A-Level is part of compulsory general education program in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is designed for students of 16-18 years old and usually takes the last two years of school or college. At the end of the program, graduates are issued a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Advanced Level, which will allow them to go to university.

Advantages of A-Level

  • Narrow specialization. The A-Level program includes only three or four subjects, allowing the student to concentrate on one subject area. Thus, if a student plans to apply for a technical specialty, there will be no need to deal with compulsory languages ​​or literature, and vice versa, humanities students will not be bogged down in sciences and mathematics.
  • Universities of Britain. Despite the growing recognition of other international foundation programs, A-Levels are the traditional standard for the UK. Accordingly, for admission to a British university, it would be logical to complete A-Levels.
  • Scores and study difficulty. Universities often don’t evaluate the tests equally: higher scores in International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are equivalent to lower scores for A-Levels exams. Many teachers also say that getting a minimum passing score in the A-Levels program is easier than in IB.
  • Online courses. Some UK universities (such as Oxford Learning College) have special online courses for the remote A-Level examination.

Disadvantages of A-Level

  • Narrow specialization. Depending on the chosen study area, the narrow specialization of A-Level programs and a limited number of subjects can become a serious drawback. Three or four specialized disciplines most often do not give students the opportunity to study subjects like foreign languages, which can give a serious advantage not only when enrolling in the university, but also in the future employment.
  • The need to plan ahead. To pass the A-Level, students must study the subjects they picked for the entire two years of the program. This imposes a certain responsibility on the student since a specific set of disciplines is required to get accepted into a university. The student needs to make the right decision straight away because there will be no possibility to change it for the next two years.
  • Lack of recognition. A-Level programs are accepted by a handful of countries: Great Britain, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Egypt, Jordan, South Africa, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain, while IB diplomas are recognized in more than 100 countries around the world.

A-Level structure

The program consists of two parts: Advanced Subsidiary (AS) for the first year of study and A2 (AL) for the second. Starting in 2015, AS subjects are not taken into account in England when issuing the final A-Level certificate, but this does not mean that they are useless: AS qualification can give additional points when entering a university.
Students choose the disciplines (usually 3-4, extremely rarely 5) that they need for further admission to a UK university on their own. When moving to the second year, students can remove one or two extra disciplines, leaving only three. In this case, the student will receive the AS qualification in these subjects, and the other three will transfer to level A2 (AL). The student will take exams in A2 subjects at the end of the second year of study.
The final A-Level exams last from May to June, the results are announced in August.

The grading system of A-Level


A-Level has letter grading: A*, A, B, C, D, and E. Students who fail to get the minimum score receive a U (unclassified grade).
British universities usually set three-letter combinations (AAA, ABB, etc.) in their entry requirements, indicating the desired grade for the core subjects. In addition, universities can have criteria for specific disciplines: for example, a student needs to get an AAA, and two of this As should be for physics and mathematics.

A-Level schools

Today, there are many opportunities to enroll in A-level programs

Requirements for admission to the A-Level program


Admission may require the following documents:
  • Application;
  • Copy of the passport;
  • Certificate of completed secondary education or a certificate of completion of 10 years of school (some schools may agree to accept a student after 9 years of school. This must be specified in the admissions committee of the school);
  • Transcript with grades with a GPA of at least 4.0;
  • Language certificate (TOEFL 71+, IELTS 5.5+);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Letters of recommendation;
Many universities conduct additional interviews or arrange their own entrance tests, most often including mathematics and English, as well as a submission of a written essay.

Options after completing the A-Level

Admission to UK universities

Application to UK universities is curated by the UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) system, which offers graduates several options for further action depending on the grades received:
  • Clearing is the period from July to October, during which students who pass A-Levels worse than expected can search for the remaining vacant seats at universities. To do this, after receiving the exam results, students should contact universities to find out whether they can apply for a vacant seat or not.
  • Adjustment is another tool on the UCAS official website designed specifically for students who receive higher grades than originally planned. From mid to late August, students can submit additional applications for admission to large and prestigious universities.
UniversityDestinationA-Levels
University of Oxford BiologyA*AA, Mandatory: Biology + Chemistry / Physics / Mathematics
University of Oxford Computer scienceA*AA, Mandatory: Mathematics, A* in mathematics / in-depth mathematics / informational technologies
University of Cambridge HistoryA*AA, A* in History
University of Cambridge LawA*AA
The University of Edinburgh LinguisticsAAB - ABB, Mandatory: English
University of Birmingham DentistryABB, Mandatory: Biology

Admission to German universities

To validate the GCE with A-Levels in Germany, certain conditions must be met.
Regardless of the chosen specialty:
  • The student must provide the results of four exams in independent disciplines;
  • These subjects should include: a) language, b) mathematics or science (biology, chemistry or physics);
  • At least three of the selected disciplines must be passed at the level of AL, one subject can be left at the level of AS;
  • Two AS level items can replace one AL level item;
  • Secondary education should take 12 years.
When applying for a certain subject area, the following is required:

Subject areaRequirements
Humanities and social sciences, law, economics, artExamination subjects must relate to the specialty, when choosing economics or social sciences, the schedule must include mathematics
Natural sciencesAt least two classes should be allocated to mathematics, chemistry, physics or biology
Technical specialties and mathematicsMathematics, as well as biology, chemistry, physics or information technologies, are mandatory
Medicine (general medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals)At least three classes must be allocated to mathematics, chemistry, physics or biology

Admission to US universities

Most American universities accept A-Level results. The grades obtained for the exams can be roughly translated into the Grade point average (GPA) system used in the USA.
GCE A-LevelGPA
A*A+ = 4.00
AA = 4.00
BB+ = 3.30
CB = 3.00
DC+ = 2.30
EC = 2.00
Some universities give A-Levels graduates from 6 to 10 additional credits or accept the passed English exam as a language certificate.
It is worth considering that the majority of American universities require passing SAT or ACT, which plays a much larger role in the admission process than the results of A-Level exams. Universities that do not require international students to pass SAT / ACT include New York University, Chicago University, Boston University, University of Rochester, George Washington University, Bard College, and several others.

Admission to Dutch universities

Dutch universities recognize A-Levels as entrance exams. However, many of them require the delivery of six items: three at the A-Level and three more at the GCSE base level. The results of A-Level exams can be roughly translated into the system adopted in the Netherlands as follows:

A-LevelVoorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs (VWO)
AAA9
AAB8
ABB8
BBB8
BBC7
BCC7
CCC7

Ratio of IB and A-Level scores

According to UCAS rules, about a third of British universities practice digital conversion of grades, so some universities place requirements in the format of a unified system of tariff points. Keep in mind that the university has the final say, so there is no direct link between the IB and A-Level scores. The approximate conversion of scores for exams to the UCAS system is presented in the table:
A LevelAS LevelIB HLIB SLIB EEIB ToK
A * = 56-7 = 567 = 28--
A = 48A = 206 = 486 = 24A = 12A = 12
B = 40B = 165 = 325 = 16B = 10B = 10
C = 32C = 124 = 244 = 12C = 8C = 8
D = 24D = 103 = 123 = 6D = 6D = 6
E = 16E = 6--E = 4E = 4

A-levels — Facts

Length2 years
Min. TOEFL70
Min. IELTS5.5
Age16–18
LanguageEnglish
Founded1951
OrganizersAQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC, CCEA
Alternative CourseIB
Min. scoreF
Max. scoreA*
Location on map