The low-down on A-levels

This is your opportunity to find out what languages are like to study at A-level. We've got lots of information that'll help you get to grips with the A-level structure and assessment.

How are A-levels assessed?

An A-level is made up of different units which are completed over 2 years; you take 2-3 units at AS-level in the first year and 2-3 units at A2 level in the second year. The units are assessed either by exam or by coursework although there is no coursework for the language A-level. In most A-levels the coursework part accounts for 20-30% of the overall marks. Each unit is graded A-E and the full A-level qualification is now graded between A*-E.

  • The AS-level units are based on a reading, writing and listening unit and speaking unit.
  • The A-level units are also based on a reading, writing and listening unit and a speaking unit.
  • So to get a full A-level, you will need to complete both the AS-level and the A2 level.
  • AS-level + A2 level = A-level.

What is the weighting of all the different units?

The AS-level exam marks account for half of your overall A-level grade.

For the AS-level the weighting is:

  • The reading, writing, listening unit is worth 70% of your AS-level grade.
  • The speaking test unit is worth 30% of your AS-level grade.

The full A-level qualification is weighted like this:

  • AS-level reading, writing, listening unit is worth 35% of the overall A-level grade.
  • AS-level speaking test unit is worth 15% of the overall A-level grade.
  • A2 level reading, writing, listening unit is worth 32.5-35% of the overall A-level grade.

A2 level speaking test unit is worth 15-17.5% of the overall A-level grade.

What are the exams like for language A-levels?

There are 2 exams for the AS-level and 2 exams for the A2 level exams:

The AS-level

  • The Listening, Reading and Writing unit is between 2 and 3 hours long, depending on your exam board. You sit all 3 sections together. The exam can be taken in January or June.
  • The Speaking Test unit will last between 15-20 minutes and can be taken in January or June.

The A2 level

  • The Listening, Reading and Writing unit is 2 to 3 hours long, depending on your exam boad. You sit all 3 sections together. You can only take the exam in June.
  • The Speaking Test will last around 15 minutes and you can only take the exam in June.

How will I improve on from what I learnt at GCSE?

You will develop language skills and build on the knowledge that you acquired at GCSE level. You will also get to use the language learned at GCSE in a wide range of contexts. You’ll gain insights into other cultures and contemporary societies. You’ll enhance your employability prospects, make foreign travelling easier and more enjoyable and realise how great it is to improve your language speaking abilities. 

What grammar do I learn at A-level?

Throughout the 2 years of studying for an A-level you will learn a lot of new grammar, grammatical rules and processes. You often begin recapping what is learnt at GCSE but in more detail, ensuring that you know how to use it properly before tackling some of the more complex grammatical structures later on in the course. You’ll need to actively apply all the grammar that you’ve learnt in the exams. 

Over the 2 years you’ll recap, learn and understand about nouns, articles, adjectives, adverbs, quantifiers, pronouns, verbs - regular and irregular ones, tenses, subjunctive mood and tenses, indirect speech, prepositions, conjugations, number, quantity and time.

What topics are covered at AS-level?

There are 4 main topic areas covered at AS-level. These include the media (television, advertising, communication technology), pop culture (cinema, music, fashion), healthy living and lifestyle (sport, well-being, holidays), family and relationships (relationships within family, friendships).

What topics are covered at A2 level?

There are 4 main topic areas that you will learn in for A2. You’ll cover the environment (pollution, energy, protecting the planet), multicultural society (immigration, racism), contemporary social issues (wealth, poverty) and a cultural topic (you will learn about the countries where your language is spoken - about their history, culture and famous people).

Do I have to do coursework?

No. There is now no coursework for Modern Language A-level subjects and this applies to all the exam boards.

What is the exam structure like?

The exams are similar in format to the GCSE language exams. You’ll be tested on your reading, writing, listening and speaking capabilities in the foreign language.

The AS-level exams

The listening, reading and writing sections are all completed in one exam sitting. You will have 2 hour 30 minutes to complete all 3 sections. 

  • In the listening part of the exam you’ll hear a 5 minute long extract but you each have individual listening equipment so you’ll be in control. You’ll have to answer all the questions and write some answers in English and some in the foreign language. You are advised to spend 30 minutes on this section.
  • In the reading and writing part you have to answer all the questions with some answers in English and some in the foreign language,  you may have a grammar section too. You are advised to spend 45 minutes on this section.
  • In the writing part, you have to answer 1 question from a choice of 3. You are expected to write 200-250 words and are advised to spend 45 minutes completing this section.
  • For the Speaking test, depending on your exam board, you may get 20 minute preparation time beforehand. The speaking test itself will only last between 10 and 20 minutes. You’ll be recorded whilst you speak and examined by your teacher or an external examiner. There are 2 parts to this exam: a discussion and a conversation.

