The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level, more commonly known as the GCE A Level, is a school leaving qualification offered by secondary schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges in the United Kingdom, some Commonwealth countries, & at many international schools around the world. In Scotland, the qualification is offered as an alternative to lớn the more commonly taken Highers.

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The qualification was first introduced in 1951 lớn replace the Higher Schools Certificate, and final examinations are normally taken in Englvà and Wales at the over of Year 13 after two years of classroom study, traditionally referred khổng lồ as the sixth form.

Due khổng lồ British colonial influence, many education systems around the world are modeled on the British system, but the number of countries still offering A Levels is diminishing. The most recent example of the move away from the British ‘seed system’ is Hong Kong, which recently replaced the Hong Kong A Level with an entirely new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, while also shortening the duration of schooling from 13 years, per the British Model, to 12 years và lengthening undergraduate education from three years khổng lồ four years – moving it closer to lớn the U.S. Mã Sản Phẩm.

Nonetheless, British credentials continue to be awarded at more than 10,000 independent schools the world over through the Cambridge International Examinations board, which has been awarding the International GCSE since 1988, and more recently Edexcel. Both Cambridge and Edexcel also offer International A Level equivalents. Some countries, such as Singapore, offer a customized version of the Cambridge International GCE O và A Level as the exclusive sầu national school examinations. International versions of British school awards are discussed in more detail in the accompanying article of the current issue.

In recent years, there has been an uptichồng in the number of British school leavers traveling abroad for higher education, with U.S. institutions of higher education proving particularly attractive sầu. From a reasonably steady average of approximately 8,500 UK students attending U.S. institutions of higher education in the first decade of the new millennium, enrollment numbers have sầu been on a gradual increase, last year reaching close to 9,500 students, with approximately half studying at the undergraduate level.

One catalyst for this increased interest is the new relative affordability of a U.S. higher education versus the UK, due to lớn new và significant increases on the cap in tuition fees that UK institutions can charge domestic students. In 2012, the ceiling on tuition fees was raised from a little over £3,000 ($4,800) to lớn £9,000 ($14,400) annually. While the new upper limit on fees, charged by a majority of UK universities, is still considerably lower than the $25,000 average annual tuition fees that U.S. universities charge international students, it does significantly change the cost calculation when one considers generally lower U.S. living expenses & the experiential value of studying internationally. For this reason alone, we believe that U.S. institutions of higher education will continue khổng lồ see svào & increasing interest from school leavers in the UK.

In this article, we offer a comprehensive sầu guide to the GCE A Level, the most comtháng UK qualification used for university entry, including advice on how best to evaluate the award & suggested grade equivalencies.

Qualification Frameworks

A levels are considered cấp độ 3 qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). All qualifications listed on the NQF are regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), the UK regulator of examinations & awarding bodies. The NQF allows for the comparison of national qualifications, but not the transfer and accumulation of credits, as is the case for more vocationally oriented awards covered under the Qualifications and Credit Framework, introduced in 2010.

All awards recognized under the NQF are comprised of units, rather than credits, that will only be recognized when the full program is completed. Academic higher education programs are not covered under the NQF. These programs are covered under the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ). The programs and awards covered by the QCF, NQF and FHEQ are eligible for state funding in Englvà và Northern Ireland.

The Welsh authorities have sầu their own Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales, while Scotl& operates its own education system và its own 12-level system as defined by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

All regulated qualifications for Englvà, Wales và Northern Irelvà can be found in Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications.

Level 3 qualifications such as the A cấp độ are designed, aước ao other things, lớn prepare students for higher studies at the tertiary màn chơi. In total, there are nine award levels covered by the QCF, NQF và FHEQ:


General Certificate of Secondary Education

Before commencing A màn chơi study, students take Year 11 examinations (age 15-16) known as the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in a range of subjects (eight – 10 most commonly). Nearly all students taking GCSEs through the school system are required to take English, mathematics và science, with most other fields of study being elective sầu.

The GCSE examinations have traditionally marked the kết thúc of compulsory schooling in England, but from 2013 the school-leaving age has been raised khổng lồ 17. The extra post-16 year of training does not have khổng lồ be school-based, it can also be undertaken as an apprenticeship or full-time employment combined with part-time education or training. By 2015, compulsory education or training in Englvà will be raised to age 18. In Scotl&, Wales and Northern Irel&, the school-leaving age remains at 16.

