Grades are a greater motivation for A-Level students than future usefulness of qualifications

Friday, 06 July 2018

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A-Level students place more value on getting good grades than the future usefulness of the qualification or the enjoyment of them.

This is one of the findings from new research by an Oxford Brookes University academic published by the British Psychological Society. The research comes at a time when education continues to move towards a greater emphasis on examinations.

The study explored the relationships between students’ expectations, values and A-Level achievement in 930 sixth formers. The students were asked about how well they thought they would do, the personal importance they attached to performing well, their enjoyment or interest in their studies, the value placed on A-Levels based on fulfilling a future goal, and how useful A-Levels currently are to them.

The study found that students who had high expectations for doing well had positive outcomes and these expectations were related to the value they placed on their A-Levels. Those who valued their A-levels achieved higher grades.

Valuing grades as more important than the usefulness of A-Levels and the enjoyment of them has implications not only for educational and life pathways but also for the development of the individual in terms of their overall well-being.

Dr Carol Brown, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education, Oxford Brookes University

Overall, students reported they valued A-Levels if they attached importance to doing well in them, were interested in them and perceived them to be useful.

Dr Carol Brown, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education at Oxford Brookes University, said: “Both year 13 and year 12 students rated attainment, the personal importance attached to doing well, most highly. They rated doing well in their A-Levels more highly than the usefulness or the enjoyment of them.

“This is perhaps not surprising given the importance of A-Level grades for entry into higher education and their relevance for future life, however the overall findings suggest that if students are to achieve, the focus should go beyond the emphasis on grades to an appreciation of the usefulness and enjoyment of studying A-Levels.

“Valuing grades as more important than the usefulness of A-Levels and the enjoyment of them has implications not only for educational and life pathways but also for the development of the individual in terms of their overall well-being.”

A-Levels are the main form of examinations taken for university entrance in England, with approximately 50% of 16 -18 year olds studying for A-Level qualifications.

Recent educational reforms mean that students are now required to remain in education or training until they are 18 years old and so, the number of students studying A-levels could increase.

Dr Brown continued: “The findings of this research would suggest that A-Level reforms could impact on students who do not enjoy studying or see A-Levels as useful or relevant to them in the future but are nonetheless expected to continue with their studies.

“The grades achieved at A-Level have a significant impact on students’ chances of gaining entry into higher education and determine the options available to them after they’ve completed the qualifications.

“In order to better support young people and ensure a positive educational outcome, it is crucial to understand what motivates them to do well in their A-Levels.”

The research paper is published in The Psychology of Education Review.