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Should I try to take an A-level exam early?

Is taking exams early a good way to impress admissions tutors? Not necessarily. Find out whether doing so will stand in your favour...

Note that as of September 2015, the structure of A-level courses are beginning to change. AS-level will no longer count towards an A-level. Read more about these changes here.

Taking exams before you need to? A perfect way to prove you’re ahead of the game academically and more than capable to take on whatever a uni education can throw at you, right? Not necessarily…

Uni admissions tutors, particularly at the most selective universities, aren’t just looking for top-notch grades (though they are looking for those, too). They want to see how well you can cope with the heavier workload Year 13 in particular brings.

That means taking exams early might not work in your favour and might not even end up forming part of your offer.

What the Russell Group says: 

Some universities or their individual subject departments may want to see that you have taken a number of Advanced level qualifications all at the same time; for example, they may want to see three A-levels taken in Year 13.

This can be because they want to know that you can comfortably manage a workload of this size… Admissions policies may therefore differ in relation to A-levels taken early, and whether these are included in offers made or not.

For example, some courses that typically make a conditional offer of AAB may take account of an A-level A grade achieved at the end of Year 12 and, as a result, make a conditional offer of AB for A-levels taken in Year 13. Others may still make a conditional offer of AAB on subjects taken at the end of Year 13 and will not include the A-level already taken in their conditional offer.”

Russell Group

Source: Informed Choices

Earlybird exams a good idea?

There’s also the pressure of taking an exam early to think about – are you as likely to achieve as high a grade that you could a year later? Remember, it all comes down to your grades in the end, and not when you took it.

What a careers adviser says:

This is what academics call the ‘age and stage’ issue. It is important that schools look at this issue in a holistic way and do what’s best for their students to achieve the grades required for their goals. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that all universities are very happy with applicants meeting the conditions of their offers when they have taken all of their A2 levels in Year 13.

Andy Gardner (Careers Adviser),

More questions to ask yourself…

  • If you start an AS-level in Year 11 but then go to a different sixth form – will you have to start the AS-level over again anyway?
  • Will taking an AS-level alongside my GCSEs in Year 11 affect my chances of doing as well as I can?
  • If I end up retaking, will it have a negative effect on my UCAS application? One uni, Cambridge, asks you to detail every A-level unit you’ve taken, including retakes.
  • Is it logical for me to take maths early? Perhaps – if you’re a very talented mathematician, then you could in theory take your maths GCSE in Years 9 or 10, AS-level in year 11, A-level maths in Year 12 and further maths in Year 13.
  • If you have taken something early, could you leave one unit until Year 13 so the A-level can be certificated along with all the others you have taken in Year 13?

Talk your options through with your teachers and your parents before making your decision.



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