreading taking. Heres some papers: www.mathsexams.ukteachers.com/STEP/ [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  10. Feb 2, 2006 #9
    What do you get for passing those rho?

    Don't think I ever heard of them before.
  11. Feb 2, 2006 #10
    If Cambridge gives you an offer for admission (mainly for math), they usually come with a score you're required to get in two STEP papers (usually II and III).
  12. Feb 2, 2006 #11
    In Hong Kong, if you want to get into engineering school and science. They recommand you to acquire A on phys, maths, chem and perhaps other science subject. Roughly speaking, less than 10% get A among all examinee. They use the lovely normal distribution curve)
    And of course, other major have other requirement. Although you are not forced to take it, you will receive no college admission if you dont take it. Unlike the system in US, SAT is relatively optional if you have 4.0 GPA. I have known people whom were required to retake it for engineering school admission.

    In addition, the question that i posted is from Hong Kong A-level. Calculus BC is obvisouly just the introduction of A-level. (I don't know how hard the British System A-level is, but i assume it is somewhere around.) Almost all subject's difficulty levels are higher than undergrad course in US.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2006
  13. Feb 2, 2006 #12
    Thanks. I had a friend who successfully applied. I don't remember him being aware he could have some practise before. The papers do look to be right at the top end of what I remember of the A-level (further maths) syllabus. Some (good) schools probably deliberately prepare the material required to do these I suppose.
  14. Feb 3, 2006 #13
    I'm doing A2 (second year a-level) at the moment. I'm doing maths, further maths, physics and chemistry. That question was slightly above the typical a-level maths level, but certainly within the scope of further maths. I know some one who applied to Cambridge and got in (conditional offer, but its still good). He has to do one of those step papers sometime soon.
  15. Feb 4, 2006 #14
    Interested to know how the step papers compare with a typical US high school syllabus....
  16. Feb 4, 2006 #15
    I'm in a US system based high school..
    Looking at the 2005 STEP III paper, that all looks waaay beyond what they teach us here.
    So far as I know, in our system we have Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus AB/BC, AP Statistics.
    The stuff in there is veeerrry briefly covered in Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus, but not as.... err..... "prove this" as the paper shows.
    The Statistics stuff in there is also like... a billion times more advanced than AP Statistics. (in AP Statistics you don't use any calculus to my knowledge)
    In the STEP II 2005 paper, the mechanics stuff roughly matches what we call "AP Physics C: Mechanics".
    Also, the statistics stuff looks roughly a bit like what we have in AP Statistics... but still a bit more advanced.
    The other stuff looks roughly equivalent to AP Calculus BC, but still slightly more advanced.

    Man I wish I was still in the British system.... the papers look so awesomely fun. :(
  17. Feb 4, 2006 #16
    It's one for another thread, but the problem is Britain is the huge discrepancy in school and teaching quality. How can having half a dozen different exam boards, for example, produce consistent results, and give all school students equal opportunities.
  18. Feb 4, 2006 #17
    I agree, it is a problem, but when you apply for universities, that is partly what the interviews are for, I have two interviews at two different universities next week, and when I'm there, I'm expecting to be asked some questions and they want to see how well I cope with them, and whether or not when I say that I'm A standard they agree with me.
    The exam boards moderate each other, so they should be about the same level, just that different exam boards teach slightly different things, (there is little variation), but in theory, the overall standard should be the same.
  19. Feb 4, 2006 #18


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    I applied to study NatSci at Trinity college and my conditional offer is a 1 and a 2 in STEP II and III (I did my A-levels last year).
  20. Feb 5, 2006 #19


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    One thing that has never come up in any conversations I've had regarding the UK version of college and A-levels is how specialized are your courses? Do you focus in on just the one or two subjects you are interested in studying at the university level, or are you still taking the full breadth of courses as well (maths, sciences, literature, history, arts)? I'm trying to figure out if the British system really is managing to cover both breadth and depth, or sacrificing breadth of coursework in favor of more depth in just a few areas of focus? In high school in the US (the educational level that compares to the age-range of what is called college in the UK), there is not a great depth of knowledge covered, we expect people will obtain that at the university level, but we have requirements for fairly extensive breadth of knowledge (you basically are sampling every possible academic area you could further major in at university), so even if you wish to become a physicist, you will have to take some art classes and literature classes and history classes in high school. Is that the same in the UK system? Do you then just take A-level exams on the subjects you're best at? Or do you take them in all your subjects, but only can choose university majors based on the subjects you score well on? Or are you deciding when you begin college that you will focus on one area and aim to take courses predominantly covering that subject?
  21. Feb 5, 2006 #20
    In my school, we were given the option of taking A-level in mathematics, Arabic and two of: physics, chemistry and biology. (A few of us took further mathematics, too.) Breadth wasn't really a concern, at least not in my school. Subjets like art, literature and history weren't taken seriously and weren't considered courses worthy enough of actual study at the A-level. However we did have a few such courses at the O-level/GCSE.
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