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Cambridge Admissions Office

Jon Beard, Director of Undergraduate Recruitment
Tuesday, 5 February, 2013

The Advanced Subsidiary or AS Level examination was introduced in September 2000 as part of Curriculum 2000.1. This new stand-alone qualification – not to be confused with the previous Advanced Supplementary Level examination – was to be taken in Year 12 and could be converted into a full A Level by taking A2 units in Year 13. The (then) Department for Education and Skills (DfES) hoped that students would take a broad range of AS Level courses during the first year of study, up to four or five. They would then be able to narrow their studies in the second year by selecting the subjects which they would pursue to the full GCE A Level standard, whilst receiving a qualification for subjects they pursued no further.

Curriculum 2000 was primarily designed to increase flexibility and choice for students. But it has led to many more benefits for students, teachers and higher education institutions:

  1. The AS Level, in its current form, minimises the step change between GCSE and A Level, thus enabling students to transition effectively to a higher level of study.
  2. It provides important breadth of study. Most applicants take four or five subjects in Year 12, narrowing down to three or four in Year 13.
  3. It allows students to sample subjects at a higher level before making A2 choices. This allows students to explore their strengths and interests without commitment, and their teachers and parents to take an informed view before offering their advice. This is particularly important for STEM subjects and languages, which might not otherwise be taken by many students.
  4. The demonstrated attainment of high marks in public examinations at the end of Year 12 enables students to make better informed and targeted UCAS choices, reducing the risk of aiming too low through under-confidence, or too high, based on over-optimistic grade predictions.
  5. AS Level allows those higher education institutions that collect it to take into account a student's most recent academic performance, and to assess their trajectory. Research conducted by Cambridge shows that AS Level is the single most effective predictor of a student's future performance when studying for their degree. Without the AS Level, universities are left to rely on GCSE – which are already over a year out of date by the time students apply to university, and taken at a point of less academic maturity – or on teachers predictions, around 50 per cent of which were inaccurate by around one or two A Level grades.2.

There is no question that qualifications need to be reviewed for fitness for purpose periodically, and that they will require maintenance. However the advantages of formal end of Year 12 assessment are very clear and the AS plays in important role in choice, flexibility, preparation and fair admissions.

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