What are A levels?

Oleksandra (Sasha) Petrova
May 22, 2024

Advanced Level Qualifications, commonly known as A Levels, are traditional subject-based qualifications pursued by high school students in the UK. They are typically studied over the last two years of school (grades 12 and 13 in the UK) and are a key criterion for admission to British universities. A Levels are also recognised internationally, including in the US and Europe, making them a popular choice for students worldwide.

How to choose subjects for A-levels?

A Levels offer a flexible curriculum with no compulsory subjects, catering to students with specific interests or academic strengths. While universities typically require three subjects, some students opt to study up to four. The range of subjects available varies by school, but commonly includes categories like science, arts, technology, languages, and humanities. Examples of A Level subjects are Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Drama, Art, Information Technology, Spanish, History, Geography, Psychology, and Business.

Tips for Choosing A-Level Subjects:

  • Personal Interests: As A-Level courses are intensive, choose subjects you are genuinely interested in to make the experience enjoyable and engaging.
  • University Requirements: If you have a specific university course in mind, check its entry requirements. Certain degrees may require specific A-Level subjects. For example, Mathematics or Further Mathematics are often essential for a Mathematics degree.
  • Check the Syllabus: A-Level content can differ significantly from what is taught in schools outside the UK. For instance, a Geography course might cover contemporary issues like disease outbreaks and their management. Review the syllabus to ensure it aligns with your expectations.
  • Assessment Methods: A-Level subjects have varying assessment styles. While some rely on exams, others include coursework. Consider your strengths and preferences when selecting subjects.
  • Consult Current or Past Students: Engaging with students who have firsthand experience with A-Levels can provide valuable insights and may influence your subject choice.

What are the assessments like?

The nature of assessments in A-Levels varies depending on the subject and the specific exam board used by the school. The primary form of assessment is an examination at the end of the two-year program. Some subjects also include project work or coursework, which typically contributes to a portion of the final grade.

Grades range from A* (the highest) to E (the minimum passing grade). If a student does not pass, they have the option to resit the entire exam, and there is no limit to the number of attempts a student can make but resist could have a negative effect on your university application. It's best to speak to your school or consult a specialist if you are considering the rest. 

Exam Boards

There are a few exam boards that develop, mark, and award A-level qualifications. The school decides which exam board to use for each individual subject. Having different exam boards for different subjects makes it more complicated to switch schools throughout the duration of A-levels.

You can read here more about what is involved in the syllables of one of the boards as an example for Mathematics

What are the key differences from the Ukrainian system?

  1. Only 3 subjects: Compared to Ukraine, where high school students study a large number of subjects, A-Levels focus on only 3. However, these are studied in much greater depth.
  2. Specialised subjects: Many schools offer A-Levels in areas that are quite narrow and unusual for traditional Ukrainian education, such as Accounting, Media Studies, or Travel and Tourism.
  3. Essays: A significant number of subjects include essays as part of the examination, which is uncommon in most Ukrainian school subjects.

Dasha is a Svitlo student who this year moved to the UK to study in Concord College: 

“Studying at A-level is very different from the program we are used to in Ukraine. In addition to taking only 3 or sometimes 4 subjects, the level of detail with which you study these subjects is truly fascinating. To succeed at A-level, you need not only a good memory but also the ability to independently search for and assimilate information, read and analyse extensively, think logically, and explore different ways to answer questions. Overall, I believe that A-levels provide excellent preparation for university because they allow you to not only learn subjects in depth but also develop important skills that will undoubtedly be beneficial in the future..”