A-levels are qualifications offered to students aged between 16 and 19 across schools and colleges in the UK. They typically come after GCSEs, and there are over 40 A-level subjects offered to students. Some subjects students will have studied at GCSE level, and others can be new.
A-levels are more academically focused subjects, whereas BTECs and NVQs are more practical and vocational qualifications. They are highly coveted by universities and employers, opening opportunities to higher education and future career prospects.
How do A-levels work?
During their GCSEs, students can choose which A-level subjects they would like to study. These choices are conditional based on what GCSE grades the student gets.
Typically, students need at least five GCSEs at grades 9 – 4/A* – C to take A-level subjects. Some schools require at least a grade 5 (B) or above in the same GCSE subject you want to take at A-level. Do double-check this with your school or college.
Most students study three or more A-levels over two years and can choose to study an AS-level or vocational qualification alongside them. Usually, assessments of A-levels are by exams. However, some subjects like the sciences will have practicals, and art and design have portfolios as part of their assessments.
Where can I study A-level subjects?
Across the UK, students can study A-levels at various educational institutions (schools, sixth forms, colleges). Students can also do their A-levels at a different institution than where they did their GCSEs.
A-levels are typically studied full-time. However, some colleges also offer students the opportunity to study them part-time.
What is the difference between an AS and A level?
The teaching of A-levels and AS levels is similar. However, A-levels are more advanced and take double the time to complete. AS levels are like the first year of an A-level course, and until recently, they counted towards a full A-level. Most students would get their AS level at the end of year 12 and complete their A2 level (full A-level) at the end of year 13.
However, that has changed since 2015. That’s because AS levels are now considered standalone qualifications, taken alongside, rather than as part of students’ A-levels.
That means AS levels won’t form part of an overall A-level grade anymore. Students will take any AS exams at the end of their first year. In contrast, students will take all exams for A-levels at the end of their two-year course.
What does linear and modular course mean?
A-levels are now linear rather than modular. So, instead of being assessed after each module (modular), students will now take all their exams at the end of their two-year course.
Students can have coursework to complete during this time. However, exams at the end of the course will form the majority of their assessment.
Are A-levels right for me?
Do you enjoy academic learning? Are you interested in studying a diverse range of subjects? Do you want to go to university? If the answer is yes to these questions, then doing A-levels could be a good fit.
Universities and employers value A-level qualifications. A-levels are required to apply for degree courses and subsequent jobs. They are also good because they allow you to keep your options open, especially if you don’t know what you want to study further or what career to pursue.
However, A-levels aren’t the only option post GCSE level, and they aren’t suitable for everyone. If you want to go into a specific trade or sector, vocational qualifications (BTECs and NVQs) or apprenticeships might be a better choice.
Below we’ve put together a list of some careers that require A-levels to help you figure out what’s the right choice for you.
Which careers require A-levels?
Some careers require you to have at least an undergraduate degree, and you need specific A-levels to do the degree you want. Below are some examples:
- Biochemistry – chemistry and biology are essential, and either maths or physics will keep all courses open to you.
- Computer Science – Maths is essential, with computing, physics, ICT, or philosophy being useful.
- English – English literature is essential, with humanities (history or RE) and a language (modern or classic) being helpful.
- Medicine – taking chemistry, biology is essential, and either physics or maths are useful.
- Physiotherapy – Biology is essential, with some courses asking for physical education alongside it or as an alternative. Other complementing subjects include chemistry, physics, or maths.
Please click here to see a helpful guide listing which A-level subjects you need for specific university degrees. If you know what degree or career you’d like to pursue, you must look at the entry requirements. Requirements can be different depending on what university you’re applying to. Double-check with specific universities so you don’t find yourself without a subject that you need when applying.
Certain degrees like psychology or law don’t require you to do the subject for A-levels. However, they have a combination of preferred subjects. So, picking certain subjects that allow you to keep your options open and apply for many different degrees might be helpful. Continue reading on to find out why.
Which A-levels give you the most options?
Suppose you don’t know what degree or career you’d like to pursue post A-levels. Choosing a combination of certain A-level subjects does help to keep your options open. These subjects are known as ‘facilitating’ subjects and they include:
- English literature
- Languages (modern or classical)
- Maths or Further Maths
- Sciences (physics, biology, chemistry)
The more facilitating subjects you choose, the more options you will have when applying to university. If you want to attend a specific university, look at their entry requirements to see what subjects are essential, preferred and even discouraged.
How are A-levels different from GCSEs?
A-levels subjects are more detailed and complex than at GCSE level. There’s quite a big jump in difficulty and expectations of you as a student. For example, teachers and tutors will be expecting you to engage more in class and do more independent learning. If you are finding it hard to transition over to A-levels and need extra support, please click here.