AS and A-Levels are the next stage of learning after GCSEs. They’re studied over 1 or 2 years and can open doors - to further education and to future careers. Colleges of further education have taken on the role previously occupied by secondary schools.
If you wish to download a PDF version of this page, just click here: AS and A-Levels PDF
A-Levels (Advanced Levels) are the significant exams that follow GCSEs. How well students perform in their A-Levels has a profound impact on their educational future, as it determines access to degree courses and future career opportunities. But what exactly do A-Levels entail, and what about AS-Levels? This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of these qualifications.
The education of children and young people is divided into key stages. Primary schools cover Key Stages 1 and 2, while secondary schools focus on Key Stages 3 and 4. Key Stage 5, or KS5, is delivered in Years 12 and 13, targeting students aged 16 to 18. In the past, most secondary schools had "sixth-forms" to cater to KS5 students. However, colleges of further education have now assumed this role, with many offering a wide range of courses leading to vocational qualifications, such as:
While BTECs, HNC/HNDs, RQFs, and vocational qualifications focus on practical subjects, AS and A-Levels are considered more academic, and this guide will primarily focus on the latter.
After completing their GCSEs, students face several options for further education: apprenticeships for those who prefer to learn while working, vocational qualifications for a combination of hands-on and academic learning, or A-Levels. A-Levels are an excellent choice for students who enjoy traditional schooling, provided they meet the required GCSE grades.
A-Levels serve as a foundational step toward various careers and offer access to universities. Many degree programs, such as medicine or veterinary science, require A-Levels as a prerequisite for enrolment.
Even for those who do not plan on attending university or have not yet decided on a career path, A-Levels offer valuable advantages. They are highly regarded by employers and provide 16-year-olds with time to explore their options after college.
My advice: If you have a clear career goal, determine the necessary qualifications. If it's a practical field, vocational qualifications may be best. If you need a degree, identify the required A-Levels or other qualifications for enrolment. If you're uncertain about your career path, choose a balanced set of A-Level subjects that genuinely interest you.
AS and A-Levels are typically completed over one or two years and can open doors to higher education and future career opportunities.
To pursue A-Levels, students must meet the course's entry criteria, which varies between colleges and is based on their GCSE results. GCSE results provide insights into A-Level performance, and colleges scrutinize them closely. Requirements can range from accepting four subjects at grade 4 (C) to demanding six subjects at grade 7 or higher (A-A*).
If your GCSE results are not up to the required standard, resits may be an option. You can study GCSEs at a college, but this may extend the duration of your A-Level studies by a year. It's a worthwhile option if you barely missed your desired results. However, if there's a significant gap, vocational qualifications might be more suitable.
A wide array of subjects can be studied at A-Level, with colleges listing the subjects they offer in their prospectuses. To provide a general overview of available subjects, here's a list of common A-Level subjects:
In addition to these A-Level subjects, there are some subjects that can be studied at AS-Level (Advanced Subsidiary) but not at A-Level. Examples include European Studies, Science for Public Understanding, Citizenship, Use of Mathematics, and American History.
Certain practical subjects, such as business, travel and tourism, or health and social care, can be taken as Applied A-Levels, which blend academic and hands-on learning.
Selecting A-Levels is a significant decision that can shape your future. Start by determining how many A-Levels you will take; most universities require a minimum of three, and some require more. However, remember that A-Levels are more challenging than GCSEs, so avoid overcommitting.
Next, choose a combination of subjects. If you already know the degree you want to pursue, select A-Levels that meet its requirements. If you're uncertain about your future, opt for a diverse mix of subjects. Keep in mind that certain A-Level subjects, like critical thinking or general studies, are less favoured by some universities. However, strong grades in nearly any A-Level subject should suffice for admission to less selective institutions.
It's also worth considering subjects you genuinely enjoy, even if they are not directly related to your chosen career. However, ensure that your selections don't prevent you from studying other necessary subjects.
Before 2015, A-Level courses were divided into two parts: AS-Level (the first year) and A2 (the second year). Reforms have since made AS-Levels standalone courses, typically completed in one year. Students have the option to take AS-Levels alongside their A-Levels.
Formerly, A-Levels were modular, with coursework and exams throughout the course. However, recent changes have made A-Levels linear. Now, A-Levels are primarily assessed through exams taken at the end of the two-year course, with a significant reduction in coursework, focusing on essential skills relevant to the course.
A-Levels are awarded six pass grades:
Despite government reforms, the distribution of grades has remained consistent with previous years.
The grades you achieve in your A-Levels influence your eligibility for acceptance by universities, with each institution having different criteria. As a general rule, higher grades expand your choice of universities.
The UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) points system, also known as the UCAS Tariff, assigns a numerical value to each grade. About a third of universities use this system to assess applicants. Even if your preferred university does not use UCAS points, they can still provide an estimate of the value of your grades. Here are the UCAS points for AS and A-Level grades:
The number of UCAS points required varies significantly based on the course and university, ranging from 32 points for some courses to 144 points for others. Therefore, it's essential to determine the specific requirements for your desired course.
Most universities require you to have a minimum of three A-Levels and some want more.
Once you have your A-Level results, you may wonder about your next steps. Your grades influence your choices, but if you pass, several options are available:
In summary, A-Levels serve as the next step after GCSEs and open various doors to higher education and future careers. This guide aims to help you decide if A-Levels are the right choice for you. For additional education-related questions, explore our Knowledge Bank for answers.