What are universities looking for?

Friday 8 December 2017

An interesting report commissioned by ACS International Schools in partnership with the IB and IBSCA was published earlier this month. It asked university admissions officers what skills they wanted to see in their prospective students to help them thrive at university and asked how they rated the IB and A levels in preparing students for university entry. Although they covered both US and British universities the report is rather British as it only asked for a comparison between the IB and A levels -no mention was made of Advanced Placement – and it also assumes that the admission’s officers who were interviewed were completely familiar with the intricacies of both systems. Nevertheless the finding are revealing. Of the 13 factors the IB came top in 12 of them.

Rather than dwell on the strengths of the IB, which teachers on this site will already be familiar with, it is worth considering the one area where A levels scored much higher. Admissions officers clearly believe that A level students have a greater in depth knowledge of their subject but is this belief based on fact or rather simply on deducing that they must have as most A level students specialise and only study three subjects as opposed to the six subjects studied by IB students? If knowledge equates to knowing facts then their belief is probably true but if knowledge equates to being able to analyse and look at the facts critically then I suspect that many IB chemistry students do actually have a greater knowledge of Chemistry than their A level counterparts. To paraphrase Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner,

Data , data everywhere
Nor any a thought to think.

One of the aims of this website is to get both teachers and students to think. The ‘Pause for Thought’ sections are exactly that. For example, A level students might know and be able to apply VSEPR theory but have they really analysed it and realised that far from being a theory that can be applied universally it doesn't really work in many cases. To me examples like that exemplify what is meant by “in depth” knowledge of one’s subject.



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