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A-levels and AS-levels, explained

Confused about how your AS-level and A-level studies are structured? We clear up what you'll study (and when)

What is an A-level?

An ‘advanced level’ or A-level is a qualification available across a range of subjects to school-leavers – graded A*-E.

A-levels are studied across two years: your AS year (year 12) and your A2 year (year 13). You may sometimes hear A-levels being described as 'linear' – this phrase is used to describe the fact that A-level grades are determined by your final exam results at the end of year 13. 

Visit our sister site The Student Room's A-levels forum to see what other students are saying about year 12 and 13.

What A-level subjects can you study?

There are around 80 different subjects available to study at A-level. However, the options available to you will depend on what your school or college offers.

Typical A-level subjects include:

  • Ones you’ve studied before: e.g. history, music, chemistry 
  • Variations on ones you’ve studied before: e.g. you could choose between English Literature, English Language, or both; or you could take maths and further maths
  • Subjects you’ve never had the chance to study before: e.g. law, philosophy, psychology

See where your A-level subjects could lead: enter them in our explorer tool

What do you need to study A-levels?

Schools and colleges will often look for at least five GCSEs 9-4 or equivalent.

English, maths and sometimes science are the important subjects to get these grades in – not just when applying to A-levels, but to university and jobs too.

While a 4 is the minimum, higher GCSE grades will leave you in a better position.

How do A-levels work?

Your AS year (year 12)

You’ll typically choose three or four subjects to take.

Some students take more subjects, if they’re planning to apply to a competitive university (like Oxford or Cambridge) or course (like medicine or law), for example. Most universities’ A-level entry requirements boil down to three A-level grades.

At the end of the first year, you take exams in all your subjects. If you're taking a full A-level, these results won't have any impact on your final grade – although they could help shape your predicted grades.

If you're just taking the subject as an AS-level, this exam will determine your final grade. 

(Note: the above only applies in England. In Wales and Northern Ireland, your AS-level marks can still be banked and carried over to count towards 40% of your final A-level grade.)

Your A2 year (year 13)

You’ll continue with your remaining subjects to achieve the full A-level.

At the end of year 13, your all-important exams will decide your final A-level grades. These will test you on content from both years. 

Depending on the offers you receive, your A-level grades will determine whether you’ll be heading straight off to uni, going through Clearing or taking a different path altogether.

What is an AS-level?

This simply refers to the first year of a full A-level. 

You can study a subject for one year and achieve an AS-level qualification that’s independent from those subjects you carry on with to the full A-level.

Most students who decide to take an extra AS-level do it in their first year, so they can focus 100% on their A-levels in their second year.

When you decide to continue an AS subject into your A2 year, you’re pursuing it further for the full A-level qualification.

Your AS-levels do matter 

That AS-level qualification for the subject you’ve dropped is still important in its own way.

Whatever Ucas points this translates to may still contribute to the total points you apply to university with. AS-levels are now equal to 40% of an A-level. For example, an A-level A grade is worth 48 Ucas points and an AS-level A grade is worth 20. 

Your teachers will also decide your predicted grades based on your AS-level performance in these subjects, which will impact your university application.

Can I take an AS-level?

Schools and colleges are not legally obliged to offer AS-levels and enter students for the relevant exams, so not everywhere will offer them. 

When choosing your A-levels – including whether you want to stay at your school to study them, or go elsewhere – check what options the institution offers.

Can I study Btecs with A-levels?

Yes, you can – this article goes into more detail about taking a Btec with A-levels, including advice from students who've done it about how to juggle the 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, so if you have your heart set on a certain university or course it's worth checking which qualifications they'll accept before you make any decisions about what to study. 

Do you still get A-levels with coursework?

A-levels are primarily assessed by exams, which take place at the end of your second year. You’ll also take exams at the end of your first year, but these won’t count towards your final A-level grades.

Some subjects will be the exception to this, including:

  • art and design, which understandably involves coursework projects you work on throughout the year;
  • chemistry, biology, and physics, which include a practical element throughout the course.
Not an ‘exam person’? We've got plenty of revision help

What can you do after A-levels?

Here are some ideas:

  • Apply for university. Search for a course to see what entry requirements universities ask for and see what A-levels are essential for different degrees. If you’re not sure what you want to study, drop your A-levels into our explorer to see the full breadth of available degrees.
  • Keep your options open with a foundation degree, Higher National Diploma or Higher National Certificate. These are shorter – just one or two years in duration – and can be ‘topped up’ to a full degree later if you wish.  
  • If you want a degree but without the fees, consider the higher or degree apprenticeship route. This combines university study with real work experience in a company.
  • Jump straight into paid employment. You can apply to jobs that offer or support additional training, allowing you to progress further in the organisation.

Do you have more questions about this topic? Head over to the A-levels forum on our sister site The Student Room

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