A Levels

What are A levels?

Advanced level qualifications (known as A levels) are UK subject-based qualifications for those aged 16 or above that can lead to university, further study, training, or work.

You can normally study three or more A levels over two years, and are usually assessed via a set of examinations. 

Although they are a UK qualification, you will find schools around the world offering A levels, with most universities recognising A levels as a valid entry requirement for their courses.

Since 2018, AS levels are now a separate qualification that equate to the first year of study on a 2 year course, but do not qualify as enough for entry to university.

What grades do I need to take A levels?

To study A levels, students normally need:

  • at least five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4/A* to C
  • at least grade 6 in the specific subject(s) you want to study

However, the specific requirements needed to study A levels will be different across schools and colleges. It's important to check what you will need with the school or college you're considering studying at.

What subjects can I study at A level?

There are no compulsory subjects with A Levels, which means you can choose whatever subjects interest you most, or will be of use to you in your future plans or career ambitions.

Many students study three subjects, which include:

  • English Language & Literature
  • French
  • Maths
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • History
  • Geography
  • Psychology
  • Economics
  • Art
  • Information Technology and
  • Modern Foreign Languages such as French, German, Spanish and Italian.

The subjects on offer will vary depending on which school or college you are attending, so it's a good idea to check what's available for committing yourself to any particular subject(s).

Who are A levels for?

A levels are for those students looking to go to university, as most higher education courses require specific A levels or combinations of A levels to gain entry.

A levels are also important if you're not sure what career path you wish to take, so choosing a broad selection of A levels can be useful for keeping your options open.

How do I choose my A levels?

For those thinking about doing A levels, there are a few things you need to think about carefully before deciding on your specific subjects. These include:

  1. What do you enjoy studying?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What subjects will help you achieve what you want to do in the future?
  4. If you want to pursue a career in science, do you need to take maths, as well as a science subject?
  5. If you have a specific career in mind, e.g. vet or architect, check to see if you need to take any particular subjects?
  6. Check the university entry requirements if you have a particular degree subject in mind. Some undergraduate degrees require you to have taken certain A level subjects to be allowed entry on to their courses, so it's important you choose the right ones.
  7. If you have no idea what you want to do later on, make sure you choose a combination of subjects that will keep your preferred options open
  8. Some A level subjects are accepted by nearly all universities. These are sometimes known as ‘facilitating‘ subjects such as maths, English, physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography or a foreign language.
  9. If you're not sure what subjects are required for a degree, email the universities directly and ask for their advice.
  10. Look at the course content for each A level thoroughly, and don't assume it will be the same as at GCSE level, as it could be very different.

For more help and advice, please see our Choosing A Levels guide and our How To Choose A Levels blog post.

What do A levels involve?

Students choose which A-level subjects they want to study when they are doing their GCSEs, and admission is usually dependent on your GCSE grades.

You generally need at least five GCSEs at grades 4-9 / A*-C to be able to take A-level subjects. Sometimes you also need a 5 / B or above at GCSE in the subject you want to take at A-level. But this varies depending on the school or college you’re going to so make sure you check this.

You usually study three or more A-levels over two years and they are assessed by a series of exams. You may also study AS-levels or vocational qualifications at the same time.

How are A-levels different from GCSEs?

There’s quite a big leap in difficulty level between GCSE and A-level. A subject that you thought you’d got your head around will suddenly become a lot more complex!

You’ll be studying things in more detail and you’ll probably find that your teacher or tutor expects a lot more independent study and engagement from you than they did at GCSE level.

Are A levels right for me?

If you enjoy academic learning and want to study a broad range of subjects, A levels could be a good option for you.

If you're sure that you want to go to university then A levels are definitely worth considering. Not only are they valued by universities, but also employers.

Some universities require A-levels for certain courses and won't accept other qualifications, so if there's a certain course or career path you wish to follow, check whether you need certain A levels to pursue it.

They are good if you don’t know what you want to study at university, or haven’t pinned down your ideal career yet, because they keep a lot of options open.

Where can I study A levels?

You can study for your A levels at school, sixth form or college, although this doesn't mean you have to stay at the school where you did your GCSEs. For more information, have a look at our advice on post GCSE options.

Most people study A levels full-time but some colleges will let you study them part-time.

What is the difference between an AS and A levels?

AS levels are essentially half an A level – they give a broad understanding of a subject but not in as much detail as an A2.

Until recently, they counted towards a full A-level, which means you would receive the AS level at the end of Year 12 and the A2 (the full A-level) at the end of Year 13.

However, this changed in 2015, when AS levels became standalone courses, taken alongside A-levels (rather than as part of them).

This means that they won’t contribute to your overall A level grade. This means you will only take your AS exams at the end of your first year, and you’ll need to take all the exams for your A levels at the end of the two years.

How are A levels assessed?

Written examinations, taken at the end of the 2-year course of study, are the main assessment form, and since A levels have been reformed, there is now much less coursework. However, some coursework does still contribute to the final grade depending on the subject.
The grading scale is from A* – E, with a U being awarded if a minimum standard in your exam isn't met.

You will need 40% to achieve an E, 50% for a D, 60% for a C and so on. An average of 80% across all modules means you will gain an A*. Unfortunately, if you fail, you must re-sit the whole exam – you can not just re-sit specific modules. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you can retake your A Levels as many times as necessary.

Written examinations, taken at the end of your second year, are the main form of assessment. Following the reforms mentioned above, there is now a lot less project work. However, some coursework does still contribute to the final grade depending on the subject.

When is A level results day?

This year, A level results are out on Thursday 15 August 2024.So if you're applying to university, make sure this date is in your diary!

In Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) publishes its examination results online on Tuesday 6 August 2024 - the same day your certificate arrives by post.

How should I revise for my A levels?

To revise successfully for your A levels, we recommend:

  1. Start early and give yourself plenty of time to prepare
  2. Write a timetable and organise your study sessions efficiently
  3. Understand the exam format and types of question you will have to answer
  4. Take regular breaks throughout the day
  5. Eat healthily, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep
  6. Do lots of practice papers
  7. Avoid any distractions by finding a quiet place to study and turning off your mobile phone and/or computer.

Should I retake my A levels?

Do you already have a career path in mind? If this involves getting a specific university degree, then we recommend you apply to retake your exams and get the grades you need to get accepted.

If you’re not quite sure what course you want to do but are sure you want to on to university straight away, you can apply for available courses through Clearing.

What can I do after A levels?

If you're wondering what to do next after your A levels, the options currently open to you are:

A Level Results Day 2022

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A Level Reforms

If you started studying for your A Levels during the last few years, there's now a difference in the ways that they are delivered and assessed.

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Clearing Guide 2024

Our step-by-step guide to the Clearing process to help you on your way to becoming a Fresher.

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AS Level Results Day 2024

AS results are just as important as full A-level ones. Find out what to expect on the day.

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A Level Retakes

If A level results day was a disappointment, read our advice on whether to retake your A levels.

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Choosing A Levels

Can't narrow down your subjects? Our guide will help you choose the right A levels for you.

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A Level Revision Tips

Find out the best ways to knuckle down and prepare for your A-level exams.

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What A Levels Do I Need For...?

Find out what A levels you need for various occupations.

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Should I Retake My A Levels?

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8 Alternatives To A Levels

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BTEC vs A Levels

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Moving From GCSEs to A Levels

Worried about the transition between GCSEs and A levels? Our guide explains all.

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Find out why mock exams are more crucial than you thnk in our blog post.

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Not currently holding any university offers? Find out how UCAS Extra can help.

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Mock Exam Revision Tips

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