Advance Level classes are usually take after completing Secondary school education. During the two year period in which these classes are taken the students are known as "Sixth formers". For US readers think of A Levels as the last two years of "High school"

See Also: GCSE,ND,HND,Sixth Form College,Technical College

I am currently undertaking the joyous process of being a guinea pig for the new fully modular A Level syllabus. A basic outline of the main features of the new A1 (previously AS Levels) and A2 (previously A Levels) system:
  • It is recommended that 5 subjects are selected for study in the Lower 6th (Year 12)
  • After this first year of study 3 modules are taken in each subject and an AS Level is obtained in this.
  • Then the student selects three of these five to continue to full A Level.
  • At the end of the second year the student is examined with three more modules in each of the subjects. The grades from these modules are then combined with the ones taken after the first year to give a full A Level.
It is also possible to take modules in January, should the student so desire. This time of year is primarily used for retakes, of which you are only allowed one per paper now, although science subjects frequently enter their pupils for a single module in January.

Now while this seems to be a system offering more choice and flexibility, which I am in favour of, it has not worked like that:

  • The syllabuses for the new system were released only just before the term started so teachers had had no time to prepare for the year.
  • It is not practically possible to teach five subjects properly in one year. This means that Private schools, who have the option to choose how many the make their students do, have nearly all chosen four.
  • Some subjects, such as history, are not at all tended towards modular examination.
  • The exam boards have not even decided how many pieces of coursework they want in some subjects (Physics).
  • Only the AS Module exams have been written so it is not currently possible to do a full A Level a year early. The exception is maths as they needed to create a full complement of modules to allow further mathematicians to do them this year. However the board will not allow these further mathematicians to certificate their full A Level this year as that is just not allowed. So, if a further mathematician gave up maths at the end of this year with six modules all with full marks they would not be allowed to certificate this A Level unless they retook at least two modules next year which would have to count!
  • There will not be enough markers to mark all the exam scripts.
  • No exam can be longer than 2 hours under the new modular system.
It may well be that these problems will be ironed out and the system will turn out to be a great success and I hope this is the case, not least because I have a younger brother and sister who will both be taking A Levels in the next few years. However I think that there are too many deep seated troubles with this system.

The A Level results are commonly graded on a points system and Universities will sometimes ask for a total of so many points to get in.

The Old Points System:
A=10
B=8
C=6
D=4
E=2
U=0

The New Points System:
A=120
B=100
C=80
D=60
E=40
U=0

This modular 'A' levels system sure is confusing. But it should be possible to cover 5 subjects in a year - just with less depth. It'd be like GCSEs all over again.

In Singapore we take (traditional) 'O' and 'A' levels from Cambridge. Both are nonmodular courses - the 'A's take 2 full years. In my junior college typically everyone does 4 subjects. We have no AS levels. And bugger it, our tests make the actual 'A' examinations look pathetic.

We also have something called 'S papers', special papers with tougher questions which particularly able students take. They're essential for government scholarships. Which examining boards have equivalents, if any? And which boards' 'A' level papers rank among the toughest?

As I understand it the 'A' level courses usually begin in Year 12 in the UK, while we have it in year 11 here. Do you do 5 years of secondary education, then?

A lot has been made of the changes to the A level system, but I think the whole business was blown out of proportion by the media for reasons we can only guess at. The fundamental changes really don't amount to much; the problem has been with the practicalities.

Under the old system, you studied for two years, took your exams, and got your grade. The gap between the two school years was incidental. If you dropped out at any stage before the final exams, you finished with nothing. Now, the course consists of two separate stages - AS, studied in the first year, and A2, studied in the second. At the end of the first year you take the AS exams, and when you get the results you can either "cash them in", and receive an AS (Advanced Subsidiary) level, or hold onto them and take the second year. At the end of the second year you take the A2 exams and either cash in both years to receive an A level, or drop them and just cash in your year-old AS results.

This way, someone who decides after one year that they don't like the subject can still get a qualification, worth half of what they would have got if they'd done both years. It also means someone who did well in the first year but not the second can choose to get a good AS level rather than a bad A level.

If you're sure after one year that you want to do both years, you can leave the AS exams until the end of the second year and sit everything then, as in the old system. If you want to do the full A level but get poor AS results after one year, you can resit them alongside your A2 exams at the end of the second year. Your AS results, if you take the exams at the end of the first year, act as a progress check. This is surely advantageous.

Great Neb points out that five subjects is too many and that some subjects are not suited to a modular structure. I agree on both points, but there's an easy way around them. Don't take five subjects (who gives a rat's ass if your school pressures you?), and if you don't like modularity, take all your exams at the end of the second year. Take your AS exams at the end of both years if you like - the better mark counts.

So some exam boards didn't get their syllabuses sorted out in time when the system was introduced. That's unfortunate - I'm taking some exams this year marked by boards with a bad reputation - but it's not really the new system's fault. It won't be a problem when everyone's got used to the new arrangement.

Tell me if this is writeup too subjective, but I do think the system will turn out to be an improvement, albeit not a revolutionary one.

Some background

Old System:
(Introduced in 1951 to replace the HSC)

New System:
(Introduced in 2001 to replace the old A level system)

  • Students finish compulsory schooling at the age of 16 after taking GCSEs.
  • They choose 4 AS level subjects (half the marks of an A level). This is now virtually compulsory because the government want everyone to stay in school.
  • The student studies for 2 terms doing coursework.
  • The student takes their AS level exams.
  • One subject is dropped and 3 are continued to A2 (unless they are particularly clever)
  • They work for a further 2 terms doing more coursework (and possibly studying for retakes).
  • The student takes their A2 exams and hopes they get into university (or goes to get a job) with their grades.

The new A level system has two major problems: Less learning time and there is no margin for error.

Previously, the student had two years to learn everything for their course followed by what is essentially a terms worth of exams. Now, we must subtract another terms worth of learning in the classroom for the AS-level exams. This is bad. The syllabuses are still trying to cram in the same amount of subject material into a course that has just lost a fifth of its learning time! Whilst I was doing my A2s, I heard several of my teachers mention that the syllabus would be reduced the next year. They were just taking out a whole section of the course so the government could make us do virtually pointless exams. We are sacrificing our education for paperwork dammit!

Was the old system that bad that it had to come to this?

My second complaint is that these new exams contribute 50% of the second years final grade. This is a great idea if your first year went well as you can relax and not have to worry too much about the A2 exams. However, what happens if you screw your first year up royally? It would have been nice to have some exams that didn’t matter, just to give you a kick in the teeth and make you realise that you have to work. This doesn’t happen though. I personally messed my first year up a lot. I got CCDD where I should have got AABB at the least. This meant I had to work incredibly hard the second year, resulting in getting BCC. I got several A’s in my second year A2 exams, but because of the system, I ended up getting shafted out of a good grade.

Sure you can do retakes, but that means you have to learn it all over again and have the same stress as if you were taking the old A-levels anyway, just with less time.

Unfortunately, we can’t go back to the old system because the government must not be seen as ‘backward thinking’, so we have to go forward into some new nightmare cooked up by the fools running the country.

I’m going to move to Austria and live on a mountain away from everyone…

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