Interpreting A-level Mathematics grades – as easy as A, B, C?

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Many concerns have been expressed that students’ basic mathematical skills have deteriorated during the 1990s and there has been disquiet that current A-level grading does not distinguish adequately between the more able students. This study reports the author’s experiences of teaching maths to large classes of first-year engineering students and aims to enhance understanding of levels of mathematical competence in more recent years. Over the last four years, the classes have consisted of a very large proportion of highly qualified students – about 91% of them had at least grade B in A-level Mathematics. With a small group of students having followed a non-traditional route to university (no A-level maths) and another group having benefitted through taking A-level Further Mathematics at school, the classes have contained a very wide range of mathematical backgrounds. Despite the introductory maths course at university involving mainly repetition of A-level material, students’ marks were spread over a very wide range – for example, A-level Mathematics grade B students have scored across the range 16 – 97%. Analytical integration is the topic which produced the largest variation in performance across the class but, in contrast, the A-level students generally performed well in differentiation. Initial analysis suggests some stability in recent years in the mathematical proficiency of students with a particular A-level Mathematics grade. Allowing choice of applied maths modules as part of the A-level maths qualification increases the variety of students’ mathematical backgrounds and their selection from mechanics, statistics or decision maths is not clear from the final qualification.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 17th SEFI Maths Working Group Seminar on Mathematical Education of Engineers
EditorsBurkhard Alpers, Michael Carr, Marie Demlova, Tommy Gustafsson, Duncan Lawson, Brita Olsson-Lehtonen, Carol Robinson, Paul Robinson, Daniela Velichova
Place of PublicationDublin, Republic of Ireland
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)978-2-87352-011-3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Event17th SEFI Maths Working Group Seminar - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 23 Jun 201425 Jun 2014


Conference17th SEFI Maths Working Group Seminar


  • A-level
  • mathematics
  • grading
  • module choice


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