If you saw last week’s babble, you’ll know that I’m making a few changes to this blog, the main one being I post more “personal” blog posts alongside the bookish ones. Well, here’s the first.
When mentioning college or university, I always feel like I have to explain why I’m a year older than I “ought” to be – why I stayed behind a year. The English education system pretty much sets your path out for you – GCSE’s → A Levels → University – and it seems odd when people start straying off and doing their own thing. With my mentioning of so many subjects on social media, it’s just a whole mash of confusion I feel I ought to clear up. And so, here we are.
This is going to be quite a babble, I’ll warn you of that right now. I’ll condense it as much as I can, but I’ll be explaining how I did A Levels and BTEC, comparing the two, and also writing a bit on how I still struggle to come to terms with the stigma and having to give up A Levels. So it might take a while. But, if you’re interested…here’s the basics!
So a quick explanation to the title – “that’s English college, by the way” – there’s a massive variety of education systems across the world, and when I mention college people often think I mean the American version of our Universities. So for a bit of guidance, here in England, we can leave school at 16. Then we go on to do two years at college – a new building – (which most do), or sixth form – still in school, but at a higher level. It’s basically just doing a higher level course and being separated from those still doing GCSE’s.
Cue my start to A Levels. When studying A Levels, you have to choose three or four subjects to study. I chose three – English Literature, History, and Fine Art. I also applied for English Language, but dropped it before I started once finding out we only *had* to study three and studying four was just an extra option. I much prefer reading texts and analysing the content, not how specific words are used and whatnot. So goodbye English Language.
And for those interested, a brief insight to what I studied under these subjects:
English Literature – Our main texts were Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. We also studied poetry by Tennyson and a few random ones, and briefly delved into Oscar Wilde.
History – Split into two modules. The main one we studied was Italian and German Unification, and the smaller module focused on World War II.
Fine Art – A lot of practicing with different materials, and for our project I believe we were all given a word and we had to create a whole sketchbook worth of work based off that word. I can’t actually remember it that well, oops. My final piece had something to do with maps though, I remember that much.
I absolutely loved A Levels. I remember feeling like I was in my element. I enjoyed what I studied, and that makes all the difference. I’m not going to mind working well into the night, or spending hours trying to remember key dates and names, if I enjoy what I’m learning.
But exams came around, and I don’t get along well with them at all. It’s an anxiety thing (though we didn’t know that at the time). And I remember this day so well – the day I had my history exam, and completely failed it. I knew instantly. I couldn’t understand the question, and nearly started crying in my seat, just staring at the page. I forced myself to write something – just a small something, at least – but when the exam was over I left the room and burst into tears, saying to someone in my class “I’ve failed.”
Come results day, I was right.
So what now? I could have continued my A Levels. I would have had to drop History, and pick up another subject. But that means I would have to stay behind a year anyway, my final year used to study just the one subject I picked up to replace History. And there were no other subjects I wanted to do at that point. Plus, I’d started to really, really hate Fine Art (that topic is for another day), so I didn’t want to study that anymore. And on that day I panicked. So, SO much.
Because you see, as mentioned in the intro, the English education system sets it out for you. The key path is to go and study your A Levels, then go to University. And for years now, I knew I wanted to study Literature at University. It’s the only thing I was aiming for. So failing my A Levels to me was a disaster – how would I get to uni now?
In the end, I picked up a BTEC. The main differences between these and A Levels being you only study one subject, and it’s all coursework, no exams. So I studied Journalism – or Creative Media and Social Media Communications, if you want the fancy title.
It took me a long while to figure out that I could still actually go to university with this.
Again, for those interested, my first year in Journalism consisted of learning the ways of the industry; journalistic laws, developing our writing, photography, film, and editing skills, etc etc. The second year was a lot like completing a uni dissertation – we chose our own topic, and did a heck of a lot of research into writing an essay about it. Thanks to the “social media communications” part of the course, I managed to focus mine back onto books – my project was on how social media has affected the publishing industry.
I sang many praises for us in the online book community, don’t you fret.
I ended up hating the course by the end of it – again, that’s for another blog post – but what matters now is that I’ve completed it, got the grades, and I’m finally off to university.
But you see, I still struggle with the fact that I had to give up A Levels. Thanks to the English education system setting out this path for everyone to follow, any other courses or paths followed don’t seem as much as a success in society. There’s a huge stigma against BTECs. People don’t deem them as hard work, but instead they’re the courses “dumb people” take. And granted, I’ll freely admit that in terms of workload, BTECS are easier than A Levels. Like I said, you only study one subject, and there’s no exams.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A lot more independence and self motivation is needed, since you’re not in college as often, being told what to do. The work itself is hardly easy. And in my personal experience, the grading system was actually so much harder to work towards in BTECs than A Levels. Instead of rounding the grades from different units up to a suitable number, we got our lowest grade no matter what. So if we got the top grades in every unit, but completely failed one of them – tough luck buddy, you’ve failed.
It’s funny, really, how a different grading system can make people judge so harshly. I by no means consider people who study BTECs to be of a lower intelligence just because it’s not A Levels. And yet, I judge myself so harshly for that very same reason. Isn’t that always the way? I know how freakin’ hard I worked through those two years, and yet still feel a pang of shame when people say “oh what A Levels did you study?!” and I have to correct them with “oh…er…actually I did a Journalism course.” Every time, the other person’s face is just that “…oh” reaction. It’s hard not to feel dumb when every single time the topic comes about, people are suddenly not impressed any more.
And this is where I turn into a hypocrite. Because I want to say that if you’re not studying A Levels, and are doing some other course – whether that be a BTEC or some other name – do not let that stigma get to you. It’s just a different grading system, not a downgrade to your intelligence. As much as I still struggle with that idea of myself, I don’t want you guys to. Because it’s simply a result of the english system shining a light on this wonderful golden pathway they set, not caring enough to point out the other paths that stem off that too. You’ll get to where you want to be either way. It’s your choice, and that’s what counts.
And so, we reach the end of this very, VERY long babble.
If you’ve stuck through it and reached the end, then honestly round of applause to you. How you got through that boring ramble, I don’t know.
If you have any questions about something I’ve mentioned, feel free to leave a comment! Or if you want to share your own experiences, or just have anything to comment in general, I’d love to hear!
But for now…
Until next time
Come and visit me!