In Britain, we have this traditional ritual in which after the release of A-level exam results, the press perpetuates the view that A-levels are getting easier again as pass rates reach record highs. Is this true? I don’t know.

I have just taken my A levels but I haven’t taken papers from many years ago so I can’t give an accurate comparison. But purely anecdotally, past papers always seem easier than the actual exam papers. I can’t conclude from this that they are getting easier because exam papers are supposed to get easier as you practice them; it makes perfect sense that the actual exam should be easier than all the past papers you do beforehand.

What is true is that the number of top "A" grades being awarded rose this year from 24.1% to 25.3%. And 96.9% of scripts were awarded a Pass at grades A to E. 

I can think of three possible reasons why:

  • People are getting smarter, or teaching is getting better!
  • Exams are getting easier
  • Schools are kicking out badly performing students or refusing to allow them to take the exam in order to ensure their own pass rates look good.

Young people getting smarter? We should hope so! The UK is a knowledge-based economy; we need more smart people, more university graduates if we’re going to perform well in the international economy in the future.

Exams getting easier? Perhaps.

Schools fiddling pass rates? Definitely. I know my school does it, I know schools my friends do it, everybody does it. If they think theres any chance of you failing, they may often not allow you to take the exam. You can go to another school to take it; sure – just not at your own.


Now, I’m personally not too bothered at all whether they are getting easier. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t – really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that A level grades are useful and allow employers and universities to confidently determine how good a student is.

I mean, if 25% of people get an A grade, it is impossible to distinguish between anybody in that top 25%. The introduction of an A* grade (90% for A*, 80 for A) next year will help this along.

But further, I believe exams should be made harder! If students are indeed getting smarter, as the pass rates would seem to indicate, why not make them harder? This will challenge the brightest students, and again, allow people to determine more accurately how smart someone really is!


I know that people who have taken A-levels often get offended by the talk of exams getting easier. But I believe it is in the interest of every student for employers to have faith in the A-level system and grades.

If pass rates are rising, we should firstly be congratulating young people on their success and secondly making the exams harder to continue to challenge young people and to maintain faith in A-levels.

Saying that exams need to be made harder does not mean belittling the work of A-level students; as one myself, I know how much hard work, time and effort A-levels require. But we want to be able to leave college at the age of 16 with our heads held high and with grades in a system which employers have confidence in.


I hope everyone who received their A-level results last week got the results they wanted, and congratulations. 

Vacation in Florida

Hi guys!

I hope you’ve been enjoying your summer! I saw it all… flash floods in the UK and 115 degrees over in the ever-changing weather in Florida.

The floods in the UK made international news a few weeks ago. Oxford was badly hit; we had a lot of torrential rain fall upstream. This then flowed down the river and it burst it’s banks along the Thames. Luckily I survived without much damage, although I did end up walking for 3 hours back from work due to traffic chaos!

I visited Florida this summer which was as wonderful as ever. I was trying to avoid the theme parks as much as possible, and Florida sure has a lot more than just theme parks!

I was lucky enough to be able to see the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour from the Kennedy Space Centre. It was a wonderful sight and I feel very priviledged, given the uncertain launch schedules of the shuttle and it’s impending retirement. I think it’s totally inspiring hearing about the history of the United States space programme and I look forward to the day we return to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Even if you don’t manage to see a launch when you visit Florida (and I highly recommend it, even given a 3 hour wait in 115F), the Kennedy Space Centre is a fabulous place to learn about the history of space exploration. There is a Shuttle Launch Experience simultator which is really cool and allows you to get a feel for what it’s like going through the launch (albeit with lower g-forces!) 

The main reason of my holiday, of course, was to visit the Apple Store in Florida. I played around with the iPhone and it’s a nifty piece of kit. It works as advertised really! To say it’s a revolution in mobile phones wouldn’t be an understatement. But I can’t see me wanting one – apart from being a thief magnet, I don’t see myself actually wanting all these elaborate features. My current phone already fulfills my needs by a long way!

I tend to hold my phone horizontally which confused the iPhone a bit as it wasn’t sure which orientation to display the pictures and web browser, but I suppose this would require some minor changes in usage habits. The whole experience of using the phone is nice though. Typing was one thing I found a struggle on the iPhone, but again this is probably something which improves with time.

I posted an image that I took in Florida to my Flickr account which I’m really proud of. It’s of a sunset at Clearwater Beach

One final thing: being a non-US citizen, I signed one of those green visa waiver forms when entering the US. Basically you’ve just got to tell the government where you’re staying, say you ain’t a foreign spy, etc. One thing which caught my eye was the condition of not reporting for foreign media.

I know that there is currently a debate in the USA about whether blogs count as media and whether bloggers are protected by the first amendment (or something along those lines). Now the question is this: would posting to your blog whilst on vacation in the USA count as reporting for foreign media?