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A-level reforms: what they mean for you

Changes to A-levels have been underway since last September. Here we break A-level reforms down, including how it could affect your studies and university application...

If you began Year 12 in the last few years, the A-level subjects you might take, including English, sciences, history and business studies, will be delivered in a different way to the AS/A-level structure of previous years.

Sound straightforward? Stay with us...

Different subjects are being updated in different years, going right up to September 2017. This complicates things a little as which form of the A-level you take will depend on when you begin Year 12 (on top of what these changes actually are). Luckily we've explained it simply below...

LOOK AHEAD TO UNIVERSITY: search and filter courses by your hoped-for A-level grades

A-level reform essentials

In reality, this means that you might have very differently structured teaching and assessment across different subjects. Below is a rundown of which subjects are changing, and when (if they haven't already):

Entered Year 12 in September 2015?
  • New-style A-levels have already been introduced in: art and design, biology, business studies, chemistry, computing, economics, English language, English language and literature, English literature, history, physics, psychology, sociology.

Entered Year 12 in September 2016?
  • New-style A-levels have been introduced in: ancient languages such as Latin or Greek, dance, drama (theatre studies), geography, modern languages such as Spanish or French, music, physical education, religious studies.

Entering Year 12 in September 2017?
  • New-style A-levels will be introduced in: accounting, ancient history, archaeology, classical civilisation, design and technology, electronics, film studies, geology, government and politics, history of art, law, maths and further maths, media studies, music technology, philosophy and statistics.

Old vs new system

Under the old system being phased out, AS-levels were studied in Year 12, with exams taken in May-June that were worth 50% of your overall A-level qualification.

Under the new system being introduced, all A-level exams will take place at the end of Year 13, with no marks from AS-levels (if you take these) contributing to the overall final grade. 

Across the board, there will also be less coursework and fewer practical assessments under the new system (in Wales, practicals will still count in biology, chemistry and physics A-level) - making that exam revision all the more important. Grades will continue to be awarded on an A*-E scale.

What's happening to AS-levels?

AS-levels will still exist, and you can continue to take a separate AS-level qualification at the end of Year 12 before dropping the subject or going on to take the full A-level in Year 13 - but unlike before, your AS results won't count towards your A-level grade. 

Remember that you will continue taking AS and A-level exams for subjects still structured under the old system until they undergo changes (as outlined above).

The policy your school or college adopts will determine what exams you sit and the qualifications you gain at the end of Year 12. Some might not enter any students for AS qualifications in order to free up more teaching time for A-levels, while others will continue to work in the same AS/A-level format.

Check with your tutor or head of sixth form to see what your options will be, as this will have an impact on how many A-level subjects you select ahead of starting your Year 12 studies. 

A-LEVEL CHECKLISTS BY SUBJECT: find out which A-levels you need for popular degrees

Why bother with AS-levels if they don't count towards your A-level grade?

Taking an AS exam will help you to measure how you're progressing in your studies and how well suited to continue the subject into Year 13 you are. An externally marked AS-level grade may also carry more weight with universities and help teachers to more accurately set your predicted grades.

On the other hand, not doing external exams in Year 12 frees up more time for your classes to focus on A-level teaching, and enable you to study subjects in even greater depth. 

How could this affect your university application?

Universities will be mindful that students could be applying to university with a mixture of old- and new-style A-levels over the next two years until this reform is complete, and will treat them the same when considering students for courses.

Given that schools and colleges will be dealing with the reforms in different ways - with some offering AS-levels and others not - it's likely that universities will be increasingly see GCSE grades as an important factor when making offers (so yes, these will matter in the long-run).

A-level changes in Wales and Northern Ireland

Unlike in England, AS-levels for Welsh and Northern Irish students will continue to count towards overall A-level marks. In Wales, an AS will count for 40% of the marks, with A2s counting for the remaining 60%. 

Which A-level subjects are being scrapped?

The following A-level subjects have been scrapped and will no longer be available to take from 2017 onwards:

  • Anthropology
  • Applied art and design
  • Applied business
  • Applied information and communication technology
  • Applied science
  • ​Citizenship studies
  • Communication and Culture
  • Creative writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Economics and Business (jointly - can still be taken as separate subjects)
  • Engineering
  • General studies
  • Global development (will be available at AS only)
  • Health and social care
  • Home economics: Food, nutrition and health
  • Human biology
  • Humanities
  • Information and communication technology (ICT)
  • Leisure studies
  • Media: Communication and production
  • Moving image arts
  • Pure mathematics
  • Quantitative methods (will be available at AS only)
  • Science (will be available at AS only)
  • Science in society
  • Statistics
  • Travel and tourism
  • Use of mathematics (will be available at AS only)
  • World development

The decision was made by the exams regulating body, Ofqual, on the basis that some of these subjects were too similar to others, or could be easily enveloped as part of other subjects in the future.

If you're already studying these subjects, you won't be affected.

Rethinking your A-level choices? Use our A-level Explorer to see where different combinations will lead you.



Where could your A-levels take you?

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