Many students find the UK education system a bit confusing. In contrast to some of the most common education systems worldwide, the British one is unique. The educational institutions in the UK have constantly been ranking at the top because of their modern and well-suited education system. Due to this, many countries are applying the same system or adjusting their national education strategy.
One of the most distinctive traits of the UK education system is the unique transition between high school and university. In most countries, students enter university once they graduate from high school.
In the UK, on the other hand, students have to undergo an intermediary education stage (Further Education) and sit for national exams that measure their progress (A-Levels). The whole point is to level their academic potential to university requirements and help them identify what degrees may suit their intellectual talents.
Here is everything you need to know about A-Levels in the UK:
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What are A-Levels?
Advanced level qualifications or A-Levels are subject-based qualifications that British students aged 16 or older must get if they plan to do the following.
- Enroll in higher education studies. The majority of universities ask for specific A levels of qualifications.
- Training in a specific field.
- Get prepared for a future job.
A-Levels are typically graded from A* to E.
Sixth Form Colleges and Further Education Colleges provide a-Level courses. These two institutions are identical, except that Further Education Colleges operate separately from high schools. Further Education Colleges offer a more comprehensive range of courses and qualifications and ensure a different learning environment than high schools.
A-Levels last two years and are divided into two parts:
- AS Level – 12th Year (Advanced Subsidiary level). They are taken by students aged 16 to 17 and are recognized as a qualification of their own.
- A2 Level – 13th Year. It is taken by students aged 17 to 18. After completing the A2 Level, the A-Level qualification is finalized.
AS-Level marks the first year of A-Levels, where students can study for an “extra” subject. Most students achieve the AS qualification in the first year to fully concentrate on studying for their full A Levels in the second year.
You can sit for all of your A-Level subjects, but under the new rules in the education system in England, your grades in AS Level won’t count in the total grade taken at the end of your full A-Levels.
How are A-Level Qualifications Assessed?
At the end of each part, you sit for a particular examination. The evaluation method depends on the subjects. Most include around 70% of written exams, and the rest 30% of the grade comprises classwork. Some topics may only require written exams as the only evaluation method.
You must pass these examinations to move to the higher stages of education. You can resit the examinations via the Examination Appeals if you believe you have been wrongly assessed.
However, the above-mentioned ‘examination appeals’ are only sometimes available and have certain limitations and set deadlines.
How Many Subjects Am I Allowed to Take in A-Levels?
The number of A-Levels you take depends on your plans after finishing this level of education. There are around 80 different subjects to choose from. However, there are no mandatory subjects that A-Level schools require students to take.
From an academic perspective, A-Levels are more demanding than high school courses. In addition, getting A-Levels is not a total win because your scores matter too.
However, you should consider the following before deciding on the number of subjects you wish to take.
- Choose three as a start. Most A-Level students choose three subjects (eventually, five if they are convinced they can handle them).
- Check the universities’ requirements. Always remember that UK universities are highly competitive, and A-Levels play an important role in your admission. Contact the university you plan to study at to get more information about the number of A-Levels and what scores they ask for. They commonly search for applicants with at least three A-Levels with top grades in subjects closely related to their aimed university course. If you take more than three, you risk limiting your academic potential and scoring less. For example, if you want to study biology at university, you can get biology, chemistry, and math as your A-levels.
- Consult your previous (high school) teachers. If you still haven’t decided what to study, don’t get discouraged because A-Levels are an excellent opportunity to open your options. If you need advice, talk to your high school teachers, and they may give you an idea of what subjects you seem exceptionally talented in.
Here are some of the A-Level Subjects in the UK:
- English Language & Literature
- Information Technology
- Modern Foreign Languages – French, German, and Spanish.
What Grades Do I Need?
Further Education schools apply different entry criteria for prospective students. As such, entry requirements change depending on the type of your course and which school you want to attend as part of your A-Levels.
Here are the grades you need to study A-Levels:
- At least five GCSEs in grades 4-9 (or A* to C according to the old grading system), including the English Language.
