In 2018 we are towards the end of a period of reform of AS and A Levels. The reasons for the reform are complicated and political, but 2 of them are:
- Get rid of the modular structure
- Standardise on the content so Universities know what someone with a Maths A level ought to know.
For students born before 1 September 2000 continue reading this page “Old AS and A Levels”. These old AS and A levels will be offered in June 2019 for the last time and are only available to students doing resits.
For students born after 31 August 2000 read the tab “AS and A Levels” from the Exams drop-down menu.
These are the exams taken in the sixth form (year 12 and year 13).
AS (“Advanced Subsidiary”) exams are usually 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). AS and A levels are closely linked and students only take A Levels for subjects for which they have already taken an AS level.
Different schools have different policies on AS and A Levels. A school might impose a minimum of a grade B GCSE for a student to start a Maths AS/A level but lower thresholds for other subjects. A school might expect a student to take 4 AS level subjects in year 12, but drop one of them after AS and only take three A levels. These are only examples; different schools will have different policies.
AS is only used to cover the Advanced Subsidiary exams usually 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)
Maths and Further Maths AS and A Level
There are 2 subject qualifications commonly taken at AS and A Level: Mathematics and Further Mathematics. These count as 2 separate qualifications. If a student takes both Mathematics and Further Mathematics, he or she has got 2 A levels, not 1. Each has its own AS and A Level qualification, but, as you’ll see from the Modules section below, the actual content may overlap.
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.
Schools may demand a very good GCSE result (A* maybe) for any student doing Further Maths A Level.
Further Maths AS and A Level are in addition to Maths AS and/or A Level; you must take Maths if you take Further Maths.
Pure Maths AS and A Level
With most of the exam boards, it is possible to get an AS and/or A Level Pure Mathematics. This is an alternative to the Maths AS and A Level; the course contains less applied Maths and more pure Maths. Pure Maths AS and A Level are rarely offered by schools in our area.
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).
Schools can choose from 5 possible examination boards for A Level Maths and Further Maths in England and Wales, but only the first 3 on this list are widely used in our area:
- OCR also known as “Oxford Cambridge and RSA”
- WJEC also known as “The Welsh Board”. This board is part way through re-branding itself as Eduqas
- CCEA also known as the “Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment”
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 6 possible A level syllabuses, with only the first 4 common in our area:
The syllabuses vary between the above 6 “boards”. OCR and OCR/MEI are marginally the 2 most difficult in my opinion and are probably marginally the most respected by Universities.
See the “Misc.” tab for International A Levels.
Someone taking AS Maths needs to take 3 modules from a list of modules; an average of the marks is used to determine the grade. For A2 Maths, another 3 modules need to be taken so to get an A Level, a student must study and be examined on 6 modules and these 6 are averaged to provide the grade for the final A level. There are some other rules, such as needing to get at least a particular mark in particular modules to get an A*.
Someone taking AS Further Maths needs to take 3 different modules from a list and for A2 Further Maths a further 3 must be studied. So to get a Further Maths A Level, a student must study and be examined on at least 12 modules, 6 for Maths A Level and 6 for Further Maths A Level. Someone taking Further Maths must do most or all of the Further Pure Maths modules.
Someone taking AS Pure Maths needs to take 3 modules from a list of modules. For A2 Pure Maths, another 3 modules need to be taken so to get an A Level, a student must study and be examined in on at least 6 modules. Someone taking Pure Maths must do all the Core Pure Maths modules and usually at least one of the Further Pure Maths modules.
The modules offered are shown in the table below. The C series covers Pure Maths, mainly algebra; these are often called the “Core” modules. The FP series also covers Pure Maths. The S series covers Statistics and Probability. The M series covers Mechanics; some of the M series content is also part of Physics AS and A Level. The D series, which is not available with all exam boards, is the one that is most puzzling to the uninitiated; it covers Decision Mathematics and can best be understood as a study of algorithms which are related to computer programming. OCR/MEI alone has a module on Differential Equations.
|Core Pure Maths||C1||C1||C1||C1||C1||C1|
|Further Pure Maths||FP1||FP1||FP1||FP1||FP1||FP1|
For AQA, some of the Statistics Modules are available as part of Statistics A Level (see the Misc. tab).
