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AS Levels: what are they and how do they work?

AS Levels: what are they and how do they work?

by Katherine Hanrahan

AS Levels were last overhauled by the government in 2015 and have been decreasing in popularity with students and schools ever since, so is it still worth taking AS Level exams, and how are they different to A Level qualifications?

What is an AS Level?

An AS Level is an advanced qualification that students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can study after completing their GCSE exams.

They were first introduced in 1989 to broaden the range of subjects students could study post-16. Called Advanced Supplementary exams, they were normally studied over two years, often alongside A Levels, but because of the demands of the course were only worth half the UCAS points of a full A Level.

In 2000, AS Levels were renamed Advanced Subsidiary exams, were still worth half the UCAS points of an A Level, but were only studied for a year. Students were also given two options:

  • they could drop their AS subject after a year, having achieved the standalone AS qualification
    or
  • they could ‘bank’ their AS results and continue their studies, sitting an A2 exam at the end of their second year, and combining their AS and A2 scores to form their final A Level grade

However, in 2015, AS Levels changed again to the system we still have today. And now, where you live has a major impact on how AS Levels contribute to your A Level grades.

Can AS Levels count towards my A Levels?

If you’re taking AS Levels, you can still choose between dropping your AS subject at the end of Year 12 or continuing your studies in Year 13. However, if you’re studying in Wales and Northern Ireland, your AS results will now only contribute 40% to your A Level grade.

And if you’re studying in England, your AS results will no longer count at all towards your final A Level grade. Instead, your A Level grades depend solely on the exams you take at the end of Year 13.

How are AS Levels graded?

As with your A Levels, AS exams are graded ‘A’ through to ‘E’. However, unlike A Levels, there’s no ‘A*’ classification.

AS grades can also be converted into UCAS points:

A = 20 points

B = 16 points

C = 12 points

D = 10 points

E = 6 points

How common are AS Levels?

Perhaps not surprisingly given how AS Levels are now structured for English students, their popularity has dropped in England.

According to Ofqual, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation which regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England, 281,600 17-year-olds took one or more AS Levels in 2015.

Just three years later that figure had plummeted to 64,810.

Why should I take AS Levels?

In England, where AS results can’t be banked to go towards your A Level grades, they might seem a pointless exercise. You also need to consider the impact of taking on another subject at an advanced level of study when you could be focusing on your A Levels.

However, for English students AS Levels can still benefit your A Level studies and even support them, particularly if they’re similar or related subjects – and that could translate into better grades at A Level.

And if you’re torn between different subjects, completing a year of study in each might help you decide which you want to take forward to A Level and, ultimately, which might give you the better final grade.

Your AS Level results could also help shape the predicted grades your teachers will submit as part of your university application. And if you have an AS qualification, and the university you’re interested in bases its entrance requirements on UCAS points, it might contribute to the total UCAS points you need.

Will I be at a disadvantage if I don’t take AS levels?

If you’re applying to university you won’t be at a disadvantage if you don’t have AS Levels. Universities base their entrance requirements for UK students on A Level grades and Scottish Highers, and most ask for specific grades at A Level rather than UCAS points.

Universities are increasingly looking at more than just grades and academic achievement, too, when it comes to assessing applications, and will take into account your references, your personal statement and, for certain degrees, portfolios of work, interviews and assessments. They want to know how passionate you are about studying a particular degree, if you have any relevant experience, and what your ambitions are.

At Newcastle, our commitment to widening participation in higher education means we make contextual offers. Using additional data (socio-economic, school or college and/or personal or family circumstances) when considering all undergraduate applications, to that we take into account any barriers you may have faced when making you an offer.

Are AS Levels right for me?

As you make your A Level choices, think carefully about your strengths; the subjects you’re best at and the ones you’re most fascinated by. Weigh up the demands of each of your A Level courses and get some advice from your teachers on whether AS Levels will benefit you and, ultimately, help you progress to university.

We hope you’ve found this blog useful; do remember to keep checking back for more resources to help you on your journey to university. And if you’d like to know more about the degrees you can study with us, check out our undergraduate course pages.