Are AS Levels Important?

What are AS Levels?

An AS Level is the first full year of A-Level study. Students study a subject for one year and achieve an AS-level qualification which is independent from a subject you take through to full A-level. Most students will take an extra AS-Level in their first year before fully focusing on their A-levels in year two. Any subject taken through to A2 means the student is pursuing it for a full A-Level qualification.

What has Changed?

Over the past few years, A Levels and AS Levels have undergone significant reform.  Starting in 2015, new AS and A Levels have been introduced in a phased approach, with the last tranche of subjects being added in 2018.

In England, the two qualifications have been decoupled, so that AS Level results no longer count towards an A Level and the AS Level is a standalone qualification.  In contrast, AS Levels remain part of the A Level in Wales and Northern Ireland, and contribute 40 per cent towards the final A Level result.

The aim of the changes was to upgrade exams and make them tougher, to keep pace with the highest-performing countries. Under the new system, there is less coursework and fewer practical assessments and the old modular structure has been replaced by a linear one with exams at the end of the course, reducing the number of opportunities for retakes. The number of subjects available at A Level has also been reduced in order to streamline the qualification and ensure academic rigour.

AS-levels, in England at least, are on the way out – provisional figures from the Department for Education show that the number of entries fell from 659,880 in 2017 to 117,595 in 2019.

Implications for Students

For Year 12 students studying the new 2 year linear A level, the absence of public summer exams, theoretically, means that they have more time for their studies and are under less pressure.  Other key considerations are:

  1. High A Level Grades May Be Harder to Achieve. Previously, marks achieved in AS exams could be ‘banked’ and carried over, to contribute to the A-level grade. Under the new system, the  overall A-level grade depends solely on exams taken at the end of second year. For students who aren’t keen on exams, this makes achieving high A Level grades even tougher.  According to the Joint Council for Qualifications, the proportion of student achieving top grades (A or A*) in 2019 was 25.5% of UK entries, the lowest proportion since 2007 when it was 25.3%.
  2. Year 12 exam results still important. One advantage of the new linear 2 year A Level courses is that students are not interrupted half way through their A Level courses to take AS exams.  Whilst welcomed by many, the risk is that students take a more relaxed approach to their year 12 studies and may under perform in end of year exams, with adverse consequences for predicted results and University offers.
  3. Strong set of GCSE results more important than ever.  In the absence of AS exam results, Universities  and Employer Apprenticeship Schemes are placing greater importance on GCSE results as an indicator of likely performance in A Levels. Regardless of the subject, the majority of university courses look for at least a C grade in English, maths and perhaps science – that’s grade 4 or 5 under the new structure. Some university courses go further and ask for specific subjects at GCSE, with certain grades.
  4. Tougher A Levels require a consistent, focused approach from the outset.  The content of the new A levels has been refreshed and updated, with greater input from universities, and the assessment requirements have changed in some subjects.  Whilst the exams are designed to pose the same general standard of difficulty as the old, ‘modular’ A levels,  the review of content has made some subjects tougher. The inclusion of more ‘synoptic’ questions and a greater variety of question types also makes the exams more demanding.

How can Justin Craig Education help ?

As exams are getting harder and the importance of exam results increases, growing numbers of parents are looking for additional tutoring to ensure their child achieves the grades they deserve and are capable of getting.

Our year 12 courses offer the flexibility of shorter 2 day courses at different times of the year, helping students with the step up to A Levels by enabling them to consolidate learning, keep on top of their studies and develop key subject skills as they go.

For year 13 students,  we offer slightly longer, 3 and 4 day courses to give students enough time with our expert tutors to really make a difference to their studies and exam preparation.

If you’re interested in how Justin Craig Education can help with tutoring and revision, get in touch today to discuss our various A Level courses further.