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The introduction of reformed A Levels from September 2015 has changed the landscape of university entrance for A Level students.

Now, universities will no longer have a full set of AS grades (and, where necessary, UMS scores) to aid the decision-making process. Instead, most students will apply to university with a mixture of unreformed A Levels, where students will continue to sit AS papers and reformed subjects, where they may not sit a public examination at the end of the Lower 6th. In short, universities have less data to assess. 

As is the case for International Baccalaureate students, it will mean that any prior achieved grades (eg GCSE, IGCSE) will probably have greater importance and any interview or other testing will also be slightly more important to counter-act for the lack of L6th public examination results.

This is one of the reasons why Cambridge University is introducing aptitude tests from November 2016. It also means that the evidence that the school is able to give for the predicted results is especially important.

The A* grade at A Level is aimed at identifying the very best students in one sense, as with many examination courses, It is therefore necessary that A Level students work into their Personal Statement an overt demonstration of these skills and attributes. 

University admissions tutors repeatedly comment to us that A Level does not require the level of independent thinking and research that the many of the most competitive courses require.

AS Level results are always declared on the application if they have been certificated. It is possible to declare the module grades within the AS Level. Students with straight A grades or near-straight A grades may wish to do this. However, it is not required. Any student with exceptionally strong performance in modules will have this issue raised in their reference.

Grade predictions are important but the grades already obtained are more important! The key is that any grade prediction that we make must be backed up by suitable evidence that we can point to in the reference. This is a critical point – our predictions need evidence. The dangers of over prediction are very clear. If we over-predict based on an unsubstantiated hope, we could do harm to a student’s application which will, perhaps, be seen as unrealistic. In addition, it could be that some universities will respond by making higher offers than they might have done otherwise in order to require the student to meet these high predictions. Please do not seek to pressurise us to raise a prediction without providing us with the evidence! (the same issue applies to the IB applicants).

Offers for A Level students are usually based on 3 subjects, which may be specified. Sometimes the offer may require 4 subjects. If the offer is particularly high – such as A*A*A – a student may feel they need to restrict their A Levels to only 3 subjects in the U6th year in order to invest the time required. This is a tough decision as, clearly, there is then not a further subject as a cushion.

Bath University addressed the question ‘is there any point of carrying on with 4 subjects if all I am asked for is 3?’ when they were asked about it by a student at a presentation to us. They said that if they are looking at whether to make an offer for a highly competitive course and they see that a student has dropped a subject, when they had the opportunity to carry on with it, then it would make them question whether this particular individual had the drive, determination and academic rigour to be offered a place. It is always wise to consider how to justify and prove the use of the additional time gained – everyone knows that a student taking only 3 A Levels in the U6th will have a significant number of private study periods!

It is almost always better for university admission for a student to achieve AAA than to achieve AABB, for example (or even A*ABB), Whether this is better for education for life in general is, of course, a completely different matter and I would suggest this is one of the problems with our education system!

Guide to UK University Application