Image of A Levels: How Best to Prepare Your Pupils

A Levels: How Best to Prepare Your Pupils

For many pupils in further education, A levels are the elephant in the room. The last exams that students will face before embarking on university courses, or perhaps leaving education altogether, A levels signify a landmark in many young people’s lives.

Understandably, given their importance, preparation for A levels can come with difficulties beyond genning up and getting to grips with good exam technique. Indeed, many students will face increased levels of stress and anxiety. For educators, it is just as important to support young people’s mental wellbeing as it is to give them academic skills when it comes to exam preparation.

What are A level exams?

With the ‘A’ in A levels standing for ‘advanced’, final A level exams are the last hurdle many students face before admittance onto a university course. For others, these exams may be the final step before entering the world of work.

Generally, students will complete 3 or 4 A levels, and they may take them across any subject. Unlike GCSEs, there are no ‘core’ subjects to be completed and so the exams that a student is taking are more likely reflective of their interests or the subject they plan to study in further education.

A levels are split into two parts, ‘AS’ and ‘A2’. The initial AS component is a qualification in its own right, and when in conjunction with the A2 stage constitutes a complete A level.

When are A level exams held?

In 2023, A level exams were held between Monday 15 May and Wednesday 27 June. In other words, exams began a week following the coronation of King Charles.

What do A levels cover?

A levels can cover a range of subjects, including subjects such as philosophy and psychology which may not have been offered earlier in the student’s schooling. There are no core subjects in which students are required to sit, though, in 2022, Maths was the most popular A level.

It is not uncommon for students to drop one A level at the AS stage before continuing with the remaining subjects through to A2.

How are A levels marked?

A levels are marked on a grading system from A* through to E, with an A* being the highest possible grade that can be achieved. It is also possible to receive a ‘U’ which stands for ‘unclassified’, though this is arguably not a grade in itself as it signifies that no grade can be awarded.

What are A levels used for?

A level results are the primary way in which universities decide on which students to offer places to. Some students may well have received a ‘conditional’ offer from a university of their choice, indicating that they will be offered a place on their desired course should their A level results be achieved.

A level results may also be requested by prospective employers and often find their way into CVs and resumes.

How can we prepare young people for A levels?

Following SATs, GCSEs and mock exams, by the time they reach their A levels, many pupils will feel accustomed to sitting exams and preparing for them. However, while mock exams and previous experience of sitting exams may go some way to helping young people prepare for their A levels, considering the weight given to results by university admission teams, there is undoubtedly more pressure to perform for many students.

As such, feelings of anxiety and stress are likely to come in to play for many students. This can be a tricky time not only for students themselves, but also for adults who are looking to provide them with the emotional and mental support they need alongside their educational grounding.

Our webinar, ‘How to How to Manage Exam and Test-Related Anxiety and Stress’ is a fantastic tool to help leaders and teachers give support to young people struggling with the mental aspect of sitting exams. Featuring strategies to help reduce and better cope with exam-related stress, this webinar is a designed to help improve outcomes for candidates through supporting their emotional and wellbeing needs.

Can a young person practice for A levels?

Practice, revision and getting into healthy routines is always advised for students sitting exams, but given the importance of A levels, students may be especially keen to ensure that they are as prepared for their exams as possible.

As well as being encouraged to experiment with a range of revision techniques, we can also help young people prepare for their A levels by signposting them towards useful resources that they can explore in their free time, such as trusted websites and physical revision guides. Mock exams are another useful resource which can help young people not only put their revision into practice but exercise their exam management strategies.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of A level subjects require the completion of coursework alongside exams, with this often taking the form of essays. For these subjects, a final grade will be awarded based on a combination of results gained from coursework and essays, with different subjects having different weightings.