A Level Computer Science

 

What is it about at sixth-form level? 

One of Microsoft’s early dreams was a computer in every home and on every desk. Today, around a quarter of the world’s population carries around daily a computer in the form of a phone and more and more people are embracing the “internet of things”, allowing them to interact remotely and intelligently with their domestic appliances. Impressive as the hardware is, it is nothing without well-written software. What makes the modern world work are computer programs.

In this course, you will study the conceptual framework of computational thinking and begin learning the skills of programming. You will learn to analyse a problem by identifying its component parts, use algorithms to describe problems, identify the components of a solution to a problem and determine the order of the steps needed to solve a problem. Alongside the study of formal aspects of computing, you will also examine a range of legal and moral issues such as how social media has led to concerns being raised over privacy and whether computers will make too many people redundant.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will study two areas of computer science. The first, Computing Principles, focuses on the contemporary systems architecture. You will look at the characteristics of hardware and software. You will look at different types of data, data structures and data exchange including compression, encryption, databases, web technologies and networks. The second, Algorithms and Problem Solving, concentrates on the concept of computational thinking. At the heart of computer science is the idea of an algorithm, or step-by-step process, each step being basic but the whole potentially incredibly complex. You will learn how to think abstractly about problems and decompose them into simpler elements.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will continue to study the areas you began in the first year. You will additionally take on a major programming project which will include analysing a problem, designing a solution, implementing and testing the solution and thoroughly evaluating your work. The programming project will be completed in a language such as Pascal or Python.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

The course will develop your skills across a broad range of areas. Through learning the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science you will develop the ability to thinking creatively, innovatively and analytically about how to solve computational problems. The challenge of writing a program in the upper-sixth year will then give you valuable practical experience of problem-solving. The study of the moral and legal opportunities and risks of digital technology will give you a good understanding of important issues that are of relevance across a wide range of other subjects and future workplaces.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

The course requires a good grounding in computer science. It is not suitable for beginners. You either need GCSE Computer Science or good experience programming in languages such as such as Python, Pascal, Visual Basic, and so on. The abstract and logical nature of the course means that students will also need to have an A grade in Maths (I)GCSE.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

For the AS level, there are two exams. Paper 1 (Computing Principles) is worth 50% and is examined by a written paper of 1 hour 15 minutes. Paper 2 (Algorithms and Problem Solving) is worth 50% and is examined by a written paper of 1 hour 15 minutes. Both papers contain a mix of questions including short answer, longer answer and some higher tariff questions that will test the quality of extended responses.

A level

For the A level, there are two exams and a project. Paper 1 (Computing Principles) is worth 40% and is examined by a written paper of 2 hours 30 minutes. There is a mix of short and long answer questions that may cover. Paper 2 (Algorithms and Problem Solving) is worth 40% and is examined by a written paper of 2 hours 30 minutes. It has two sections: section A focuses on computational thinking and writing algorithms; and section B contains a scenario/ task that presents problems students must respond to. The project is internally assessed and externally moderated. It is worth 20% of the A level and will be worked on over the Autumn and Spring terms of the upper-sixth year.

Reading

Computer Science for A Level
By G. Rouse, J. Pitt, S. O’Byrne
Published by Hodder Education, ISBN 978-1471839764

 

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR H046, A level: OCR H446

 

Matthew

Grades achieved at MPW
AAA

Progressed to
Warwick University (Chemistry)

“I have definitely made the right decision to come to MPW - my grades have gone from averaging Es to straight As. Teaching at MPW is much more personal and I felt like talking to teachers. They are very good and give you lots of support if you do not understand something. My Personal Tutor took me through the UCAS process step by step. We went through my Personal Statement many times to make sure it was completely perfect. I am very excited about my firm choice.”

Gabriel

Grades achieved at MPW
AAA

Progressed to
Nottingham University (Philosophy)

As a dyslexic student who initially got CCEE for my AS, I was convinced that I could not achieve any higher. My time at MPW proved me wrong. Initially I was reluctant to move from my local school in York to a college so far away from home, my parents, and friends. At the end of my first year I was overjoyed to find that many hours of hard work and renewed revision techniques had resulted in me achieving three A's in my subjects. I wanted to continue at A2 as I knew it would greatly improve my university prospects and encourage me to work even harder. After two fantastic years at MPW I can emphatically say that going to MPW was the best decision I ever made. 

Andrew

Grades achieved at MPW
A*AA

Progressed to
University of York (Law) 

“Having a Personal Tutor to discuss ANYTHING with, from my UCAS application to organising my life in general, really did make life at the college more streamlined and in general less stressful.”

Anastasia

Grades achieved at MPW
A*A*A*

Progressed to
University College London (Economics) 

“Honestly, I could not imagine when I joined MPW that, due to language and adaptation barriers, I would achieve top grades in my first A-level exam sittings. This view changed completely after only a few weeks in the college’s supportive and motivational environment; with teachers who aimed at finding a personal touch with each student and with my Personal Tutor who made my adjustment to the UK education system not only an easy step in my life but, more importantly, an enjoyable one.”

Akmaral

Grades achieved at MPW
A*A*A*

Progressed to
University College London (Mathematics and Statistics)

“International students have many aspects to think about, such as accommodation and guardians, but MPW surprised me by having a highly organised and supportive administration. Also, because most MPW Cambridge students are local, as an ‘international’ student, I found this very useful in both improving my English and in giving me a taste of a genuinely ‘English’ college.”

Julia

Grades achieved at MPW
A*AABB

Progressed to
King's College London (International Relations)

 “The teachers really helped me overcome any difficulties I came across; they always seemed willing to offer support be it inside or outside of the classroom. I could safely say my teachers inspired me to work hard and aim for the best, sometimes simply by being passionate about what they do.”