Beat the #ResultsDay media scrum with buzzword bingo!

With A Level results day pending, press, politicians and performative celebrities alike will be preparing for the inevitable annual media scrum.

Navigate your way though the quagmire of commentary with this handy results day buzzword bingo card. I hope it helps a little to make the day more manageable!

If you’re looking for some advice with the UCAS Clearing process, you might find this Clearing Checklist helpful.

Clearing Checklist

2022 Update

I wrote this post for A Level results day last year. If anything, the 2022 results carry even more uncertainty. For students, parents and teachers. We had a return to exams in school, but for a cohort that had not sat exams for GCSEs, had coped with lockdown, and then coped with A level study under pandemic conditions. Add to that Ofqual’s move to a ‘midway point’ for grades and record competition for university places, and it’s a tense time for all concerned.

I hope this checklist will be helpful for anyone using the UCAS Clearing system to find a university place this year.

Clearing checklist

The 2020-21 school year was different from any that went before but one constant is the UCAS Clearing process for university grades. Here’s my checklist for those using this system:

  1. Wait until you have your grades. While UCAS open clearing early in July, universities can’t make an offer to you unless you know your grades.
  2. Make sure you know how clearing works. UCAS explain it here: What is clearing?
  3. Have your personal statement to hand as well as your grades and UCAS ID. You’ll need to be able to speak about yourself, not just your grades.
  4. Do some research on colleges. You may want to go for an alternative course at a university that made you an offer, alternatively you may be phoning a uni you didn’t originally apply to. Either way, you will need to give a positive reason why you want a place there.
  5. Similarly, research the courses on offer. You should be able to give a positive reason for doing that course and be able to say why it interests you.
  6. Avoid reasons that will set alarm bells ringing for tutors. Examples are ‘My friend is going there’ or ‘My Dad thinks it’s a good idea’.
  7. Be ready to explain why you got lower grades than you expected. Was it down to a particular topic? Did something happen that affected your performance? Show that you have reflected on this and remain positive about your subjects. Be ready to talk about what went well and areas of study you enjoy.
  8. You need to make the call yourself. The university want to hear from you and learn about you, not your teacher or your mum!
  9. Don’t worry about being nervous when you call, the tutor you speak to will be used to this, but do be prepared to speak clearly. Write out a sheet with key points and have this in front of you when you call.
  10. If you get an offer, don’t forget to add this as a clearing choice in UCAS track. Only do this when the university give you permission.

You may want to take some time to think about if this is the right time to go to university. Your friends or family may be encouraging you to go but it’s a decision you need to make for yourself. Retaking exams might be the right decision, or employment might provide additional experience for a future application. Whatever you decide, best wishes for your chosen future!

Supporting learning: Study Skills

As part of my work in the education team at The Bodleian Libraries we have recently overhauled our resources to support the development of study skills.

In part this has been in response to feedback about our OxLibris programme which supports students researching for their Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). We support local schools in developing their students’ research skills and they visit us to access books, journal articles, and other texts not generally accessible outside of an academic library.

We also needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because we were no longer open visitors (or anyone else), we needed to move the programme online so it was accessible to schools. This also allowed us to extend the reach of the resources beyond Oxfordshire.

In the first stage of this move, we have produced a set of five study skills guides. Although designed to meet the requirements of the EPQ these also provide useful guidance on researching for any project or essay.

The guides can be accessed on the OxLibris Study Skills page, in the ‘Online Resources’ section.

Effective online searches covers how to use advanced search engine tools effectively to refine your online research.

Evaluating online resources provides advice of assessing the quality of online sources of information, how to verify such information and how to spot fake news.

Effective note taking gives guidance on making concise research notes that focus on making connections between ideas using the Cornell notes system developed by Walter Pauk.

Avoiding plagiarism explains what plagiarism is and why it is taken so seriously. Drawing on guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), this guide also explains how to avoid plagiarism in assessed work.

The guide to referencing explains how to cite sources of information used in work. There are two versions, one explaining referencing using the Harvard name-date style and the other using the recurrent number style.

