A Levels: The Right Choice

Senior staff at Merchiston International School had no hesitation in selecting A Levels as the most appropriate course to be undertaken within the school. Our Senior teachers have taught A Level, IB, AP and many other courses over the years, but unanimously believe that A Level is the best route for success in a competitive modern University environment.

What are A Levels?

A Levels are two-year courses that follow on from GCSE examinations in the UK. A Levels are available in a wide range of subjects, covering Mathematics, the Sciences, Humanities and the Arts. Students are expected to have reached a high standard in particular GCSEs examinations in order to step up to studying an A Level in that subject.

The clear advantage that A Levels offer is that students usually study 3 or 4 subjects, while the IB requires students to juggle 6 subjects with Mathematics and English as compulsory requirements, our experience is that many students struggle to manage the IB workload. At A Level students are free to study any subjects they wish with no requirement to follow courses they may not enjoy. A Levels are more specialised and focused which is a tremendous advantage for the vast majority of students, especially as they look towards their university degree subjects.

A Level offers many advantages in countries such as the United States and Canada where students follow AP courses followed by SAT/ACT tests. Good grades in carefully chosen Cambridge International A Level subjects can result in up to one year of university course credit.

Over 500 US universities accept Cambridge International AS & A Levels, including all Ivy League universities.

Research has been carried out to explore whether AS & A Levels predict readiness for and continued academic success at US universities. Findings from a number of research studies suggest that the Cambridge programme compares favourably with other, more established, acceleration programmes in the US including Advanced Placement (AP) and the International Baccalaureate (IB).


Access to global universities

A Levels are widely respected around the world and allow access to universities in virtually any country on earth. The rich specialism of A Levels prepares students for even the most demanding degrees at universities, giving them an advantage over students who have had to spread their work thin during the IB. A Levels study helps students manage their time, reading and completing assignments by themselves during dedicated Prep time after classes have finished. This offers an excellent bridge between traditional teacher centred learning and the self-motivated learning of a University Degree.

Recent developments in A Level have seen it once again become the elite global qualification, with the UK government making the examinations more challenging to stretch the most-able students, this more demanding A* grade is the benchmark. In the past the IB was seen as the more rigorous academic course, but the new, harder, A Level courses have firmly established themselves as the global gold standard for qualifications.

University offers are very specific for A Level candidates so they know exactly what they need to achieve in their A Level courses. University offers will usually be based on the outcome of 3, or occasionally 4, A Level courses. Students can then be supported in Year 13 to ensure they obtain these grades comfortably.


Which A Levels to choose

Students can select their favourite 3 or 4 subjects, focusing on their passions and strengths, they can also select courses that lead to particular University Degrees and future career plans. Subject based examinations are taken at the end of the first year (*AS Level) and at the end second year (*A2 Levels).

A Level students are not required to undertake an Extended Essay or any other significant body of work outside of their normal courses, which is the case with the IB Diploma, often these extra tasks take up many hours of work and cause considerable stress for IB students.

Successful study of 3 A Level courses is the basic requirement for entry into university.

The main advantage of A Level is the ability to focus on your passions and aptitudes. For example, an excellent Mathematician need not spend unwelcome time on other compulsory subjects that cause unnecessary pressure and hinder their Mathematical development.

*What do AS and A2 mean?

AS Level stands for Advanced Subsidiary Level and means the first part of the current A Level qualification. An A Level is made up of the AS Level and the A2 Level. Each part makes up 50 per cent of the total A Level grade. You can study the AS Level as either a free standing qualification (for one year), or it can be the first half of the full A Level. At the end of the AS year (Year 12), you have two options: use the AS Level as the final qualification or continue to the second year and go for the full A Level. So, for example, most of our Year 12 students will choose 4 to study during the first year of A Level, but at the end of Year 12 they may drop one of those subjects following the exams. This will count as an AS Level in their university application.