If like me, it's been a while since you studied GCSE (or O Level) and A Level, you might be feeling a bit lost with what's changed in recent years. In addition to minor changes over the years, there was a massive A Level reform back in 2015 and in this article, we're going to look at what the A Levels are, how they've all changed, the subjects you can study, and what the exams are like.

The A Level at a Glance

While the GCSEs are quite new (they were introduced in 1988), the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (A Level for short) has been around since 1951 and has been the main qualification taught at sixth form and college around the country since then.

What are the new A Levels like?
The new A Levels aren't any easier than the old ones. (Source: kaboompics)

While the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or equivalent is a compulsory part of secondary education, once you've done them, you're technically done with secondary school. After that, you can go into work or move onto further education by doing an A Level, which is more academic, or vocational qualifications.

Find out more about GCSEs and A Levels.

What’s Changed with the A Levels?

Much like with the GCSEs, A Levels also underwent reform in 2015. This meant a few changes to how the courses were taught, the exams, and the grades.

When were the A Level reforms?
Universities now have a larger influence in the content of the A Levels. (Source: Free-Photos)

Previously, A Level qualifications could be taught in modules but now the examinations will not take place in January. Similarly, other types of assessment are discouraged unless the skills being assessed are deemed essential. AS Level results also don't count towards an A Level in the same way they did previously.

Universities have also had a bigger hand in what content appears on A Levels. After all, when studying the GCE A Level, many students are doing so to meet the entry requirements they need for their UCAS application for university.

This means that past papers before the reform mightn't be useful for revising. You should check with the exam board for practise papers or a sample A Level exam to help with your revision.

The exam boards in the UK include AQA, OCR, CIE, Edexcel, CCEA, ICAAE, WJEC. While the exam board will dictate the exam that you take and which body will be awarding your A Level, most subjects will include the topics regardless of who's issuing the exam and the qualification.

Did you know that the GCSEs were also reformed?

Find out more about the 2015 GCSE reform.

A Level Subjects

Since you don't have to study an A Level or sit an A Level examination, there are no compulsory subjects, either.

Which subjects are available at A Level?
With no compulsory subjects to study, you can study almost anything you like at A Level. (Source: PublicDomainPictures)

However, you should carefully pick which GCE Advanced Level courses you study as they should be relevant to the field you'd like to work in or degree you'd like to study.

If you're interested in the sciences, a Maths A Level and Science A Levels are probably a good idea whereas subjects in art and design won't be very helpful.

What are the new A Level exams like?
The new A Levels have a greater focus on exams than previously. (Source: F1Digitals)

Since there aren't compulsory subjects at A Levels, this means there are far more specialised subjects you can study. While there's still a focus on academic subjects, you can still study a range of subjects including language and literature, business studies, sciences like chemistry and biology, etc.

If you're interested in foreign languages, for example, you can study one or several of the following:

  • Arabic
  • Bengali
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • French
  • German
  • Greek (Modern/Classical)
  • Gujarati
  • Hebrew (Modern/Biblical)
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Latin
  • Persian
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Punjabi
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Turkish
  • Urdu
  • Welsh

While not every subject will be available in every sixth form or college, there are a lot of options for A Level students to choose from. Similarly, since A Levels aren't part of obligatory education, you don't necessarily have to attend your sixth form and can always move schools or attend a college if the subjects you want to study aren't offered where you currently are.

Generally, if you stay at sixth form, you'll be given more guidance and be under the watchful eye of your teachers whereas, at college, you'll be given more freedom. What works for one student may not work for another so make sure to consider this before making a move to another establishment.

A Level Exams

A Level exams tend to take longer than GCSE exams and usually, they are between 90 minutes and 3 hours. In some cases, there'll be two exam papers of 90 minutes that need to be taken in a single sitting, resulting in a 3-hour  exam period. For subjects like art, however, these can be several hours in length as candidates will be creating a piece or project, for example.

When it comes to exam conditions, check which materials you are allowed to bring into a certain exam. Usually, devices like mobile phones are not allowed as they could be used to cheat. Similarly, if an exam says you are allowed a calculator, this does not mean that you can use your mobile phone as one.

Ideally, you'll want standard stationery such as pens, pencils, a ruler, rubber, pencil sharpener, and a clear pencil case. Do not bring any notes (unless the exam allows them) or books. Usually, if you're suspected of cheating, you will be disqualified from the exam. Always check what materials and resources you're allowed to bring with you before sitting the exam.

Similarly, do not talk or try to communicate with other candidates during your exam. Usually, if you have a question, you should raise your hand and wait for an invigilator to come over. Invigilators are there to oversee the exam and can't usually answer any questions specific to the paper itself. You can also bring water into exams but usually, this needs to be in a clear bottle and have the label removed so that you can't have notes on it.

If you need help with your GCSEs, A Levels, or any other subject or skill, consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced private tutors on Superprof. You can find tutors all over the country and the world who are helping students with one or several different subjects and skills. There are tutors for academic subjects like maths, English, and science as well as tutors for hobbies, crafts, and skills like yoga, life coaching, or even sewing.

Similarly, you can find tutors across a range of different budgets, too. On Superprof, regardless of the subject or skill, there are three main types of private tutorial offered by private tutors: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Each type of tutorial comes with pros and cons in terms of cost, learning style, and effectiveness so it's up to you to carefully choose the right tutor and the right style of tutoring.

Face-to-face tutorials are between just the student and their tutor. This means that the tutor's focus is entirely on their student and the tutorial will be fully tailored to the student and their needs, allowing the student to get the maximum benefit out of the time spent with their tutor. While this is effective and allows students to learn quickly, it also comes at a cost. Since the tutor will be working tirelessly outside of the tutorials as well as in them to create bespoke tutorials for their students, this will be reflected in their rates. Face-to-face tutorials are usually the most costly but also the most cost-effective.

If you find face-to-face tutorials outside of your budget or can't find any local tutors to your liking, don't despair. You can always look for online private tutorials. Thanks to the internet and video conferencing, students can now be taught from anywhere in the world. Since the tutors don't have to travel and can schedule more tutorials per week as a result, online tutorials tend to be cheaper than face-to-face tutorials. You'd be surprised at all the different subjects and skills that you can learn remotely.

Finally, group tutorials are between a private tutor and several students. While you won't get to enjoy one-on-one tutoring like the other types of private tutorials, this can be good for subjects like foreign languages where having several different students to talk to can be a huge benefit. With several students paying for the tutor's time, the cost works out cheaper per student per hour. Generally, group tutorials are the cheapest type available.

All you have to do is search what you want to learn and where you want to learn it on the Superprof website. You can also search according to the type of private tutorial you're looking for.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.