It is not unknown for students to study more than 6 modules and take the best marks to achieve the qualification.
I realise that these modules can be confusing. So, let us take 3 typical students in our area and list the modules they might take:
Someone seeking a Maths qualification:
Maths AS Level - C1, C2, M1
Maths A2 – C3, C4, S1
Someone seeking a Pure Maths qualification:
Maths AS Level - C1, C2, FP1
Maths A2 – C3, C4, FP2
Someone seeking a Further Maths qualification:
Maths AS Level - C1, C2, M1
Maths A2 – C3, C4, M2
Further Maths AS Level – FP1, S1, D1
Further Maths A2 – FP2, FP3, S2
The above are only examples; the chances are that your school will do things differently; each exam board allows different combinations of modules. Your school may give some element of choice to its students, alternatively, it may teach different module depending on which other A levels a student is doing. Schools have good reasons for giving little or no choice, there may be too few students interested in doing a module, there may be timetabling constraints or there may be no staff able to teach a particular module.
Schools also have to operate within the rules set by the exam boards, most exam boards specify that students must take C1 to C4 and Further Maths students must take most or all of FP1 to FP3. I do not list all the exam boards’ rules on this web site.
It is important to understand that, in general, the eventual A Level grades awarded after year 13 are based upon all the AS and A Level modules taken. So! the AS level exams taken in year 12 are in many ways more important than the A2 exams; they contribute not only to the AS grade but also to the final A level grade. They are also the most recent exam results that on which Universities can judge an applicant.
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 the modules chosen 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.
From 2014, AS and A levels are taken only in May/June. The option to take (or resit modules) in January is no longer available. As a result, from 2014, exam boards have allowed many new combinations of papers to be taken in the same season.
Schools expect their year 12 students back in school in late June after the final AS level to start their A2 courses.
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 GCSE and AS level grades are available. University Entrance Officers will use these exam grades plus the application form and what the school says to judge whether to interview a candidate and whether to make an offer after the interview. The offer may be unconditional but this is nowadays very rare. More common is the “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 also Further Maths.
Universities might prefer particular modules as part of the Maths A Level: e.g. “M” modules for an Engineering or Physics degree, “D” modules for an IT degree, and “S” modules for Medicine and Social Sciences. However, Universities are aware that individual students often have very little choice on which modules they take to make up the A Level and no choice on which Exam board to use.
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).
Links to some past papers
Here are some links to past AS and A Level exam papers. In the interest of brevity, I’ve just included AQA Maths, Further Maths and Pure Maths from May/June 2013.
- C1 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MPC1-QP-JUN13.PDF
- C2 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MPC2-QP-JUN13.PDF
- C3 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MPC3-QP-JUN13.PDF
- C4 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MPC4-QP-JUN13.PDF
- FP1 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MFP1-QP-JUN13.PDF
- FP2 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MFP2-QP-JUN13.PDF
- FP3 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MFP3-QP-JUN13.PDF
- FP4 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MFP4-QP-JUN13.PDF
- M1 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MM1B-QP-JUN13.PDF
- M2 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MM2B-QP-JUN13.PDF
- M3 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MM03-QP-JUN13.PDF
- S1 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MS-SS1B-QP-JUN13.PDF
- S2 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MS2B-QP-JUN13.PDF
- S3 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MS03-QP-JUN13.PDF
- S4 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MS04-QP-JUN13.PDF
- D1 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MD01-QP-JUN13.PDF
- D2 – http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-MD02-QP-JUN13.PDF
Martin Procter – August 2017