AS and A levels

Here I talk about the new reformed A level, first taught in 2017 and taken by all students born after 31st August 2000. It is no longer possible to sit the old modular A level.


These are the exams taken in the sixth form (year 12 and year 13).


AS is only used to cover the Advanced Subsidiary exams taken at the end of year 12

A Level can refer to the entire year 12 and year 13 course or just to the exams usually taken in year 13. If we want to avoid confusion, and just want to refer to the year 13 exams, we use the term A2.

You may also see the acronym GCE (General Certificate of Education) used for AS and A levels. This is not be confused with GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education)

AS (“Advanced Subsidiary”) exams are taken in May/June in year 12 (i.e. by 17-year-olds, or those about to be 17). A (“Advanced”) Levels are taken usually in May/June in year 13, the final year of schooling (i.e. by 18-year-olds, or those about to be 18).

It is no longer necessary to take an AS level in a subject in order to take the A Level. If a student does take both AS and A level, the marks gained at AS level have no effect whatsoever on the A level grade the next year! So, with the reformed A levels in place it is increasingly rare for student to take AS levels.

Here are 3 reasons why a student might take an AS level:

  1. It is school policy that students take 4 subjects in year 12 but only continue with 3 subjects in year 13. The student takes an AS level in the dropped subject at the end of year 12.
  2. A student struggles with a subject in year 12 and decides to drop it for year 13. The student takes an AS level in the dropped subject at the end of year 12.
  3. The school wants to expose their year 12 students to the rigors and difficulties of A level style exams and so enters all its students for AS level. The disadvantage of this approach is the loss of teaching time as students revise for the exam and the financial cost to the school (or parents) of entering the students for the exams.

In November 2014, Cambridge University entered the debate by urging schools to continue with AS levels to make University selection more realistic. Few schools have heeded this request!

The Maths within an AS level is also part of the A level syllabus and is examined in the A Level.

Different schools have different policies on entry thresholds for Maths AS and A Levels. A school might impose a minimum of a grade 6 GCSE for a student to start a Maths AS/A level but lower thresholds for other subjects.  A school might impose a minimum of a grade 8 GCSE for a student to start a Further Maths AS/A level


Format and Content of AS Level and A level Maths

The Maths AS and A Level each include:

  • 67% Pure
  • 17% Mechanics
  • 17% Stats

This content is fixed; there is no choice for the student or school on which modules to take. All exam boards must examine the same government-imposed syllabus (although many minor differences in interpretation have emerged)


AS exams are graded A, B, C, D, E and U (unclassified).

A Levels (the overall qualification) are graded A*, A, B, C, D, E and U (unclassified).


Exam Boards

Schools can choose from 3 possible examination boards for A Level Maths and Further Maths in England and Wales:

  • AQA
  • Edexcel
  • OCR also known as “Oxford Cambridge and RSA”

However, OCR runs two separate sets of Maths & Further Maths AS and A Levels. One is usually referred to as “OCR”; the other is usually referred to as “OCR/MEI”. MEI is an independent charity that works for Mathematics Education. So we have 4 possible A level syllabuses:

  • AQA
  • Edexcel
  • OCR

All four of these occur in our area, Edexcel is the most common, OCR the rarest. I am set up to teach all of them.

Two other boards WJEC also known as “The Welsh Board” or “Eduqas” and CCEA also known as the “Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment” or “the Belfast Board” also offer A Levels. I’m not aware of any schools in our area using these boards’ services.


Setting in 6th form Maths

Schools with lots of Maths students in the sixth form split them by ability into sets. Sometimes these sets are more dependent on other A levels being studied than the students’ abilities. Most large schools will teach the Core modules to students doing Further Maths in fewer lessons than they would to other students; this luxury is not possible in smaller schools.



AS and A levels are taken only in May/June. There are no resit opportunities in winter. If a student needs to resit Maths AS Level, they must resit both the Maths AS Level papers; they can’t choose just to resit one paper. Similarly, if a student needs to resit Maths A Level, they must resit all 3 of the Maths A Level papers; they can’t choose just to resit one paper.


A Levels for University Entry

University policies change all the time; take this as a broad guide. See the University Entry tab in the exams section for year 13 Exams that go beyond A Levels.

Universities make decisions on whether to offer a place long before the year 13 summer exams so only GCSEs, AS levels and the “predicted grades” from schools are available. Those universities that routinely interview candidates will use these to decide who to interview.   University Entrance Officers will use these exam grades plus the application form and what the school says (plus of course any interview) to judge whether make an offer.  In the past, the offer from a top university might have been unconditional but this is nowadays only given for “easy” courses at the less popular universities. Most universities offer make an offer based on particular grades (e.g. AAB in three A Level subjects). Some use a “Tariff” system where the offer is dependent on a certain number of “tariff points” at A Level and/or dependent on getting a certain grade at a particular subject at A level. “Tariff points” are calculated from A and AS Level grades.

For a Medical or Scientific degree most universities will require a reasonable grade at Maths. Social Sciences may require Maths or Statistics. A Maths degree should require top grades at Maths and preferably Further Maths.

See the University Entry tab (part of the Exams section) to see some extra exams demanded for certain courses (e.g. Maths) at certain Universities (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial).



Further Maths is a separate qualification. For example someone passing Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A level will have 4 A levels not 3.

The Further Maths AS and/or A content relies on the Maths AS and/or A Level content, so someone bought up in the UK education system must take Maths AS and/or A level if they wanted to take Further Maths AS and/or A level. However someone with the Maths A level from another education system could take Further Maths without having taken Maths.

Note that Further Maths AS and A level taken by students in year 12 and 13 are unrelated to the Further Maths qualifications offered by some exam boards as extra year 11 exams.


Further Maths Content

The Further Maths AS and A level content includes a government-mandated core of Pure Maths; the remainder of the content of the qualification is decided upon by the exam board. The exam boards have specified various options that can be chosen by the school or student. These vary by exam board but include:

  • More Pure Maths
  • Mechanics
  • Statistics
  • Discrete Maths (broadly speaking what we called Decision Maths in the past)

Further Maths AS and A content does not overlap the content of the Maths AS and A Level. However, Further Maths AS and A content does require understanding of most of the Maths AS and A Level

Martin Procter – June 2019

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