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AS and A levels

If you want to study a particular subject in detail, AS and A level qualifications may be for you. They are highly valued by schools, colleges and employers.

AS and A levels: what they are

AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A (Advanced) level qualifications focus on traditional study skills. They normally take two years to complete full-time, although they're also available to study part-time.

You can choose from a wide range of academic subjects, as well as some 'applied' (work-related) subjects.

AS and A levels are at level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework. The framework shows how different types of qualifications compare, in terms of the demands they place on learners.

Where they can lead

A and AS levels are one of the main routes into higher education, but they're also useful if you want to go straight into a job, such as office administration or trainee accountancy.
 

A levels: AS plus A2

A levels are made up of the AS level and the A2. Each part makes up 50 per cent of the overall A level grade.

AS level

The AS level can be either a free standing qualification, or be valued as the first half of the full A level.

At the end of the AS year, you have two options (depending on the preference of your school or college):

  • take the AS level qualification only

or:

  • continue to the second year and go for the full A level

Year two: the A2

In year two of a full A level, you take the A2 - this is not a separate qualification, but the second half of the A level. The A2 is designed to deepen the knowledge you gained during the AS level.

Showing your full potential

If you started your A levels after September 2008, you can also choose to take the extended project. This is equivalent in size to half an A level and requires you to produce a single piece of work of your own choosing, showing evidence of planning, preparation, research and working on your own. 

If you’re taking your A2 before June 2009, and are expecting an A grade, you might want to consider taking an Advanced Extension Award (AEA). These are available in 19 different subjects.

The last AEA examinations will take place in June 2009.

Who can take them

Many students take AS and A level qualifications in Years 12 and 13, after completing their GCSEs. However, adults can take them too.

Some schools also offer AS levels in certain subjects for gifted and talented students in Years 10 and 11 (ages 14 to 16).

Entry requirements

In most cases, you need at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C. Sometimes, you need a grade B or above at GCSE in a particular subject to take it at AS or A level.

Some schools and colleges also ask that you have GCSE grade C or above in English and maths.

Subjects available

There are about 80 AS and A level subjects available. You can continue with subjects taken in Years 10 and 11 and/or take new ones.

Most students studying for A levels take three or four AS levels in their first year. This means you can keep your options open about which subjects to study as a full A level.

Vocational A levels

There is also a range of vocational A levels, called 'applied GCEs'.

There are 10 subjects, offering a broad introduction to a vocational area such as business or tourism.

Choosing an A level subject

Advice for young people

For advice on AS, A levels and other qualifications for 13 to 19 year olds, contact Connexions Direct.

  • Call an adviser: 080 800 13 2 19

The 'Choices at 16' section has information about options after Year 11. You can also look at your local 14-19 prospectus to see which courses and qualifications are available in your area.

Advice for adult learners

Get advice about qualifications for adult learners from the Careers Advice Service.

  • Careers Advice helpline: 0800 100 900

How you are assessed

In most subjects the AS and A2 are each made up of two units, although in some subjects they are each three units.

The majority of the assessment is by written exams, although in some subjects there is a small amount of coursework. There is also assessment of practical skills in subjects like science or art.

Grades, marks and 'cashing in'

Grades

AS and A levels are graded A-E. An A* grade will be first awarded at A level in 2010. The results are announced in August and March.

Marks

Your results slip will also show a score on something called the 'uniform mark scale' (UMS). The AS is scored out of 300 UMS marks, and the A level out of 600 marks.

'Cashing in'

Once you have taken the three units for the AS level, and are happy with your award, you let the exam board know. This is called ' cashing in'. If you're not happy, you can opt to resit a unit.

If the exam doesn't go well

If on the day of the exam something happens outside your control to affect your performance, you may be eligible for special consideration. Speak to your teachers as soon as possible.

Resits

You can also choose to resit individual units (although there are time limits and some are not available in January). The awarding body will count the higher mark from your two attempts.

Re-marks and recounts

If you think something may have gone wrong with marking your exam, your school or college can ask for a re-mark or recount.

Appeals

If you are still unhappy, your school or college can appeal to the awarding body, and then finally, if necessary, to the independent Examinations Appeals Board.

UCAS points

If you're applying to university or college, A and AS levels earn the following points in the 'UCAS Tariff':

Grade A level AS level
A* 140 n/a
A 120 60
B 100 50
C 80 40
D 60 30
E 40 20

Normally, to take a higher education course you'll need at least two full A levels or equivalent.

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