Changes to A levels

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New A level and AS level qualifications are being introduced in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

  • The Government has decided to try and make the courses more rigorous to help prepare young people for higher education, apprenticeships and employment.

Unlike the old system, new AS levels will not contribute to the new A levels or the grades students achieve.

It is very important to research and understand what your school or college is able to offer you at AS and A level.

In England

  • Some schools are encouraging their students to take both 'new' AS levels and 'new' A levels, whilst other schools and colleges are encouraging students to take only A levels.
  • You will still be able to study the 'old' A level and AS level courses in those subjects which are not being reformed yet.
  • New A levels will be studied over two years with exams at the end of the course, not after each module or in January. This means you need to study for the full two years to obtain the qualification.
  • You may be able to study a combination of the ‘new’ and existing A levels from the range offered by the school or college you are attending.
  • There will be less coursework, which will only be part of some subjects (such as art and design) and will only count for 20% of the final mark.
  • The new science A levels (biology, chemistry and physics) will include a separate practical element of the qualification which will be assessed as either a pass or a fail. The practical work will be carried out over the two year course of study. 
  • If you are thinking of applying to university to do a science-related higher education course, look at advice from individual universities and colleges. They are likely to ask for a pass in the science practical for courses that involve laboratory and practical work – they will make this clear in their course entry requirements.
  • The A* to E grading system will remain for new AS levels and A levels and these are all regarded as pass grades and will gain UCAS tariff points towards university entrance.
Remember – changes to the UCAS tariff
  • These changes should not have any impact on your decisions about which subjects to study, or your university or college application.
  • Remember that not all universities use the tariff system.

The UCAS tariff is also changing for 2017 entry, with a new set of points for each qualification. A key change is that the AS level will only be worth 40% of a full A level in UCAS tariff point terms.

In Northern Ireland

There will be differences between new A levels and AS levels offered, depending on the awarding organisation (the organisation which administers the exams).

  • Your school or college will tell you what exams are available to you.
  • The differences will be whether exams are taken at stages throughout the course of study (modular A levels), or all exams are taken at the end of the course (linear A levels).
  • In some cases, AS level exams will still contribute 40% to your overall A level grade.
  • There is no difference in the number of UCAS points between standalone A levels, and those where AS marks still contribute to the overall grade.
  • Check with your school so that you understand exactly what your options are, and when you will sit your exams.
  • If you want to read more, the CEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment) has information about changes to A levels.

In Wales

There will also be changes to A levels and AS levels over the next few years.

  • Check with your school or college as to what exams are offered, and the exams you will take.
  • Some AS and A levels in Wales will retain a practical or non-examination assessment, with the assessments contributing to your final grade.
  • Some AS levels will contribute 40% to a full A level.