As in 2020, this year's exams have been cancelled, leaving students with huge uncertaintiesDAVID HAWGOOD

Every year group likes to complain that they have been worst affected by the pandemic. Many of our generation harbour resentment of the way in which the government has handled the situation. This seems to have changed the way we view education.

Having my A-Levels cancelled was impossible to believe. The exams I’d been working towards for the best part of two years were no longer going ahead; my grades were in the hands of an exam board unaware of the standard of my work throughout those years. Yet we accepted it, even when the government realised their mistakes and reverted to our ‘centre-assessed grades’.

“The idea of missing [my offer] on imitation grades was almost unbearable.”

Somehow, my Cambridge offer made the experience both better and worse. Achieving the offer had validated my work without needing the grades, but the idea of missing it on imitation grades was almost unbearable. I also wrestled with the thought of deferring my place in a bid to have a more normal freshers’ week experience. But the matter was just as foreign to me as it was to everyone else.

This is the second year of cancelled GCSEs and A-levels, and nothing seems to have changed. Even we could have foreseen in November that students were bound to be affected in much the same way as in the previous year. Knowing how difficult it was for universities to honour all the offers made in 2020, it would have made sense to consider changing the system. This is perhaps not the government’s priority in the midst of a global pandemic – yet we must consider what the future of higher education looks like.

Personally, I have never understood exams being the only measure of a student’s intelligence. They focus on and reward memory, unfairly advantaging those students who thrive under pressure and time constraints. The immense amount of work sixth form pupils complete over the course of two years deserves at least partial recognition, and yet so much of it is brushed aside.

Introducing a similar system to the American ‘GPA’ (grade point average), in which each piece of work is assessed and contributes to a final grade, would not only encourage the steady flow of work throughout the year but would also alleviate some of the pressure created by exams. If a system like this had been in place last year, it would have undoubtedly been easier to discern what a student’s final grade was likely to have been. That being said, students would equally not be appreciative of the constant and incessant pressure which a GPA system would create, making them feel as though one slip up on one piece of work could have a lasting, detrimental effect. Perhaps we need to find a middle ground: more coursework-based assessments, or at least students’ grades being made up of more than just exams.

“Achieving university offers is not nearly as exciting as it should be – their conditional nature ruins any enjoyment.”

As for university applications, applying after results day could be a welcome change. Achieving university offers is not nearly as exciting as it should be – their conditional nature ruins any enjoyment. Surely universities would welcome such a change, as it would allow them to make the correct number of offers to the correct people from the very start, streamlining the process without wasting anyone’s time. Gaining an offer which requires slightly higher grades than you initially anticipated could lead to an improvement in one’s work ethic and overall outcome. Having a goal to reach is an excellent incentive to want to work harder. The end of AS Level exams removed some pressure from the first year of the A Level course, but perhaps AS Levels provided a necessary benchmark to monitor one’s own progress. Having an offer which you are working towards, as well as a grade which you are working to improve, not only manages expectations of what offers you can realistically make, but challenges you to push yourself.

Of course, receiving offers that require slightly higher grades than anticipated in advance of exams could provide the incentive to improve work ethic and the overall outcome. But surely the same is true of post-exam applications, as standard offers and course requirements would work in much the same way. Perhaps the reintroduction of AS level exams, which provided a necessary benchmark to monitor one’s own progress, would both allow us to manage expectations of achievable offers and challenge us to push ourselves. The added pressure that comes with having exams in the first year of study would be mitigated by the elimination of application-related workload.


Mountain View

University may ask students to defer offers in event of oversubscription

Let’s consider the current situation at Cambridge. The university is trying its best to make offers to those they deem to be deserving, all while being in the dark about how exactly grades will be manufactured. This uncertainty affects the offer holders themselves, now worried about the possibility of deciding if they would be ‘happy to transfer colleges or defer their places’, as well as the university itself, which needs to fill places just as much as it needs to avoid over-offering. Had applications this year been delayed until after grades were obtained, these would be non-issues.

Changing the way in which we gain entry to university is more vital than ever. The world we live in seems to be modernising in so many ways, yet we cling to an education system that is clearly unfit for purpose. Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to remodel it – and I’m all for doing so.