All About the International A-Levels

02/08/202313 minute read
All About the International A-Levels

International A Levels, a sought-after educational program offered in renowned high schools worldwide, such as Crimson Global Academy (CGA), serves as a stepping stone for students aiming to secure admission to top-tier universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Cambridge. In this article, we’ll delve into the diverse range of subjects available, shed light on the grading system, and demonstrate how this esteemed pathway unlocks opportunities to prestigious universities across the globe.

Overview of International A Levels

Little-known to some, International A Levels come in various "flavors," with Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) as the prevalent assessment provider, run by the University of Cambridge.

However, beyond Cambridge, another provider exists—Edexcel. Edexcel is an assessment provider for International GCSE and A Levels run by Pearson plc, one of the world’s largest education publishing companies, and the flavor of choice for Crimson Global Academy’s fully certified online high school.

Having previously compared the Edexcel content, exams, and global recognition against Cambridge, IB and NCEA in a previous blog series, we’ll now explore all about the International A Levels.

Distinction between Cambridge and Edexcel

The International A Levels are based on the UK high school education system. Edexcel and Cambridge are just two different organizations that provide an internationally adapted version of the British high school education to a global student base.

Edexcel and Cambridge subjects are very well-designed and follow a logical, structured syllabus with all the learning goals a student should expect to master over the course of their A Level qualification laid out. You can easily check out the syllabus of a subject you’re interested in taking by googling “Edexcel International A Level Geography syllabus” or “Cambridge International A Level Physics syllabus.”

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Understanding the International A Level Curriculum

Structure and Format of A Level Qualification

The A Level is broken down into two parts: the AS Level and A2 Level:

  • The first year of your A Level qualification is known as the AS Level with a set of examinations at the end of the year.
  • The second year of your A Level is known as the A2 Level with another set of examinations at the end of the year.

If you choose to take an AS Level subject and its exams without sitting the A2 Level the next year, you won’t complete the A Level qualification and instead receive just the AS qualification.

Typically, students take 4-5 AS Level subjects in their second to last year of high school. They will then go on to take 3-4 of those subjects at the A2 Level, often taking extra subjects at AS Level to fill up their timetable (without completing the full A Level) in their final year of high school.

While this is the typical timeline for studying A Levels, if you’re interested in competing for spots at the top US universities, not even 4 A Levels will be enough for you to stand out from the competitive applicant pool.

Exploring Subject Choices

International A Levels offer a diverse range of subjects, each with a structured syllabus detailing learning objectives and topics covered. As you explore different subjects, take the time to align them with your interests and long-term career goals.

For some students, accelerated learning programs can provide significant benefits, such as reduced stress and additional time to focus on standardized test preparation, extracurricular activities, and scholarship opportunities.

An example, is a student from Auckland, New Zealand, who was part of the Macleans College accelerate program, took four Cambridge International AS Level subjects—Maths, English Literature, Chemistry, and Physics—in Year 11 (NZ, Year 10 Aus, 10th Grade US).

The following year, during their second-to-last year of high school, they continued with these four subjects at the A2 Level, while also opting for AS Biology. Having completed four A Levels by their penultimate year of high school, the student experienced reduced stress during their final year, knowing they already had secured four A* grades at A Level for university. In contrast, their non-accelerate peers faced anxiety over handling four A2 subjects in their last year, as those grades played a decisive role in their university admissions.

For those seeking a flexible and balanced approach to A Level studies, enrolling in Crimson Global Academy's part-time Edexcel A Level program is an option worth considering. This program spreads high-stakes A Level exams across two years, resulting in a less stressful final year of high school.

It's important to be mindful of the subject choices that align with the entry requirements of your desired universities, especially for top institutions in the US and UK, which may expect students to take 6-8 A Level subjects to demonstrate their academic capabilities.

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Pathway difficulty

Most students will progress onto the Edexcel/Cambridge International AS or A Level pathway after taking the subject at International GCSE level. This is often the recommended path as International GCSEs give you the necessary foundation for advanced A Level coursework. But this is not required, and bright students may choose to take the AS Level subject without having taken the International GCSE subject before.

