February 12th, 2006

Maths

Here's something that the mathematicians in the audience may be able to help me with, particularly my younger friends (i.e. the people who are more familiar with the current syllabus)...

Basically, I'm thinking about doing an A level in Further Maths, so I was wandering around Blackwells earlier to look at their selection of textbooks, but I was a bit confused about which ones would be useful. That's partly because I kept seeing "Advanced Maths" and thinking "Aha!", then realising "Oh, no, 'Advanced' just means the 'A' in 'A Level'...". I found one book dealing with pure Maths up to the required level, but that was an all-inclusive guide for the normal AS/A levels too. Admittedly, I no longer have my old school textbooks, but I do have my notes, so I don't think I need much of a recap on those concepts.

At this point, a bit of background may be useful.

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Anyway, I'm now interested in boosting my skills a bit. That's partly because I'd like to clear the blot from my record, and prove to myself that I can actually understand this subject, and I'm hoping that mechanics will be easier now that I've done some more Physics. And it's partly because it would be nice to say "I have 3 As at A level", even if that's slightly misleading (by implying that I got them all when I was 18). My A level results aren't entirely relevant nowadays (since I have an MSc), but some people still pay attention to that. For example, my current company's advice to applicants is "Please send your CV (including 'A' level grades and degree class) and a well-presented covering letter". And I'm guessing that universities pay even more attention to this, if I do ever go for a PhD place somewhere.

I'm also slightly concerned about the recent trend of "Ebay results", i.e. A+ and A++; leaving aside the question of whether the exams have been dumbed down, I do think that there's a risk of these new grades devalueing my existing result, since people would look at it and say "Oh, only an A, you weren't good enough for a higher grade then". It would be nice if they could retroactively re-score old exam results to fit the new system, but I suppose that's not really feasible.

At this point, I'm not intending to take time off work again (like I did before), but I'd consider doing some kind of evening/weekend course, if I could fit it around my other commitments. Alternately, I'd be happy to do self-study from books, and then turn up for the exam later, if I could find some suitable guides. I had a look at a mechanics textbook earlier, and the contents page looked very similar to my Physics A level (e.g. equations of motion). For anyone who's done both, how much overlap is there? I still have my first year notes from Durham (although I've sold most of the textbooks), so I'm guessing that they ought to be relevant, although given the trouble I had understanding them before, I'd probably benefit from an introductory guide.

I was also a bit confused by the range of modules out there, e.g. for "Decision Maths", and I haven't found anything useful on the web. There wasn't much info on the MEI site, and the FM Network is a bit more promising, but even that doesn't say much. I'm assuming that Further Maths is split into AS and A2. Are there pre-requisites, e.g. you have to do stats/mechanics in the normal Maths A level before you can do them in Further Maths? Do you do both? I also have no idea about the relative merits of A level vs IB vs GNVQ, although I get the impression that IB may be the best.

As a side note, I did notice an odd discontinuity in the BBC "Have Your Say" topics recently. First they had one about "Are graduates employable?" (employers being unhappy with graduates), so lots of people said "Well yes, that's because of all these useless degrees in golf etc." Then they had one about student skills worsening (universities being unhappy with the intake of students), and the prevailing theme of the comments was "Well yes, that's because universities have maintained high standards, and it's the schools that are dumbing down!" So, best not to pay too much attention to any of those debates, I think.

Anyway, thanks to anyone who's actually read this far, and any comments are welcome.