The leap from the relatively regimented rote learning of GCSEs to the specialised intensity of A-levels, can come as a bit of a shock. Gavin Evans, whose elder daughter is currently completing her A-levels, explains what’s what in the Sixth Form world.
Q: Sixth form, AS levels, A-levels?
A: Sixth Form describes the two years leading up to the final A-level exams. The first year involves studying towards the AS (Advanced Subsidiary) level exams, with each course divided into three units, and the second, the A2 exams. Grades for AS form half the A-level total.
Q: What are A-levels good for?
A: Most students use them to go onto higher education but they are also increasingly useful for students who go straight into the world of work.
A: Between ages 16 and 18 (years 12 and 13) – those born soon after August 31 will be nearly 19 when finishing. Some schools offer AS levels in Year 11 for gifted students.
A: At the secondary school where GCSEs were completed or a sixth form college.
Q: How do they differ from GCSEs?
A: The focus is far more intense, specialised and theoretical. Year 13 (A2) is equivalent to first year at university in many other countries.
Q: What are the entry qualifications needed?
A: Most schools require at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C. Some schools require at least a B-grade before a student can progress to A-level in a particular subject.
Q: How many subjects are required?
A: Many schools encourage students to do four AS-level courses and to drop one for A2. Most universities require at least two A-level passes and some require three.
Q: How many subjects are offered?
A: More than 80 (though no school offers all). These include ten Vocational A-level subjects (known as GCEs), which, at some schools, can be taken alongside academic A-levels.
Q: How are A-levels graded?
A: Most subjects involve a mix of coursework (30 per cent) and exams (70 per cent). Some include practical assessment (art, music, science). Part of the assessment (20 per cent) is on understanding the subject as a whole (synoptic assessment).
They are graded on a scale from A* to E (out of 300 marks for AS and 600 for A-levels, which includes the AS mark).
Options after school: helping your children decide
Q: What are Advanced Extension Awards?
These are for the top ten per cent of students (expecting A-grades) and involve applying knowledge more critically and widely in a separate exam. They are available in 19 subjects and count towards the UCAS points system to get into Higher Education (40 points for a distinction, 20 for a merit).
Q: How can I help?
A: Keep in touch and make yourself available to offer any help that might be required.
Q: What are the best study aids?
Your child’s school will supply textbooks recommended by their examination boards. In addition, CGP books sell revision guides in selected AS and A-level subjects.