AS-levels and A-levels

After GCSEs, the last thing you want to do is study some more, but unfortunately you’ll have to give it that final push before graduating. Enter AS-levels and A-levels. These qualifications are crucial for getting into uni and helping you get a job, even if they seem pointless at the moment. The Mix talks you through them.

Two young people are on their laptops. They are taking A-levels. This is a wide-angle image.

What does A-level stand for?

Practically every 16-year-old has two questions after their first day of Sixth Form – What does A-level stand for? and What is AS-level and A-level? Well, we’ll answer the first one straight away, but you’ll have to stick around for the second. 

AS stands for ‘Advanced Subsidiary’ and A for ‘Advanced’ level qualifications. These are basically the last qualifications you take in secondary school or college to get into higher education.

What is AS-level and A-level?

AS-level and A-level are the post-GCSE qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are classed as A-level 3 qualification, and usually take two years to complete if you’re studying full-time.

It’s worth bearing in mind that those in Scotland have a slightly different system; you study Highers and Advanced Highers, which are the equivalent of A-levels. You can find out more about Highers in Scotland here.

How do A-levels work?

If your parents went to school in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, AS-levels and A-levels each made up 50% of their final A-level grade, but this won’t be the deal for you. AS-levels and A-levels are now standalone qualifications which means that each of them have separate exams at the end of the year. So, your AS-level results do not count towards your A level results. Basically, year one you will do AS-levels, and then you can opt to do the A2 in your second year. Although nowadays the more popular choice is to take 3 A-levels for the full two years, since AS is slowly going out of fashion.

AS-level vs A-level: which is harder?

This one’s pretty straightforward. A levels are more challenging than AS levels, which is why universities usually ask for full A-levels rather than just AS-levels.

Can I take A-levels?

Providing you have five GCSEs at grade 4 (C) or above then there’s nothing stopping you. If you don’t, you might still be able to take them but you’ll probably have to have some serious discussions with your teachers beforehand.

Where can I take A-levels?

Your secondary school might offer education for Years 12 and 13, when you typically study for A-levels, or you can apply to a sixth form college or a further education (FE) college elsewhere. One of the nice things about taking your A-levels is that you’re finally old enough to have a say in where you study. So you can find somewhere different from your school if you want to meet new people or experience a new environment.

Will I have to pay to study AS- and A-levels?

Not if you do them straight after leaving school. Other circumstances where you wouldn’t have to pay include if you’re 19-25 years old, study full-time, and don’t already have a level 3 qualification.

What kind of subjects can I study at A-level?

A-level subjects include traditional courses like English Literature, Maths, Politics, Biology, if you’re so inclined. But luckily there are an increasing number of ‘applied’ courses which have a more practical focus. For example, ICT, Leisure and Recreation or Engineering.

Are A-level studies difficult?

We’re not gonna sugar-coat it. AS- and A-levels can be challenging, but they can also be super interesting. This is because when you’re studying subjects that you really enjoy, the studying doesn’t seem like such a task. Bearing this in mind, our only advice to you would be to think carefully when picking the 3-4 subjects that are going to be the centre of your life for the next two years.

Where will A-levels take me?

First and foremost A-levels are required when you apply to university, so if you’re thinking of going to uni they’re vital since they convert to UCAS points. They also have merit as your final qualification; A-levels are a great indicator to employers that you’re prepared to work hard and have a high level of capability. Alternatively, if you’re unsure if A-levels are for you, you may also want to consider an apprenticeship. What is an apprenticeship? Find out more here.

Need more qualifications advice? Check out our ‘what qualification’ resources here. Otherwise, you can get advice about your A-level options from people going through the same thing on our community.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 18-Mar-2022