The UK government announced significant changes to the A level system in 2015; the first changes since 2000. The reform has seen the de-coupling of AS and A levels, in addition to the removal of coursework, resits and modular exams. The reforms have been carefully designed in consultation with universities in a bid to make A levels better preparation for University.
What has changed?
Under the old system, which will finish it's phase out in Autumn 2017, AS-levels were studied in Year 12, with exams taken in May-June that were worth 50% of the overall A-level qualification. Under the new A Level system, all A level exams will take place at the end of Year 13, with no marks from AS-levels (if you take these) contributing to the overall final grade.
What has happened to AS levels?
AS levels still exist but are no longer part of your A level qualification. AS levels are now stand alone qualifications worth 40% of an A level. AS results no longer count towards your final A level grade.
How are the new A Levels assessed?
The new assessments at A Level are designed to improve analytical and argumentation skills, allow for a deeper understanding of the subject and better prepare you for higher education. Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where needed to test essential skills. This means that coursework options have been removed and the exams you sit at the end of Year 13 will require you to draw on your whole two years of study. A level exams are between 2-3 hours long.
How will the A level reform affect a student's university application?
As the first cohort of "new" A level students are not due to enter university until 2019, this is still uncertain. With AS levels now an optional stand-alone qualification, university admissions teams will need to benchmark students' progress through Year 12 and 13 in other ways. It is likely that universities will increasingly use your GCSE grades as an important factor when making offers and some universities are extending their academic entry exams to test students' skills and knowledge. Some universities will base entry to degree courses on student interviews. Excellent references from your tutor will remain essential, along with a quality personal statement.
What can a student do to ensure their university application remains competitive?
All degree courses require students to have not less than three A-levels, or other equivalent qualifications. Some students opt to take additional AS-Levels, A-Levels, or other qualifications such as the EPQ. Additional qualifications can be one way of demonstrating the academic abilities that will be required for degree study. You can also demonstrate your abilities by exploring your subject beyond your exam syllabus. Universities may prefer a student who has read around their subject, and who shows a great passion for, and engagement with, their subject, over a student who may have taken more qualifications or more subjects, but who is unable to discuss their interests with any enthusiasm or in any depth.
Author: Rebecca Coulter, head of sixth form, Kings' School Al Barsha