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What are A-Levels?

Everything you need to know about A-levels in the UK.

A-levels, or advanced level qualifications, are subject-based qualifications available to students leaving school or college (Year 13 or A2 Year), normally aged (16 to 18 years old) and are graded A* to -E. A-levels open the doors to professional life, be that via university, training, apprenticeships or work.

Generally, students can prepare for three or more A-levels over two years and they are assessed by a final exam.

What about AS-level?

The AS-level or advanced supplementary level is a qualification that was previously part of the overall final grade for A-levels. Before the system reforms for England in 2015, they AS-level exams, taken in Year 12 (or AS Year), accounted for 50% of the overall A-level qualification, with the A-level exams taken in Year 13 accounting for the other 50%.

After the reforms, some schools/colleges will not enter any students for AS-levels in order to free up more teaching time for A-levels, while other schools or colleges will continue to work under the same structure.

For subjects you will continue in your A2 Year: the AS-level mark won’t contribute to your final A-level grade, only your A-level exam, taken in your A2 Year will count.

For the subject you drop: the AS-level mark will decide the grade for that subject.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, the above is not valid as your AS-level marks will be banked and make 40% of your final A-level grade.

Can I sit AS-levels?

Remember we mentioned before that some schools or colleges will not offer AS-levels and enrol students into the relevant exams? That’s because they are not legally obliged to.

Check the options your institution offers when choosing your A-levels. If it doesn’t fit your needs, you should enrol elsewhere.

Do AS-levels matter?

Indeed, they do. The grade that you receive on the subject you drop in your AS Year is important in its own way.

The number of UCAS points your qualification translates to may still contribute to the total points you apply to university with. An AS-level is now equal to 40% of an A-level. If you achieved an A in your AS-level, that would translate to 20 UCAS points, for instance.

Your teachers also decide you predicted grades based on your AS-level performance, consequently impacting your university application.

How do A-levels work?

AS Year (Year 12)

Typically, you will choose three or four subjects to study. Some students decide to take more subjects if they are applying to more competitive universities (like Oxford or Cambridge) or courses (like medicine or law). However, most universities A-level entry requirements come down to three A-level grades.

At the end of the academic year and dependant on your school or college, you would take exams in all your chosen subjects. If you are dropping the subject, this will decide your subject grade or AS-level grade. If you are studying the subject on your A2 Year, then this grade won’t have an impact on your final A-level grade but can shape your predicted grade, as we discussed before.

The grade of your AS-level will go into your UCAS application, together with your predicted A-level grades, so you should apply yourself! If you are struggling, use our resources and consider enrolling in tuition.

A2 Year (Year 13)

In this final year, you will continue with your chosen subjects to achieve your full A-levels. The exams at the end of your Year 13 will determine your A-level grades and will question your knowledge on the content of both Year 12 and Year 13.

The offers you receive will determine whether you will be heading off to university, going through Clearing or having to sit the exams again next year.

It is worth noting that you can pick up an additional AS-level subject in Year 13. You could decide to do this if you didn’t take an AS-level in Year 12 or if you want to boost the number of UCAS points for that important university application. Just remember that you will have to take that AS-level exam alongside your final A-levels.

Are there any requirements to study A-levels?

Any school or college you apply for will often want at least five GCSEs A* to C (9 to 4 in the new grading system), or equivalent.

Maths, English and science are the important subjects to do well on. Remember that good grades on your GCSEs are helpful not only in applying for your A-levels, but some universities and jobs may also enquire about these grades. Also bear in mind that, while a C (or a 4 in the new system) is the minimum, higher grades will elevate your profile and leave you in a better position.

Can I apply to university with a mix of A-levels and BTECs?

Indeed, you can! Your decision to study a combination of BTECs and A-levels will mainly depend on what you plan to do afterwards. As BTECs allow students to acquire practical and vocational skills, it’s not necessarily something listed in the entry requirements for a majority of university courses.

Does coursework still count towards my A-level grade?

Generally speaking, no, as assessments are carried out with exams that take place at the end of Year 13. Dependant on your school or college, you may take exams on Year 12, but these will not count towards your final A-level grade.

There are, of course, some exceptions to the above:

  • Physics, Chemistry and Biology include a practical element throughout the course;
  • Art and design involve coursework projects throughout the year, as you build your portfolio.

Non-exams assessments account only for up to 20% of your final grade, so doing well on your A-levels should be your only priority in Year 13!

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