- A minimum of grade 6 in the specific subject(s) you want to study at the university of your choice.
Note that: for competitive study programs, you must try to get higher grades in your GCSE to have realistic chances of admission.
Which Are the Most Difficult Subjects?
It is always important to remember that A-Levels are challenging, and you need to offer your best to succeed. Every subject is tricky in A-Levels, but it all comes down to your learning style and hard work. However, most students prioritize natural sciences like math and chemistry. Psychology and foreign languages are also difficult.
A particular list of A-Levels is most frequently required from universities in the UK. These subjects are also known as “Facilitating Subjects.”
The following are some of these facilitating subjects:
Some other subjects also taught in A-Levels are not included in this list because universities rarely require them.
Can I Go to University Without A-Levels?
This is one of the most common questions students ask.
The answer is yes, you can go to university in the UK without A-Levels. However, UK universities are very competitive; therefore, an equivalent academic qualification is necessary.
Fortunately, there are several A-Level equivalent qualifications that universities accept, including:
- The Scottish Highers. If you have studied in Scotland, you must have taken the Highers, the equivalent of A-Levels. Therefore, you’re eligible to apply to university in the UK. Also, many universities in the UK consider recognized international qualifications, with the International Baccalaureate as a typical example of this.
- Vocational qualifications. Some universities may also consider vocational qualifications in certain circumstances, like BTEC. Another opportunity is applying for a four-year degree program, also known as an integrated degree, offered by a university where the first year is a preparatory course for your regular studies.
- Other. If you’re an adult who has been out of school since high school graduation, you can continue your higher education.
Many universities in the UK offer Access to Higher Education diplomas designed to prepare for university those who completed high school a long time ago.
Remember that whether you can or cannot study in the UK without A-Levels depends entirely on the university you’re applying to. That said, we suggest you reach out before deciding to apply.
Many domestic and international students also study A-Levels at a dedicated further education college, which also provides a wider array of vocational courses. The qualification is the most common method UK universities use to determine an applicants' suitability for academic subjects.What are UK A Levels equivalent to in the US? ›
According to the British Council, A Levels are similar to the American Advanced Placement courses which are themselves equivalent to first-year courses of America's four-year bachelor's degrees.What is the American equivalent of the A Levels? ›
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.How much does it cost to study A Levels in UK? ›
A-Level courses are provided for free to students aged 16 to 18 in the UK. All they have to pay to get their A-Levels are a symbolic fee for taking their final exams, which at maximum can be £100. However, there are some further education colleges, which apply fees as high as £1,000 for two standard A-Levels.Can American students study in the UK? ›
If you will be studying a full-degree, you must apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa; if your degree program is 6 months or less, you need a Student Visitor Visa. You should apply online, visit the visa application center in your home country, and apply at least three months before your course in the UK begins.Are A Levels accepted by US universities? ›
US universities do accept A Levels. In fact, A Levels are often a key factor for many universities in the United States when it comes to admitting students from the UK. However, many US universities do not require UK students to have completed A Levels. Each college in the United States has its own entry requirements.Is US grading system harder than UK? ›
The UK grading system is not very different from the grading systems in many countries, like China, India, the USA, or European Countries. The top grades go to students who get very high percentages, and the pass grades are given to anyone who manages to achieve the minimum grade required.What is US high school equivalent in UK? ›
In the US system, less emphasis is placed on examinations and students study general subjects until the end of high school, which is Grade 12, the UK equivalent of Year 13. In the United States, most children attend preschool part-time, but state-provided education does not start until Kindergarten (Year 1 in the UK).What SAT score is required for UK? ›
|UK requirement (A-level)||SAT equivalent|
|BBC||1290 in SAT Reasoning (combined) and 600 in three SAT Subject Tests* (each)|
|BCC||1290 in SAT Reasoning (combined) and 550 in three SAT Subject Tests* (each)|
|CCC||1290 in SAT Reasoning (combined) and 500 in three SAT Subject Tests* (each)|
Twelfth graders are referred to as Seniors. Many students consider the twelfth grade, also known as the senior year of high school, a year to relax and prepare for the transition out of their old lives into college/university or the workplace.
