Many students find the UK education system a bit confusing. In contrast to most common education systems, the British one is unique in several aspects. Moreover, top results that educational institutions in UK have continually scored have stemmed from their modern and well-suited education system. Due to this many countries nowadays are applying the same system or slightly adjusted to their national education strategy.
One of the most distinctive traits of the UK education system is the unique transition between high school and university. This is where most foreign students get confused about education in UK. In most countries of the world, students move up to university once they graduate high school.
In the UK, on the other hand, students have to undergo an intermediary education stage (Further Education) and sit for national exams that measure their progress (A-Levels). The whole point of it is to level up their academic potential to university requirements and help them identify what degrees may actually suit their intellectual talents.
What are A-Levels?
Advanced Levels or A-Levels are subject-based qualifications that British students aged 16 or older must get if they plan to enter university or just want to gain better knowledge in a particular study area or profession they’re into.
A-Level courses are provided by Sixth Form Colleges and Further Education Colleges. In essence, these two institutions are the same except that Further Education Colleges operate separately from high schools, offer a wider range of courses and qualifications, plus ensure a different learning environment compared to high schools.
A-Levels are divided into two stages:
- AS Level – is taken by students aged 16 to 17
- A2 Level – is taken by students aged 17 to 18
At the end of each stage, you sit for a certain examination. To move in the upper stages of education you must necessarily pass these examinations.
Basically, AS-Level marks the first year of A-Levels where students can study for an “extra” subject. Most students achieve the AS qualification in the first year so they can fully concentrate on studying for their full A Levels in the second year.
You can sit for all of your A-Level subjects, but under the new rules in the education system in England, your grades in AS Level won’t count in the total grade taken at the end of your full A-Levels.
How many subjects I’m allowed to take in A-Levels?
You can get as many as you want, but…
From an academic perspective, A-Levels are highly demanding compared to high school education. In addition, getting A-Levels is not a complete success because your scores matter too.
That in mind, despite that you’re free to take as many as you want we recommend you to focus only on three of them (eventually 5 if you’re convinced you can handle). If you already have a plan in your mind for registering a particular university contact them to get information as per how many A-Levels and what scores they ask for.
Always keep in mind that UK universities are highly competitive and A-Levels play an important role in your admission. Commonly they search for applicants who have at least three A-Levels with top grades in subjects closely related to their aimed university course. If you take more than three, you risk to limit your academic potential and scoring less.
Some students find it challenging to choose which subjects to take on their A-Levels. This is a common concern for those who still haven’t made up their mind about their future. If you know what do you want to university check what subjects are required and pay your whole attention to those subjects. For example, if you want to study biology at university you can get biology, chemistry and math as your A-levels.
On the other hand, if you haven’t found yet what do you really want to study don’t get discouraged because A-Levels are a good opportunity to have your options open. If you need advice, ask your high school teachers and they may give an idea of what subjects you seem to be particularly talented.
What grades do I need?
Further Education schools apply different entry criteria for prospective students. As such, entry requirements change depending on the type of your course and which school you want to attend as part of your A-Levels.
Usually, you will need to have taken 5 GCSE with grades from A* to C by the time you apply for your A-level course. Note that for competitive study programs you must try to get as higher grades in your GCSE to have realistic chances of admission.
Which are the most difficult subjects?
It is always important to keep in mind that A-Levels are tough and you need to offer your best to succeed. That said, every subject is hard in A-Levels but it all comes down to your learning style and your hard work. However, most students put natural sciences like math and chemistry at the top of the list. Psychology and foreign languages are also difficult.
There is a particular list of A-Levels which are most frequently required from universities in the UK. These subjects are known by a common name as “facilitating subjects”. The followings are just some of these facilitating subjects:
There are subjects that are taught in A-Levels but are not included in this list because universities rarely require them.
Can I go to university without A levels?
This is one of the most common questions students make.
The answer is yes, you can go to university in UK without A-Levels. However, note that UK universities are very competitive therefore an equivalent academic qualification is a necessity. Fortunately, there are several of them accepted from universities.
Surely if you had studied in Scotland you must have taken the Highers which are the equivalent of A-Levels, therefore you’re eligible to apply for a university in UK. Also, many universities in UK take consideration of recognized international qualification, with International Baccalaureate as a typical example of this.
In particular circumstances, some universities may also consider vocational qualifications, like BTEC. Another opportunity is applying for a four-year degree program also known as an integrated degree offered from a university where the first year is sort of a preparatory course for your regular studies.
Furthermore, if you’re an adult who has been out of school ever-since high school graduation you can still continue your higher education. Many universities in UK offer Access to Higher Education diplomas, designed to prepare for university those people who have been out of education for a while.
Keep in mind that whether you can or cannot study in UK without A-Levels depends entirely on the university you’re applying to. That said, we suggest you reach them out before making a decision to submit an application.