The GCSE system was introduced in 1986 as a single system for secondary-level education, merging GCE O Level and CSE qualifications. It was designed khổng lồ create a single examination for all pupils, of all abilities, whatever type of school they attended và to ensure that students were leaving school with some size of qualification in h&. Under the O Level/CSE system, as many as 40 percent of school leavers left school without a qualification. The new awards were tied lớn standards set out by the government under the national curriculum.

Further changes khổng lồ the Year 11 examinations were made in 2009 with updates to many subject criteria and the introduction of increased flexibility in teaching and assessment khổng lồ encourage innovative learning. Planned future subject-specific reforms in key subject areas, such as English, science & geography, are discussed on the Ofqual trang web here. All GCSE’s are nationally regulated by Ofqual and designed to comply with the national curriculum.

Internationally administered GCSE-màn chơi examinations, specifically the International General Certificate of Secondary Education offered by Cambridge International Examinations & Edexcel are discussed in the accompanying article of this issue of

Entry khổng lồ A Level – or Equivalent – Programs

A levels are typically taken by students looking to lớn continue on to lớn higher studies. Earning five or more A*– C grades in GCSE examinations, including English và mathematics, is often a requirement for students wishing khổng lồ continue their studies at the GCE Advanced Level. Additionally, many sixth size schools or colleges require that students choosing a particular A level program have – at a minimum – a C grade or better (more commonly a B grade is required) if the subject is taken at the GCSE màn chơi. More selective sầu schools or colleges will require As và Bs in at least six subjects.

Students looking for a more career-oriented or applied post-16 training path, focused on coursework rather than examinations, can take BTEC programs. These can be taken alongside A levels, counting for one or two A levels, but are more commonly taken independently. Students can also take the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in one subject. This two-year program is considered equivalent lớn the three A levels typically required for university admission. BTEC programs are often taken by students that have not performed well on their GCSE examinations or who persize better under a less exam-focused, more applied learning structure.

A và AS Level Structure & Assessment

Since its introduction in the postwar years, the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level has undergone various rounds of revision, most recently in 2000 with the introduction of a series of reforms designed khổng lồ create a more flexible post-16 system allowing for a broader curriculum và greater choice without sacrificing the depth that A levels are known for, or reducing overall standards.

In a bid khổng lồ achieve sầu these aims, the following changes were implemented:

The GCE Advanced Subsidiary (AS) was introduced, both as the first year of the full GCE A Level và as a substantive sầu, standalone qualification.The structure of the A màn chơi was revised và a modular system was introduced. A2 units were introduced as the second year of upper secondary khổng lồ complement the first-year AS cấp độ & to lớn hóa trang the full A cấp độ.The standalone Advanced Supplementary (AS) qualification was phased out.

From 2000-2007, most A cấp độ qualifications were based on six roughly equal units, or modules, with three units constituting the first (AS) year of sixth-size studies (Year 12), and the second three units – known as A2 – making up the second và final year (Year 13).

From 2008, all A levels became four-unit awards, with the exception of earth sciences, electronics, environmental science, geology, mathematics, music, some languages and A levels in applied subjects. The 2008 revisions were introduced in an effort to make A levels more challenging & to provide greater distinction for the highest achieving students, while also reducing the amount of testing students had khổng lồ undergo. Although the number of modules and testing was reduced, nội dung was not.

With regards khổng lồ curriculum và assessment, students were given more open-ended questions requiring extensive essay responses, more questions requiring a synoptic overview of the content, the inclusion of an extended coursework project, và the introduction of an A* grade for very high achievement.

The Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level becomes a freestanding qualification if the units taken & examined are ‘cashed in’ after the first year of study; otherwise, the AS units constitute the first half of a full A cấp độ. It is also possible for students to lớn take one or more AS subjects in the second year of upper secondary schooling as standalone qualifications. The A2 year leads to lớn the award of the full A level only.


Assessment during the two years of the A cấp độ occurs both externally & internally, with the conceptually more demanding A2 units assessed at the full A màn chơi standard và the less demanding material of the AS units assessed to a cấp độ expected from students in the first half of an advanced program of study. National A level specifications permit a maximum of 30 percent internal assessment, including essays, presentations, projects, & science experiments.

In all subjects other than mathematics, students are assessed in such a manner that they must demonstrate competent written communication skills. Examinations take place in January và mid-May lớn the end of June. Students can take AS & A2 units in stages or all together at the kết thúc of the A màn chơi program. All units are available for examination in the summer, but not in January. However, it should be noted here that as of this year, all January examinations are being phased out and will no longer be available (see below under ‘Current A-Level Reform).

