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Everything You Need To Know About The AS, A2 And A-Levels

31 AUG 2022

Most students and parents would have heard about A Levels from one place or another, but very few people actually know exactly what this pathway entails. This article will provide you with everything you need to know about the International A-Levels.


What are A-Levels?

Advanced Levels (usually called A Levels) are qualifications in particular subjects that are usually the final academic courses taken before a student attends university. You can study three or more A-levels over the final two years before commencing university. A-Levels are assessed using a set of

examinations. Although A-Levels are a UK-based qualification, they are the most widely accepted qualification worldwide.

What subjects can you take?

There are a range of subjects you can take while pursuing an A-Level qualification. The most popular courses include:

  • Mathematics
  • Further Mathematics
  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • History
  • Economics
  • Business
  • Psychology
  • Law

For a complete list of A-Level courses refer to the CIE’s official website.

You also have the ability to take your A-Levels completely online. Crimson Global Academy (CGA) is a global online school with the mission to provide premium education without the constraints of physical schooling. CGA offers very close support for students in selecting A Level subjects: this is vital because future courses at university and future careers will often have specific requirements for A Level subjects. We can provide expert advice in this important area.

What is Crimson Global Academy?

How are A-Levels Assessed?

The qualification itself is assessed in a series of external examinations organized by an examination board: CGA uses the Pearson Edexcel examination board and also the Cambridge International board.

To help students prepare for the external examinations, CGA also runs a series of internal examinations and tests. Although the results of these do not contribute to the A Level result, the internal examinations allow CGA teachers to track the progress of students and to support students as much as possible so that they can achieve their best A Level grade.

How are A-Levels Graded?

Each A Level award, in each subject that a student has taken, is graded on a scale from A* through to E (or U, unclassified). A university may make an offer based on A Level grades, for example requiring a student to achieve a minimum of three specific grades in their A Level qualifications.

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%

What is a Good A-Level Grade?

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?

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?

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.

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The Difference Between AS and A2 Level

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.

Are A Levels right for you?

A Levels are superb, academically rigorous, and inspiring courses. However, they can also be demanding courses that require a serious commitment to diligent work. To be successful in A-Level study, students will need a secure foundation at the International GCSE level of study or equivalent.

Our academic staff can advise on entry requirements for particular A-Level courses, and CGA asks students to complete admissions assessments to ensure that if we offer a place to study A-Levels, then a student can be successful in those courses.

How can you take A Levels?

If you are keen to study A Levels then CGA would be delighted to hear from you! We offer a wide range of A Level and International GCSE courses which are taught fully online, by experienced and outstanding teachers from around the world. CGA can provide a full programme of A Levels, to full-time CGA students, or we can offer a part-time programme: individual A Level courses which students can take alongside their academic programme in their home school. You can see some inspiring student testimonials of what CGA can offer here.

CGA Classroom Adventures: Ep 1 Mathematics with Dr Andrew Daniel

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