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Pre-university skills course boosts students A-level success

Research finds UEA course designed to teach sixth formers HE-level study skills also improves their A-level results

Posted by Hannah Oakman | November 03, 2016 | Students

A course designed to teach sixth form students essential university-level study skills also significantly improves their A-level results, according to research from the University of East Anglia.

The Pre-university Skills Course (PSC), delivered by specially-trained teachers to students preparing for their A-levels, instils skills they will need for university study not typically taught in schools.

Covering aspects including structuring writing, taking notes, researching and referencing, it was launched by UEA academics in 2011 to help undergraduates who are not used to the differences in teaching style between school and university.

But a study at a state-funded school in East Anglia saw those who took part in the eight-hour course achieve significantly better results in their A-levels than those who did not.

Students who took the course achieved a mean average tariff based on the UCAS system of applying points to A-level grades of 400 points, compared to 308 points from those who did not.

The study was carried out after teachers delivering the course began to anecdotally report improvements in study skills. The cohort of students was divided into those who chose to do the course and those who didn’t, with both groups including a similar mixture of ability and aptitude range. They took part in the eight one-hour lessons over two days while on study leave after sitting their AS levels.

Not only does the Pre-university Skills Course mean students are better prepared when they get to university, [...] but they’re also more likely to achieve the grades required to get them the places they choose in the first place

Dr Harriet Jones, senior lecturer at UEA who designed the course, said the results were a surprise. The course was designed because students are typically entering university without the experience of self-directed learning and little facility for original or critical thinking, not to assist with A-Level courses.

But these dramatic results clearly show that, by aiming to improve skills like essay-writing, analysis and critical thinking, the course also assists students with A-Level achievement.

Hundreds of teachers nationally and internationally have completed a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course on delivering the Pre-university Skills training to their students. Until the launch of Pre-University Skills there were no courses designed to be delivered by school teachers which targeted university preparedness across academic disciplines.

Dr Jones said: “Although we have always recognised the value of helping students to bridge the gap between school and university, we never expected it to have any effect on A level studies, never mind such a dramatic improvement in their results, particularly as it was just eight hours of targeted lessons.

“Not only does the Pre-university Skills Course mean students are better prepared when they get to university, reducing the need for catch-up modules and reducing the adjustment period, but they’re also more likely to achieve the grades required to get them the places they choose in the first place.”

The next course for teachers on how to deliver the Pre-university Skills Course will take place in London on 23 January 2017. For more information or to book places on the course visit www.uea.ac.uk/teaching-pre-uni 

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