OBSERVATIONS ON  'A' LEVEL PHYSICS FROM 1970 to 2003

Topics from the old 'O' level have been elevated to the new 'A' level. This has had the effect of depleting the syllabus for the G.C.S.E. which has replaced the 'O' level, whilst simultaneously watering-down the content and difficulty of the new 'A' level.

Indeed, some questions from the post-2000 'A' level physics are extremely similar to, and sometimes easier than, questions from the pre-1988 'O' level physics.

On an 'A' level paper of 30 years ago, only occasionally was a diagram provided in a question. Today, diagrams are given in most questions. In years past, it was expected that a student of the subject possessed the ability to read a written description of a situation, imagine the 3 dimensional set-up and draw a 2 dimensional diagram for himself. Nowadays, in the new "inclusive" subject, where 50% of the population cannot possess the same intellectual ability as the top 5%, questions contain a given diagram.

Calculations in the new 'A' level are purely numerical as the syllabus is designed to include candidates who have not studied mathematics beyond G.C.S.E. Some calculations are trivial. All formulae required are given - they are provided in an appendix which covers both the physical laws and mathematical formulae - the candidate is not expected to remember or derive any of them.

Questions are already broken down into small, piece-meal portions, each of which covers a single stage of the required method and leads the candidate on to the next stage. One is no longer expected to consider a problem and reason a method for oneself. The method is prescribed and given in a recipe format. The candidate who possesses the ability to reason is indistinguishable from the one who lacks it. The more able are cheated of the opportunity to shine.

The standard and difficulty of the 'AS' level physics are less than the old 'O' level, as hard calculations have been removed and easy introductions to new topics have come in which, together with the above observations, make this 'AS' level available to students who would not have fared well at the 'O' level in the subject. Students who would normally have struggled with 'O' level physics at the standard of 30 years ago, are able to pass the 'A' level physics of today with good grades.

/The author is a private tutor.

June 2004.

 

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