It's that day. Thousands of British teenagers are opening their exam results. The more attractive among them are being photographed jumping in the air with delight by national newspapers. The less attractive and accomplished are hurrying home to look at the UCAS clearing website, which helps students with the wrong grades find a university which will accept them.
A Levels stand accused of being too easy. This year, 26% of students achieved A grades and 8% achieved the top mark of A*. Twenty years ago, fewer than 14% of students achieved A grades, but top universities now demand As as a matter of course. And because top investment banks like to hire from top universities, some of the most accomplished A level students go on to work at firms like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley.
Jack Loydall, a Bristol University student who spent the summer interning at JPMorgan, is a case in point. Loydall's CV shows that he achieved four A levels (maths, physics, electronics and economics), all at A*. Loydall also took an AS Level in further mathematics and got an A. Sami Mouneimne, an ECM analyst at Morgan Stanley studied A Levels in maths, physics and economics and got two A*s and one A. And then there's Pavlos Syrimis, an equity derivatives trader at Goldman Sachs. Pavlos took five A levels (further mathematics, mathematics, economics, chemistry and physics) and achieved an A* in all of them.
Pavlos is clearly exceptional, but all the front office bankers at Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley we looked at had achieved at least three As at A Level. British 18 year-olds who find themselves in this cohort today are likely to become the investment bankers of the future - unless they go to work for Facebook or Google instead.
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