Woah. Today marks a week since A Level results day, and I still don’t think it’s sunk in. Considering I’ve documented a few of the steps to getting into medical school on the blog already, and keep branding myself as a ‘soon to be medical student’, I thought I’d write a blog post explaining the situation I’m in now.
For background, I received a conditional offer from Imperial College London to study medicine to start in October 2021 (deferred entry). When it became clear that exams were cancelled this year and lockdown began, I soon pondered whether I’d want a gap year anymore considering all this time off and travel plans out the window. I asked Imperial if I could have my offer changed to 2020, and eventually my offer was adjusted and I was all set to go to university this October. If I got AAA in my A Levels.
Read>> My Gap Year Dilemma
Unfortunately, I only gained one offer so I had no insurance choice therefore if I didn’t get the grades, I wouldn’t be going to medical school this year. But only very few medical schools in the UK allow grades less than AAA anyway so its pretty much the minimum you need to study medicine regardless of institution.
Painfully, on A Level results day you get an update from UCAS on whether you got into any of your university choices before you receive your actual grades. So at 8:00 on Thursday morning, I tried to get onto the UCAS track website which, considering the vast number of students doing the exact same thing, crashed and I couldn’t log on until 8:42. They were probably the most stressful 42 minutes of my life, and it ended with me staring at a screen that said “You do not have a place at any of your choices. You are now in Clearing.”. SH*T.
My school soon after sent our results by email, and I quickly opened them to find that I had received the following grades:
The EPQ doesn’t count as an A Level, so I hadn’t met the AAA requirements clearly due to the C in Chemistry. I was absolutely gutted but also very confused considering I thought (and I believed my teachers thought) I would have achieved at least an A if I had sat the actual exam. We also had the chance to collect our results at the school and talk to any teachers for advice on our next steps, so I quickly rushed to school.
It turns out that the teachers had predicted me a B for Chemistry based on previous assessment results (e.g mocks etc.). This grade decided by my teachers is called the centre-assessed grade (CAG). My Chemistry CAG was then downgraded to a C by the exam boards, who used the algorithm which moderated these grades so that they were similar to how each school performed in previous years.
My teachers at school told me to contact Imperial saying that my Chemistry CAG was a B so that made my grades A*AB and to ask if they could be lenient. The problem was Imperial was working remotely so had no phone lines open, so I sent an email but didn’t hear back.
The media went crazy, covering how it turned out that disadvantaged students have been hit the hardest by the algorithm, as high achieving students’ in low-performing schools had their grades lowered to match performance in previous years. This is a ridiculous and unfair way of awarding grades, as there is the never the exact same number of students who come out with a certain grade every year. Equally, it was revealed that private students did not suffer with this same downgrading, showing the true classist tactics within the algorithm.
Universities were told to hold their places until appeals went through, but many went on to fill their places right from results day, and the number of university places gained through clearing were at a record high.
Protests ensued, and after much angst there was an announcement from the Department of Education on Monday which revealed that the algorithm has been scrapped, and that grades can be reverted to teacher predicted CAGs.
Everyone who was affected by the downgrading were relieved, as it meant their CAGs were now their official grades. If their CAGs met their university requirements, they should now be accepted. But the issue was that many universities filled their places… forcing those who were now qualified to start their course to defer and take a gap year.
I was very happy that they reverted back to the CAGs, but I believe they should have stopped universities from confirming any places until this was all sorted out as it’s caused an absolute chaos. What I think is also incredibly unfair is that the U-turn with results reverting to CAGs, only resulted in the grades that were downgraded reverting back, not the ones that got upgraded. In other words, if a student received a higher grade on results day (after the algorithm was applied), they could keep the higher grade despite their teacher predicting them a lower CAG. So these students (a lot of which were private students) gained places at university, despite perhaps not deservedly.
Not only did the government fail me, my teachers failed me
The A level results U-turn resolved many student’s issues, but my problem was that my chemistry CAG was not even the A that I needed to get into Imperial. Students are not allowed to appeal or challenge their CAGs individually, and only the school can appeal if there has been an admin error in the inputting of the data. So many students are still in a very difficult situation where the grades we received from our teachers were not what we needed/deserved, and we don’t even hold the right to challenge them.
“These are only mocks”
I received A*A*A* UCAS predictions right back at the start of Year 12, the grades my school told my universities they thought I was capable of achieving at the end of Year 13. I was on progress during Year 12, but naturally, I had to prioritise my medical school application at the start of Year 13.
