Resits in high-stakes examinations: the unusual case of A levels

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Resits in high-stakes examinations: the unusual case of A levels

A levels are high-stakes examinations in England, serving the functions of selection, certification and evaluation of sixth-form education and, according to the records over the past decade, A levels appear to have succeeded in all of them. They have remained the chief selection tool for universities in England (Hodgson et al. 2005). At the same time, performance in A levels has been steadily improving every year since 2000. While the UK government puts the improvement down to better teaching and learning, others believe that A levels have become easier (de Waal 2009) with their new structure. Unlike many other high-stakes exams which test students in one-off sessions at the end of a course, A levels use a modular approach under Curriculum 2000, which was a major educational reform in ,England with the objective of broadening access and the curriculum in post-16 education (Hodgson et al. 2005). The current A level has an equally-weighted AS and A2 module, to be taken in Year 12 and Year 13 respectively,either in January or in June, each with two assessment units (three units per module for exams prior to 2010), and students are allowed to resit past units during the two-year sixth-form course with no limit or penalty (QCDA n.d.).This paper examines the effects of the resit policy of A levels on student learning in sixth-form education.

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