However, there is often a big jump in difficulty from Edexcel/Cambridge International GCSEs to AS Level coursework. This is because AS Level demands you to think much more deeply about the content and to synthesize what you have learnt to solve problems in unfamiliar circumstances.

There is not as big of a jump from AS to A2 as most students regard both to be of similar difficulty and A2 is just another year of learning new content as students finish up their Edexcel/ Cambridge International A Level qualifications.

Luckily, there are a wealth of resources readily available for Edexcel/ Cambridge A Levels, including:

  • Textbooks
  • Past Papers
  • Study guides
  • YouTube video tutorials
  • Online notes
  • Other helpful websites

Many students find self-studying with these resources highly productive, allowing them to learn at their own pace and supplement classroom teaching effectively. CGA’s flexible online learning model allows for self-paced learning and small class sizes for impactful teacher interactions, creating an optimal environment for academic growth and success.

Assessment and Examinations

The majority of Edexcel/ Cambridge AS and A Level subjects are externally assessed, with exams offered in June and November for Cambridge and June, October, and January for Edexcel.

Students typically sit one set of exams at the end of AS and A2. However, with three examination dates throughout the year, CGA's Edexcel International A Levels offer more opportunities for re-sits, allowing students to improve their grades if needed.

In Cambridge International A Levels, students must sit all the papers required for the AS/A2 qualification at every sitting, even if re-sitting certain subjects. On the other hand, CGA's Edexcel International A Levels divide each course into 4-6 modules. The first 2-3 modules form the AS qualification, and the latter 2-3 modules make up the A2 qualification. This modular approach allows students to focus on specific modules during resits.

Edexcel's mark schemes tend to be more detailed, providing clearer indications of how students can earn credit for their answers compared to Cambridge's mark schemes.

For sciences like Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, Cambridge International AS Level sciences require students to complete practical examinations under exam conditions. Edexcel A Levels, however, tend to be more theoretical and do not include these practical examinations.

Practical exams can sometimes drag down students' grades in Cambridge A Levels as schools may lack the resources for adequate practice in experimental skills. This is a situation that students won't encounter with Edexcel A Levels.

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In terms of grading, Cambridge students receive a percentage grade at the end of their AS Level exams, and a final overall A Level percentage grade that’s made up 50/50 of their AS and A2 Level grades. Note that there are no A* grades awarded for AS Level. They are only awarded for completion of full A Level qualification. Also, you do not receive your separate A2 Level grade, only your combined A Level grade.

Edexcel students receive grades after their examinations at the end of every module according to the table below. Their final average grade is the weighted average of the modules they sit through during the AS and A2 portions by a predefined weighting that you can find in each subject’s syllabus online.

Cambridge International AS Level GradeCambridge International A Level GradeEdexcel International AS/ A Level GradeScaled Uniform Percentage Grade (%)
UUU<40 or Unsat

Students receive both a percentage grade and a letter grade on their completion certificates from Edexcel or Cambridge. But it is this letter grade that is most often quoted and used in university admissions.

While the percentage grade boundaries may look intimidating, one of the great things about International AS and A Levels is that you don’t have to get 90% or 70% of the questions correct to end up getting a 90% or 70% on your report card.

International AS and A Levels employ scaling, which converts raw marks to Percentage Uniform Marks. The exams are calibrated against other students' performance, resulting in most raw marks being scaled up. Scaling ensures a fair representation of performance and determines the A*-E grade displayed on the certificate of completion.

Edexcel and Cambridge publish grade thresholds after each exam sitting on their respective websites to maintain transparency in the scaling process.

While scaling can significantly boost grades, teachers emphasize that diligent studying and extensive past paper practice remain crucial for achieving desired results.

Ready to take on International A Levels?

With Crimson Online Academy, you can now study and sit International AS or A Levels online from anywhere. CGA offers both full-time and part-time enrolment options, so whether you want to stay enrolled in your current school and supplement your core studies with additional Pearson Edexcel International AS or A Levels, or you’re looking to join a school where you can take unlimited International A-Levels, we have an option for you.

Download our prospectus to find out more or speak to an Academic Advisor today!