A-Levels are the traditional next step after GCSE’s, they are the sort of qualification you might expect to do in sixth form. They are subject based qualifications that opens doors to university and further study and are one of the most recognised and respected qualifications amongst employers.

You will usually study three or more subjects with exams at the end of two years. Some subjects still have a coursework element but if exams don’t play to your strengths then A-Levels will prove very challenging.

What grades do I need to start studying A-Levels?

Schools and colleges will often look for at least five GCSEs 9-4 (or A*- C under the old grading system), or equivalent.

English, maths and sometimes science are the important subjects to get this in – not just when applying to A-levels, but to university and jobs too. It’s also common to need at least a grade 5 or 6 in the subject you want to study at A-Level but not every school will require this so double check with your school.

A-Levels use letter grades instead of number grades. Instead of grades 1 to 9 as you are used to for you GCSE’s, you will receive grades E to A*, with A* being the best grade. Because you study multiple A-Levels you will often see entry requirements for university and college degrees written as groups of three letters, such as ABB or BBC.

While a grade 4 (or C in the old system) is a minimum requirement, higher GCSE grades will leave you in a better position.

There are around 80 different subjects available to study at A-level. However, the options available to you will depend on which your school or college offers, check out the Course Finder to see what type of courses are available locally. You will get to choose three or more subjects to study, but speak to your school, or the sixth form you want to apply to, and find out how many subjects they would advise you to pick.

Typical A-level subjects include:

  • ones you’ve studied before: history, music, chemistry etc
  • variations on ones you’ve studied before: eg you could choose between English literature, English language, or English literature and language; or you could take maths and further maths
  • subjects you’ve never had the chance to study before: eg law, philosophy, psychology etc

A-Levels are an exciting opportunity to try new things as well as focus on your favourite subject.

A-Levels take two years to complete and your exams will take place in year 13 at the end of your studies, these will test you on content from both years. This is known as a linear qualification and is different to a modular qualification that tests you on subjects as you study them.

What is an AS level?

You might have heard about AS levels; they may even be an option your school offers. AS levels are worth 40% of an A-Level and are a stand-alone qualification.

They used to be ‘coupled’ to A-Levels and all students would study four AS levels, drop one, and continue to study three ‘full’ (Or ‘A2’) A-Levels. This system changed in 2016 for the new linear A-Levels.

AS-Levels may still be available to you and are a good way of trying a new subject, expanding your breadth of knowledge, or boosting your UCAS points. Check with your school if AS-Levels are available to you but be aware, not every university accepts or uses AS grades, and the extra time and study may best be used towards your other A-Levels.

Yes, you can. Nearly 3% of 18-year-olds accepted into university in 2016/17 applied with both A-levels and BTEC Qualifications

Your decision to study a combination of A-levels and BTECs will depend on a few things, particularly what you plan to do afterwards. While BTECs allow students to acquire practical and vocational skills as part of the course, some universities and courses may have qualification preferences they look for. They’ll state clearly what they look for in their entry requirements. 

Do you still get A-levels with coursework?

A-levels are now primarily assessed by exams, which take place at the end of your second year. You’ll still take exams at the end of your first year, but these won’t count towards your final A-level grades.
Some subjects will be exception to this, including:

  • art and design, which understandably involves coursework projects you work on throughout the year;
  • chemistry, biology, and physics, include a practical element throughout the course.

Regardless of the subject, these non-exam assessments only ever account for 20% or less of your final grade.


There is a huge range of options available to you once you have done you’re A-Levels, you can check them all out here.