During the summer break between Year 12 and 13, when I would have liked to be recharging my batteries and revising Year 12 material here and there, I was instead revising for the medical entrance exam, the UCAT. I then spent the rest of my summer volunteering, completing work experience and writing my personal statement so that I could make a strong application to university when I returned to school.
When Year 13 started, I did not feel anywhere near as well-rested as I was meant to feel after a 6 week break, and I still had the second entrance exam to sit at the end of October, the BMAT. I started Year 13 A level content balancing with personal statement applications and revising for the BMAT. The BMAT was on the last few days of the October half term so I spent that half term revising mostly for the BMAT rather than resting and going over A level content too.
When the BMAT was over, back to school it was and then university offers started coming through for Year 13 students. I felt pretty burnt out at this stage and started to focus on my A level work for the upcoming mocks in January. I also had my EPQ to complete for early 2020, which I hadn’t made much progress on yet so I still had my fingers in way too many pies.
Finally an offer
After receiving three demoralising rejections, I received one interview invite from Imperial. Hopes were reignited, and I cracked on preparing for the interview because I was not going to miss this final chance. But at the same time as my preparation were the January mocks. Despite having a lot on, I still did surprisingly well, with an A* in Geography and a B in Biology. But one Organic Chemistry paper really messed everything up for Chemistry, and I got a D.
I admit I didn’t revise as much as I should have, but I wanted to prioritise my upcoming interview and EPQ presentation evening, and even my teachers said not to stress about the exams as “they were only mocks”. And plus it didn’t help that I, along with half of the class, received a misprinted paper, with not all pages printed and in the wrong order. It really threw me off and our teacher had to go and photocopy the correct papers and bring them back into the exam hall. Although I eventually received the correct paper, it was confusing trying to piece together the questions and I was most certainly at a disadvantage compared to those who received the full paper from the start. I was annoyed at the time, but they were only mocks so didn’t make a fuss. But now as I’m looking back and realising that it was that one low mock grade that made them predict me a B, I’m pretty angry. You cannot appeal CAGs but you can accuse your school of malpractice which I believe this is, so I am currently undergoing a complaint with my school with this. I’m not sure if this is going to do anything to my grades, but I want the school to know how much this has affected many of our futures. Mistakes happen, but these exams were not “only mocks” anymore, but makeshift summer exams so this should have been taken into consideration.
What happens next
The announcement to revert back to teacher grades happened on Monday at 4pm. But universities are not allowed to consider students with their new grades until they have been officially sent to to the universities by the exam boards. They have said that should be done by this Friday (not sure why it has to take that long considering these were the CAGs already sent to the exam board).
UPDATE — grades sent on Thursday evening.
Imperial has said it cannot look into my individual case until they receive these grades, so I remain in a stressful limbo. I don’t know whether they will accept these grades or not – if they don’t, hopefully they defer my place and I can resit (or excuse me, SIT for the first time!) Chemistry in October to get an A and start next year or if they say no to this, I have to reapply all over again to medicine. This would mean sitting the entrance exams again, sitting Chemistry, and doing the interview process again too.
It wouldn’t be as big an issue if I was reapplying to a ‘normal’ degree where all I would need is a personal statement, but it’s going through the whole medical application process again which I just cannot comprehend. Especially when I’ve already gone through this, and received a place but only to have lost it with a grade that I didn’t even sit the exam for.
The Chemistry exams and the BMAT are also very near each other, so that would be difficult balancing them both. And the UCAT exams are already running, but after my terrible result last year I don’t think I would sit the UCAT again and only apply to BMAT universities if I had to reapply.
Read >> My Ucat Experience & My Advice
It is such a horrible and unfair situation for lots of students and like many things this pandemic has affected, the effects are going to be long-lasting. I’m also worried that so many people will be deferring (either by request from their university, or as a result of needing to reapply) that places will be very competitive for the new Year 13s. Quality of tuition may be less too for those going to university considering the rise in student numbers (and the raising of teacher:student ratio), which along with the large portion of content being taught online, means the £9250 a year in fees stings a little more.
I have my fingers crossed that things will work out for me, and anyone else who was affected. I’ll write another post when I get some news.
If any lesson should come from this for future students, it is to take mocks seriously because you never know if the next pandemic may come your way and cancel your exams. (Well I should say when the next pandemic comes your way, because it will if we keep eating animals. Sorry, I just had to get that in there.)
Let me know how the results fiasco affected you in the comments below,
The Conscious Medic