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MAR 16, 2020 • 8 min read
So, you’re thinking of distance learning A Levels?
Perhaps you’re an eager high school student wanting to boost your chance of getting into top universities by taking extra papers.
Perhaps your school doesn’t offer classes in A Levels and you’re looking for ways to study and gain the A Level qualifications online?
Or maybe you’re just looking for a way to extend yourself beyond what your high school curriculum offers.
Whichever it is, you’ve come to the right place.
You’re about to find out how to start studying A Levels online, subject recommendations for online studies, and additional distance learning study advice.
Just sit back, relax, and prepare yourself to find the answers to all the burning questions you’ve ever had about online A Level study!
According to the University of Oxford website, “A-levels (short for Advanced levels) are school-leaving qualifications that are taken by many students in the UK. Students usually choose three or four subjects, and take two years to study for these A-levels between the ages of 16 and 18.”
A Levels are a qualification which originate from the UK. However, they’re recognised internationally by universities - good news for when you apply to your dream university abroad!
To find a more in-depth analysis of the A Level qualification check out our other article: “What's the Difference Between an A, AS and A2 Level?”
Normally, a student taking A Levels in high school will learn the content throughout the year in a classroom context.
Students will learn and study the AS curriculum for one year (usually the second to last year of high school) in a classroom under the guidance of a teacher, then take the formal exam at the end of their academic year for the subjects they studied.
The following year, students will normally follow up by studying the A2 curriculum in a classroom and then once again move onto sitting the formal external exams for their papers (subjects). At the end of the two years, their AS and A2 scores will be combined (with a 50/50 weighting) to generate their final A Level score which they use to apply to university.
However, some students choose to take A Levels online instead.
This is a less conventional approach - but hey!
If you’re looking to stand out in university admissions, then unconventional may be just the way to go.
Studying A Levels online is achieved by studying the content for the curriculums online through resources such as eBooks, study guides, or past papers, or learning the content through private tuition or online courses.
After learning all the content in the curriculum, students can then sign up to sit the exams in Cambridge test centres and gain their A Level qualifications. Often, people can sit A Levels they’ve studied online at their high school if their high school is a Cambridge test centre.
It’s that easy!
However, even if your school isn’t a Cambridge test centre, fear not!
Through a simple search on Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) website, you can quickly and easily locate your nearest test centre that accepts private candidates. These centres are available all over the world which makes studying and taking A Levels online extremely accessible. Check out this link: International A Level Testing Centres.
But… What exactly is a private candidate?
This just means that if you don’t attend a school which offers A Levels, you can still enter the exams by signing up as a type of entry that’s called a “private candidate”.
To find out more about private candidacy, just refer to CIE’s website for their section on Private Candidates
Now that we’ve gotten past all the dry stuff and we’ve discussed all the necessary background information for taking A Levels online, we get to the big question:
How can you study A Levels at home?
The first thing you’ll have to do is decide what subjects you want to study. You know the saying, “love what you do and it won’t feel like work.”
It’s crucial that you’re choosing subjects that you’re genuinely interested in because, with distance learning, it’s all up to you.
YOU have to motivate yourself to keep up with the content. YOU have to set yourself goals and deadlines to make sure that YOU are ready in time for the final exams.
Unlike studying in a classroom context where there are mandatory assignments, tests, and midterms to keep you on track, distance learning depends entirely on you.
So, if studying the subjects you’ve chosen sounds like a chore, then chances are you’ll get off track. Think long and carefully before you choose your subjects and make sure they’ll be ones you’ll always be motivated to study for.
The UCAS Tariff system allocates points to scores obtained from your A Levels to help you gain university entrance. Many universities (especially from the UK) will have a minimum UCAS point cutoff for their courses.
Our study advice is to make a note of the UCAS point requirements for the courses you want before you start taking your A Level courses so you know what levels you’re aiming for!
For most A Level qualifications, the UCAS Tariff points are allocated as follows:
Grade UCAS Points
You can find amazing tools for calculating UCAS points for A Levels on the official UCAS Website: Calculate your UCAS Tariff points.
When it comes to distance learning for A Levels, some A Levels prove much trickier to study!
This is especially true for science subjects which often require a practical component. For subjects like AS physics, chemistry, and biology, the end of year exams require students to complete a paper testing their practical laboratory skills.
As a result, you can’t just be good at recalling knowledge learnt from the curriculum!
You must also know how to carry out experiments (like titrations and basic dissections of leaves and plants) under time pressure.
That being said, it’s not impossible to distance learn these A Levels, but it’s definitely a lot more difficult.
You may need to work with your teachers at schools, or your tutors, to find ways to conduct practical experiments in laboratories to prepare yourself for the exams.
In general, the “easiest” A Levels to distance learn would be ones that require only written examinations. Subjects like history, business studies, and geography would be fantastic subjects for students to self-study.
However, once again, it’s more important that you’re choosing a subject because you genuinely like it (and not just because it’s “easier”). Your interests should always be first priority when choosing subjects.
Distance learning takes a lot of self discipline and self motivation!
If you ever find yourself extremely stressed out by a seemingly overwhelming curriculum, try taking a break! Research shows that working in 20 minute increments with five minute breaks in between actually improves productivity.
For more tips, check out our other article on Top 4 Self-Study Methods.
There are many online courses available to help you with distance learning which give you the option of studying A Levels from home. These will often be suited to your lifestyle and learning requirements.
Students tend to find that taking their A Levels through these tailored online courses and tuition options - which are often one-on-one and scheduled to fit the student’s schedule - is far more effective than learning in a traditional classroom context that doesn’t take an individualised approach to learning.
These courses are designed to keep pace with the student’s learning. So if there’s ever a topic you find difficult, the tutor can easily slow down the pace for you!
On the flip side, if you’re breezing through another part of the curriculum, you and your tutor can spend less time on it, maximising efficiency.
Alongside taking courses with a tutor, always make sure to grab a copy of the Cambridge textbooks or other study guides targeted for the subjects you’re taking.
These offer comprehensive curriculum knowledge you need to crush your A Levels, so use them to supplement your learning!
Another super helpful resource for A Levels are past papers. You can find CIE past papers on the official website; these are vital resources to your online study and will help you get a real grasp of what the final exams will be like.
Well, there you have it - a comprehensive guide to online A Level studies.
Distance learning allows you to not only learn in the comfort at your own home - at your own pace - but also teaches you how to study independently: a skill which will be vital to succeeding in university!
And remember - distance learning means taking an unconventional approach to learning which spans beyond the classroom, and this can greatly improve your candidacy for the top universities in the world, most of which are in the US and UK!
So be it Oxford University, Stanford University, or London School of Economics and Politics, choosing to self-study could be something that sets you apart from the tens of thousands of other applicants and gets you admitted.