A level results were released to students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales on Thursday 16 August this year. As over 90% of university offers are conditional on results from A levels or other qualifications, this also marks the date when many university applicants find out whether they have a place on their chosen course.
A previous Data Byte has examined the discussions taking place on Twitter during the period when exams are taking place; this Data Byte looks at the discussions during the release of results.
What does the chart show?
We collected tweets from the Twitter Streaming API containing a selection of education and assessment related terms, and filtered these to contain tweets relating to A levels around the time of results release. This gave us 255910 tweets to analyse, posted between midday on Wednesday 15 August and midday on Saturday 18 August.
We assigned tweets to topics based on the words contained in the tweet, using latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) to guide our categorisation. Here we consider the top four topics: wishing people luck, offering congratulations, mentioning grades and talking about going to university (including the clearing process). We investigated other keywords relating to exam boards and grade boundaries, hard work, pride, and plans for requesting a re-mark, but found that these were relatively rare and/or difficult to detect with a set of keywords. Additionally, a large proportion of tweets were difficult to categorise automatically, for example those with jokes about news events or personalities, or consisting predominantly of an image or meme with an accompanying comment.
The chart shows the proportion of tweets assigned to each of these topics. The shaded bar at the top of the chart shows the total volume of tweets relating to A levels.
Why is the chart interesting?
Candidates find out at 8am from UCAS whether they have a university place, but their A level results are released to them via their school or college so there is no single time when candidates find out their results. However, national statistics and trends are published by JCQ and the media at 9:30. The shaded bar at the top of the chart shows that the total number of tweets about A levels rose considerably after 8:00, then fell back slightly and peaked again just before midday.
During the early morning of results day, the most common topic discussed was luck, but the pattern changed sharply at 8:00 when many university applicants discovered whether they had secured a university place. During the day, as candidates received their results from their school or college, discussions on Twitter were predominantly about results and grades. Afterwards, the focus turned to students’ futures at university, and the clearing process.
We found that there was relatively little discussion of individual subjects, exams or exam boards in the tweet sample that we obtained. The detail of the examination process was of less importance than the desire to celebrate students’ achievements and discuss next steps.