Russian ‘A level’

A significant proportion of the students I teach are international, with the majority of those coming from Russia and China. Some have spent their GCSE years at international schools in the UK while others have arrived just to take their A levels and gain access to UK universities. I find it fascinating to talk to them about their prior experiences of learning maths and also about how they are assessed on the mathematics they’ve learned.

Last week, one of my Russians showed me questions from their equivalent of A level. (I won’t even begin to try and give it the official name..) Apparently this examination is taken at age 18 but it covers 4 years’ learning: essentially a GCSE and an A level all rolled in to one examination. If you can read Russian (or use Google Translate like I did) then here’s a link to what I believe is a full paper: http://alexlarin.net/ege/2014/dosr2014.html

Rubric

There are several paragraphs of information at the start of the paper: they explain that it’s 235 minutes long and that Section B comprises 15 questions, while Section C has 6. All of the answers in Section B are either integers or fractions. Section C requires full written solutions. I assume the students take the exam without a calculator.

The ‘Formula Sheet’

The closing line of the preceding text reads “We wish you luck!”. But those 5 subsequent lines comprise the full extent of the ‘formula sheet’ for this examination. I’m actually surprised lines 2 and 3 are there because they derive quickly from the sin(A+B) and cos(A+B) rules.

Sections B and C

My understanding is that Section B1-10 is typically GCSE standard and then B11-15 and Section C are more in line with our A level (I have no idea what happened to Section A). Throughout each section the questions progress in difficulty. Here are some examples from Section C:

 C1: Part (a) is asking for a general solution and part (b) requires roots in the specified interval.
 C3: Solve the system of inequalities.
 C5: Find the values of a for which the equation has a unique solution.
 C6

This final question is about arranging the integers 1 to 27 around a circle and considering the differences between adjacent pairs. I can’t figure out precisely what the question is asking for when I paste it into Google Translate! I think Part (a) asks if a configuration is possible where the differences are all greater than or equal to 14; or maybe it means all less than or equal to 14. Can someone help translate that?!

Is Russian A level hard?

Well, those questions would certainly terrify most (if not all) of my A level students. But that’s mainly because we don’t study equations and inequalities in such depth. While mathematically more involved, these skills can be taught and drilled like any other. C6 is more interesting as it appears combinatorial and perhaps is a way of testing proof. As far as I could see, there wasn’t much calculus throughout the paper – some differentiation but little sign of integration. And as for mechanics and statistics, I assume that only pure mathematics is taught but I will ask my student about that.

Think, Pair, Share

• Is the qualification harder because it tests 4 years of study instead of 2?
• Is the qualification harder because it is wholly non-calculator?
• Is the qualification harder because it contains deeper study of equations and inequalities?
• What challenges might a Russian student face when preparing for UK A levels?