The Advanced Extension Awards were introduced in 2002, in response to the British Government's Excellence in Cities report, as a means of testing students at the most demanding standards found across the world. They are aimed at the top 10% of students in the British A Level tests, and are designed to allow students to "demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills to the full". They are assessed completely by virtue of external examinations. There are two grades attainable for the AEA: Distinction is the higher grade, Merit the lower grade. Achieving below the Merit is 'ungraded'; there is no 'pass' grade.
Why is an extra qualification necessary?
With so many students attaining the top grade at A-Level (25.3% of all subject results in 2007 were graded at an A), it is becoming increasingly difficult for employers and universities to differentiate between the best students. Indeed, it is fairly common for students to leave school with 3 or more A grades. The AEAs, to an extent, do a good job of separating these students.
AEAs can also be taken before applying to universities and a good grade in the AEA helps to make applications stronger. However, it is worth noting that if a student gets a U in the AEA (which counts as failing the AEA), it must still be declared on the UCAS application form.
Are they successful?
The awards seem to be doing their job of identifying the top students. Indeed, in 2003, 50.6% of the 7320 entrants failed to achieve a grade at all. This indicates that the awards truly are fulfilling their role in separating the elite. Only 17.2% of students attained the top of the two grades available, the Distinction, with the remaining 32.2% of students receiving a Merit. However, only time can tell whether this set of results is attributable to the qualification's youth, and therefore the lack of experience of teachers and small bank of past papers to refer to.
In addition, not all of the 'best' students take the AEA as some see it as an increased workload (both for teachers and students) and, as it rarely forms part of a conditional offer from a university, many students see it as somewhat pointless. Also, in some colleges and sixth forms, only students who are applying to Oxbridge are allowed to sit the exam. Moreover, since entries are made with at the same time as the A-level, it is actually possible to do well in the AEA but not get an A at A-level.
Since the 2005/2006 application year, a Distinction has been worth 40 UCAS points, and a Merit worth 20 points.
- Biology AEA (including Human Biology) (AQA)
- Business AEA (OCR)
- Chemistry AEA (AQA)
- Critical Thinking AEA (OCR)
- Economics AEA (AQA)
- English AEA (OCR)
- French AEA (OCR)
- Geography AEA (WJEC)
- German AEA (CCEA)
- History AEA (Edexcel)
- Irish AEA (CCEA)
- Latin AEA (OCR)
- Mathematics AEA (Edexcel)
- Physics AEA (CCEA)
- Psychology AEA (AQA)
- Religious Studies AEA (Edexcel)
- Spanish AEA (Edexcel)
- Welsh AEA (WJEC)
- Welsh as a second language AEA (WJEC)
It has been officially confirmed by the JCQ here that the last AEAs will be in Summer 2009, after which they will be replaced with the provision of the A* at A-level (see A-star grades at A-level). There had been fears that the AEA would be dropped since 2008, because the provision of Stretch and Challenge in all A-levels seemed to supercede the AEA. According to this website the AQA Chemistry AEA was to be preserved past the 2008 reforms, but this merely applied to the single Summer 2009 session, like almost all other AEAs. However, the Edexcel Mathematics AEA is to be extended until June 2015, as confirmed by Edexcel here.