The Guardian has a piece on how A-Levels could be made redundant. Apparently too many people are doing well, which for some reason is bad. Me thinks they haven't met the high school system in North America yet.
I don't think I can explain to any Canadian/American high school goer what A-Levels are like. First of all, you are not in high school, you are in what is called a 'college'. You are sitting for board exams. The person who will mark your papers is unknown to you, as you are to him/her. It's not your teacher who knows you for five years and will cut you some slack (or, if you've ticked him off - give you a hard time). The markers therefore can maintain strict impartiality. You will get exactly what you deserve based on how you did your exams on that day.
I think anyone who did A-Levels can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first got their results. Once you have written the exams it is out of your hands. You may have studied the subject well, may have gotten good marks throughout the school year, but it's what you do on the day that counts. Some people say it's unfair - others say it's life.
Exams are like that.
And that result, that little piece of paper with your marks, determines your future. University admissions are conditional on the A-Level grades you achieve.
A-Levels are also widely respected. Which is why I cringe when they mention one of the pressures placed on the Brits is to issue a 'North American style diploma'! Due to my A-Level grades, I got half a year's worth of credits (3.5 out of 5) in first year of university (at UofT). They don't respect their own school system graduates that much. I have seen people here go to high school, do well, and be classic know-nothings. They have no basic knowledge of trigonometry, algebra, calculus (p1-p2 anyone?), physics (string tension), and so on. All of which were almost a given when you passed these subjects in A-Levels.