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New research shows freshers struggle to remember basic A-level concepts

25.06.2014

University freshers struggle to remember basic concepts from their A-level studies according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

A new report published today shows that even grade-A students could only remember 40 per cent of their A-Level syllabus by the first week of term at university.

Researchers tested nearly 600 students in their first week of term at five universities – three of which were in the prestigious Russell Group.

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It is hoped that the findings will assist the re-design of A-Levels to make them more relevant to higher education. The results could also prove useful for designing undergraduate courses which are more student-focused.

Lead researcher Dr Harriet Jones, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “This is the first research carried out in collaboration with an exam board to investigate how much information is lost between students sitting their A-Levels and arriving at university three months later. We found that students had forgotten around 60 per cent of everything they learned for their A-Levels.

“Universities expect their students to arrive with a high level of knowledge. What our research shows is that students are arriving at university with fantastic A-Level grades, but having forgotten much of what they actually learned for their exams.

“This is undoubtedly a problem caused by secondary schools gearing all of their teaching towards students doing well in exams, in order to achieve league-table success. But cramming facts for an exam doesn’t give students a lasting knowledge of their subject.”

Researchers tested 594 first year bioscience students in their first week of term at five universities – the University of Birmingham, the University of Bristol, Cardiff University, the University of Leicester and UEA. Almost all of the students had achieved a grade A at A-Level.

They were given 50 minutes to answer 38 multiple choice questions on cells, genetics, biochemistry and physiology – all of which had been part of their A-Level core syllabus.

The students managed to answer an average of 40 per cent of questions correctly. The longer the amount of time between sitting A-Levels and starting university also correlated with poorer results. Students who scored lower than an A grade at A-Level retained the least knowledge.

“School and university have very different demands. In higher education, students cannot rely solely on memorising information so it is important that students can adapt to a more in-depth approach to learning.”

‘Indications of knowledge retention in the transition to Higher Education’ is published in the journal Journal of Biological Education on June 25.

Lisa Horton | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
https://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2014/June/a-level-freshers

Further reports about: A-Levels Education higher education

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