What Are A-levels And How Can It Get Your Child Further In College?

When parents have an intention to send your child to study abroad, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make in high school is choosing the right curriculum.

At Everest Education, we always hear many questions and concerns from parents about which program they should take to offer their child the best preparation for success at university.  Since we already talked about the International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP) program, this article will focus on one of the most popular globally recognised curriculums is the Cambridge International Examinations: Advanced Level (CIE), more commonly known as the Cambridge International (GCE) A Level and AS Level.

Below we will explain in-depth about A-Levels, the requirements, how it’s different from other programs, and everything you need to know about this qualification.

1. What Are A-Levels?

A-Levels (short for Advanced levels) are a UK national curriculum designed to follow the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in the UK.  Students usually choose three or four subjects and take two years to study for these A-Levels between the ages of 16 and 18. A-Levels are two-year courses; the first year is called the Advanced Subsidiary (AS), the final year is called the A2 Year.

The program offers a choice of 55 subjects and schools can offer any combination of subjects.  International A Levels are offered by Cambridge International Examinations, but the teacher can decide how to teach each subject.

According to the official UCAS website, “A levels are subject-based qualifications that can lead to university, further study, training, or work. You can normally study three or more A-Levels over two years.”  For those considering US universities, the American equivalent for A-Levels are the AP examinations.

To understand the most popular and prestigious academic paths, Everest Education introduces you to the ebook: “High School Roadmaps and International Qualifications – A-Levels, AP and IB.” 

What’s inside this ebook: 

  • Overview of A-Level, IB, and AP – the three most popular and prestigious academic paths for High School students.
  • How to choose between academic paths.
  • Requirements for completion, study workload, teaching methodology and exam structures of each program.

>> Sign up to download the ebook here.


2. Who takes A-Levels? 

Aimed at 16–19 year old students before university study, Cambridge International AS & A Levels are taken by over 175 000 students in more than 125 countries every year.  In the UK, these are taken in years 12 and 13 of the secondary school curriculum.  However, there is no age limit for taking A-levels, and many international students take them, often to meet university entrance requirements.  Many colleges of further education and independent colleges offer intensive one-year A-level programmes.

3. Requirements for completion

The courses can end at the end of the AS, and students can receive the AS qualification.  To receive A-Levels qualifications, students must sit the exam.  A-Levels are graded by letters, with A* being the top grade, followed by B, C, D and E.

If a student fails, they must re-sit the whole exam – it is not possible just to re-sit specific modules. However, students can retake their A Levels as many times as necessary.

A Level Grading System
Grade Percentage
A* 90% +
A 80-89%
B 70-79%
C 60-69%
D 50-59%
E 40-49%
U (Ungraded) 0-40%

Students are encouraged to take four or five subjects to AS level for one year and specialise in two or three of these in the second year. AS grades may count towards university entrance requirements, but AS qualifications alone will not fully meet these requirements.

4. What subjects can be studied at AS and A-Levels?

There is a large range of over 50 subjects that can be studied at A level, but it depends on what your particular school or college has on offer.  The choices are similar to those at GCSE and usually allow students to carry on the subjects that they like from GCSE. Many colleges require a GCSE in a subject to carry it on at A level.  Students typically study four subjects at AS Level and three subjects at A-Level.  The standard admission requirement for UK universities is three A Levels.  Psychology, Photography and Economics have all become popular choices for A levels, so it’s worth checking out several colleges in your area to see what’s on offer for your teen.  Research from 2020 shows that the most popular A-Levels are predominantly core subjects like Maths, Science and English.

Cambridge International AS & A Level subject groups
English Mathematics Science
Languages Humanities Technology
Social Sciences The Arts General Studies


The best way for your child to choose their subjects is for them to simply choose the ones they’re interested in and find enjoyable, as this will boost their chances of succeeding.  Pressuring them to choose subjects that they do not like could mean they don’t engage with the course as much. If your child has a particular career, job, or further study in mind, she may need to choose specific A levels in order to meet entry requirements.

