Everything You Need To Know About the A-Levels

07/11/202314 minute read
Everything You Need To Know About the A-Levels

International A Levels serve as a stepping stone for students aiming to secure admission to top-tier universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Cambridge.

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.

In this blog, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about the International A-Levels, delve into the diverse range of subjects available, shed light on the grading system, and demonstrate how this pathway unlocks opportunities to prestigious universities across the globe.


What are A-Levels?

Advanced Levels (usually referred to as just 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 starting university. A-Levels are assessed using a set of examinations, and although they’re a UK-based qualification, they are widely accepted worldwide.

What Subjects Can You Study?

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 can also take your A-Levels entirely 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.

Cambridge vs. Edexcel

There are two exam boards for A-Levels: Edexcel and Cambridge.

Pearson Edexcel A Levels are widely recognized in the UK and follow a module-based system. Students have the flexibility to retake modules to improve their subject grades, and exams are typically held in May and November.

On the other hand, Cambridge A Levels offers a diverse range of subjects and flexible combinations. These qualifications cater to the needs of international learners and also provide opportunities for non-native English speakers to demonstrate their English proficiency, which is valued by many British universities.

What is Crimson Global Academy?

Structure and Format of A Level Qualification

A-Levels are broken down into two parts: the AS Level and A2 Level:

  • The first year of your A Level qualification is known as the AS Level, where you’ll study courses that provide with enough understanding to progress to A-level.
  • The second year of your A Level is known as the A2 Level. A2 Level courses are the second half of the A-level courses, and build on the curriculum you studied during AS level.

Typically, students take 4-5 AS Level subjects in their second to last year of high school.

They will then go on to take 3-4 of those subjects at the A2 Level, often taking extra subjects at AS Level to fill up their timetable (without completing the full A Level) in their final year of high school.

Here’s a summary of typical timeline of an international A-levels student:

  • Second to last year of high school: 4-5 AS-level subjects
  • Final year of high school: 3-4 A2 level subjects +additional AS-level subjects.

While this is the typical timeline for studying A Levels, if you’re interested in competing for spots at the top US universities, you might need more than 4 A Level subjects to stand out in the competitive applicant pool.

How are A-Levels Assessed?

The majority of Edexcel/ Cambridge AS and A Level subjects are externally assessed. These exams are offered at different times throughout the year:

  • Cambridge exams: June and November
  • Edexcel: June, October and January

Students typically sit one set of exams at the end of AS, and another at the end of A2.

CGA's Edexcel International A Levels offers three examination dates, which means more opportunities for re-sits. This allows students to improve their grades if needed.

Edexcel's mark schemes tend to be more detailed, providing clearer indications of how students can earn credit for their answers compared to Cambridge's mark schemes.

For sciences like Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, Cambridge International AS Level sciences require students to complete practical examinations under exam conditions. Edexcel A Levels, however, tend to be more theoretical and do not include these practical examinations.

Practical exams can sometimes drag down students' grades in Cambridge A Levels as schools may lack the resources for adequate practice in experimental skills. This is a situation that students won't encounter with Edexcel A Levels.

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How are A-Levels Graded?

Cambridge:

In terms of grading, Cambridge students receive a percentage grade at the end of their AS Level exams, and a final overall A Level percentage grade that’s the average of their AS and A2 Level grades combined.

Note that there are no A* grades awarded for AS Level. They are only awarded for completion of full A Level qualification. Also, you do not receive your separate A2 Level grade, only your combined A Level grade.

Edexcel:

Edexcel students receive grades after their examinations at the end of every module according to the table below.

Their final average grade is the weighted average of the modules they sit through during the AS and A2 portions by a predefined weighting that you can find in each subject’s syllabus online.

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

While the percentage grade boundaries may look intimidating, one of the great things about International AS and A Levels is that you don’t have to get 90% or 70% of the questions correct to end up getting a 90% or 70% on your report card.

International AS and A Levels employ scaling, which converts raw marks to Percentage Uniform Marks. The exams are calibrated against other students' performance, resulting in most raw marks being scaled up. Scaling ensures a fair representation of performance and determines the A*-E grade displayed on the certificate of completion.

Edexcel and Cambridge publish grade thresholds after each exam sitting on their respective websites to maintain transparency in the scaling process.

What Is a Good A-Level Grade?

If you’re looking to apply 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.

What Happens on A Levels Results Day?

The A-level results day for 2024 is Thursday 15 August 2024. You can collect your A-level results any time after 8am on results day - when they're released by the exam boards.

There are a few different outcomes that could happen:

  1. You get your predicted grade and meet your firm (first) offer: Congratulations! Once your UCAS Hub status updates you’ll be sent a confirmation from your firm choice. Now you can sit back and start preparing for university.
  2. You miss your predicted grades: This is disappointing but there are several outcomes if this happens:
  • Unconditional Offer - Your choice of firm offer might still offer you a place
  • Unconditional Changed Course (UCC) - you don't have the necessary grades for your offer, but the university has proposed a similar course requiring lower grades. They may also offer an alternative start date, such as deferred entry. You have five days to decide and can discuss the opportunity with the university in question.
  • Insurance Offer - You accept your insurance offer
  • Unsuccessful - you've not been accepted by your choice(s). You're now eligible to enter Clearing
  • Retaking the A Levels
  • Reapplying the next year
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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.

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. If you are keen to study A Levels then CGA would be delighted to hear from you!

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