DECISIONS AT 16+
What are AS Levels?
Advanced Subsidiary Level, or AS level examinations are the first ‘half’ of a full-blown A Level and are usually taken during Year 12 (age 16/17). You can go on to the second part, now called A2, after you have passed all your AS exams and course work. An entire A level is made up of 6 units, so an AS level just has 3 units that you can re-sit once if you fail. Your overall A Level grade will be based on your best results.
Entry requirements vary, but you will probably need at least 4 GCSE’s at grade C to take up to 5 AS Levels in Year 12. In Year 13 you can carry between two and four subjects on to A2 or take more AS levels or do a GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualification).
Either way, AS Levels give you the opportunity to try a subject, gain a qualification and then either take it further or drop it all together to concentrate on the courses you prefer. There are 73 AS levels to choose from, so there’s something for everyone!
Why have AS Levels been introduced?
The government wanted to give students more choice and AS Levels mean that you can ‘try out’ a range of topics and then select what suits you best for study in year 13. You might decide during your AS year that a GNVQ in some subjects would be more useful than going on to A2, so AS levels make it easier to combine different qualifications. Equally, something you enjoyed at GCSE might lose its appeal at A level, so you can leave it behind after year 12 rather than having to trudge on and worry about failing. Picking subjects that truly reflect your interests and abilities will increase your chances of success.
How do I choose which subjects to take?
The likelihood is that you will do better at subjects you enjoy, but at 16 you have to start considering which career you might like to pursue. The advantage of AS Levels is that they give you experience of more subjects, whatever you go on to specialise in, broadening your choice of directions to take. Speak to your teachers, family and friends about the range and combination of subjects that will support your long-term goals and have a look at the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) website for information on the qualifications you will need to go on to Higher Education.
Do AS Levels have any value on their own?
An AS Level stands alone as a qualification and is worth half the number of points awarded to a full A level grade by UCAS for University and college entry, so it’s definitely worth trying to achieve a good grade, even if you know you won’t want to carry a subject on to A2.
You might even decide that you would like to study some more AS Levels and skip A2 altogether. There are 5 AS Levels which are complete in themselves and do not represent half an A level. These are:
What other options are there at A Level?
- Critical Thinking awarded by OCR
- European Studies awarded by AQA
- Science for Public Understanding awarded by AQA
- Social Science: Citizenship awarded by AQA
- World Development awarded by WJEC
If you’re daunted by the prospect of having your nose in a book for another couple of years but don’t want to enter the world of work just yet, there are several ‘vocational’ (work related) qualifications you could take. The Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE) or Vocational A Level is a new qualification equivalent to ordinary A Levels and can be made up of units from GNVQs, Vocational AS Levels, Key Skills and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
Aimed at developing skills and understanding as well as specific knowledge, GNVQs and Vocational A Levels are appropriate for subjects such as art and design, catering or engineering. Every subject covers skills in communication, numeracy, information technology, problem solving and working as a team, whilst work placements help put your learning into practice. The emphasis is on course work rather than examination grades, so think carefully about which you prefer before making your choices.
Vocational A Levels consist of 6 units and normally take two years to complete, but like A Levels, you can take a 3-unit AVCE (Vocational AS Level) over one year. And if you want to take the subject further, you can take a 12-unit Vocational A Level Double Award, which is worth two Vocational A Levels. GNVQs are also comprised of units, pitched at Foundation (beginners) or Intermediate level and can be taken as a first step to NVQs, AVCEs or as a qualification in their own right.
Key Skills is a new qualification aimed at improving communication, application of numbers and information technology and is specifically geared towards helping you succeed at work. You can take it alongside other qualifications, whether you are in full-time education or work-based training. The new qualification also attracts points for university admission, so your final grade can also contribute towards your UCAS points.
For more information, go to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website:
If you decide to get a job after Year 11, there are still some study options open to you and employers are legally required to give you time off to pursue ‘level 2’ qualifications, e.g. 5 GCSEs, NVQ level 2 or an Intermediate GNVQ.
NVQs are work-related, competence-based qualifications and are divided into five levels:
You can start at whichever level suits you and there are no formal entry requirements apart from relevant experience in your job.
- Level 1 Foundation skills in occupations.
- Level 2 Operative or semi-skilled occupations.
- Level 3 Technician, craft, skilled and supervisory occupations.
- Level 4 Technical and junior management occupations.
- Level 5 Chartered, professional and senior management occupations.
It’s worth bearing in mind that workloads vary tremendously from subject to subject, so speak to your teachers about the amount of studying required for each qualification.
For more information, visit:
Department for Education and Skills - http://www.dfes.gov.uk/
Radio 1 - Onelife - http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/onelife/education/index.shtml?16#topics
Other Useful Contacts:
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)
Stag Hill House, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XJ
Tel: 01483 506506
Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DN
Tel: 020 7393 4500
Oxford, Cambridge and Rsa (OCR)
1 Hills Road, Cambridge CB1 2EU
Tel: 01223 552552
Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)
245 Western Avenue, Cardiff CF5 2YX
Tel: 029 2026 5000