At a glance
A guide to AS and A levels – how they work, the benefits and how you can help your child decide which subjects to take as they prepare to continue their education after Year 11.
What are AS and A levels?
AS and A levels are the traditional qualifications offered by schools and colleges for 16-19 year olds. They’re highly valued by universities and employers and focus on academic subjects, although some are work-related.
AS levels can be taken as a stand-alone qualification, or as the first part of an A level course. AS levels are completed at the end of Year 12 (the old ‘Lower Sixth’ year). A2 exams and coursework are added on to an AS level at the end of Year 13 (the old ‘Upper Sixth’ year), bringing it up to A level standard.
Deciding which subjects to take
Most pupils take four subjects in Year 12. After AS level exams they drop one subject, and continue the other three through Year 13 to complete A levels.
The subjects your child studies for A/AS level can help shape their future, so their choices are important. They don’t necessarily have to choose between maths/sciences or English/humanities – it’s fine to mix them. However, if they’re already focused on a particular career, this is a chance to start to specialise.
What matters most is choosing subjects your child will really enjoy. A/AS level involves much more in-depth study than GCSE, and to do well your child will need to do extra reading and become absorbed in their subjects. You can help them to work out which subjects they've a 'feel' or passion for - you know their interests and their strengths.
How are A levels taught and assessed?
AS/A levels are mostly assessed by written exams, although there’s also some coursework in most subjects. In subjects like science and art, your child’s practical skills are also assessed.
How will A levels help my child in the future?
A level results, or their equivalent, are the gateway to most university and college courses. If your child applies to university in Year 13, they’ll usually be given a 'conditional offer'. This is an offer of a place as long as they achieve certain A level grades.
AS/A levels are graded A-E. From 2010, A* grades will also be awarded. As well as a grade, your child’s results slip will also show a score on the ‘uniform mark scale’ (UMS). This is a mark out of 300 at AS and out of 600 at A level. If your child is not happy with the score, they can resit a unit - though this may mean delaying going to university or college.