A-Levels 2018: The Parents Guide

Exam, Book, Homework.

A Levels qualifications provide a solid foundation upon which your child can strengthen their future career prospects. Respectable A-Level results can mean acceptance into high quality universities, as well as increasing your child’s overall job prospects after full time education. Therefore, the following guide has been created in order for you to help your child to achieve the A Levels results they deserve.

This guide will endeavor to equip you with a fundamental knowledge of A Level 2018 qualifications, exams and revision techniques. By doing so, you can advise your child on which A Levels are best for them to study in order to achieve their long term career ambitions.

The various sections which this guide will cover include:

  1. The Fundamental Principles of A-Levels
  2. Changes To A Level Examinations
  3. How To Decide Which A-Levels To Study
  4. How To Help Your Child Study For Their A-Levels
  5. Exam Day Preparation
  6. Useful Links


The Fundamental Principles of A-Levels 2018

A-Levels is the broad term given to Advanced Level and Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level Qualifications. These qualifications are also referred to as General Certificates of Education (GCE) and are usually studied by students aged between 16 and 19 after they have completed their GCSE qualifications.

The majority of educational institutions require your child to have received 5 GCSEs of Grade C or higher in order to study A Level subjects. It is also preferred that your child has received reputable GCSE results for the A Levels which they wish to study, i.e. if they wish to study Maths and Physics at A Level, it is preferable if they have received GCSE Maths and Physics qualifications of Grade C or higher.

A Levels are studied over a two year course, wherein your child can receive an AS Level qualification after an examination at the end of the first year and an Advanced Level qualification at the end of the second year. The majority of students study 4 subjects to AS Level and then 3 subjects to A Level. However, recent reforms to A Level examinations intend for AS Level qualifications to be redesigned into isolated qualifications. For more information on these educational reforms, see Section 2 of this guide titled: “Changes To A Level Examinations”.

The pass grades, from highest to lowest for A Levels are as follows: A* A, B, C, D, and E. Grade U (ungraded/unclassified) is issued when students have not achieved the minimum standard to achieve a pass grade; the subject is then not included on their final certificate.

There are five examination boards which offer A Levels:

All of these examination boards are self-sufficient organisations which are regulated by the Office of the Regulators of Qualifications (Ofqual) – a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Education. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) acts as a single voice for the awarding bodies and assists them to create common standards, regulations and guidance.

Students receive their A Level results in the third week of August. Traditionally, students go to their school to collect their results, although Edexcel allow for the option of an online results service.

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Changes To A Level Examinations

From September 2013, a series of changes were put into place regarding A Level qualifications. As of September 2016, all A Level assessments will be linear. This means that coursework will be eliminated and all academic assessments will take place at the end of two years of study.

AS Level qualifications will still remain, although they will be redesigned as “a high quality stand-alone qualification as opposed to a means of progression to A2”.

These new A Level examinations will begun to be taught from September 2016, with the first examinations taking place in 2017.

This introduction of linear examinations means that there will no longer be January examinations for A level students, and Ofqual officials have announced their intentions to reduce the amounts of resits made available for students. As stated in a press release;

“The consultation followed on from Ofqual’s research into perceptions of A levels. This showed that the qualifications are considered to be largely fit for purpose but that there were some structural changes that could be made to improve them. There were also concerns expressed by teachers, employers and universities over what they term a resit culture. Teachers in particular said that A level students approach examinations with the expectation that they will always get a second chance.

Making improvements in these key areas is what this first phase is about and it has been widely welcomed by higher education and by many schools and colleges. The next phase will consider further structural changes to strengthen the A level, how higher education will be involved in A levels, and content changes where stakeholders deem that they are necessary”.

A few blank sheets ready for been filled in a exam.

Key findings from the consultation are published today and show support for:

  • the principle of higher education engagement with A level design, however there was less support for universities “endorsing” each A-level
  • students being assessed at the end of each of their first and second year of study
  • the removal of January exams and reduced resit opportunities
  • increasing synoptic assessment in A levels, allowing students to integrate and apply their skills, knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth
  • reducing internal assessment.

As a result of these consultations, more reforms are expected to be made in the coming months regarding A Level examinations. For more information regarding the ongoing reforms to A Level examinations, you can visit the official Ofqual website and archives.

View of a Young attractive student taking exams

How To Choose Which A-Levels To Study

Unlike GCSEs, students have complete liberty of choice regarding which subjects they choose to study. There are currently over 30 different A-Level subjects provided by a variety of different examination boards. Although students can choose whichever subjects they wish, it is advisable that your child evaluates their future career ambitions before deciding which A Levels to study. For example, if your child wishes to study Physics at University, it is required that they have an A Level in Physics. It is also advisable that your child studies related A Level subjects to their chosen specialism, such as Maths, IT or other sciences. These subjects will increase your child’s chances of being offered a place on their favoured University course.

In order to choose subjects which will support your child’s future university studies, you can use the UCAS Progress Search in order to view the various courses on offer. You can search according to:

  • Course, subject(s) or a particular area of learning: e.g. academic courses such as Maths or History, as well as vocational courses such as hairdressing or plumbing.
  • Schools, colleges and training providers: By typing in the name of the centre to which your child wishes to apply, you can find out the various courses they offer.
  • Courses or centres close to where you live: If you enter your postcode or the town in which your child wishes to study, you will be provided with a list of centres and the courses they offer.

Alternatively, if your child does not wish to attend University, it is still important that you pay close attention to which A Levels they choose. For instance, if your child has ambitions to work abroad, it is advisable that they study a language because this will provide them with linguistic expertise which will improve their employability prospects. Employers are also increasingly looking for candidates with computer skills, so an A Level in IT can improve your child’s employability status.

