The A Level (Advanced Level) is a subject-based qualification conferred as part of the General Certificate of Education, as well as a school leaving qualification offered by the educational bodies in the United Kingdom and the educational authorities of British Crown dependencies to students completing secondary or pre-university education. They were introduced in England and Wales in 1951 to replace the Higher School Certificate. A number of countries, including Singapore, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius and Zimbabwe have developed qualifications with the same name as and a similar format to the British A Levels. Obtaining an A Level, or equivalent qualifications, is generally required for university entrance, with universities granting offers based on grades achieved.
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A Levels are generally worked towards over two years. Normally, students take three or four A Level courses in their first year of sixth form, and most taking four cut back to three in their second year. This is because university offers are normally based on three A Level grades, and taking a fourth can have an impact on grades. Unlike other level-3 qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate, A Levels have no specific subject requirements, so students have the opportunity to combine any subjects they wish to take. However, students normally pick their courses based on the degree they wish to pursue at university: most degrees require specific A Levels for entry.
In legacy modular courses (last assessment Summer 2019), A Levels are split into two parts, with students within their first year of study pursuing an Advanced Subsidiary qualification, commonly referred to as an AS or AS Level, which can either serve as an independent qualification or contribute 50% of the marks towards a full A Level award. The second part is known as an A2 or A2 Level, which is generally more in-depth and academically rigorous than the AS. The AS and A2 marks are combined for a full A Level award. The A2 Level is not a qualification on its own, and must be accompanied with an AS Level in the same subject for certification. Due to the fact that AS Levels are considered less academically rigorous, the A* grade is reserved for those taking the subject to A2 standard, so only A2 units contribute to this grade. Additionally, students who are displeased with results from their AS units have the ability to resit. However, this has been criticised as nurturing a 'resit culture' and causing perceived 'grade inflation'.
A number of countries use A Levels as a school-leaving qualification. The A Levels taken by students in other countries may differ from the A Levels taken in the United Kingdom.
In Bangladesh, the GCE AS and A Level are offered by Cambridge Assessment International Education (CIE) after completion of GCE O-Level or IGCSE (CIE), and is conducted by the British Council. GCE Advanced Level qualifications are offered by some of the private, public and international schools as an alternative to HSC (Higher Secondary School Certificate) offered by the Governments Board of Education. It has become a popular choice among students, but due to financial implications, its reach is limited to the middle and upper classes in major cities such as Dhaka and Chittagong.
In Brunei, the A Level qualification is offered, with examinations conducted by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). Some subjects are unique to Brunei or have a format, curriculum, or syllabus that is unique to Brunei.
The Advanced level of Cameroon is based on the Cambridge International Examinations and similarly, conducted by the government of Cameroon in collaboration with Cambridge university. All the courses taken are related to what the candidate is willing to pursue as career in university and these courses are on a recognizable internationally standard for university entrance; as they are major relevant courses. You can select between 3 and 5 courses during your advance level studies, prior taken your advance level examination on which.
The British A-level qualifications such as GCE A-level and International A-level are widely accepted in Hong Kong as an alternative to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education for both admission and employment purposes. It is one of the most popular qualifications used for university admission via the non-JUPAS channel. For example, average non-JUPAS offers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology require one to three A*s (the mid-50% range). Since the introduction of the high distinction grade (A*) in 2010, the British A-level examination has regained its power to differentiate the very top levels of ability. According to the British Department for Education, in the academic year 2014/15, approximately 7.3%, 2.7%, 1.0% and 0.3% of all the candidates from the GCSE cohort (548,480) achieved one to four A*s or a better result in the GCE A-level examination. This percentile rank is one important input for equating the levels in both examinations. On the sole basis of percentile ranks and the grade statistics from HKEAA in 2017, a score of 29/35 from the best five subjects in Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education is comparable to 1A*2A in the best three British A-levels, 32/35 to 2A*1A, 33/35 to 3A* and 34/35 to 4A*. In deriving inferences from these statistics, it is important to note that slightly more than a third of the GCSE candidates can go on to study in sixth form before applying to universities via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) while almost all Hong Kong students can study Form 6 before sitting the HKDSE examination. Relevant authorities such as the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) and UCAS also sought to connect the results from both exam systems to open doors for the holders of these qualifications who wish to study locally or overseas. Officially, the top distinction levels, A* in A-level and 5** in HKDSE, are currently recognized as broadly equivalent. In particular, in the light of statistical evidence, the 1% cut-off line is often set by admission offices at 2A*1A as compared to a score of 43/45 in the International Baccalaureate Diploma but the Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) instead of the letter grades would be used in many cases to offer a much more subtle view of the candidate's academic potential. Typical offers from Cambridge Medical School require 2A*1A and Oxford University Medical School require 1A*2A whereas those from the medical schools of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong require 4A* in A-level due to very intense competition.
In India, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) GCE Advanced Level qualifications are offered at private and international schools as an alternative to the conventional Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC).
In Malaysia, the A Level qualification is offered, with examinations conducted by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). Some subjects are unique to Malaysia or have a format, curriculum, or syllabus that is unique to Malaysia. For instance, there are two types of A Level in Malaysia, Cambridge A Level (administered by Cambridge International Examinations) and Edexcel International Advanced Level (administered by Pearson International).
