Exams & Curriculum what are a levels?

What are A Levels?

A Levels (Advanced Level qualifications) are a U.K subject-based qualification for students aged 16 and above. They are usually studied over the course of 2 years, and lead to qualifications recognised for entrance to higher education institutes in the UK and many others worldwide. Most higher education institutes require a minimum of 3 subjects.

Although they are a UK qualification, schools across the world offer A Levels. Most universities and Higher Education institutes recognise A Levels as a suitable entry qualification. 

You may also have heard of AS Levels, however following reforms implemented between 2016 and 2018, AS Levels are now a separate qualification. Although they still equate to the first year of study on the full 2-year A Level course, most universities do not consider AS levels alone adequate for entrance. 

What subjects do A Level students take?

There are no compulsory subjects with A Levels. Instead, students are free to choose the subjects that interest them the most or they feel will be most beneficial to them for their future studies or career. Students normally study 3 A Levels and subjects include English Language & Literature, French, Maths, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Psychology, Economics, Art, Information Technology and Modern Foreign Languages such as French, German, and Spanish. It’s always best to check in advance which subjects the institution you are considering offers as this does vary from school to school. 

How are A Levels Assessed?

Written examinations, taken at the end of the 2-year course of study, are the main form of assessment. Following the reforms mentioned above, there is now a lot less project work. However, some coursework does still contribute to the final grade depending on the subject. 

Grades are awarded on scale from A* – E. Those who do not meet the minimum standard receive a U. Students need 40% to achieve an E, 50% for a D, 60% for a C and so on. Students who average 80% across all modules will gain an A*.

If a student fails, they must re-sit the whole exam – it is not possible just to re-sit specific modules. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that students can retake their A Levels as many times as necessary.

Which exam boards do A levels use?

There are several different examination boards who assess A levels. Most often, international schools use Edexcel or CIA (Cambridge International Assessment). 

Why choose A levels?

A Levels are a great choice for a student who has a clear idea of which subjects they excel in. Or, to put it another way, students who are ‘one-sided’ in terms of their strengths. For example, a student who is strong in Maths and weak in English Literature would benefit from being able to focus on Maths, and drop English. This would not be possible with the IB.

The importance of the final written exam means that A Levels are more suitable for students who are strong in written exams. Students who are able to revise effectively and perform well in timed exams are most suited to A Levels.  

Most importantly, students receive separate certificates in each subject they pass, rather than one overall certificate as with the IB.  

Author Bio

Liz McEwan is a Client Manager at TutorsPlus. She has over 20 years of experience teaching English, study skills and offering student guidance. Originally from the U.K, she now lives in Geneva.

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