Students sit for examinations at the end of both years of study. Exam nội dung varies slightly where subjects are offered by more than one awarding toàn thân. In an effort to promote fairness across examination boards and indeed from year to lớn year, a Unisize Mark Scale is used to weight grade thresholds according lớn the perceived difficulty of a particular examination versus previous sittings, as judged by post-examination committees.

Awards are issued two times a year, following the June and January examinations. Students are able to lớn retake AS units, if desired, và have the superior results count towards their overall A cấp độ score if they go on to lớn complete the second year (A2) of upper secondary study. However, to earn a new grade for the standalone qualification students must retake all units under the award.

While students can take as few or as many A levels as they choose, the standard full-time load is three khổng lồ four subjects typically taken in fields relevant to lớn intended study at the tertiary cấp độ. A common pattern of study for many students is to lớn take four subjects in Year 12, before dropping one by ‘cashing it in’ as an AS màn chơi qualification, & continuing with three subjects in Year 13 at the A2 level, yielding ‘three và a half’ A levels (three full A levels & one AS level).

GCE A & AS Levels in Applied Subjects

A levels in applied subjects are designed to lớn prepare students for both employment & further study. In 2005/06 they replaced the Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education, informally known as ‘Vocational A levels’ or AVCEs. The structure is very similar to the GCE AS/A2 Mã Sản Phẩm and there is no formal distinction between applied subjects and academic GCEs as was formerly the case with the old AVCEs.

Programs in applied subjects are designed in relation lớn the National Occupational Standards detailing required skills in relevant workplace sectors. Learning is often supported by professional và employer đầu vào.

To promote flexibility, A Levels and AS Levels in applied subjects are offered in four different formats:

AS – three AS unitsAS double award – six AS unitsA level – three AS & three A2 unitsA level double award – six AS & six A2 units.

Students take a phối of core mandatory units and elective units. The mandatory units for individual subjects vary depending on the awarding body.

Assessment in applied subjects is based on a combination of externally assessed written papers (typically one-third) and internally assessed coursework. Assessment criteria take inlớn tài khoản the students’ ability lớn apply their skills, knowledge and understanding in a vocational context.

Awarding Bodies

In order for an award khổng lồ be recognized, it and the awarding body toàn thân must be accredited by one of four UK bodies:

Currently there are over 180 awarding bodies recognized by Ofqual alone. Regulated qualifications are listed on the websites of the qualification regulators. The most comprehensive danh mục is the Ofqual Register, which has a searchable database of all qualifications & awarding bodies regulated in Engl&, Wales & Northern Irelvà.

Schools & colleges are không tính phí to lớn choose which examination board they use on a subject-by-subject basis, with students often taking examinations from multiple boards when sitting for their A levels. Most boards offer a range of qualifications in a range of fields, but not all offer every qualification in every area. At the GCE Advanced Level, there are five sầu awarding bodies:

A full danh mục of currently available A & AS levels & their awarding bodies is available from the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications. The register currently lists 266 A cấp độ titles & 264 AS màn chơi titles.

The boards, as they exist today, are the result of countless mergers & organizational changes over the years, so older A màn chơi qualifications are likely to lớn have sầu been awarded by boards not noted above. Edexcel is the only board owned & operated by a for-profit company (Pearson).

Curriculum Content và Subject Areas

As noted above sầu, there are currently a total of 266 A level and 264 AS màn chơi titles. Detailed information on subject offerings, curriculum content, & sample examination papers can be found on the websites of the five awarding bodies at the following links:


A cấp độ examinations are graded on a scale of A* lớn E. Students that take the full A màn chơi in addition to lớn the AS are awarded one grade for each subject, with the AS results being subsumed into the A level point score if not ‘cashed in’ as a terminal credential after the first year of study. For universities using the centralized Universities và Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) process for admission, grades are also attributed Tariff Points (see below for an explanation of Tariff Points) as follows for each A cấp độ grade:


For AS qualifications students are graded on a scale of A – E (no A*), with UCAS weighting as follows:


For both A and AS levels, a ‘U’ indicates an unclassified performance và is not certified.

The same grading system và UCAS Tariff Points are used in applied subjects as in other GCE AS & A level subjects. However, the AS và A double award is reported as follows:


The final grade of each A cấp độ is totaled using a points-based system, known as the Unikhung Mark Scale, which is weighted khổng lồ tài khoản for variances in exam difficulty from sitting lớn sitting & board to lớn board. An A* is awarded to candidates who have sầu achieved an A grade overall in their A màn chơi (80 percent), and 90 percent of the maximum marks on the Unikhung Mark Scale in their A2 modules. Credential và Grading Equivalency

World Education Services recommends advanced placement credit on a subject-by-subject basis for each A level examination completed, both in terms of U.S. equivalencies and Canadian equivalencies. Credit is recommended for most subjects with the exception of “General Studies” or “General Paper.”


