Success Tips – AS level (first year of A-level)

Key facts and helpful hints

  1. There is a significant jump from GCSE to AS/first year of A-level. A solid start, concentration and focus are vital in order to keep abreast of the course. This is due to the high volume and rigour of the course. Unlike GCSE, consistency is required throughout and cramming at the last minute is not helpful and will not help to achieve a high grade.


  1. Your son or daughter should avoid getting a job during term time but focus on their study and make a good start to the sixth form in all the subjects. This gives them a greater chance of achieving higher grades, thereby gaining admission to a top university. In addition to the teaching time at school/college, 12 to 16 hours of study time per week is recommended at A-level. Homework assignments may form part of the 12 to 16 hours, although some, but not all, of may be done in school during free periods, depending on the school.


  1. If a student studied very hard throughout GCSE and ended up with either a B grade or lower, a C grade at A-level may prove to be a challenge, so the student should consider not taking that subject for A-level – particularly in Maths and, perhaps, Chemistry. The student should consider taking other subjects that are well recognised, but for which he or she is likely to obtain good A-level grade.


  1. Due to the cuts in funding, many colleges and schools now allow a maximum of three A-level subjects in the first year as opposed to four as was the case. If a child is doing only three A-level subjects, they should make sure they achieve as high a grade they can in each of them. It is helpful that at least two of the subjects in which they obtain high grades are the ones preferred by top universities. See a list of those subjects below.


  1. Ask questions about the qualifications and experience of the teachers who will be teaching your son or daughter at A-level. Do not be afraid to ask; some schools have teachers' names with their qualifications on their website or in the prospectus


  1. Generally speaking, students who study A-level at a school do better than those who study it at a college. However, there are some sixth form colleges that achieve very good results. Most young people learn better and achieve higher grades at A-level at a school than they do at a college. One of the reasons could be that they thrive in a more structured and disciplined environment, in which they are not largely left to their own devices.


  1. Many schools and colleges accept a GCSE Grade B or C grade (Grade 5 or 6) as the minimum requirement to enrol on an AS-level course for a particular subject. The reality is that at least an A grade (Grade 7) is desirable if the student is to thrive in a particular subject at A-level.


  1. After the GCSE results have been released, before you settle for a school in which your child has been offered lower GCSE grades to study AS subjects, contact other schools or colleges where they have demanded higher grades and see if they are still able to offer your child a place. It is worth the extra effort and it may not be too late.


  1. Top universities prefer either A-level or the IB (International Baccalaureate) to vocational qualifications such as BTEC. Although most universities will give students an offer based on vocational courses, they really do not like those qualifications and the students usually struggle unless they have studied A-level or the IB, especially at traditional red-brick universities. A-level and IB are not suitable for everyone, but make sure you consider these two first, as they give more flexibility in terms of choosing universities and courses later on.


  1. Top universities look down on Media Studies, Business, Sociology, Photography, Critical Thinking, Computing and General Studies, unless taken as the third, fourth or fifth A-level subject. It is usually OK to do one of these subjects as the fourth subject, but certain universities do not count them in the three subjects on which they base their offers.


  1. The A-level subjects we recommend are as follows: English Literature, Maths, Chemistry, Physics, History, Economics, French, German, Latin, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese (or any modern or ancient language) and Biology. Some of the other subjects are also useful, but we strongly suggest that students include at least two and possibly three of the more academic subjects listed above in their choices for A-level.


  1. Start your research into possible sixth form schools and colleges for your child as soon as you can. There are websites where you can find out about the exam league tables for almost all the schools in the country. Please see the bottom of this document for links.


  1. Do not just depend on the general results for a particular school. Also look at the results that have been achieved in the subjects your child wishes to study and it may be worth checking if the same teachers who achieved these results are carrying on at the school/college the following year or if they have left or are leaving.


Please also see Success Tip for A2 (second year of A-level) as this will help you to know more about the next level after GCSE. You may request it from us.


Be demanding but at the same time encourage your son or daughter to celebrate their successes – including little progress made. Be mindful of their strengths and weaknesses and show them you are proud of whatever they achieve; as long as they have tried hard. Excel in Key Subjects offers helpful and impartial advice on matters relating to secondary education, achieving exam success and gaining admission to university. We offer free face-to-face or telephone consultation on all areas of primary and secondary education, including advice on sixth form study. More information is available to assist parents while making key decisions about their children’s education.


Good teachers are expensive but bad teachers cost you your child more

Success Tips for A2 (final year of A-level):

Some of the websites we recommend to research are:


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