A-levels Definition and Equivalents
Officially called the ‘General Certificate of Education Advanced Level’ (GCE Advanced Level), but more commonly known as just ‘A Level’, it is often seen as a stepping stone to University although many employers look at A-levels as a stand-alone qualification and use it as an entry-level benchmark, choosing to offer A-Level trainee vacancies. Here we give a view on the ins and outs of the A-level system, a definition of what the A level is and some of the equivalent qualifications available to study in the UK.
While A-levels are a qualification in their own right with many employers opting to offer A-Level trainee vacancies, they are often the prerequisite for university-level (undergraduate) study as well, though some universities also require applicants to take separate entrance examinations, and appear for interviews. There are two kinds of A-levels:
– The standard qualification (which accounts for 97% of all A-levels) consists of two equally-weighted parts – the AS (assessed in the first year of study) and the A2 (second year of study). The AS can also be taken as a stand-alone qualification called an AS-level. Assessment is done by a combination of exam papers and coursework.
– The Applied A level (which is relatively new) still consists of the two parts of AS and A2 but the work is more focused on practical formats and is only available for more vocational subjects such as Art and Design, ICT, Business, Science and Health and Social Care.
Most students will study for 3 A levels at the same time, sometimes 4 if STEM-focused, but they can be taken individually. There are over 200 subjects to choose from.
Structure of A-Levels
The most recent changes to A-levels began in 2000, when the government introduced Curriculum 2000 which split the A-level into two parts, the AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A2 examinations.
Successful completion of AS modules exists as standalone qualifications, in which case only an AS-level qualification would be gained. This is given half the number of points of a full A-level on the UCAS tariff points system.
A2 examinations do not form a qualification in their own right. Therefore, satisfactory completion of the AS and A2 units in the same subject is required to constitute a complete A-level.
Grading of A-Levels
In the current system, A-levels are graded from A to E. Each grade requires a specific percentage of the points available in both the A- and AS-levels.
A-level examinations are administered through a series of examination boards. These were originally based on the major UK universities but have over the last 50 years merged large organisations. There are five examining boards – AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC, CCEA
A level equivalents
The Scottish version of the A level is the Higher which is Level 6 on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework. Strictly speaking a Higher is equivalent to the AS level, as Scottish university courses typically have a duration of 4 years, meaning the loss of one year’s schooling is compensated by an additional university year. However, there is an Advanced Higher qualification as well which would equate to the standard A level. There are currently 72 subjects available to study for the Higher course.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma is another alternative qualification approximately the same as an A level and similarly accepted by employers or universities. As of 2016, it was being taught at 136 schools and colleges within the UK.
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