A-level results: UAE pupils celebrate after toughest exam in years

The hardest tests to date mean maths pupils need little more than 50 per cent to get a grade A

British curriculum pupils across the UAE received their A-level results on Thursday following what are said to be the toughest exams in years.

Parents, teachers and pupils across the Emirates waited nervously for the results, which went live at 9am.

There were tears and cries of joy as teenagers opened their letters or logged on to the British exam portal to see how they fared.

A-level exams have been the subject of controversy in the UK this year with leaks of exam papers in June. And maths and science tests were so difficult that As were given to pupils scoring as low as 54 per cent.

At the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) in Abu Dhabi, 97 pupils took A-level exams this year. Karishma Deegan, 18, was first to arrive and waited anxiously for her results.

"I've been awake since 6am, unable to sleep, just waiting to see how I did," she told The National.

I landed from Budapest this morning at 6am. I haven't slept right for seven days waiting for these results

After opening her letter in a church across the road from the school, Karishma found she had secured an A* in mathematics, and A grades in biology and chemistry. In September, she will begin a bio medical degree at Imperial College London.

Fellow classmate Nico Westermann from Germany received an A in economics and two Bs in maths and chemistry.

“I actually landed from Budapest this morning at 6am. I haven’t slept right for seven days waiting for these results,” he said.

He was disappointed to find his conditional offer to study at Durham University was rejected.

"I needed three As for Durham, but my insurance offer to study economics at Leeds University didn't work out either.

"Leeds University switched my course offer to chemistry, so I rejected it."

After going through clearing on the UCAS website, Nico has since been offered placements to study economics at Cardiff University or Royal Holloway, University of London.

"I need to make a decision by midnight tonight."

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 15, 2019.  British School Al Khubairat (BSAK)  students getting their A-level results.  Nico W. gets his grades.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Kelly

A-level pupils at BSAK took exams in 316 subjects this year. Forty-six per cent of pupils at the school received an A* to A grades, and 67 per cent secured an A* to B grades.

A total of 25 pupils received three A* to A grades and 41 students received three A* to B grades. Six pupils came out with all A* grades. A level examinations are graded on a scale of A* to E.

Mark Leppard, headmaster at the school, said this year’s A-level results were the perfect end to the school’s 50th year anniversary celebrations.

“This is a record year for us and we are really proud. Exam grades have increased year on year thanks to the amazing teachers, support staff and of course, pupils.”

A further 16 pupils at the school took Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) exams this year, which is the equivalent of two A-levels. All received a distinction star distinction grade, which is the same as an A* to A grade.

At Jumeirah College in Dubai, scores of pupils turned up in person to collect their results.

Abdul Rahim Khater, an 18-year-old Canadian-Palestinian pupil, was excited to receive three As and an A*. He has a place to study medicine at the University of Nottingham.

"I was very happy with my results, especially in Arabic, as I thought I did really badly but I ended up getting an A. In mathematics I got an A* so I am very happy with that."

A-level grade boundaries from the country's two exam boards - Pearson/Edexcel and OCR - were leaked on social media on Wednesday, revealing pupils only required just over 50 per cent to get an A in key subjects.

Pupils secured an A in maths if they scored 54 per cent or above, the lowest to date. Those with a 43 per cent score were awarded a B.

Edexcel's biology students needed 56 per cent - 167 marks out of 300 - for an A, while OCR's candidates needed 59 per cent or 158 out of 270.

In June, examination board Edexcel also announced that several maths exam questions had been circulated on social media, a day before pupils headed to their examination halls. Media reports suggested the entire paper had been leaked.

Of the 97 pupils at BSAK who received results on Thursday, 59 sat a maths paper.

“We haven’t been contacted by the exam board so it looks like no students at BSAK were affected by the leak,” Mr Leppard said.

“It did put a lot of stress on students before the exam though."

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 15, 2019.  British School Al Khubairat (BSAK)  students getting their A-level results.---  Hetty L. 18 and mother Mary, cross fingers before getting the grades.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Kelly

Both Nico and Karishma scored high grades in the hard maths exam.

"We were told at the end of year 12 that the maths paper was going to be the hardest yet, so we just buckled down and did whatever we could to prepare with our teachers," Karishma said.

Earlier, pupils would take their A-levels in chunks throughout the year, but in 2018 the exams underwent a reform.

Now, everything is dependent on the final exams, meaning the expectations on pupils is much greater.

Jumeirah College pupil Manal Riza Muhammed, 18, from Sri Lanka managed to secure one A* and two As, but said stress levels were high in the lead up to exams.

“They were much harder than any other year. When we revise we go through so many papers, but in mathematics the paper we got was nothing like the previous years," she said.

Against an ever-changing educational backdrop, they have once again proven their academic pedigree

Eighteen-year-old twins Charlie and Harry Thomas from Jumeirah College are heading to the UK for university.

"This year, some of the exams were tougher, especially literature," Charlie said.

Despite this, and contrary to reports that top grades for A-levels have fallen to their lowest level in more than a decade in the UK, several schools across the UAE reported their best results yet.

Simon Corns, headmaster at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, said 40 per cent results at the school were between A* to A. He was pleased with the results as pupils achieved better grades than predicted.

"I think the exams were more rigorous this year and our pupils rose to the challenge," said Mr Corns.

Dubai British School, run by the education company Taaleem school, said the class of 2019 achieved the best post-16 results in the school’s history, with 78 per cent of all grades at A* to B; an increase in performance of five per cent from last year’s results.

At Dubai College, 26 per cent of grades were A* and pupils have secured places at Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton, Yale and Columbia.

Bobby Trivic, head of sixth form, said of pupils that "against an ever-changing educational backdrop, they have once again proven their academic pedigree".

Additional reporting by Nourhan Samra