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Everything you need to know about the AS, A2 and A Levels

05 JUL 2021

Is it your dream to study overseas? If so, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make in high school is choosing the right curriculum.

One of the most popular globally recognised curriculums is the Cambridge International Examinations: Advanced Level (CIE), more commonly known as the Cambridge International (GCE) A Level and AS Level.

Through CIE, you can gain A Level qualifications, made up of AS Levels and A2 Levels.

But wait, what does that mean?

Don’t worry! It’s all here in this blog. Keep reading to see A, AS, and A2 Levels explained in-depth.

What are A Levels?

According to the official UCAS website, “A levels are subject-based qualifications that can lead to university, further study, training, or work. You can normally study three or more A Levels over two years.”

Recognised by universities around the world, the A Levels originated in the UK.

How are A Levels Graded?

Grades for the A Levels Range from A* to U. The table below depicts the score you need for each grade:

A Level Grading System
GradePercentage
A*90% +
A80-89%
B70-79%
C60-69%
D50-59%
E40-49%
U (Ungraded)0-40%

If you’re looking at applying to a top 30 university, aim for grades that sit in the A or A* band.

For those considering US universities, the American equivalent for A Levels are the AP examinations.

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What are AS and A2 Levels?

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The A Level qualification has two components: AS Level and A2 Level.

You must study and complete your AS Level before you take your A Level. They take the average of your two scores (50/50) to produce your overall A Level score. Students usually complete the AS Level in their second to last year of high school and the A2 Level in their final year.

Both AS and A2 Levels are designed to be year-long courses.

You can sit for the exam two times each year. The first is in May/June, and the second is in October/November.

Due to the school year structure, students in the southern hemisphere usually take the Oct/Nov series, and students in the northern hemisphere typically sit the May/June series.

However, there is another option!

Some students sit both the AS and A2 Level papers during the same exam periods.

While this might sound more difficult, it comes down to personal preference and schedule. Choose whatever works best for you and your timetable.

While sitting the exams together may offer a heavier workload, this could be a great option if you think you’re less likely to forget the content learned in AS by the time you reach A2.

It’s important to note that students must take AS and A2 Level papers within 12 months of one another. Otherwise, the AS mark “expires” and can’t be combined with the A2 mark to gain an A Level qualification.

How hard are the AS and A2 exams?

At this point, you might be thinking, “How difficult are A Levels? Are these exams suitable for me?”

The difficulty is something you should take into account when you’re choosing different curriculums and subjects.

Although difficulty differs from person to person, you want to make sure that you’re confident you’ll be able to tackle it and perform to a high standard.

Cambridge International Examinations releases online updated syllabuses for all their subjects. Input the keyword you’re looking for along with “Cambridge syllabus,” and you can see what they include in the curriculum.

How to prepare for the AS and A2 Exams?

Though the syllabuses may appear long and confusing, choose to focus on the learning objectives. They explain learning expectations and everything about the exams.

The objectives get more difficult because they're written in the order they're taught. To get an idea of the difficulty, scroll down to the bottom to check out the more difficult topics!

You can also look at past papers online. Because A Levels are a popular curriculum, many online resources are available.

Use past papers to get a better sense of the exams and their difficulty level by skimming through their content. You can also use these to get an idea of the exam structure.

Try to look at past papers from recent years because they tend to get more difficult as time goes on! Even better, look at specimen papers (fancy term for sample papers) for the current year released on the Cambridge website to get the most up-to-date examples.

How are the AS and A2 Level exams scored?

You don’t necessarily need to get 70% or 90% of questions correct, to get a 70% or 90% on your report card.

Scaling makes this possible.

All exams are scaled on a bell curve, so raw grades are often inflated. Your score might inflate 1%-15% depending on where you score, the difficulty of the paper, and the subject you choose to take.

If the past papers look impossible, do not fear! You may be getting an unrealistic representation of your final score.

When looking at past papers, always look at the grade and scaling boundaries of that year’s exam.


If you are looking at sitting A levels and want to have the best outcome, Crimson offers Online Tutoring courses to help you pass your exams. Our A Levels curriculum is taught by some of the best teachers in the world, many of whom have coached students to countless Top in the World IGCSE and A-Levels.


The Difference Between AS and A2 Level

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Now you should have a broad understanding of how A Levels work, what AS and A2 Levels are, and how together they give you your overall mark.

But what is the difference between AS and A2 Levels?

  1. They may have minor differences in exam structure. For example, AS science papers have a multiple-choice component but A2 science papers do not. However, the two levels still have a lot in common.
  2. They are both one-year courses.
  3. They both require a year-long study that culminates in a series of exams.
  4. They both count for 50% of your final A Level mark.

A2 Levels are generally harder than AS Levels. They build on the knowledge you learn taking your AS papers.

Many A2 Level papers also test on the content covered in the AS papers. For example, business studies A2 exams require you to recall knowledge from AS business studies.

Resources for AS and A2 Levels

Many resources are available to help with your AS and A2 studies?

Cambridge publishes a set of textbooks geared towards the curriculum of each subject. These textbooks offer comprehensive cover for both the AS and A2 courses.

Alternatively, you could buy study guides and textbooks produced by other companies that target A Level students.

Final Thoughts

The A Level curriculum is a hugely popular, internationally recognised curriculum that helps you secure your place at a top university. Whether you're hoping to attend Stanford, Oxford, or Harvard, A Levels are the high school curriculum to help get you there!

Cambridge International A Levels are offered in 55 subjects. Whether you’re interested in biology, economics, maths, or classics, there are probably subjects available that are the right fit for you!

Some final advice?

A Levels is an incredible curriculum that opens up many tertiary opportunities for high school students.

Unlike other curriculums, coursework or classroom participation grades don't affect the final score of AS and A2 courses.

Your entire grade is determined by how you perform in your final exams.

While you may think that this is an excellent opportunity for you to procrastinate, think again!

Prepare and study throughout the year so you don't jeopardise your final grade. Take notes and keep up with the content!

Next Steps

Check out some of the other A Levels and high school curriculums blogs to learn about which high school diploma is right for you!

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