The A Level (Advanced Level) is a subject-based qualification conferred as part of the General Certificate of Education, as well as a school leaving qualification offered by the educational bodies in the United Kingdom and the educational authorities of British Crown dependencies to students completing secondary or pre-university education. A number of countries, including Singapore, Kenya, Mauritius and Zimbabwe have developed qualifications with the same name as and a similar format to the British A Levels. Obtaining A Level or equivalent qualifications is generally required for university entrance, with universities granting conditional offers based on grades achieved.
Normally, students take between 3-5 A Levels in their first year of sixth form, with the majority deciding to drop down to 3 for their second year. This is due to the fact that university offers are normally based on 3 A Levels. Unlike other level 3 qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate, A Levels have no specific requirements for which subjects to study, so students have the opportunity to combine any subjects they wish to take. However, students normally pick their courses based on the degree they wish to pursue at university: most degrees require specific A Levels for entry, such as A Level Mathematics for a Mathematics degree.
A Levels are generally worked towards over two years. Between 2015 and 2018 (first assessment Summer 2017), new style linear A Levels are being introduced in England as part of the government's educational reforms (initially across 13 subjects), replacing older modular courses where exams could be taken at several points during the course. Instead, reformed A Levels are now taken as a set of terminal exams, and are no longer separated into units. There is less emphasis on coursework, and students must resit all exams if they wish to resit the qualification. Additionally, the AS Level is now a separate qualification and is not required for an A Level award, although still encompasses the first year of the full A Level content. However, as these reforms won't be complete until 2018, students still sit AS Level exams as part of an A Level in unreformed qualifications, most notably Mathematics which is not reformed until 2017. Hence some students may be taking a combination of modular and linear courses during this transition period. Controversially, various A Level courses have been abolished from 2017 as part of these reforms, including Archaeology, Creative Writing and Home Economics among others.
In the older modular courses, A Levels are split into two parts, with first known as the Advanced Subsidiary Level, commonly referred to as the AS Level, which serves as a qualification in its own right aiding university admission, and the second part is known as the A2 Level, which is more in-depth and academically rigorous than the AS Level. The AS Level combines with the A2 Level combined for a full A Level award. The A2 Level is not a qualification on its own, and must be accompanied with an AS Level in the same subject for certification.
A number of countries use A Levels as a school-leaving qualification. The A Levels taken by students in some countries often differ significantly from the A Levels taken in the United Kingdom.
A Levels are a college or sixth form leaving qualification offered in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These are not compulsory, unlike GCSEs. In Scotland, A Levels are also offered by selected schools as an alternative school-leaving qualification in place of the Scottish Advanced Higher. The five main examination boards which administer British A Levels in the UK are:
Edexcel and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) also offer international versions of the British A Levels in the United Kingdom and worldwide.
The British variant of A/AS levels are also taken in many Commonwealth and former Commonwealth countries, as well as in examination centres worldwide. British international schools in foreign countries generally offer the British A Levels as offered through Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations. At select examination centres, the British A Level exams may also be available to private candidates.
Between 2015 and 2018 (first assessment Summer 2017), A Levels in England are being reformed, transitioning from a modular to linear structure (initially across 13 subjects). This means all A Level exams must be sat in one sitting as a set of terminal exams (3 exams for the majority of subjects), and there is less emphasis on coursework. An example of this can be seen in Edexcel's new English Literature A Level, reformed in 2015, which reduces the amount of coursework to 20% (from 40% in the old modular specification). Additionally, A Levels are no longer separated into units, and students must resit all of their exams if they wish to resit the qualification. While these reforms were expected to be complete in 2017, this has been extended to 2018 to include the reforms of less common languages such as Modern Hebrew, Bengali among others.
The AS Level is now a separate qualification and is not required for an A Level award, although still encompasses the first year of the full A Level content. However, unlike AS Levels in the old modular courses, they are now worth only 40% as many UCAS points as a full A Level (from 50% in the modular courses), likely due to the fact that content from the second year of A Level is considered more academically challenging than that of the first year.
As these reforms are taking place in stages, many students will be taking a combination of modular and linear courses, with AS Levels still being part of an A Level in older modular courses.
Controversially, various A Level courses have been abolished from 2017 as part of these reforms. These include Archaeology, Anthropology, Creative Writing, Critical Thinking, General Studies and Home Economics among others.
Due to opposition to these reforms in other parts of the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland have maintained the modular structure to their qualifications.