In Mauritius, A/AS Level qualifications are taken as part of the Higher School Certificate, awarded upon successful completion of secondary school after passing of examinations jointly administered by the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). A number of exam papers for offered, such as French, are customised to support the national educational standards. Additionally, International A Level qualifications from Edexcel are available, for which exams may be registered through the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate.
In Nepal, A Level offered from Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) are the most popular. And are offered by some of the private, public and international schools as an alternative to the National Examination Board (Nepal) (HSEB) +2. A level has become a popular choice for a number of students in Nepal. Besides A Level, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement, are some other international qualifications offered for this level. In Nepali, students generally appear for 4 subjects at A level, and 5 at AS level.
A-levels are offered in Pakistan by non-governmental, private institutions, along with International Baccalaureate and other international examinations like the Advanced Placement. Examinations are handled by International British boards and the program is equivalent to Higher Secondary School Certificate. Cram Schools are established all around the country which prepare the students to take the examinations as a private candidate.
In Seychelles, the A Level qualification is offered, with examinations conducted by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). Some subjects are unique to Seychelles or have a format, curriculum, or syllabus that is unique to Seychelles.
In Singapore, H1/H2/H3 level qualifications are awarded upon successful completion of examinations jointly administered by Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES).
In Sri Lanka, A Level qualifications are offered by governmental and non governmental schools. The qualifications are awarded upon successful completion of examinations called Local A Levels while most of the private schools award them upon London A Levels. Local GCE Advanced Level qualifications are offered by the Department of Examinations. Passing A Levels is the major requirement for applying to local universities.
A Levels are a college or sixth form leaving qualification offered in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These are not compulsory, unlike GCSEs. In Scotland, A Levels are also offered by selected schools as an alternative school-leaving qualification in place of the Scottish Advanced Higher. The five main examination boards which administer British A Levels in the UK are:
- Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)
- Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR)
- Edexcel (Edexcel Pearson – London Examinations)
- Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)
- Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA)
Edexcel, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and Learning Resource Network (LRN) also offer international versions of the British A Levels in the United Kingdom and worldwide.
The British variant of A/AS levels are also taken in many Commonwealth and former Commonwealth countries, as well as in examination centres worldwide. British international schools in foreign countries generally offer the British A Levels as offered through Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations. At select examination centres, the British A Level exams may also be available to private candidates.
A Level reforms in England
Between 2015 and 2018 (first assessment Summer 2017), A Levels in England were reformed, transitioning from a modular to linear structure (initially across 13 subjects). This means all A Level exams are taken in one sitting as a set of terminal exams (3 exams for the majority of subjects), and there is no coursework set for many subjects. For A Levels which retain a coursework element, the percentage of the final grade determined by coursework has been reduced. An example of this can be seen in Edexcel's new English Literature A Level, reformed in 2015, which reduces the amount of coursework to 20% (from 40% in the old modular specification). A Levels are no longer separated into units, and students must resit all of their exams if they wish to resit the qualification. While these reforms were expected to be complete for first teaching in 2017, this was extended to 2018 to include the reforms of less common languages such as Modern Hebrew and Bengali.
The AS Level is now a separate qualification and is not required for an A Level award, although it still encompasses the first year of the full A Level content. However, unlike AS Levels in the old modular courses, they are now worth only 40% as many UCAS points as a full A Level (from 50% in the modular courses), as content from the second year of A Level is considered more academically challenging than that of the first year.
As these reforms took place in stages, many students took a combination of modular and linear courses before all reforms were complete, with AS Levels still being part of an A Level in older modular courses.
These reforms look to combat grade inflation, where the proportion of students achieving the highest grades increases year upon year, causing the value of those grades to be eroded. The modular system has also been criticised for nurturing a 'resit culture', while new linear courses give no opportunity to resit individual units.
Controversially, some A Level course subjects have been abolished from 2017 as part of these reforms. These include archaeology, anthropology, creative writing, critical thinking, general studies and home economics. Many universities criticized the scrapping of exams taken at the end of AS level, which used to be worth 50% of the overall A level grade. This is because the universities used the grades achieved at AS level (available to universities after a student applies during the second year of A levels) as an indication of a student's ability and thus whether to give said student an offer.
Opposition to these reforms in Wales and Northern Ireland has resulted in maintaining the modular structure of their qualification.
The GCE Advanced Level qualification is offered by the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC). Before, this qualification was jointly offered by Cambridge International Examinations and the Council in Zimbabwe.
In 2002, there has been a move away from the GCE Advanced Level to the CXC CAPE examinations, making them a de facto university entrance examination. Some universities also require applicants to take separate entrance examination. The International Baccalaureate and European Baccalaureate are also accepted.
- GCSE – General Certificate of Secondary Education (An entry qualification)
- GCE – Ordinary (O) Level (An entry qualification that has been phased out in the United Kingdom)
- Further / Special
- International A-Levels
- International alternatives
- Advanced Placement Program (similar qualification in the United States)
- Bagrut (similar qualification in Israel)
- Leaving Certificate
- Malaysian Higher School Certificate (better known as "STPM", an equivalent examination in Malaysia)
- Matriculation Certificate
- Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (Australia)
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