FAQs on A-level reform | University of Oxford

FAQs on A-level reform

Frequently asked questions

1. How does Oxford view the proposed A-level reforms?

Oxford University understands that the proposed A-level reforms will mean changes for schools and colleges, teachers and students. We will seek to minimise the effect of any changes on students choosing to apply to Oxford. Our admissions process has been designed to ensure the fair and transparent assessment of students applying from a wide range of countries and backgrounds; it does not rely on the consideration of AS-level grades, partly because a third of our applicants are not taking AS and A-levels. Our admissions process considers each application on its individual merits, taking in to account each student’s academic record, personal statement, academic reference – including any predicted grades – and any written work or written test that may be required for the chosen degree. Where students are shortlisted, their performance in any interviews will also be taken in to account.

2. How will Oxford assess an application with no AS-level grades?

Oxford has never used AS-level grades in a mechanistic way when assessing applications, partly because a third of our applicants are not taking AS and A-levels. We will continue to assess applications with no AS-level grades in exactly the same way as those with AS-level grades. Tutors will take in to account any GCSE grades, along with predicted or achieved grades at A-level (or other equivalent qualifications), the personal statement, academic reference, and performance in any written work or written test required for the course. Where students are shortlisted, their performance in any interviews will also be taken in to account.

3. Will candidates have an advantage if they go to schools that still certificate the AS-levels?

No. Oxford has never used AS-level grades in a mechanistic way when assessing applications, partly because a third of our applicants are not taking A-levels. We will continue to assess applications with no AS-level grades in exactly the same way as those with AS-level grades. Tutors will take in to account any GCSE grades, along with predicted or achieved grades at A-level (or other equivalent qualifications), the personal statement, academic reference, and performance in any written work or written test required for the course. Where students are shortlisted, their performance in any interviews will also be taken in to account.

4. Is the fourth subject to AS-level still a requirement?

A fourth subject to AS-level has never been a requirement at Oxford. Our courses require students to have not less than three A-levels, or other equivalent qualifications. Some candidates do take additional AS-levels, A-levels, or other qualifications such as the EPQ. Additional qualifications can be one way of demonstrating the academic abilities that will be required for the intense studying of an Oxford degree but they are not essential. Students can also demonstrate their abilities by exploring their subject beyond what is expected by their exam syllabus. Oxford tutors may prefer a candidate who has read around their subject beyond school and college work, and who shows a great passion for, and engagement with, their subject, over a candidate who may have taken more qualifications or more subjects, but who is unable to discuss their interests with any enthusiasm or in any depth.

5. What if that AS-level grade is not the best? Will that damage the application?

The answer here is yes, it may, although we have no formal requirements for any particular grades at GCSE or AS-level. Each application is considered carefully on its individual merits. Tutors will take into account any existing grades, along with predicted or achieved grades at A-level (or other equivalent qualifications), the personal statement, academic reference, and performance in any written work or written test required for the course. Where students are shortlisted, their performance in any interviews will also be taken in to account.

However, competition for places is strong and many applicants have all A/A* grades at GCSE, and A grades in any AS-levels. Unless there are particular extenuating circumstances, we could not be optimistic of an applicant’s chances of gaining a place at Oxford without a high percentage of A* and A grades at GCSE, and a strong performance in any AS-levels they have taken.

6. Would it be better not to take an AS-level, and focus instead on three A-levels?

We do advise candidates not to spread themselves too thinly. Our offers are made on the basis of letter grades at A-level (or other equivalent qualifications) rather than on UCAS Tariff points. Grades between AAA and A*A*A would be sufficient to meet most conditional offers (depending on the course), but AAA at AS-level and AAB at A-level would not. We would advise students and teachers to think carefully about whether additional subjects or additional qualifications might damage the student’s chances of achieving the grades required in any offer.

7. My school just can’t afford to put students in for more than three A-levels. Will they automatically be at a disadvantage to those students who can still take four or five?

Our courses require students to have not less than three A-levels, or other equivalent qualifications. Many candidates do take additional AS-levels, A-levels, or other qualifications such as the EPQ. These additional qualifications can be one way of demonstrating the academic abilities that will be required for the intense studying of an Oxford degree but they are not essential. If a candidate is capable of taking more than three A-levels, but this is not possible at their school or college, we encourage the candidate’s referee to include this information in the candidate’s reference. Students can also demonstrate their abilities by exploring their subject beyond what is expected by their exam syllabus. Oxford tutors may prefer a candidate who has read around their subject beyond school and college work, and who shows a great passion for, and engagement with, their subject, over a candidate who may have taken more qualifications or more subjects, but who is unable to discuss their interests with any enthusiasm or in any depth.

8. Will you have less faith in teachers’ predicted grades if students don’t take AS-levels, so teachers have no AS-levels to report?

No. We know that teachers are in the best position to make predicted grades for their students but we also understand that predictions cannot always be accurate. We take predicted grades in to account, but they are just one aspect of the application that we consider, alongside all the other information in each application. We also take in to account each student’s academic record, personal statement, academic reference, and any written work or written test that may be required for the chosen degree. Where students are shortlisted, their performance in any interviews will also be taken in to account.

We ask that teachers provide as much evidence as possible about each student’s abilities when writing their reference. Independent substantiation is always welcome, whether that is AS-level grades (where available) or any other external evidence such as achievements and prizes.

9. What should my students do to make the most competitive applications?

Our courses require students to have not less than three A-levels, or other equivalent qualifications. Some candidates do take additional AS-levels, A-levels, or other qualifications such as the EPQ. Additional qualifications can be one way of demonstrating the academic abilities that will be required for the intense studying of an Oxford degree but they are not essential. Students can also demonstrate their abilities by exploring their subject beyond their exam syllabus. Tutors may prefer a candidate who has read around their subject beyond school and college work, and who shows a great passion for, and engagement with, their subject, over a candidate who may have taken more qualifications or more subjects, but who is unable to discuss their interests with any enthusiasm or in any depth.

Oxford tutors suggest areas of wider reading that may be particularly useful to applicants for each of our degree courses. Recommended reading materials vary between subjects, but might include text books and journals (eg The Economist, New Scientist), academic websites (eg www.historyextra.com), podcasts (eg www.ox.ac.uk/itunes-u) and anything else which inspires the students to find out more about their subject or subjects. For further suggestions, please see the How to Apply tab of the course pages at www.ox.ac.uk/courses.

We also suggest that students check carefully for details of any test or tests that may be required for their chosen course, and take the time to sit a sample paper: www.ox.ac.uk/tests. This will help students to gain familiarity with the format of the paper, and practise allocating their time appropriately. There are also sample interview questions and further information about the interview process at www.ox.ac.uk/interviews.

For further guidance, please contact our Admissions Information Centre: www.ox.ac.uk/aic.

10. Will Oxford University require Core Mathematics?

Oxford University does not require students to have studied Core Mathematics. For details of the A-levels which may be required, highly recommended or helpful for each of our courses, please see the How to Apply tab of our course pages, or refer to this summary table. Where Mathematics is shown on these pages, please note that this is the full Mathematics A-level, and not Core Mathematics.

11. Will Oxford require a pass in the practical elements of any science A-levels?

If a practical component forms part of any of the A-levels taken, we expect candidates to have taken it and passed.