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The A-Level Curriculum

A-Levels (Advanced Levels) have for many years been regarded as the 'gold standard' of British education and A-levels are still the most widely offered courses at 16+ in both independent and state schools.

Students usually take three or four different subjects over a two-year period, typically between the ages of 16 and 18. The British educational system allows students to specialise in the subjects of their choice at A-Level and British universities like A-Levels as they provide the focus and depth required for UK degree courses. In nearly every other country, students have to go through a prolonged, more general education, and can only specialise when they go to university.

Students have a free choice of subjects, restricted only by what is available in their school and what the timetable will allow. Most private schools will do their utmost to accommodate an individual student's choices, although they may require a minimum number of students to select a subject in order to make it viable. 

There is also an AS (Advanced Subsidiary) exam which may be taken at the end of Year 12. This used to count for half the total A-level but is now a stand-alone qualification. The majority of schools no longer enter students for AS exams. 

A-Levels are assessed by examination at the end of the two-year course and students awarded grades from A*- E. 

EPQ (Extended Project Qualification)

Another increasingly popular option for a number of schools to offer is the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Already in place in a number of schools this can be a 5000-word research-based essay, a performance or a creative artefact etc. and involves several months of work during the sixth form. An EPQ will still be marked at full A-Level standard and equates to 50% of a full A-Level.

Making the Right Choice

Most schools and private sixth form colleges have a wide range of subjects from which to choose so choosing the subjects to form an A-Level portfolio takes time and thought. First and foremost you should consider subjects that interest you and that you know you will enjoy. You might call this ‘gut feeling’, but it is as good a guide as any, because you will be strongly committed to the subjects that you like and therefore more likely to work hard and achieve top grades.

Secondly, the subjects of your choice must suit your own particular strengths. Are you good at essay writing? Are you fond of problem-solving? Do you like working with figures? Do you like working with ideas? Back your strengths – avoid your weaknesses!

Thirdly, you must consider your university or career objectives as these may mean that you have to gain passes in certain subjects. For example, if you want to read Medicine or Veterinary Science, you will need at least two science subjects, including Chemistry. If you are applying for Economics or certain Business degree courses. then universities may well demand a pass in A-Level Mathematics and possibly also Further Maths. On the other hand, you may want to keep all your options open, because many degree courses do not have any special subject requirements. It is always worth checking.

Help with your choice

If you are still unsure which subjects would best suit you, please talk to one of our experienced consultants. We can also introduce you to certain colleges where the principal will assess your strengths and ambitions before recommending appropriate courses. Note that A-levels are not easy and ideally you need a minimum of Grade 7 in the equivalent GCSE subject first. If necessary we can advise you on retaking any GCSE subjects.

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