The biggest difference with the new A levels is in how they are assessed. There is very little coursework, and all the exams are taken at the end of the two years. The content of each new A level has been fully revised and is more stretching, sometimes including more demanding maths content, and often requiring longer more sustained pieces of writing. There are more chances to explore topics in depth and to use creative approaches to study. In all subjects, the exams require you to put together what you have learnt from across the whole two years of the course and make links between things in your final exams. The College is investing in more teaching time and individual support to ensure that you are properly prepared for these new approaches, and we will give you plenty of practice in developing the essential examination skills required to secure good grades. We are confident that by concentrating on developing your expertise in three subjects right from the start, we can make sure that you get the grades you need for an exciting future career.
There is no problem doing a mix and match, or even if you choose to do all old style subjects. You will still get the extra teaching time we are building in for all subjects even for old style courses, but you will have to take the AS exams in the summer of the first year. You must still choose the three subjects you want to focus on right from the start, even if they are all old style subjects. If you want to do four, you will have to meet our entry requirements for a four subject programme by getting at least 5 A/A* grades at GCSE.
Further Maths is an important and powerful part of your programme especially if you are considering competitive applications for Maths, Physics, or Engineering. You have to study it alongside “ordinary” Maths, and your programme would be very narrow if you only did one other subject. Having three different subjects ensures that you have a good range of options to choose from. For Further Maths as part of a four A level programme you will need to have at least 5 A grades or better, including at least an A at Maths and a C in English.
Exactly what GCSE grades do I need for a four A level programme compared to a three A level programme?
For a four A level programme you must have at least 5 A/A* grades or grade 7’s at GCSE, including both English and Maths at a grade 4/C grade or better. You will also have to meet the subject specific entry requirements for all four of your subject choices. For three A levels you need 5 GCSE grades of grade 4/C grade or better, including both English and Maths, with at least two of these at B grades/grade 6 or better. Again, you will also need to meet the subject specific requirements for all three subjects, and these are available on our website.
The first place to get advice is your school where independent advice and guidance on subject choices and careers should be available. Alternatively, we always have qualified and trained Careers Advisors available in College at our open events and on our interview evenings. We also have a range of university representatives at our Open events.
Four subjects is a demanding programme. You will need to take all four for the full two years, and will have a large number of exams at the end of the course, as well as lots of demanding homework all the time. Very few universities or employers will actually require you to have taken four subjects, and it is usually better to do really well in three rather than spreading yourself more thinly over four. The only areas where we would advise you to think of taking four subjects would be if you are considering applying for medicine, veterinary medicine, or for the most competitive universities like Oxford or Cambridge. Competitive universities may want to see Further Maths as part of this package if you are looking at a Maths, Physics or Engineering degree.
Most universities will set you an offer based on the grades you get in three subjects. (The main exceptions are set out in No 7 above.) We have had confirmation from many of our university partners that a three A level programme will meet their requirements fully. Universities will also look at your GCSE grades, your personal statement, and our reference.
We know that success at advanced level study, and beyond in both the workplace and at university, is heavily dependent on you having strong skills with both English and Maths. You would struggle to do well if you did not have these basic building blocks in place before you start with us, and they are therefore part of our basic entry requirements. Those that do not have at least a grade C/grade 4 in both will be required to retake the subject they achieved a grade D/grade 3 in. Even if you do have a Grade C, you may find that you need to work on particular elements of your skills in these subjects with us, because the content of A levels has become more demanding in these areas. You will be able to do this with our online support materials.
I am worried that I don’t do well in exams, and the new A levels have very little course work. What should I do?
If you did better in your coursework than you did in exams you should take a very serious look at our range of BTEC Extended Diplomas and CACHE Diplomas, which are assessed mostly through coursework. Each of the courses is the equivalent to three full A levels, and we have a long track record of students accessing prestigious university courses with this qualification. It is still a very demanding course and you have to be ready for constant deadlines over the full two years – but most of our students get excellent grades, with the average profile being Distinction* Distinction* Distinction, equal to A grades at A level. You will certainly do better with this sort of profile from a BTEC rather than struggling for good grades at A level because of exams.