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Not too old for school - why adults retake A-levels

By Sue Smith

One of the interesting aspects of my role at ITS Education Asia is the number of adults I meet who are keen to retake their A-levels. These adults who contemplate returning to the examination grind are usually motivated by a desire to change their situation in life and pursue a tertiary programme – or in some instances – a different tertiary programme.

Adults are usually much better students than teenagers.  With limited amounts of time and with the pressure of other responsibilities, adults often have a very specific goal, know why they are studying and understand the importance of making time for their studies.

The adults who are hoping to retake A-levels usually fall into three main categories – young adults who have spent a few years in the workforce; people with professions who are hoping to move into a different one; and women who are hoping to study while home with their young children.

The young adults I meet who are hoping to retake A-levels are typically people who were underachievers at secondary school. They have done a couple of A-levels several years ago and have low grades for those subjects.  Once they finished school they went out and got a job.  However a few years in an (often) low-paying job has shown them that they would be better off going to university. These people are also of an age where their old high school classmates who did go to university have now graduated and are moving forward with their careers. These possible candidates decide to return to A-level study in order to get better grades and also in order to develop a study habit. They understand that the time they have spent away from study has meant they no longer have confidence in their study skills. So even if they qualified for adult entry to a tertiary programme, they want to study A-levels first – to consolidate and get back into the swing of study.

I have also met a number of adults over the years who have university degrees and are often established in their jobs. Yet they have decided that they want to change careers.  Universities often offer fast-track programmes for graduates in this position.  But sometimes, before the candidate can qualify for such a fast track programme, there are required subjects and knowledge to consider.  This is particularly true in the case of people who have decided that they want to pursue medicine or veterinary science.  It’s possible to gain entry into a programme for people who are graduates in another field but these people must have a suitable knowledge of Biology and Chemistry. And this is where taking A-levels comes in.  People who suddenly yearn to become a doctor often find that their science knowledge is insufficient for them to gain entry into a graduate medical programme and so they tackle A-levels first, to bring their knowledge in these required areas up to the correct level.

The third group of adults who approach ITS looking for support with A-levels are women.  Often at home with a young family and aware that they probably have several years before their children are in school, these women hope to tackle A-levels with the hope of beginning a tertiary course.  If a lot of this study can be done while their children are small, by the time the children are at school, study might be finished or almost finished and the woman can look forward to pursuing a profession career. While it might take some organizing to be a stay-at-home mother and an A-level student, it is a very good use of time that is not being spent in the workforce and with the promise that once the kids are older, the chances of a more lucrative workplace role is greater with the study that will be done.

So A-levels aren’t just for teenagers.  They also offer adults the hope of university study and a better future.  And the flexible nature of the new educational environment, with online study options available, means that there has never been a better time for the busy adult to return to school.

Dulwich College Singapore

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