The long wait for A-level results is almost over for teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A drop in applications for university this year is expected to mean a “buyer’s market” with more options available for those looking for places.
Changes to the qualifications system mean many A-levels are being decided by final exams, with no link to AS-levels.
But the national results are expected to be kept similar to last year, when a quarter of entries received top grades.
More than 400,000 university places are likely to be decided on Thursday – and tens of thousands more places will be available through the clearing system, which matches people looking for places with vacancies on courses.
More exam changes
With a reduction in applications, a demographic dip in the number of 18-year-olds and uncertainty about the results from the new A-level system, many universities, including in the prestigious Russell Group, are expected to still have places on offer.
This year’s exams in England reflect the latest phase of changes to qualifications, which have cut down on coursework and become “decoupled” from AS-levels.
Results for 13 subjects, including history, English, psychology, physics, chemistry and biology, will now depend on the final exams taken in the summer.
Head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton said the change would mean the “death knell” of AS-levels, with schools increasingly likely to abandon the exam, which would no longer count towards the A-level grade.
AS-level entries have fallen by more than 40% this year, and Mr Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said he regretted this “narrowing” of options.
He also warned of rushed changes to qualifications.
But the exam reforms, and the move to final exams rather than modules, were defended by John Blake, head of education at the Policy Exchange think tank,
“The changes to A-levels were designed to end a culture of endlessly re-sitting examinations, which was as painful and time-consuming for teachers as it was for students,” he said.
“It led to less teaching time and made it harder to get a proper grasp of the subject. We should all be pleased that it is over.”
‘Fairness’ in results
There have been concerns from pupils who have been the first to take these revised exams.
A survey of A-level students from the Student Room website found worries about a lack of textbooks and practice papers for the new style of exams.
Even if there is volatility in results for individual schools, the overall results are likely to be kept comparable to last year’s.
Sally Collier, head of the exam watchdog, Ofqual, said the regulator would “ensure fairness between students over time and between boards”.
“This is especially important when qualifications change,” she added.
Last year, 25.8% of entries were awarded an A* or A, down by 0.1% on the previous year. The overall pass rate remained unchanged at 98.1%.
Financial firm Grant Thornton says this year’s intake of A-level students will have grown by almost four times compared with six years ago – with 70 places on offer, representing more than a quarter of the company’s intake of trainees.