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International A Level Guide
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International A Level Guide

by April 26, 2016
Strengths

• Depth of subject study cannot be bettered – offers students the chance to explore subjects in a level of detail Baccalaureate programmes cannot match
• The International A Level remains a globally valuable, highly respected qualification with very high levels of acceptability across universities worldwide
• The International A Level, because it has not been decoupled from AS Levels, affords students the chance to secure an AS Level as a fall-back
• Prestige

Weaknesses

• Expensive to study
• Highly academic, particularly in the second year of study
• Poorer schools limit the range of International A Level options because of cost
• Students must choose carefully to ensure a good fit with projected degree study
• Some argue the International A Level forces students to specialise too early and that specialising in any subject should take place later at degree level
• Increasing disparity between the UK and International variants of the qualification may lead to the International A Level and UK GCE A Level being treated differently by employers and universities over time
• For less academic children seeking a swift entrance into industry alternative qualifications have the edge

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Opportunities

For students seeking a place in UK-based, or universities worldwide, the A Level is a common currency for being considered. As global competitiveness has increased, it is no longer the case, however, that the A Level, in isolation of a degree, is a sufficient qualification to secure management positions in industry. Today, entry into most management programmes within industry require a graduate degree.

Taken as whole, for students who wish to keep open the broadest range of post-18 higher education options, the A Level, including its international variant, remains a Tier 1 benchmark qualification for accessing further educational opportunities worldwide.

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The International A Level is awarded after a two-year course of study between the ages of 16 and 17 in Year 12 and Year 13 of English National Curriculum schools.

The qualification is awarded in two parts. The Advanced Subsidiary Level, AS or A1 Level, is the first part of the International A Level and is taken by students between the ages of 16 and 17 in Grade 12. The second part of the International A Level, the A2 Level, is taken over a one-year period in Grade 13 by students between the ages of 17 and 18, and explores subject in greater depth and greater academic rigor.

In the UAE, as well as being the first year of International A Level study, the AS Level is an examination in its own right and a number of schools, particularly in the Indian sector, only provide post-16 education to AS Level.

The A2 Level is not a separate qualification and cannot be studied without previously studying for the AS Level in the relevant subject.

The GCE A Level in the UK operates completely differently to the International A level in the UAE.

The UK A Level is now, unlike the International A Level, decoupled entirely from AS Levels and awarded entirely on the basis of written examinations at the end of the second year of Study. The UK GCE AS Level is a fully separate qualification, with a status between GCSE and GCE A’ Level, but not, as is the case with International A Levels, equivalent to the first year of an A’ Level.

Details to consider
Curricula - Which country is it from?

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Curricula - Who underwrites it?

There are 2 examination boards who assess the International AS Level:

• Cambridge International Examinations[CIE];
• Pearson EDEXCEL

Curricula - Age when taken?

The International A Level is studied over two years from age 16. The examination comprises an International AS (A1) qualification in Year 1 (usually sat at age 17) and the A2 qualification which is sat to complete the International A Level at the end of Year 2 (usually sat as age 18).

Notes:
(1) It is possible, depending on the subject, to sit the full International A Level in one sitting at the end of Year 2.
(2) There is no independent A2 qualification: the A2 becomes the full International A Level.

Curricula - Subjects available?

Choice of around 55 subjects, although most schools offer between 12 and 20 subject options.

Major options include English; Mathematics; Chemistry; Physics; Biology; Sociology; Geography; History; Media Studies; Psychology; Politics; Information Technology; Business Studies, Technology; Design & Technology, Music, Travel & Tourism and any number of modern and ancient languages.

Students sit on average for 3 subjects, although the exact number varies between schools and the ability of the child, to between 2 and 4 subjects.

Some students sit for a combination of International AS and A Levels.

Notes:

1. The International A’ Level is a different examination to both the GCE A’ Level sat in most English schools with different examination, curriculum and coursework requirements.
2. The UK is radically re-structuring and academically strengthening GCE A’ Level provision and children are currently sitting new A' Levels that are linear, not modular, and assessed only on the basis of examinations at the end of the two-year period of study.
3. There are no plans by EDEXCEL or Cambridge International to bring the new UK A’ Level to the UAE.
4. In the UK, GCE AS and GCE A' levels are decoupled. AS Level results no longer count towards an A level. AS Levels in the UK are extra courses run in parallel with A’ Levels. It is likely that AS Levels will as a result have less weighting in the UK. In the UAE, currently, AS Levels will continue to be coupled and act as the first year of an International A’ Level.

