# Courses A-level courses in the US?

1. Feb 1, 2006

### Nucleonics

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?

2. Feb 1, 2006

### brewnog

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 They've been semi-superceded by AS and A2 levels, which are essentially A-levels split into two halves.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
3. Feb 1, 2006

### devious_

A-levels are also offered in several countries outside the UK, but not in the states as far as I know.

4. Feb 1, 2006

### Pseudo Statistic

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)

5. Feb 1, 2006

### leon1127

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
6. Feb 1, 2006

### devious_

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.

7. Feb 1, 2006

### leon1127

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.

8. Feb 2, 2006

### rho

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
9. Feb 2, 2006

### Mulder

What do you get for passing those rho?

Don't think I ever heard of them before.

10. Feb 2, 2006

### devious_

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).

11. Feb 2, 2006

### leon1127

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
12. Feb 2, 2006

### Mulder

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.

13. Feb 3, 2006

### finchie_88

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.

14. Feb 4, 2006

### Mulder

Interested to know how the step papers compare with a typical US high school syllabus....

15. Feb 4, 2006

### Pseudo Statistic

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. :(

16. Feb 4, 2006

### Mulder

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.

17. Feb 4, 2006

### finchie_88

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.

18. Feb 4, 2006

### rho

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).

19. Feb 5, 2006

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
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?

20. Feb 5, 2006

### devious_

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.

21. Feb 5, 2006

### matt grime

Moonbear: The UK system focuses you very early on what you want to do. Perhaps too early, but it is not disadvantageous compared to the US system where you don't focus as early but correspondingly don't do work that is at such a high level. They are perhaps equivalent, certainly many of the things I saw taught at *one* US university were highschool standard in the UK. Europe and Japan are further ahead again.

STEP: for whomever said it was far in advance of the US syllabus, it is also in advance of the UK system. That is its point, to distinguish between able students who find the UK exam system inadequate.

There was famously a girl called Laura Spence who failed to ge into Oxford to read Medicine despite being predicated straight A's at A-level (4.0 GPA) and having obtained several A* and A grades at GCSE. There was huge outcry, Gordon Brown weighed in at the unfairness of it all, she went to Harvard. What was lost in the brouhaha was that she was one of 16 people applying for 7 places and there were 9 or so people who had better grades than her. Plus she ignored offers from other medicine schools in the UK and went to a country where she couldn't study medicine at undergraduate level. They also made a fuss over her grant from Harvard which was only their standard means tested bursary and a similar award might have been given to her at Oxford.

What was the point of that? Oh, that A-levels aren't very good at predicting aptitude amongst the good students, hence the STEP.

22. Feb 5, 2006

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Okay, that corresponds with the impression I had, but I wasn't going to say anything about it until I confirmed it. I don't think either system is disadvantageous (or advantageous) over the other, they're just different and have a different emphasis. In the UK, you can get much further ahead in a shorter amount of time in the field you choose to specialize in. On the other hand, in the US, you have more time to make up your mind about what that field will be while getting a good survey of many fields. The students enter university at quite different levels and with different backgrounds, but as far as I can tell, by the time you graduate from university, everyone is fairly well caught up to the same level. There are some exceptions, but those vary as much by university and major as they do by country.

23. Feb 5, 2006

### matt grime

The UK flirted with the idea of introducing a Baccelaurate style preuniveresity qualification but chickened out of it. (You can take the European Bacc. if you are in a school that offers it.)

24. Feb 5, 2006

### Mulder

That was indeed a ridiculous case. The pressure her or her parents (admittedly cleverly) put on Oxford and the government meant she was bound to come out of it successfully in one way or another.

Does it strictly test aptitude at a subject, and cover the same material as A-level, but require a deeper understanding to do well?

Are they comparable to US SAT tests?

This probably says a fair bit about the quality of the US college/university education system. The first year of most UK uni courses recaps the A-level material - which perhaps says something about the mixed quality of secondary schools.

25. Feb 6, 2006

### matt grime

It is quite tricky to describe STEP, perhaps their website would do better than this:

They are based upon the syllabi of different A-Level courses, so they presume a certain necessary familiarity with the concepts, especially in mechanics and probability, but the questions are far harder and longer than A-level questions. Some of the pure questions are independent of the A-level syllabus and are more like 'proper' maths you'd find in a introductory combinatorics/discrete maths class.

For me, they are trying to test the ability of the student's sustained exposition of a subject, which is closer to the necessary aptitude required at university, particularly in maths.

More than just the mixed quality of schools is the mixed range of modularized syllabi that they offer. Certainly my experience teaching last year's intake (when I had enough students to make a serious comparison) led me to believe that, in maths at least, we're going to have to radically overhaul the system (at my university) to cope with students who start off knowing only 1 out of 3 of matrices, complex numbers, and 'difficult' integrals, if any of them.