Réunion French
Hi everybody,

Could anyone explain the system of A-levels to me ? I'm a bit lost. For example, what's the difference between O-levels and A-levels ? Do you know a good website to learn about this ?

  • Polly-Jean

    Réunion French
    Merci. Il n'y a pas de contexte particulier mais j'ai besoin de ces infos. Je veux juste mieux comprendre comment fonctionne le lycée au R.U. C'est important pour ce que je sus en train de faire.

    D'autres bonnes âmes pour m'aider ?


    Senior Member
    English, UK
    O-level exams no longer exist, they were replaced by GCSEs many years ago. These are usually taken at age 16. Most students will take between five and ten of them, in a range of subjects.

    A-levels are the next level up, usually taken at age 18 and in fewer subjects. They are one of the (now quite extensive range of) qualifications which can lead to a university place.

    There is a lot more to be said, if you can tell us exactly what you want to know.


    Réunion French
    Thanks. 'in fewer subjects' : How many ? What grades can lead to a university place ? Is it possible to resit the exams if you're not happy with your grades ? And what do you call that last year of study ?

    'A-level' is split into 2 years. AS + A2= Full A-Level.
    At the start of your course you choose (usually) 4 subjects to study, plus most British kids have to take 'General Studies' too, but this is more of a general knowledge paper, and most do not receive formal teaching for this.

    AS ('Advanced Subsiduary') is the first year of the A-Level course, which is taken when the student is 17. This is called Year 12 in the British school system, or "lower sixth form". (This alternative name is left over from previous times when Year 7 used to be called 'Form 1' etc).

    Exams are taken at the end of AS year- every subject in AS is marked out of 200, and graded (A,B,C,D,E etc). These marks are carried over into the final year of study, so effectively each student completes half their 'A-Level' in Year 12.

    If the results in August are not good, the student can resit the whole year (which, in British schools, never usually happens lower down the school system), or they have the chance to carry on with the next year of study, whilst re-sitting any modules from the AS year that they did badly in at the same time. So somebody re-sitting exams (but NOT the whole year) will start their second A-Level year in September, re-sit the AS exams they did badly in in January, and then complete their exams for the second year of A Level in June.

    A2 (second year) is taken when the student is 18- in Year 13 (alternatively called "upper sixth"). It is possible to keep doing all 4 subjects, but most students drop one. Most students therefore leave "sixth form" with 3 A-Level qualifications, and 1 'AS' qualification (which is the subject they did not carry on studying in year 13).

    They now have a mark out of 200 from the year before, which they take over into the second year. There are another set of exams at the end of A2 year- again out of 200 to give a total score of AS + A2= 400. It is thus possible to accumulate a lot of marks in AS, do a bit worse in A2, and still come out with a decent grade!

    The old A Level system grades went as follows:
    + 80% or more- A
    70%- B
    60%- C
    50%- D
    40% -E
    less- U = "ungradable"

    The best universities in Britain used to ask for grades of AAA- however, many students acheived this so this year a new system is introduced:
    90%- A*
    80%- A

    This is the first year of using such a system, however Cambridge are now asking for grade requirements of A*AA.

    As for other universities, each institution and each course has different grade requirements- the more popular the university or course, the higher the grade requirements.

    It seems very complicated, and in some ways, it is....but I hope that made a little bit of sense!


    New Member
    English (UK)
    plus most British kids have to take 'General Studies' too, but this is more of a general knowledge paper, and most do not receive formal teaching for this.
    Wow! I don't think I could have explained all that discothèque!

    Just one thing: I have never heard of this 'General Studies' exam before and I definitely never sat it. We would have a 'tutorial' or 'form class' once a week in addition to our chosen classes, where we were shown (and helped) to write CVs, apply to university and we did projects to gain 'Key Skills' (which are qualifications) in ITC and Maths. but there was no exam for it.

    And on a side note, (to help confuse things further); Years 12 and 13 can also be called Years 1 and 2 when they are spent in a sixth form college, which is separate from a secondary/comprehensive school and only caters for students 16+ in further education.

    Hope this information is useful, j x

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I sat General Studies (or was it called the General Paper?) in 1963; it was quite new then.

    Polly-Jean, since you asked about "the difference between O-levels and A-levels" I suppose you mean the old system, before GCSEs existed?

    In those days good pupils took O levels at about age 16 or perhaps 15; weaker pupils did not take these exams. You might take anything from 5 to 10 subjects. Depending on results, you then chose typically 3 or 4 subjects to specialise in for the A levels in the 6th form (= première / terminale). For instance in the Science 6th you might take maths, chemistry and physics, plus general studies. In the Arts 6th: History, English and French, plus general studies.

    Sixth form lasted for two years (lower and upper 6th) and at the end a school-leaver might get a university place, go on to further education, or find work.

    The "new" grade of A* is not so new - there used to be an equivalent called 'S' level (= special).
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