The A2 level exam

This is a similar format to the AS-level exams but will be based on topics that you’ll have learnt in the second year. The reading, writing and listening are all sat at the same time.

  • In the listening part you’ll have listen to around 6 minutes of extract which is within your individual control. You’ll have to answer all questions in the foreign language. You’re advised to spend 30 minutes on this section.
  • In the reading and writing part of the exam, you’ll have to answer all questions in the foreign language. You’re advised to spend 1 hour on this section.
  • In the writing exam you’ll have to answer one of the two questions, and you’re advised to spend 1 hour on this section. You’ll need to write a minimum of 250 words.
  • In the speaking test you’ll be recorded and examined either by your teacher or by an external examiner. There are 2 parts to this test: a debate and a conversation. 

Can I retake an exam?

Yes, it is possible to retake your AS-level exams. You take your AS exams in June of your first year at college/sixth form and you can retake these in either the following January or June of year 2 (but remember, you’ll be studying and revising for your A2 level exams in June and you might be giving yourself unnecessary stress if you decide to retake in June).

The best thing about taking a resit is that only the highest result for each unit will count towards the final qualification. So there is no harm in resitting an exam because the only highest mark is counted. If you do worse in your resit than what you did in the original exam then the resit mark will just be ignored. Resits can act as a means of revision and exam preparation for the A2 exams but can also put extra pressure on you when you’ll be doing A2 exam revision.

You can’t retake your A2 exams in the same way as you can your AS-level ones; you would have to repeat the year again in order to do so.

It is really important that you do well in your AS-level exams - they are worth 50% of your overall A-level grade - so doing well will help take some pressure off the A2 level exams.

What grades can I get at A-level?

  • The AS-level exams are graded between A-E.
  • The full A-level will be graded between A*-E.

What do I have to do to get an A or B grade at A-level?

To get the top grades (A, B) at AS-level you need to:

  • Show a clear understanding of the native language - through speaking and listening exercises and in a range of written texts.
  • Understand the main points and details.
  • Develop your own ideas and express your opinions with some justification.
  • Speak fluently and take the initiative when speaking.
  • Have generally accurate pronunciation and intonation when speaking.
  • Deal with unpredictable questions when speaking.
  • Show the ability to organise and structure your writing.
  • Include relevant information that answers the task or question when writing.
  • Use of a range of vocabulary and grammatical structures appropriate to the task.
  • Use grammar accurately.

At A2 level you’ll need to be able to do all of the above but with more accuracy and flair. 

What skills will I develop whilst studying for my A-level?

You will build on the key skills that you developed at GCSE. These skills include:

  • Working on communication
  • Using IT
  • Working well with others
  • Working independently
  • Improving your problem abilities.

What can I do afterwards?

Your language learning doesn’t have to stop now. Have a look at our what next? section to see all the options available to you for continuing languages whether it’s at university or just for fun.

How can I make the most of studying a language at A-level?

The best way to fall in love with your foreign language is to have fun and immerse yourself in it. Why not...

  • Dedicate 20 minutes every day to read, listen or write something in your foreign language? Little but often exposure to your foreign language will really help you to discover new words, understand tense usage and the differences in sentence structures to that of your native language.
  • Read the dictionary - By flicking through your foreign language dictionary you’ll find new words, expressions and idioms, all of which you can and include in your writing, reading and speaking exams. You can even look up more colloquial language to use in class or with friends to form more casual conversations.
  • Set your Internet homepage to the news in your foreign language - Seeing that the topics you cover in A2 are all relevant to contemporary society , the exam questions could be based on things that have happened in the past year or so throughout the world. Noticing the headlines and reading any relevant article will be great exposure to all the latest news that may come up in exams but you’ll also have an instant word book for all sorts of topics that you can refer to without making any real effort to do so.
  • Buy some novels, exercise books, DVDs or download some songs that are in your foreign language - have a look at our Reading and Listening sections for ideas.
  • Go abroad - See, touch, smell, taste and hear the country where your language is spoken. Our 5 senses are perfect for immersing yourself into another culture and you’ll really appreciate the language a lot more when you can use it alongside things that are commonly associated with it.