GCE O Levels were more academically rigorous examinations than the GCSEs that replaced them, and at the time they were offered (up to 1987) only 20-30 percent of secondary school leavers actually sat for the examinations.

The GCSE was intended to lớn give students more choice và was made more accessible to a greater student population. GCSE’s are taken at two different levels, higher và foundation. The first cấp độ is more academically challenging then the second màn chơi. Presently, almost all secondary school leavers take GCSE’s.

As GCE O Levels were more rigorous, we bởi vì not recommend a grade equivalent lớn C. GCSE’s at higher màn chơi are awarded with grades of A*- D & foundation exams C-G. Students are không tính tiền to choose the cấp độ of examination, so we see combinations of foundation & higher-level exams. This difference in academic level is reflected in our grade conversion.

A Level Equivalency

The equivalencies that issues are based on the number of U.S. university credits recommended. Based on a đánh giá of the A cấp độ curriculum, the following credit recommendations have been established:

Completion of a full GCE A Level is considered comparable lớn completion of two consecutive sầu, first-year undergraduate courses in a given subject (e.g. Math 101 + Math 102). Thus, we recommover eight U.S. semester credits per subject.

As GCE AS Levels are taken after the first year of sixth khung, and comprise half an A cấp độ, we recommend four U.S. semester credits per applicable subject.

For the completion of two to lớn three GCE A or equivalent combination of GCE AS, recommends one semester of undergraduate study, with a maximum of 24 credits. For four GCE A (or 3 GCE A + 1 GCE AS), we recommend one year of undergraduate study.


For information on documentation requirements for credential evaluation of UK secondary credentials, please visit the Required Documents page & choose United Kingdom from the drop-down menu.

Grade Inflation

For the first time in almost 30 years, the number of ‘A’ grades awarded as a percentage of the total fell in 2012 versus the year prior. This was repeated in 2013, leading some policy makers to clayên an kết thúc khổng lồ the grade inflation that has been a constant criticism of the A màn chơi system for decades.

Those voicing criticism have sầu pointed to a ‘dumbing down’ of the qualification as borne out by studies on ability tests that have sầu shown that students of similar ability today are achieving on average about two grades higher than they were in the late 1980s.

Although government and testing bodies have said that improved scores are the result of better teaching & higher levels of achievement, universities have sầu complained that the increasing number of top grades has made it hard khổng lồ make distinctions between the best students. As a result, many universities have sầu introduced their own entrance examinations, such as the BMAT (medicine) and LNAT (law) for specific programs.


UCAS Tariff và Admission lớn Higher Education

Admission lớn higher education programs is dependent most commonly on an applicant’s achievement in level 3 qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework, most commonly GCE A và AS Levels & BTEC National Certificates/Diplomas. However, the Universities & Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) reports that there are currently over 3,000 different cấp độ 3 qualifications available in the UK, with a phối of different grading structures.

Most university departments are looking for a minimum of three A cấp độ passes when they make conditional offers of admission based on a student’s predicted A level grades at the time of application. However, with the diverse range of pre-university qualifications on offer, the UK’s centralized admission service has instituted a points system khổng lồ weight the grades of the various different qualifications that can be used for tertiary admissions, know as the UCAS Tariff. This weighting can be referenced through a long list of Tariff Tables. Various different online outlets also offer tariff calculators derived from the tables.

It should be noted that not all universities and departments use the UCAS Tariff system for entry, and those that vày often take into consideration other factors.

By way of example, an admissions offer might indicate the need for 300 Tariff points, while also stipulating that acceptable qualifications are A levels, Scottish Highers & BTEC National Diplomas. A student taking three A levels và one AS cấp độ, và scoring an A, C và D (120, 80, 60 = 260) in his or her A levels và a C (40) in the AS level would earn admission with a total of 300 UCAS Tariff points.

An offer might also stipulate that the student have earned at least 280 points from at least three A levels, in which case, in the example above, the student would not meet the entry standard. Particular university departments might also require a specific points score, to lớn include a specific grade or better in a particular A cấp độ subject.

On its trang web, UCAS points out that approximately half of all universities & college programs make reference to lớn the Tariff, suggesting that it is not universally used or applied. Some institutions of higher education will các mục their entry requirements và make offers of admissions using only Tariff points, some will ask for specific qualifications and grades only.