Curricula - Balance of coursework to exams?

Assessment takes place at the end of each year of the course and can currently include written, oral, coursework and practical assessment according to subject. Most International A’ Levels are strongly weighted towards, but not exclusively, examination based. This is in distinction to the exclusively examination-based awarding metrics of the GCE A' Level in the UK.

Examinations occur twice in each of the two years of study, in June and November depending on subject. Results are issued in August and January.

Curricula - How much is rote based learning?

Whilst International A Levels are weighted towards final year examinations, there is a balance between coursework, practical examinations and fact-based core written examination based learning. There is a strong weighting of points, however, awarded to critical thinking over facts within examinations.

Curricula - How easy is it?

English National Curriculum study is arguably best suited to academic children throughout its provision. The A Level remains an academic benchmark and is not suited for children seeking vocational qualifications.

In the UK, January sittings are being scrapped limiting the opportunities to re-sit A Levels. Opportunities to re-sit international A Levels are currently still available in the UAE.

Curricula - Materials for private study?

Extensive materials are available from both examining boards.

Curricula - Grades awarded?

The International A Level is reported on a grade scale from A* (highest) to E (minimum required performance). There is no A* grade for International AS Levels, which run from grade A to E.

To progress to degree study, most universities insist on a minimum A*-B in the subject to be studied and a minimum of an IGCSE in English Language and Mathematics.

Students intending to progress to further education should expect to sit 3 International A' Levels with as close a relevance as possible to the intended subject for degree study.

For Tier 1 universities these thresholds increase markedly.

Curricula - Cost?

Costs rise according to the school’s ability to offer a wider range of options. The cost of a good British education is generally higher than alternative curricular and comparable only to that of studying for the International Baccalaureate Diploma [IB DP]. A number of Indian schools currently only offer post-16 education to International AS Level, and generally with an extremely limited number of subject options, generally to the detriment of the Humanities.

Curricula - Transfer-ability (to other curricula)?

Because of its breadth and rigour, transfer from the English National Curriculum schools is arguably easier than trying to transfer into them. Because International A Levels are limited in breadth and subject specific, however, transferring after International A Levels have been started to an alternative broader curriculum is likely to be difficult.

Age differences between curriculum based on schools with study to Year 12 may make transfer from English National Curriculum schools impractical.

For French and German transfer the fundamental decider will be linguistic competence in the host language.

Curricula - Where does it lead?

The A Level, whether UK or International, is the benchmark qualification for progressing to study for degrees at UK Universities.

The A Level is also probably the most widely accepted international qualification in the world. In countries such as the United States and Canada, for example, high grades in certain A Level subjects can result in up to one year of university course credit.

Curricula - Who is it best for?

Academic children and those students seeking to progress to a University education anywhere in the world. It is particularly suited to children who wish to study a limited number of subjects in considerable depth. The second year of International A Level study, particularly in the very best schools, shares many features of undergraduate degree level study in the depth of its exploration of any given subject.

Curricula - Global value?

Extremely high – arguably one of few global benchmarks in education for progressing to university study anywhere in the world.

Note: many Universities will also still require applicants to have good (I)GCSE passes in at least English and Mathematics to be considered for further degree study in the United Kingdom or its overseas territories, regardless of grades achieved at International A Level in other subjects.

Curricula - Employer’s opinion?

A valuable qualification, but one Increasingly less important as employers look to degrees to determine an applicant’s desirability for any role.

A high International GCSE grading in English and Mathematics, however, remains a fundamental requirement of most UK employers when considering applications for any role, even if the applicant has a degree.

University’s opinion?

In the UK universities, A*A scoring in the subject of degree study, combined with at least two further A’ Levels at grades A*C, is increasingly the requirement for securing a place for further study.

Globally, the International A’ Level has very high value and scoring of A*C is likely to be sufficient currency to be considered for a university placement anywhere in the world.

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Acting Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and the International Editor of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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