About A levels

Find out about the various qualifications in the A level family: AS, A levels, Applied A levels and Advanced Extension Awards. Learn what they're worth, and what you can go on to do once you've achieved them.

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What are A levels?

A levels - sometimes called General Certificates of Education (GCE) or Advanced level - are normally studied after GCSEs or International GCSEs, but you can take them at any age. They mainly involve studying the theory of a subject combined with some investigative work, and are usually studied full-time over two years at school or college.

To study a subject at A level, you'll normally need to have studied it already at level 2 in a BTEC or GCSE. A levels are at level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework. (You can find out more about qualification frameworks on the gov.uk website.)

What is AS (Advanced Subsidiary)?

Advanced Subsidiary (AS) qualifications are achieved after earning 1, 2 or 3 units (out of 2, 4 or 6, respectively) at GCE Level 3. They are commonly understood as the first year of the GCE A level. Students usually take a year to complete the AS and a further year for the A2 to complete the full A level qualification.

From September 2015, for all new AS and A levels, the AS level will be a stand-alone qualification and will no longer contribute to an A level grade.

What is AEA (Advanced Extension Award)?

AEA qualifications were originally introduced with the aim of challenging the top 10% of candidates and helping to differentiate between the most able candidates. After the new A* grade was introduced in 2010, there was no longer a need for the Advanced Extension Award, and the qualification was withdrawn for all subjects except Mathematics. 

There is no additional teaching content for Edexcel AEA Mathematics, only an additional exam on the A level Mathematics content you have already learnt.

If you’re studying A level Mathematics, you may want to consider taking the AEA as a way of boosting your UCAS score. A distinction is worth 40 UCAS points, and a merit is worth 20 points. For more information about UCAS points, visit the UCAS website.

What are Applied A levels?

Applied A levels are delivered in a work-related context, giving you more hands-on experience and allowing you to develop an understanding of the workings of your chosen sector. Edexcel Applied A levels are available in nine subjects: Applied Art and Design, Applied Business, Applied ICT, Engineering, Health and Social Care, Leisure Studies, Media, Performing Arts and Travel and Tourism.

Top questions about A levels

Highly valued by schools, colleges, universities and employers, A levels give you access to a range of careers or to further study. They are established qualifications that have been used as a benchmark to judge student ability for more than 60 years.

Edexcel A levels are available in over 40 subjects, ranging from traditional academic disciplines such as History to applied subjects such as Engineering.

You can see what A level subjects are offered and what each course covers by reading the course details, which you can download from each A level subject page.

A levels are graded A* to E. The A* grade was introduced in 2008 to differentiate the highest performing students from other A-grade candidates. If you don’t get enough marks to pass with an E, you will be awarded a U, which means ‘unclassified’. 

A levels are assessed and marked in a variety of ways. All A levels contain exams, and you may also be assessed through coursework, which can include research, essays, projects, investigations, artwork, fieldwork, orals, experiments or other practicals. Your teacher will plan when you complete your coursework, but it can be done at any point throughout your course.

The course specification will tell you how that subject is assessed.

Many courses at university or college will require you to take A levels in certain subjects. If you have a particular aim in mind, you should check the requirements for that course and take the appropriate subjects.

A levels can give you a number of choices - for example, work, further study or an Apprenticeship.

Options for further study could include applying to university, a BTEC Higher National, an NVQ, a BTEC Apprenticeship or a mixture of these qualifications.

If you’re applying to a UK university, you’re likely to apply through the University and College Admission Service (UCAS). You can find out more about UCAS and how A levels are valued by further and higher education institutes on the UCAS website

Next steps

To see what A level subjects we offer, visit the Edexcel A level homepage:

Edexcel A levels