5. Staged and linear assessment

  • Option 1:
    Students take the Cambridge International AS Level only.
    The syllabus content for Cambridge International AS Level is half of a Cambridge International A Level programme.
  • Option 2:
    Students take the Cambridge International AS Level in Year 1 and in Year 2 complete the Cambridge International A Level.
  • Option 3:
    Students take all papers of the Cambridge International A Level course in the same examination series, usually at the end of the second year of study.

6. Examples of worldwide recognition 

  • Yale University recognises Cambridge International A Levels for matriculation purposes. Credit is awarded for grades A or B. Students enrolled in A-Level programmes may use completed A-Level results as a substitute for the SAT II Subject Tests on a one-for-one basis. Yale gives credit for A-Levels once they are approved by the student’s academic advisor.
  • The University of Oxford welcomes students with Cambridge International A Levels. Oxford has for many years accepted the Cambridge International A Level as a suitable qualification to meet the conditions for entry to the collegiate university. The qualifications provide students with suitable subject knowledge, although the competitive nature of applications means that success in A-Levels alone does not automatically result in an offer.
  • The National University of Singapore welcomes applications from students holding a good pass in at least three Cambridge International A Levels. Many applicants submit good passes in four or more A Levels. A total of all subject grades in two sittings taken within 12 months of each other is allowed.
  • The University of Sydney welcomes applicants who achieve a minimum of three full A-Level subjects in one academic year. Very competitive courses may need four subjects for admission. AS subjects will not be accepted in place of A Level subjects but result in AS subjects may improve the competitiveness of qualified applicants.

7. Should my child take A-Levels?

A-Levels, along with IB and AP, are popular terminal qualifications for school-based education and strong attainment indicators for university admission. However, unlike other curriculums, coursework or classroom participation grades don’t affect the final score of AS and A2 courses.  Your entire grade is determined by how you perform in your final exams.

“If you are sure you want your child to study in the UK, it might be preferable to take A-Levels, as it is the country’s traditional high school qualification. A-Levels are also a great choice for students who have a clear idea of which subjects they excel in and what studies they wish to pursue after school. A-Levels allow them to focus their time on achieving the highest possible grades in the 3 or 4 most relevant subjects.” According to Ms. Shannon Rybacki, Chief Operation Officer at Everest Education holds a B.A. in Education and an Executive MBA. student herself.

Most importantly, students receive separate certificates in each subject they pass, rather than one overall certificate as with the IB.

8. Where to learn A-Levels in Vietnam

A-Levels is an incredible curriculum that opens up many tertiary opportunities for high school students.  In Vietnam, particularly in Ho Chi Minh city, students can learn A-Levels in some top-tier international schools such as British Vietnamese International School (BVIS); Singapore International School, Sai Gon South (SSIS); Vietnam Australia International School (VAS); The ABC International School (ABCIS).

If your family is living in Hanoi, you can check out schools that offer this program, including British Vietnamese International School (BVIS Hanoi); Horizon International Bilingual School (HBIS), International School of Vietnam; Singapore International School, Gamuda Gardens; The International School@ParkCity Hanoi.

9. Where and how to register?

A-Levels examination is provided by the official examination council – Cambridge International Examinations (CIE).  The test is normally held twice a year, one in June and the other in November.  All tests will be scored in the UK and test results will be published in August and January.

In Vietnam, students can sit this examination by registering at British Council Vietnam.  For detailed guidelines, you can visit their website or contact British Council Vietnam directly for related questions.

Parting words

The A-Level curriculum is a hugely popular, internationally recognised curriculum that helps you secure your place at a top university. Whether you’re hoping to attend Stanford, Oxford, or Harvard, A-Levels are the high school curriculum to help get you there!

If you need more advice about which high school diploma is right for your child or need help to maximize her test scores to get into the top colleges, feel free to reach out to us!


At Everest Education, we have been working with many international students from prestigious international schools around the city, including BIS, ISHCMC, AIS, ISHCMC-AA, LSTS,… and have years of experience preparing students for entrance into an international school. If you need any advice from us, please do not hesitate to reach out to us via info@e2.com.vn or learn more on our website.



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