Feel free to have a look at these guides and download them for use with your students. They are not for commercial use and copyright remains with The Bodleian Libraries.

I am currently working on a set of presentations on these topics designed for use either by teachers in class or for students working independently.


I am indebted to David Gimson and Lorna Robinson at Cheney School, Sophie Roach at Gosford Hill School, and Jackie Watson at Oxford Spires Academy for providing feedback on earlier drafts of these guides.

New Specification A Levels – Waiting for the First Results

This post was originally written the week before the 2017 A Level exam results were released (hence the reference to 17th August on the image). I then updated it with the postscript once the results were published. I also re-posted my post on UCAS clearing.

I teach psychology (among other things) and last year I wrote about the Summer 2016 AS exams which were then the first test of the new specification, my teaching of it and interpretation of the assessment criteria. You can read that post here.

This year we’re waiting for the first results for the full two-year Advanced Level exams. While we had a good experience with AS, all those concerns about the first run-through of a Specification are still in my mind as I wait for the Advanced psychology results: 

  1. How will my students perform in the actual exams as opposed to our own assessments based on specimen materials?
  2. Will performance nationally vary widely from the usual norm, with a large consequent adjustment of grade boundaries (either up or down)?


1. Performance in the actual exams

One of the reasons I opted for the AQA specification was the support this board offered for the new specification including sample assessments, Mark schemes and commentaries. The last time the specification changed the actual exam papers had contained some questions very different in style from the somewhat sparse sample papers. Support from AQA in advance was much better this time, there hadn’t been the same differences in the AS papers, nor were they in the A Level exams this Summer.

There were quite a few widely-reported errors in exams this season, and more recent reporting of the possible impact on students, for example this article from The Guardian on ‘the stress of sitting new untested exams’. Whether or not there were more mistakes than usual, this publicity does seem to have shaken the confidence of many students in the exams process itself.  

Although there were no errors in AQA psychology papers, one thing my students did have to contend with was errors in their brand new text books, particularly first print runs of first editions. I’ve seen this before when publishers rush to get texts out for new specifications. There are often mislabelled images, errors in tables, or inaccuracies in the indexing (i.e. mistakes arising in the production of pages, rather than the authors’ text) but this time there seemed to be several factual errors. Much as it gives my ego a boost to be able to show through reference to primary sources that I was right and the textbook was in error, it doesn’t help students (except perhaps to question everything) and shakes their confidence in their reference materials.


2. Will performance vary nationally with unpredicable consequences?

This is a question we will only be able to answer when the results are out. As I wrote in by post about the AS results, such probes have occurred in the past when new specifications have changed, most notably in 2011 (DFE, 2012). This did not seem to be the case for the 2016 AS exams, although more A grades were awarded in psychology. Hopefully this is an indication that Ofqual are on the ball and ensuring a smooth transition between specifications so that students sitting the first year of a new exam will not be penalised.

Nevertheless, whatever the speculation, it’s the actual results that matter. So, like my year 13 students, I’ll be awaiting the A level results a little more nervously than usual this year. I’ll also be hoping that their results, and everyone else’s, will be a true indication of each student’s performance.

Postscript – 18th August 2017

It’s seems that now the results are available that there was not wide variation nationally compared with the 2016 results (see this Ofqual infographic), although the media made much of the fact that more boys than girls received top grades.  A* and A grades for the new A levels were slightly down on 2016, with Ofqual stating the changes reflected differences in prior attainment. The proportion of top grades in (unreformed) languages increased as had been previously agreed to counter skewing of results by native speakers. I find it interesting that Ofquals analysis focussed on the top grades.

As for psychology, the proportion of A*/A grades fell 0.3% to 18.8%. There weren’t any shocks as far as the results of my own students went, although a couple did a bit better than I predicted and a couple missed out on a grade. It’s a small number to draw valid conclusions from, but if there was a theme, I think it was that those who worked hard did well, irrespective of their starting point, which must be a good thing.