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.
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.
Today, there are many opportunities to enroll in A-level programs
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;
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.
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:
Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs (VWO)
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: