Once you've finished your GCSE exams, you have the option to continue onto your A Levels at sixth form or college. For university, most courses have A Levels as their entry requirements but there are other courses you can do to get into uni, too. However, unless there's a specialised
The A Levels have been around for a long time so in this article, we'll be looking at these qualifications, how they've changed over the years, what they're like now, and the subjects you can study.
A Levels in the Past
The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (A Level) qualification has been around since 1951 and are usually the last exams that you'll take in secondary school before leaving education for good or completing higher education.
When introduced, A Levels replaced the Higher School Certificate. The HSC was broader in scope than an individual A Level and covered a range of subjects rather the A Levels that focus on a specific subject each.
The idea was to allow students to specialise and study in given subjects at the end of their secondary education and grades initially included A, B, C, D, E, O, and Fail. The O Grade was the equivalent to the lowest passing grade at O Level, the examinations that were later replaced by the GCSEs. The pass rate at the time was norm-referenced, which means that a set number of each grade were given out.
Fortunately, the norm-referenced system was replaced in 1984 with examiners being given criteria for candidates and the O grade was replaced with an N grade that meant "Nearly passed", which was removed in 2,000. In 1987, AS Levels were also introduced so that students could study more subjects. Initially, they were designed to have less content at the same level as an A Level but less of it.
During the 80s, A Levels stopped being a linear course and were taught in modules. A major reform known as Curriculum 2000 was introduced in that year and A Levels remained nearly the same until the most recent reforms.
Find out more about the GCSEs and A Levels.
A Levels Now
In September 2015, there was an AS and A Level Reform with the exam results for the first AS Levels coming in 2016 and the first A Levels in 2017. They include a greater focus on assessing students through examinations and yearly exams rather than being divided into modules as they previously were.
Additionally, universities have had a bigger say in the qualifications and what's included in different courses. This should make students better prepared when starting university studies in a subject that they've already studied at A Level.
Not every subject was immediately reformed and taught from September 2015. Groups of subjects were updated each year and the last group of subjects under the reform will receive their first results in the summer of 2020. From then on, all subjects at A Level will be per the reform.
Find out more about the A Level reform.
Currently, the A Levels include 6 passing grades: A*, A, B, C, D, and E and a failing grade of U (Unclassified). At AS Level, this is almost the same but there is no A* grade.
The A Level exams are currently controlled by 5 different exam boards: AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC, and CCEA. Generally, schools and colleges won't stick to just one exam board for all their AS Levels and A Levels and will instead opt for the exams that best suit them.
Did you know that the GCSEs have also changed?
Find out more about the GCSE reform.
Subjects at A Level
You'd be surprised at just how many vocational and academic subjects are available to be studied for an A Level exam. In addition to core subjects like English language, English literature, maths, and science (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), there are also plenty of art and design A Levels, humanities A Levels like history and religious studies, and other subjects like physical education, business studies.
Since the GCE A Level is entirely optional, that means that all subjects are technically optional. Of course, when applying to a university through UCAS, there'll usually be certain A Levels that they want students to have.
For example, if you're wanting to move onto media studies at university, the university will probably set you a series of minimum grades to achieve and look for related A Levels. Similarly, a foreign language degree usually has the same foreign language as a requirement so it probably wouldn't be wise to take chemistry and biology A Levels if you want to study French at university.
At A Level, you can study traditional academic subjects like maths, English, and sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics. There's also a large number of humanities you can study like geography, history, religious studies, and sociology.
If you're interested in foreign languages, there's 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, and Welsh!
Then there are plenty of other subjects like accounting, business, economics, government and politics, media studies, and sports science, to name a few.
Of course, not every school and sixth form will offer all of these subjects and in some cases, you may need to think about attending another sixth form or college if there's a certain subject you want to study that's not featured at your current school.
Most students will study three or four A Levels but if you are going to study just three, make sure that the universities you want to attend don't have four A Levels as an entrance requirement. Similarly, make sure the subjects you choose to study are related to what you want to study as it will increase your chances of being given a conditional offer from universities.
Make sure you check what you should be studying before making your choices!
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.
Don't forget that many of the tutors on Superprof offer free tuition for the first hour. This is a great way to try out different subjects, tutors, and types of tutorials. You must choose the right tutor in terms of personality, learning style, and budget. It's pointless trying to learn something with a tutor that you don't get along with so try out a few different tutors before settling on your preferred tutor.