‘It’s ridiculous’: A-Level students on the government’s mock result u-turn

‘Even my teacher doesn’t know what’s going on’

A-Level students have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow.

They’ve had a turbulent year – cancelled exams, knowing their uni places depend on grades somewhat out of their control, and then having to sit watching the fiasco of Scottish results day fully aware they were next. So when, just over 24 hours before results came out, the government announced students would be able to use their mock results to appeal, what was designed as a “safety net” has only added to the confusion.

Previous students would have killed for this kind of safety net, but for year 13s it’s not that simple. The Tab spoke to a group of students who are less than 24 hours away from receiving their results. This is what they had to say.

‘Even my teachers don’t understand how it’ll work’

Evan, from Blackpool, is both confused and suspicious at the last minute U-turn the government made last night. “I’m really not sure how to feel about it all,” he told The Tab. “On one hand, I feel as though it’s a good thing as I performed well in my mocks but at the same time it worries me because I have absolutely no idea how I can prove to the University of Leeds that I got these grades. I’m very confused. All the year 13s are.

“From what I understand my college has to submit my mock grades to the university so I don’t know whether they’re doing that now or whether I have to appeal and then the grades get sent off, it’s not clear. So I’m not sure if I have to ring up Leeds tomorrow and say “oh by the way I got XYZ in my mocks” but then how will I prove to them that I’m telling the truth? Do I send these exams to them?

Evan also makes the point that mock exams have been held very differently from school to school. Some institutions, like his school, sat them as proper official exams with exam conditions. Others did them as more lax in-class assessments. This, and the change being made the day before, has made him wary.

“The fact that they have made a complete u-turn a day before results makes me feel like those original ‘calculated grades’ have given terrible predictions for a large proportion of students,” he told The Tab.

“I’m very confused with it all, I’ve just spoken to one of my teachers who doesn’t even understand it. He said that he has no idea how it’ll work. UCAS has emailed with some information, but even now I’m still confused. I presume I have to contact my firm choice uni and inform them that I am using my mock grades and then I have to inform my college that I want to appeal the grades too. However, this has not yet been made clear.

“I also know so many people who think the mock grade lifeline is ridiculous. Most people underperform in mocks but seem to perform well on the actual exam day. It doesn’t help those people at all.”

‘No one I know did well on those mocks’

Annie is one of the students who’s worried about her mock grades, and the grades of everyone in her class. “No one I know did well on them,” she said. “Honestly the last set of mocks we did were in the Christmas term which was such a stressful time of year because it was the longest term and everyone was so tired.” She finds the lifeline more annoying than anything, “because those mock results will be the ones used for appeals,” she said. The worst part is – Annie doesn’t even know if the grades will help or hinder her.

“I don’t even have a rough idea of what grades I’m about to get. I feel like the results might affect which uni I go to if I get better or worse than I thought so I’m a bit lost with it all. I have no idea what’s going to happen.

Overall, the feeling amongst A-Level students is one of distrust and confusion. When it was all announced at 10.30 pm last night, Annie couldn’t quite believe it. “I was like ‘surely they can’t just change people’s results the day before results day?’. It’s just such overwhelming and surprising news to hear the day before results.”

‘This isn’t a level playing field, still’

If Daniel Dipper gets 3As tomorrow, he’ll be off to study History and Politics at Oxford. He doesn’t know his grades yet – he can guess, but teachers at his Peterborough state college have been strict in not telling students.

“The past performance is kind of a concern,” Daniel says about the possibility of having his marks moderated down. “I do not feel that historic data represents me.”

“My school had never applied to Oxford before this year,” Daniel, who was part of the first group of five students to do so, told The Tab. He worked with a number of schemes – including Zero Gravity, founded by Oxford grad Joe Seddon – to get to a point where “I felt ready” for the interview.

Before yesterday’s announcement Daniel “wasn’t happy in the slightest.” But now he has some degree of comfort – he got A*AAB in his mocks and says “I actually feel that I deserve those grades at the very least, so I’m very positive about that.”

However, he’s candid that “this isn’t the fix-all for everybody,” pointing out that not everyone takes mocks seriously, and some schools mark mocks deliberately harshly. The uncertainty over what constitutes a “valid” mock exam also plays on him. For Daniel, his history mock was very close to the exam, but for Maths they had an eighth of the course’s syllabus left to cover when they took the mock. “That could be a problem,” he says.

Even Ofqual, who will be running the process, said today it is “working urgently to operationalise this as fairly as possible and to determine what standards of evidence will be required for the appeal. We will provide more detail early next week.”

If his mocks do come to his rescue, Daniel admits it’s still not the perfect system. “Even though I’d say yeah I can accept my mocks. Is that my true fullest potential? Well, most probably not. I most probably would have improved in some subjects,” he said.

For this reason, he’s conscious of balancing his optimism with concern for those who might fall through the cracks: “You feel you’re kind of abandoning the other people who actually most probably deserve similar grades. This isn’t a level playing field, still.”

‘I’ve got no clue’

Plenty of students have a sleepless pre-results night ahead of them – but in Miriam Syed’s case that’s because she’s working a night shift to get money for uni.

She’s worried about whether her postcode will negatively affect her grades as “it’s quite a disadvantaged area”. The new system has left her confused, and when it comes to how tomorrow is going to work, “I’ve got no clue”, Miriam told The Tab.

With an A*AA offer for medicine at Imperial, Miriam says: “I was really worried that I wasn’t going to get any A*s

However, she got three A*s in her mocks, and yesterday’s announcement gave her some peace of mind. “It does give me reassurance that I can appeal and get the grades that I actually need,” Miriam said.

But again, she’s keen to point out that’s not the whole story: “I know a lot of people who didn’t really revise for mocks thinking they’d pull it out for the actual exam. I’m more worried about those people.”

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