Similarly, if you child wishes to pursue a vocational career such as hairdressing or plumbing, there are a variety of colleges which offer specific A Levels for these careers. Therefore, when choosing your A-Levels, it is crucial that you carry out extensive research regarding the various subjects on offer and which of these could best prepare your child for their future career.

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How To Help Your Child Study For Their A Levels

Once your chid has decided the particular A Levels they wish to study, you can help them to achieve the best examination results possible. In order to help your child maximise their academic potential, there are a variety of resources which your child can utilise throughout their two year A Level course:

Revision Books: As well as their course textbooks, there are currently a wide range of revision textbooks, such as CGP, from which your child can benefit. These textbooks contain worked examples and revision checklists glossaries for each topic, as well as practice questions, examination style problems and solutions. These revision materials can equip your child with supplementary knowledge and helpful hints on how to perform well under examination conditions.

Online Tuition Resources: As well as textbooks, there are a wealth of online learning resources which have been designed to aid A Level students. By utilising websites such as BBC Bitesize, Maths Doctor and The Student Room you can access a cacophony of multimedia resources in order to help your child develop a greater understanding of difficult subjects. It is also advisable that you visit the various examination board websites for each of the subjects which your child intends to study. These websites, such as Edexcel, OCR or AQA, provide parents and students with course specifications and syllabuses for each A Level subject. Consequently, you and your child can prepare a comprehensive revision timetable which will cover all of the topics outlined in your child’s particular exam syllabus.

Revision Techniques: There are a variety of revision techniques which you can practise with your child in order to help them consolidate their academic strengths and overcome any potential weaknesses. If you create a comprehensive revision timetable with your child, you can create a realistic timeline within which they have plenty of time to prepare for their exams. Prioritise the topics which your child finds the most difficult, and use a wealth of different methods until you find a technique which helps them understand these topics better. Popular revision techniques include:

  • Mind mapping the various stages of each topic,
  • Creating flash cards with bite size facts and figures,
  • Making notes and talking through them with another person,
  • Drawing flow charts and diagrams of various topics,
  • Answering past paper questions (often under examination conditions)

Moreover, you can supplement these revision techniques with past paper archives and revision tools and resources, in order to help your child improve their knowledge base. By practising and repeating these techniques, your child can gain confidence in their own academic ability and in so doing increase their chances of achieving positive results during their actual A Level examinations.

Exam Day Preparation

There are several steps which you can take on the day of your child’s exam so that they enter their examinations feeling confident, prepared and well rested. By ensuring your child has all of the necessary equipment for their exam and is informed of their exam board’s rules and regulations, you can increase their chances of performing well during their A Level examinations:

  • Examination equipment: Check that your child is equipped with spare pens (with black ink) and pencils, a ruler, rubber and pencil sharpener, as well as highlighters and any other mathematical equipment such as compasses or protectors before entering their exam. All of this equipment must be visible in a clear plastic bag or pencil case. Your child should also bring their examination timetable with them because this will inform them of their seat numbers for each exam.
  • Prohibited items: Make sure your child is aware of the rules and regulations for their particular examination boards. As a rule, the following items are prohibited: mobile phones, IPods, MP3/4 players, reading pens, calculator cases or lids, all electronic communication or storage devices, correcting pens, fluid or tape. it is recommended that your child does not bring any unnecessary equipment or potentially prohibited items into their school when they are sitting an examination. If they are found in possession of any prohibited items, they risk disqualification from the exam as well as the entire exam board.
  • Food and Drink: Food and drink are not allowed during examination conditions. However, your child is allowed to take in water in a clear bottle which has all of the labels removed.

As well as preparing your child on the day of the exams, you can help them in the days and weeks leading up to their exams. Listed below are several measures you can take to ensure your child is well-rested and energised during their examination period:

  • Sleep: If your children receives a good night’s sleep the night before, and in the weeks leading up to, their exams then they can significantly improve their grades. Dr. Philip Alapat, the medical director of Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center and assistant professor at the Baylor College of Medicine Memory, advocates how “memory recall and ability to maintain concentration are much improved when an individual is rested…By preparing early and being able to better recall what you have studied, your ability to perform well on exams is increased…Any prolonged sleep deprivation will affect your mood, energy level and ability to focus, concentrate and learn, which directly affects your academic performance”.
  • Nutrition: Similarly to being well-rested, a nutritious diet can improve your child’s academic ability. Research has demonstrated that students who skip breakfast before an exam demonstrate a 20% – 40% reduction in thinking skills (e.g. concentration, alertness and memory). Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service;“eating breakfast improves the particular types of skills that students use in taking tests”. Therefore, it is important that you provide your child with a nutritious breakfast such as porridge or wholemeal toast with eggs before each exam. These types of meals will sustain your child’s energy levels and concentration capabilities and thus help them to perform better during their A Level exams.
  • Illness or injury: If your child sustains an injury which hinders their ability to write during examination conditions, then you need to inform the school as soon as possible so that a scribe can be provided. Similarly, if your child becomes seriously ill and cannot sit their exams, you must contact their school immediately. Depending upon the extent of your child’s illness, they may be awarded partial credit for their exam. In order to receive this partial credit, you must contact the Exams Office immediately and present confirmation from a doctor of the precise nature of the illness at the time of each exam. The Exams Office will need to know when the illness started and how long it lasted in order to assess the validity of each claim.

Close-up of a test perfect grade

Useful Links

If you have any further questions regarding A Level examinations, there are a variety of websites which you can visit. As well as providing you with specialised advice regarding which A Levels you can study, these online resources will equip you with revision techniques, tools and helpful hints for the day of your child’s examinations: