A level or GCE A level - unreformed

This QIP refers to the current A level.

Countries
  • England
  • Northern Ireland
  • Wales
Purpose

GCE Advanced levels or A levels were originally introduced to facilitate entry to higher education.

Whilst this remains a primary purpose, over time A levels have also established a role in recognising achievements from purely academic to more applied skills and knowledge that are valued.

Education context

The current AS and A levels are used across England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Reformed AS and A levels will be available in some subjects in England, Northern Ireland and Wales from September 2015, with first A level exams being sat in 2017.

Further information about the reformed A level can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/reform-of-as-and-a-level-qual… (England)

http://www.qualificationswales.org/qualification-type/as-and-a-level-qu… (Wales)

Awarding organisations
  • AQA
  • CCEA
  • OCR
  • WJEC
Structure

Current A levels are made up of Advanced Subsidiary (AS) units and A2 units.

AS and A levels are available in over 45 subject areas and around 780,000 are awarded each year. They are the qualifications that the majority of young people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland use to gain entry to university.

The AS assesses the first year of the A level – usually two units – and is worth half a full A level. Assessment within the AS is regarded as less demanding than that taken at the end of the second year of A level studies (known as the A2).

The A2 is the second half of the full A level qualification. It also typically contains two units. Most units are assessed by examination, with some assessed internally.

Prior to a revision of the AS/A2 structure in 2008, the majority of A levels contained six units. Some subjects have retained this structure (e.g. mathematics and Welsh).

The proportion of mandatory/optional content varies across subject.

Qualification regulators publish subject criteria for most A levels to help ensure consistency in mandatory content across awarding bodies, whilst allowing for some additional optional content.

Subject areas

The current A levels will be in use until replaced with new reformed A levels. The introduction of the new reformed Ofqual and Welsh Government accredited AS and A levels will be phased. The subject timetable for the phased reform can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/timeline-of-changes-to-gcses… (England)

http://www.qualificationswales.org/as-and-a-levels-timeline-for-change/ (Wales)

In Northern Ireland, from September 2015 learners will be able to undertake the reformed AS and A levels available to learners in England and Wales. CCEA awarding organisation will revise its AS and A levels for first teaching in September 2016.

Levels
  • Level 3

Whilst both the A level and AS are Level 3 qualifications, assessment within the AS is regarded as less demanding than that taken at the end of the second year of A level studies (known as the A2).

Grading

A*-E

Assessment

Current A levels offer candidates the opportunity to be assessed either in stages during the course (most widespread) or at the end of the course.

Assessment is generally by written external examination except where this is not appropriate.

Additionally, controlled assessments, practical examination, portfolio assessment and coursework are used to assess those aspects of the course which are not suitable for assessment via a timed written examination.

Each unit of assessment is assessed by one method as specified in subject criteria.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Raw marks awarded in an exam are converted to a Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) to facilitate fairness across years in terms of the consistency of demand of the exam paper.

Hence, one year a candidate may need 62 raw marks to get an A grade but another year 64 marks may be required for an A grade.

For most A level subjects, after completing their AS units candidates take two A2 assessment units which together have a total weight of 50% UMS of the A level. (A levels such as mathematics and Welsh have three AS and three A2 units). Units contribute 15–35% of the full A level.

The contribution of external assessment to the total award is determined at subject level. In mathematics this is a minimum of 80%, in English literature a minimum of 60%, in science subjects a minimum of 70%.

There is a requirement for synoptic assessment, set out in subject criteria.

Grade boundaries for the A level are defined in relation to the total available UMS points to help ensure consistent understanding of requirements over time.

  • A* at A level requires at least 80% of available UMS for all units, including at least 90% of available UMS in A2 units
  • A at A level requires 80% of available UMS
  • B at A level requires 70% of available UMS
  • C at A level requires 60% of available UMS
  • D at A level requires 50% of available UMS
  • E at A level requires 40% of available UMS
  • U at A level if less than 40% of available UMS
Resit arrangements

AS and A levels allow resits of an assessment unit with the best result counting towards the qualification.

There are no longer assessment opportunities in January, hence students have one opportunity to resit their AS units within a standard two year A level programme, but they can resit either or both AS or A2 units in subsequent years.

Guided / notional learning hours
360 hours
UCAS Tariff points

A level

Grade Points
A* 56
A 48
B 40
C 32
D 24
E 16
Key issues for UK HE admissions

Whilst both the A level and AS are Level 3 qualifications, assessment within the AS is regarded as less demanding than that taken at the end of the second year of A level studies (known as the A2).

Grade distributions vary across subjects, reflecting the fact that some A levels attract students with higher achievements at GCSE.

Some highly selective HEPs ask for candidates' Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) points as well as grades and may focus on grades achieved in one examination sitting.

Whilst this remains a primary purpose, over time A levels have also established a role in recognising achievements from purely academic to more applied skills and knowledge that are valued within employment.

Timing of assessments and results

Current A levels are taken in May/June and results are available mid-August.

Qualification date
Starting from 01 Sep 2015 (From September 2015, both current and new AS and A levels will be offered in schools and colleges in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in different subjects, based on the timetable of phased reform.)
This is a current qualification. (Once a new reformed specification is introduced, current specifications in these subjects will become legacy specifications.)
Reporting of results and certification information

Grade distributions by subject and total entries by subject are published by the Joint Council for Qualifications:

www.jcq.org.uk

Further information

Link to rules and regulations for current A level and AS level qualifications published by Ofqual:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/a-level-and-as-level-qualific…

www.jcq.org.uk

Links to awarding organisation websites and specifications:

www.aqa.org.uk

www.rewardinglearning.org.uk

www.eduqas.co.uk

www.ocr.org.uk

www.edexcel.com

www.wjec.co.uk