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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 in school or college, 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.

Many people use AS and A levels to go on to higher education, but they're also useful if you want to go straight into a job.

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.

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 rather the second half of the A level. The A2 is designed to deepen the knowledge you gained during the AS level.

Advanced Extension Awards

If you're expecting to get an A grade at A level, you might also want to consider taking an Advanced Extension Award (AEA).

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. Doing 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 'GCEs in applied subjects'.

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

How you are assessed

The AS and A2 are each made up of three units.

You are normally assessed on a mixture of 70 per cent written exams and 30 per cent coursework. There is assessment of practical skills in some subjects like science or art.

All A levels must also include some 'synoptic assessment' as part of the A2. This means testing your understanding of the whole subject, and will normally contribute 20 per cent to the full A level.

Grades, marks and 'cashing in'

Grades

AS and A levels are graded A-E. The results are announced in August and March each year.

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.

Where they can lead

A and AS levels are one of the main routes into employment or higher education.

UCAS points

If you're applying to university or college, they earn the following points in the 'UCAS Tariff':

Grade A level AS level
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 the equivalent.

More help and advice

Advice for young people

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

  • Call an advisor: 0808 001 3219

The 'Choices at 16' section has information about options after Year 11.

Advice for adult learners

Get advice about qualifications for adult learners from learndirect Careers Advice.

  • learndirect Careers Advice helpline: 0800 100 900

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