The British A-level qualifications such as GCE A-level and International A-level are widely accepted in Hong Kong as an alternative to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education for both admission and employment purposes. It is notably one of the most popular qualifications used for university admission via the non-JUPAS channel. For example, average non-JUPAS offers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology require one to three A*s (the mid-50% range). Since the introduction of the high distinction grade (A*) in 2010, the British A-level examination has regained its power to differentiate the very top levels of ability. According to the British Department for Education, in the academic year 2014/15, approximately 7.3%, 2.7%, 1.0% and 0.3% of all the candidates from the GCSE cohort (548,480) achieved one to four A*s or a better result in the GCE A-level examination. This percentile rank is one important input for equating the levels in both examinations. On the sole basis of percentile ranks and the grade statistics from HKEAA in 2017, a score of 29/35 from the best five subjects in HKDSE is comparable to 1A*2A in the best three British A-levels, 32/35 to 2A*1A, 33/35 to 3A* and 34/35 to 4A*. In deriving inferences from these statistics, it is important to note that slightly more than a third of the GCSE candidates can go on to study in sixth form before applying to universities via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) while almost all Hong Kong students can study Form 6 before sitting the HKDSE examination. Relevant authorities such as the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) and UCAS also sought to connect the results from both exam systems to open doors for the holders of these qualifications who wish to study locally or overseas. Officially, the top distinction levels, A* in A-level and 5** in HKDSE, are currently recognized as broadly equivalent. In particular, in the light of statistical evidence, the 1% cut-off line is often set by admission offices at 2A*1A as compared to a score of 43/45 in the International Baccalaureate Diploma but the Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) instead of the letter grades would be used in many cases to offer a much more subtle view of the candidate's academic potential. Typical offers from Cambridge Medical School require 2A*1A and Oxford Medical School require 1A*2A whereas those from the medical schools of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong require 4A* in A-level due to very intense competition.
In Nepal, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) GCE Advanced Level qualifications are offered by some of the private, public and international schools as an alternative to the Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) +2. A-level has become a popular choice for a number of students in Nepal.
A-levels offered in Pakistan by non-governmental, private institutions, along with International Baccalaureate and other international examinations. Examinations are handled by international British boards and the program is equivalent to Higher Secondary School Certificate. Academies are established all around the country which prepare the students to take the examinations as a private candidate.
In Brunei, the A Level qualification is offered, with examinations conducted by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). Some subjects are unique to Brunei or have a format, curriculum, or syllabus that is unique to Brunei.
In Malaysia, the A Level qualification is offered, with examinations conducted by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). Some subjects are unique to Malaysia or have a format, curriculum, or syllabus that is unique to Malaysia. For instance, there are two types of A Level in Malaysia, Cambridge A Level (administered by Cambridge International Examinations) and Edexcel International Advanced Level (administered by Pearson International).
In Mauritius, A/AS Level qualifications are taken as part of the Higher School Certificate, awarded upon successful completion of secondary school after passing of examinations jointly administered by the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). A number of exam papers for offered, such as French, are customised to support the national educational standards. Additionally, International A Level qualifications from Edexcel are available, for which exams may be registered through the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate.
In Seychelles, the A Level qualification is offered, with examinations conducted by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). Some subjects are unique to Seychelles or have a format, curriculum, or syllabus that is unique to Seychelles.
In Singapore, H1/H2/H3 level qualifications are awarded upon successful completion of examinations jointly administered by Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES).
In Sri Lanka, A Level is offered by governmental and non governmental schools. The qualifications are awarded upon successful completion of examinations called Local A Levels while most of the private schools award them upon London A Levels. Local GCE Advanced Level qualification is offered by the Department of Examinations. Passing A Levels is the major requirement for applying local universities.
In India, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) GCE Advanced Level qualifications are offered at private and international schools as an alternative to the conventional Indian School Certificate (ISC) or Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC).
The GCE Advanced Level qualification is offered by the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC). Before, this qualification was jointly offered by Cambridge International Examinations and the Council in Zimbabwe. The ZIMSEC variant is perceived to be more challenging than the UK version mostly in science subjects.
Recently within the Caribbean there has been a move away from the GCE Advanced Level to the CXC CAPE examinations, making them a de facto university entrance examination. Some universities also require applicants to take separate entrance examination. The International Baccalaureate and European Baccalaureate are also accepted.