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bsg a level

By Sabine Hutcheson, Head of Sixth Form, British School of Geneva

In a region where we are spoilt for choice in post-secondary education, A-Levels stand out as the true alternative. Recognised as a ticket to universities internationally, the A-Levels programme is very different to other diplomas in its structure and in the way it prepares students for higher education.

Structure and ethos of the diploma

Students taking A-Levels are typically 16 to 18 years of age and the programme is two years long. In the UK, this stage of education is referred to as the Sixth Form. It immediately follows the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in the UK, obtained at the age of 16 and marking the end of compulsory education.  

In the first year (Year 12), students study 4 subjects for which they are examined in May and June of that academic year. In their second and final year (Year 13), students tend to drop a subject and pursue the 3 with which they feel most comfortable and/or which better fit their chosen university course admission criteria. Some students choose to maintain all 4 subjects to add to the challenge or to keep their options open. A subject taken in Year 12 only will be validated as an AS Level (Advanced Subsidiary Level) and may count towards university applications.

The outcome of the A-Level programme is 3 (or 4) grades, as each course is assessed independently. The grades range from E (lowest) to A* (top), with the A* being awarded to students scoring over 90% in their examination. Each of the courses is a mixture of lesson time and independent study, which includes homework set by teachers, but the expectation is also for the student to further research, practise and deepen their chosen subjects. Across the curriculum, time management, commitment and study skills are key to success.

Why choose A-Levels?

The major advantage to A-Levels, over other pre-university diplomas on offer in the region, is that students study 3 or 4 subjects in depth rather than a spread across the curriculum. There is no requirement to study any one particular subject so students can discard the ones they have no interest in or struggle with. This means that students who are not all-rounders but who know what their strengths are can focus on these particular subjects to maximise their success. Indeed, unlike the IB Diploma or any other diploma offered in the region, none of the core subjects, including Mathematics, are compulsory. In a time when applying to university is increasingly competitive, a more specialised and focused diploma is a tremendous advantage for many students.

The A-Level programme is an excellent way to prepare for studying at university. The emphasis on independent study, critical thinking and in-depth knowledge means that students won’t suffer any setbacks or surprises when starting their undergraduate course. The expectations are similar, and students will have had time to get accustomed to the pressures of higher education.

Studying A-Levels at the British School of Geneva

At the British School of Geneva, applications from students of all educational backgrounds are taken into consideration, based on their level of English and performance in their previous school. GCSEs are not, therefore, required to enter the programme.

We offer students support and guidance at every stage of the programme, from selecting their subjects, to managing time effectively and becoming independent learners. Our small classes allow for students to develop their academic skills both in group settings and as individuals. Lessons more closely resemble seminars and workshops than the traditional “chalk and talk” style. Students are encouraged to discuss and question the topics at hand in order to build up their communication and analytical skills, as well as their own confidence.

While A-Levels particularly suit students who are strong in certain subjects over others, it can offer a broad experience of the curriculum through careful selection of the subjects studied. The combination of depth, critical thinking and the support offered by every teacher through small classes make the British School of Geneva a positive experience for any student who has chosen to pursue higher education.

Information Evening

On a final note, parents, students and teachers are invited to a special information evening about the A-Level programme at the British School of Geneva on Thursday 12 April at 18h. Click here for more information.

Author's Bio

sabine hutcheson bioSabine Hutcheson is a British-trained school teacher, with over a decade’s teaching experience in Switzerland, UK and neighbouring France. She has taught a variety of subjects to children from 5 to 18 years old, as well as to adults. After working as an Educational Consultant at TutorsPlus, Sabine is now Head of Sixth Form at the British School of Geneva.