How exams are changing header graphicHow exams are changing header graphicIn association with WJEC, Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCRIn association with WJEC, Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCR
We have worked with UK exam boards and the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) to produce this guide. The JCQ represents the UK's six largest exam boards.
A-levels are changing. Some courses have changed already, and those that haven't will be changing soon.

If you're studying A-levels - or you're going to start soon - you need to understand how your courses are changing and how it will affect you.

We spoke to Michael Turner, director general at JCQ, to get answers to your questions on what's happening with A-levels.

New A-levels are linear. What does that mean?

If you're studying a linear course, it means you're examined at the end of that course. You'll usually sit several exams, with the results added together to give a final mark.

"A linear qualification is one where you follow the full course of study for the qualification, and then sit your exams at the end, rather than sitting multiple separate unit exams at different times during the course," says Turner.

"If there is coursework or equivalent, it may be completed during the course, but will be assessed at the end."

More on A-level exam changes:

How A-level exam marking is changing

Changes to A-level resits and reviews explained

Back to exam reform home page

Do AS results still count towards my A-level?

Not any more. In new A-level courses, AS results no longer count towards your A-level grade. In fact you don’t have to sit an AS-level qualification at all while studying for an A-level. Some schools and colleges will enter you for an AS-level after your first year of A-level study in a subject; many won't.

"AS and A-levels will be decoupled," says Turner. "This means that AS results will no longer count towards an A level, in the way they do now.

"AS and A-levels will be assessed at the end of the course. AS assessments will typically take place after one year’s study and A-levels after two years’ study.

"The courses will no longer be divided into modules and there will be no exams in January."

Are the new AS and A-level courses harder than the old ones?

Not really. Course specifications have been updated, but the main aim of those changes is to make them up-to-date, so they include recent developments in subjects and in the wider world. The standard of grades remains the same.

"The reformed AS and A-level courses are intended to be rigorous and to maintain the high standards of the UK education system," says Turner.

"The course content has been updated to meet the needs of UK industry and the modern workplace.

"They are not necessarily harder or easier than legacy specification AS and A-levels, but they are different."

Can I do the new A-levels in a year?

Technically yes, but it will be tough. The courses are designed for two years and the idea is that you build up knowledge and skills in the first year before you move on to the more demanding second year content.

You will be able to resit the A-level course in a year – taking all the exams in the summer.

"You can complete an A-level in a year although the courses are designed for two years of study. Your centre should be able to advise whether this approach would suit you," says Turner.

"You should note, however, that the first examination of a new A-level is two academic years after first teaching of the subject. For example, if the new A-level is first taught in 2018, the first examination will be in 2020.

"You can also take AS and A-level examinations in the same year."

When are the changes happening?

Now. The changes have already started. The first group of subjects has been taught since September 2015 so students sit their A-level exams in these subjects in summer 2017.

The largest subject not included in this first list is maths (core maths isn’t the main maths qualification). The new maths A-level course starts teaching in September 2017. Below is JCQ guidance on the timeline for course changes.

The following reformed AS and A-levels were introduced in September 2015: art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, core maths, economics, English language, English language and literature, English literature, history, physics, psychology, sociology,

The following subjects are currently being taught (since September 2016): classical Greek, drama and theatre, geography, Latin, music, physical education, religious studies.

Other subjects will be introduced as the new qualification specifications are approved by the regulator, and the exam boards are allowed to make them available.

The exam boards are still waiting for the government to decide on the new requirements for some subjects. Once these have been published, exam boards will revise their specifications and roll these out according to the government’s timeline requirements.

The following subjects will be taught from September 2017: ancient history, classical civilisation, design and technology, further maths, film studies, geology, law, maths, media studies.


Will universities expect me to have done AS exams?

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

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, your application could be disadvantaged so it's important to do your research about the expectations of the universities you're applying to and to let your teacher know.

The UCAS website has a handy collection of statements from universities on their policy around this topic. Qualification reform statements» (external link)

Do I have to include results for my AS exams on my UCAS form?

Yes you do. If you don’t, your school or college will almost certainly check your results. They are also likely to mention AS-levels in your reference. So you can’t hide them!

"The decoupled AS is a qualification in its own right," says Turner. "If you have completed an AS qualification you must include it on your UCAS form."

What if I live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?


Students in Scotland don't usually sit A-levels, as the Scottish qualification system is structured differently. Students in Scotland will not be affected by the GCSE and A-level reforms taking place in England at the present time.


The A-level system will remain modular in Wales. AS-levels are typically taken at the end of the first year of A-level study and will count for 40% of the final A-level grade.

All of the state schools in Wales will have to offer the WJEC A-level qualifications in the main subjects. For minority subjects, schools and colleges will be free to choose specifications from other exam boards.

Northern Ireland

New A-levels are also being introduced in Northern Ireland. Like Wales, they will remain modular, with the AS-level worth 40% of the A-level.

However, schools are free to select the linear A-levels offered by OCR, AQA and Pearson Edexcel.

Will I be disadvantaged if I move from one country to another in the UK?

No, arrangements are in place to ensure that no student who moves within the UK is disadvantaged.

"Despite the differences between the education systems in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, a regulatory framework has been agreed to ensure the qualifications and grades of students wishing to cross a national border to continue their education, and/or to enter the workplace will be understood by FE colleges, HE institutions (universities) and employers," says Turner.