In addition khổng lồ Tariff Points for British qualifications, UCAS provides tariff equivalencies for a range of international school-leaving qualifications, offered by both British awarding bodies & overseas bodies. These can be accessed, where available, through the UCAS guides và resources page.

Current A Level Reform

In late 2012, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, announced his intention lớn rekhung A levels khổng lồ ensure that their ‘single, most important purpose’ is to prepare students for higher education. To achieve this, Gove believes that universities should have a greater stake in the kiến thiết and content of the curriculum and examinations, with awarding bodies being asked to provide evidence of involvement from higher education institutions before a qualification is accredited by Ofqual or other national regulator.

In addition khổng lồ reforming the curriculum nội dung of specific subject areas, the government also plans khổng lồ abolish the one-year AS cấp độ as the first year of a full A cấp độ, favoring instead a return to lớn pre-2000 linear end-of-program A màn chơi examinations và a toughening of standards lớn avoid a “formulaic” approach lớn education & halting a decades-long trkết thúc of grade inflation (see above).

Under the plan, the AS cấp độ will – from September năm ngoái – return lớn its pre-2000 roots of being a standalone qualification. Marks from these examinations will not contribute to lớn A màn chơi grades và the AS màn chơi will broadly remain at its current standard.

Additionally, January examinations will no longer be available, with the fully linear examinations to take place at the kết thúc of the full two years. Students who started their programs of study in September 2013 are now only able khổng lồ sit examinations in the summer.

At the time of writing, proposed changes lớn 14 A màn chơi subjects were still under consultation, with the prior findings of a university-led Reviews, established by Ofqual, advising that most A level subjects were broadly fit for their purpose và able lớn be altered by exam boards alone. The exception was found to lớn be in mathematics và languages, which require “major, substantive sầu changes” for the planned move to lớn entirely linear programs. The introduction và first teaching of those new programs has been delayed until 2016, with first examinations in 2018.

In other subjects, the first new A màn chơi examinations would be administered in 2017, with the first cohort beginning studies in 2015 for the following subjects:

English Language and LiteratureEnglish LanguageEnglish LiteraturePhysicsChemistryBiologyHistoryGeographyPsychologyArt and designSociologyBusiness studiesEconomicsComputing

From that point forward, a new A Level Content Advisory Board, composed of representatives from top ‘Russell Group’ universities, will play the leading role in annual post A level đánh giá processes to lớn make sure examinations are in line with university và workplace standards.

Phased Out Pre-University Qualifications

Advanced Level/Advanced Supplementary

The GCE A cấp độ was first introduced in 1951 lớn replace the Higher School Certificate. Typically, it was taken two years after the Ordinary (O) Level examinations or GCSEs (which replaced O levels in 1988). Unlượt thích the current A cấp độ, there was no requirement that students must have taken the subject(s) of choice at GCSE or O level, meaning it was less integrated as encouraged under the current system.

Students chose how many A level subjects và examinations they took over the two-year program of study. However, most looking lớn continue on lớn higher studies took three subjects, with some taking fewer và exceptional students taking four. It was not uncomtháng for students to lớn take an Advanced Supplementary (AS – not to lớn be confused with the Advanced Subsidiary AS of today) examination lớn complement their three A màn chơi programs of study. The AS was introduced in 1989 as part of an effort khổng lồ broaden the scope of sixth khung education from the typical three A cấp độ subjects.

The AS was intended as a qualification of equal difficulty to the A level, taken at 18, but with half the nội dung (and as such half the “value” for university admissions purposes). However, the AS never really gained much traction ahy vọng students, and was therefore replaced with the current Advanced Subsidiary and A2 system.

Former Grading Scales

From 1963 to 1987 examination boards graded on an A – F scale with approximate proportions of the total average allocated to each grade as follows:


The grading curve was suggestive sầu only và varied by examining board and from subject to subject. The O grade indicated a performance equivalent khổng lồ at least grade C at GCE O cấp độ. Prior to lớn 1963, A levels were assessed on a pass/fail/distinction basis.

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In 1987 the grading system was changed as follows:


Sample Documents 

The attached PDF file offers a mix of annotated sample documents for: The Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (pages 1 – 5); the Cambridge International General Certificate of Education O Level (pages 5 -7); the OCR General Certificate of Education AS Level (page 8); the OCR GCE A Level (pages 9-10); & the WJEC GCE Advanced Level (pages 11-12).