Are A levels (England) harder than the high school exams they take in the US? Yes, the UK A-levels are much harder than the US high school exams, but it's not about the “exam format.” Instead, it's about the “exam specialisation”. In the UK, most children take a wide range of subjects at age 14–15.Do US universities prefer IB or A Levels? ›
Universities appreciate the IB's rigour and they know it takes hard work and dedication to perform well, particularly in Higher Level (HL) subjects. This is demonstrated by the fact that most US universities award course credits for IB Diploma subjects.Is it cheaper for Americans to study in the UK? ›
The cost of studying abroad can be very expensive but the UK tends to be cheaper than the US. The tuition fees you'll need to pay in the UK will depend on the university you choose but it can be anywhere between £15,000 - £30,000 a year or more.What is the easiest subject in A-Levels? ›
It's no secret that sociology is one of the easiest A Levels – many students call it the 'easy version' of Psychology! This claim is primarily due to the content of the qualification, which is far less than other sciences, mainly Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and much easier to understand.Is studying in UK cheaper than us? ›
Cost. The cost of education in both countries is far from cheap, but in the United States it is generally higher. According to a law passed in 2012, universities in England may charge up to £9000 (approximately $14,300) per year. Of course, this applies only to citizens of the UK and the EU, not international students.Is studying in UK easier than USA? ›
If you're a little unsure on your major or want to experiment for a year or two, then the USA is probably the better option. If you are 100% set on a subject, and just want to get going, the UK may be the place for you.Is UK education better than USA? ›
Based on national average statistics, most children educated in a British style are a year or more ahead of their US counterparts in math and language.Can American students get financial aid in UK? ›
If you are a foreign enrolled student looking for financial assistance, the United Kingdom international student loan can help support your higher education. To be eligible, you must be a US citizen or US permanent resident attending one of the following approved schools.Do Harvard accept A Levels? ›
Over 880 universities in the US formally accept Cambridge International AS & A Levels, including all Ivy League and Ivy Plus universities. These universities include Brown, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Yale. Many more US universities accept Cambridge qualifications on application.What are 4 A Levels the equivalent to in America? ›
A levels are considered the equivalent of a 12th grade education in the US. You will need your A levels to apply to American colleges or universities. What is the US equivalent of a UK A-level? The closest corollary to GCSE O-Levels is the High School Diploma.
Generally, an excellent A-level rank point is between 75 to 90 points. This point easily secures you from B to A* grade, the ultimate excelling point for students worldwide.What grade is American GPA in UK? ›
|UK module marks||UK degree classification||GPA|
|70+||First class honours||4.0|
|65-69||Upper-second class honours||3.7|
|60-64||Upper-second class honours||3.3|
|55-59||Lower-second class honours||3.0|
|GPA||UK module marks||UK degree classification|
|3.7||65-69||Upper-second class honours|
|3.3||60-64||Upper-second class honours|
|3||55-59||Lower-second class honours|
|2.7||50-54||Lower-second class honours|
On percentage equivalent terms, 70% is equivalent to A or First-class degree in the UK.What are the requirements to study A-Level in UK for international students? ›
To study A Levels, your current or pending exam results should be equivalent to or higher than GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in at least 5 subjects and a minimum level of English equivalent to IELTS 5.5.What are the requirements for international students to study in UK? ›
- Typically you'll need UKVI IELTS 6.5 with at least 6.0 in all skills (or accepted equivalent)
- Some degrees and universities accept slightly lower English scores, while some require higher English scores.
International A levels are comparable to the UK A level, as confirmed by NARIC, the national agency responsible for providing information and expert opinion on qualifications and skills worldwide. The same rigorous standards are applied to all Pearson Edexcel qualifications.