Among the different phases of your education, time spent in junior colleges passes by in a flash and before you know it, it is gone. On average, students spent two to three years preparing for their A levels. While the time spent is the shortest as compared to primary and secondary school education, it is the most stressful period for students as students have to quickly know how they fare in terms of their academic performance in A level subjects such as Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Economics, just to name a few.

To gauge one’s performance, students have to look at their own results at three levels of analysis. Firstly, the simplest way to do this is to look at your score in your school’s tests and exams. This gives you a rough indication of how you did in relation to the school’s tests or exams. However, this level of analysis can be pretty superficial because the comparison of your score is at best a gauge of your own individual performance and does not take into account of the performance of the other students in your school. Hence, this level of analysis isn’t sufficient for you to make sense of your own performance. Next, let’s look at the second level of analysis: percentile.

The second level of analysis is to look at your percentile which indicates how you stand in your school’s cohort taking the subject. Let’s use an example, using H2 Chemistry as a subject  to illustrate. Getting a B for your H2 Chemistry may sound like a good grade. However, despite getting a B, your percentile is only at 40%, it shows that 60% of the cohort has achieved a stronger B or an A which shows that they are doing better than you. This level of analysis takes into account of how you fare as compared to the other students in your school but does not consider the performance of students outside your school who are taking the A level examinations. Hence, we need to take a look at the third level of analysis: your school’s past performance in a particular subject.

Lastly, the third level of analysis is to look at your school’s past performance in A level examination for a particular subject. Why is this important? While one can argue that past performance cannot be an accurate predictor for future performance, it still serves as a good estimate to roughly gauge how well your school will perform for that particular subject. For example, for the past two years, on average, your school has 30% percent of the cohort scoring an A for H2 chemistry. This implies that to get an A, you need to aim to be in at least to be be 70th percentile consistently for your exams to stand a chance of scoring an A at A level examinations.

Gauging one’s performance at three levels of analysis is important for students to know how they fare in their A level subjects. However, the challenge lies in doing the second level of analysis as some schools choose not to disclose the specific percentile of the students out of good intentions. They do not want the disclosure of percentile to result in a competitive and results oriented culture that results in diluting the intent of education which is to gain knowledge and learn with the outcome of contributing to the society. While we all recognise the good intentions, we do need to trust that the students at ages 17 to 18 are mature enough to handle the reality as they prepare themselves for the school of hard knocks in life. Perhaps one way to get around this is to reveal the scores in terms of Q1 (75th to 100th percentile), Q2 (50th– 74th percentile), Q3 (25th to 49th percentile) and Q4 (1st to 24th percentile). This will help students to know where they roughly stand in terms of their scores.

To all students out there taking A levels, do remember this: you are not running alone in the race, you are racing with all the students who are taking the A level subject. Hence, your individual score does not mean anything as it is how the cohort does that determine your final grade!