A Levels – the Worldwide Academic Gold Standard

A Levels (Advanced Level Qualifications) (the UK school leaver’s certificate exams) are becoming more popular in China each year. Indeed, the number of students taking A Levels in China increased by 9 percent in 2019. 

Perhaps this is due to the fact that A Levels are based on final exams and thus pupils who perform well in exams can do very well at A Level? Or it may be due to the fact that pupils typically study the three or four subjects which interest them most or the three or four subjects which will best prepare them for their chosen University course or future career plans, and thus they can engage wholeheartedly in their learning without being distracted by subjects they do not enjoy? This article seeks to explore the real experience of studying A Level.

To deepen parents’ understanding of A Level, we invite Mr Thackrey, our Deputy Head to answer some frequently asked questions.

Many parents think A Level is for those students who can’t do well in some subjects, talented students will choose IB, is that true?

On the contrary, A Levels go in to much more depth than IB and thus A Levels are the very best preparation for university as pupils who study A Levels are already accustomed to the in-depth study and research which is required when studying at university.  

IB gives a great variety of knowledge (as do GCSEs), whereas by the time pupils get to A Levels the majority know which three or four subjects they prefer and thus want to focus on and gain a much deeper knowledge in. There are no compulsory subjects at A Level and thus pupils are free to stop the subjects which will not play a part in their future career plans or subjects which they do not enjoy studying. There is a great freedom in focusing on one’s three or four favourite subjects.

A Level students can only be recognised by the universities in the UK?

A Levels are recognised as the Gold Standard end of school exam certificates by universities across the globe thanks to the rigour and discipline which is required in order to succeed at A level and thus the fantastic preparation they give pupils before they go on to university. Also pupils receive a separate exam certificate and grade for each exam they take at A Level rather than the single grade which IB pupils receive.

Do top universities prefer IB students? 

Top universities welcome both A Levels and IB, although for more specialised courses (for example where Further Maths is required) A Levels are certainly an advantage. The key advantage of A Levels is that pupils who have studied A Levels arrive at university with more detailed specific subject knowledge which is a great help as they begin a significant new chapter in their lives. They can therefore settle in to university and find their feet with confidence in the knowledge that they will be able to make a strong start in their studies.

As Mr Thackrey said, A Level gives students opportunities to learn deeply about the subjects they are interested in, achieve academic excellence and eventually enter the world’s top universities. For students who know where their passions lies and have clear goal, A Level is definitely a perfect choice.

Adina and Aegean, who both joined Harrow this year, are these kind of students with clear goals. After studying A Level for a few months, they would like to share their thoughts.

Adina, Year 12

We know you studied in an IB international school and another A Level school previously, why did you choose Harrow?

I wanted to study A Levels in 6th From rather than IB as I want to go to the UK for university and also I didn’t want to keep studying all the subjects which IB requires. I hope to study Psychology at Cambridge.

Which A Level subjects are you studying?

I am studying Biology, Maths, Economics and Chemistry.

How do you feel after learning A Levels for a few months at Harrow Shanghai? What impressed you the most?

As a new student who joined Harrow in 2020, I am hugely grateful for the wonderful atmosphere amongst the school community. I found settling in to a new school for 6th Form easier than I had expected – my classmates were really helpful.  I am already getting excellent advice on what I need to do in order to apply to Cambridge. We have being having extra lessons in Critical Thinking which is teaching me how to think from different perspectives. 

Aegean, Year 12

Why did you choose A Level?

My cousin is at Harrow School in London and he is really enjoying A Levels and after speaking to him, A Levels felt like a much better fit for me as I could focus on the 3 subjects I really love.

Which A Level subjects are you studying and why? 

I am studying English, Drama and Music.  Before I only used to have Drama twice a week – now I have it every day which is great. I love studying three subjects in which I feel really capable, rather than 6 subjects several of which I did not feel so confident in. 

How do you feel after learning A Levels for a few months at Harrow Shanghai? What impressed you the most?

I am really enjoying spending time focusing on the subjects and areas I need for my future, rather than having to focus on areas which will not be so useful for me. I am also really enjoying how much crossover, connections and links there are between the subjects I am studying. It has been easy to fit in with the 6th Form cohort at Harrow. 

At Harrow, we focus on more than simply the all important end of school A Level exams.  We seek to help prepare our 6th Formers to live fulfilling lives after Harrow, with the confidence to make positive life choices, knowing where to seek help when it is needed and through the holistic education they have received are ready to serve as leaders, with resilience, humanity and innovative thinking.