A student's guide to A-level reforms

Most A-level courses have changed. This article explains these changes and how they might affect your university application.

The most important change is that all assessment will take place at the end of the two-year course and will be largely exam based.

Coursework has been replaced by 'non-examined assessment'. This only exists in subjects where some crucial skills can't be assessed by an exam.


What’s the deal with AS levels?

AS levels no longer contribute to an A-level qualification. This means that AS level is a one-year standalone qualification. 

Is an AS level still the equivalent of 50% of an A-level?

No, the AS qualification is worth 40% of an A-level. This means that when you apply to uni under the new UCAS tariff an A-level A grade will be worth 48 points and the A grade in AS will be worth only 20.

Will I still be able to take four subjects at the start of year one?

It is possible to take four AS/A levels but most state sixth forms and colleges will only be funded for students to take three subjects. 



Can I still take AS exams if I want to do the A-level version?

Some sixth forms and colleges will be offering AS examinations at the end of the first year. This qualification is easier than an A-level and the grade you receive will count towards the UCAS points for your uni application.

If you do well in your AS exam and decide that you would like to continue and study towards A-level, your achieved AS level will not count at all towards your A-level. 


Will all sixth forms and colleges offer AS examinations?

No. Some will and others will not.

Some colleges will only offer AS levels in certain subjects or to certain groups of students.

If I take an AS level exam and do really well and decide that I want to do the A-level, will I be at a disadvantage?

Most AS and A-level courses are being designed to be 'co-teachable' so that both groups of students will learn the same things in year one. The key difference is that those students who have opted for the A-level course will not be assessed at the end of year one. 

If I don’t achieve my grades can I retake my A-level exams?

You can but you will have to resit all the exams. You will end up with two grades for that subject.

There is more detail about retaking A levels here.

How will it impact on my uni application?

Currently predicted grades for university applications are based on AS results. With AS exams now being phased out unis are very likely to focus more on GCSE results, their own testing systems and, of course, A-level predictions. 


Will I be at a disadvantage if I don’t have AS grades on my uni application?

Universities have confirmed that students will not be at a disadvantage if they do not have AS-levels in the majority of cases. However, if you are planning to do a clinical based course like medicine or dentistry it's really worth you contacting the university first to get their advice on what you should include in your application. 

The University of Cambridge commented that it strongly advises applicants to take AS exams

The University of Edinburgh has said that it will still require a fourth AS or a fourth A-level for medicine courses. If your school or college isn't offering AS-levels any longer then they should contact Edinburgh on your behalf before you apply. 

The University of Newcastle has said that it could use an AS-level qualification as a deciding factor on results day if lots of other students miss their grades.

UCAS has a list of qualification reform statements from universities. Before you consider applying, make sure you read this and get clued up first. 

Is there any other way the reforms could affect my application?

The vast majority of universities are asking for applicants to have passed the practical elements of science A-levels to get a place on their science or engineering degrees. Some unis have said this will be made an explicit part of their offers. If you think this might affect you in the future based on the course you are currently taking, it is definitely worth double checking with the university at an open day or over email. 

How do I show I’m a top student on my university application without a grade to prove it?

Excellent GCSEs are now not only a gateway to further education studies, they’ll now indicate to universities your aptitude and potential capability as an undergraduate.

Teacher reference 
The teacher reference will become even more important with teachers being encouraged to clearly indicate consistent and measurable improvements made by you in your studies from day one of your A-level course. 

This means you can’t afford to slack off at the start. Every day counts and, although you won’t be assessed officially until the end of year two, your effort and performance will be consistently monitored. 

Mock exams 
With no modular exams under the new reforms and no formal assessment until the end of the course, mocks are likely to become more important. The results of these exams may be used to define your predicted grades which universities will want to see. 

Bear in mind that with no formal exam at the end of year one, mock exams will give you the opportunity to practice your exam technique, giving you the best chance of sailing through your exams at the end of the course.

No AS-levels? Make sure the reference explains why

Help your teacher to help you. Some universities are advising that if your school or college no longer offers AS-levels then they must include this information in the reference they write for you as part of your uni application. 

For example, this is the guidance from King's College London: "A statement must be included in the first few lines of the UCAS reference to inform us of the school’s policy in this regard." 

If this isn't included then your application could be disadvantaged so it's important that you do your research about the expectations of the universities you're applying to and then let your teacher know. 

Similar information from other universities is also included in the UCAS reform statements page on their website. 

GCSE reforms

If you're part of the group of students who will be taking the new style GCSEs or potentially retaking in 2017 then it's worth getting your head around the new grading system. Universities have said that if they have asked for a C grade previously, then under the new system they'll want a grade 4. Grades 5/6 being roughly equivalent to a B, 7 to an A and 8/9 to an A*


More on TSR: 
Everything you need to know about applying to uni 
Get advice on applying to uni 

Find out more about GCSE and A-level reform
Chat to other A-level students here

Do you have any questions about the A-level reforms? How do you feel about the changes?