Extended Project Qualification: A-level pupils take on 5k-word dissertation to secure place on top courses

In an article in the Daily Mail, 11/08/13, Andrew Levy reports on the increasing numbers of students opting to take the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to boost their chances of securing places on top courses.

Thousands of sixth- formers are opting to take a tough research-based qualification on top of A-levels amid a collapse of confidence in the exam.

More than 30,000 teenagers are expected to submit dissertations under the Extended Project Qualification this year, a six-fold increase in four years.

The qualification can be used as a ‘tie-breaker’ between university applicants with similar A-level results, or to decide whether to admit someone who has failed to meet their grade offer.

The work, which is worth the equivalent of half an A-level, is usually presented as a 5,000-word report in an academic subject ‘outside their main programme of study’.

It requires a high level of independent work and original thought – skills which universities complain are lacking in school leavers.

Private schools in particular have recognised the value of the exam and around 6 per cent of pupils took one last year, a third more than in 2011.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said: ‘My guess is that the number of students taking them will continue to increase. Ofqual research has revealed that universities are keen to see an increase in independent research and learning. There is an inadequate amount at A-level, so EPQs are absolutely up universities’ street.

‘Some universities also find A-levels not stretching enough for the most able students. The EPQ does stretch them.’

Just over 5,000 EPQs were submitted in 2009. This leapt to 16,000 the following year and 24,000 in 2011. Last year 28,500 students sat the qualification, which is offered by five exam boards and uses the same grading system as A-levels. Of these, 14 per cent were awarded an A*, 19.3 per cent an A and 19.8 per cent a B.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is reforming A-levels after the gold-standard exam suffered from years of grade inflation

Elite universities said EPQs can make the difference between winning a place on a course or just missing out. But institutions outside the research-intensive 24 Russell Group universities are also increasingly relying on them.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is reforming A-levels after the gold-standard exam suffered from years of grade inflation. Modular work is being replaced by exams at the end of courses. The number of resits is also being limited.

But the changes will only be introduced from 2015, meaning it will be several years before students sit more rigorous exams.

The Extended Project Qualification was introduced in 2008. Students can choose the topic they research but it must be an academic area not specifically covered in their other studies.

Someone studying French and geography could write about the impact of tourism on the  environment in a region of France, for example.

The qualification takes a year during which students receive 120 ‘guided learning hours’ and undertake ‘extended autonomous work’.

By Andrew Levy, Daily Mail. Click here to read the article © Daily Mail.