With A-Level qualifications, it can be useful to compare them to other UK qualifications at the same level, whether these are T-Levels or BTECs or apprenticeships or many other qualifications. However, when trying to see the standard of A-Level qualifications and how these qualifications really compare, it can be even more useful to look at them a little more externally. By this, I mean by looking at the A-Level qualifications taken in the UK from an international standpoint by comparing them to their international equivalents.
A-Levels appear to be on par or less hard compared to other international equivalents. This is particularly as some of these equivalents mean that students are studying more or that they have to do more exams or more difficult coursework. Moreover, statistically, A-Levels appear to be less hard than international equivalents as it has higher pass rates than some of the other qualifications.
Continue reading to get a more in-depth explanation as to where A-Levels stand in terms of their level of difficulty in comparison to other qualifications that students take at the equivalent level. This article will take you through various factors that contribute to how difficult these equivalent qualifications are.
Table of Contents
What are the international equivalents to A-Levels?
In the UK, A-Levels are a level 3 qualification that students can take after completing their GCSEs. In mainstream education, students will typically be 17 or 18 when they complete their A-Levels exams. For more information on A-Levels, check out this Think Student article.
Other countries don’t have the same qualification levels as the UK and so we can’t just look at international “level 3” qualifications to find the international equivalents to A-Level subjects.
However, A-Levels are the main qualification for post-16 studies in the UK. Therefore, they can be equivalent to international qualifications that students complete when they’re 17 or 18, as you do for your A-Level exams.
Some of the international equivalents to A-Levels are as follows.
- European Baccalaureate
- International Baccalaureate
- Reifeprufung/Matura (Austria)
- Certificat d’Enseignement Secondaire (Belgium)
- Diploma za sredno obrazovanie (Bulgaria)
- Matura (Croatia)
- Apolytirion (Cyprus)
- Maturitni Zkousce (Czech Republic)
- Bevis for Studentereksamen (Denmark)
- FB à l’Option Internationale (France)
- Abitur (Germany)
- Apolytirion (Greece)
- Érettségi (Hungary)
- Irish Leaving Certificate (ILC, Ireland)
- Diploma di Esame di Stato (Italy)
- Atestāts par vispārējo vidējo izglītību (Latvia)
- Brandos Atestatas + 3 state exams (Lithuania)
- Diplôme de Fin d’Etudes Secondaires (Luxembourg)
- State Matura (Macedonia)
- Matriculation Certificate (Malta)
- VWO (Netherlands)
- Vitnemål (Norway)
- Matura (Poland)
- Certificado de fim de Estudios Secundarios (Portugal)
- Diploma de Bacalaureat (Romania)
- Vysvedčenie o maturitnej skúške (Slovakia)
- Maturitetno Spricevalo (Slovenia)
- Titulo de Bachillerato (Spain)
- Slutbeytg (Sweden)
- Certificat de Maturité/ Maturitätszeugnis/ Maturitätsausweis/ Attestato di Maturità (Switzerland)
- International A-Levels
- Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD, Canada)
- Hong Kong A-Levels
- Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education
- Standard XII (India)
- STPM (Malaysia)
- A-Levels H2 (Singapore)
- APs (USA)
Please note that while this list isn’t exactly extensive, these are just some of the different qualifications that we should keep in mind when considering international A-Level equivalents. You can learn more about them on this page by the University of Sheffield.
To see even more international qualifications that are equivalent to A-Levels, check out this guide by UCAS.
How do A-Levels compare to their international equivalents based on grades?
In order to get a better idea of where A-Levels stand compared to their international equivalents, it’s important to know how their different grades line up. One of the best ways to see this clearly is by looking at university entry requirements. This is because universities want students to be at the same level, regardless of where they’re from and so state the equivalent entry requirements.
Look at the following table to see what grades in international qualifications are equivalent to the A-Level grades AAA.
|International Baccalaureate||36 points|
|Score of 1/ Sehr gut in majority of subjects (e.g., 1,1,1,2)|
|Certificat d’Enseignement Secondaire (Belgium)||80%|
|Diploma za sredno obrazovanie (Bulgaria)||5.5 GPA; 6 in 3 specified subjects and 5.5 in State Maturity exams.|
|Matura (Croatia)||Average of 5|
|Apolytirion (Cyprus)||Average of 19|
|Maturitni Zkousce (Czech Republic)||Minimum of grade 1 in 3 subjects and grade 2 in 1 subject.|
|Bevis for Studentereksamen (Denmark)||Minimum of 3 subjects at grades 10, 10, 10|
|FB à l’Option Internationale (France)||Average of 14|
|Abitur (Germany)||Minimum GPA of 1.5 with 2 subjects at grade 13 or higher|
|Standard XII (India)||Minimum of 85%|
|Diploma di Esame di Stato (Italy)
|Minimum average 95%|
|Titulo de Bachillerato (Spain)
|Average of 8.5|
|STPM (Malaysia)||AAA in 3 of 5 subjects|
|APs (USA)||3 APs at 5, 5, 5 and 3.0 GPA or more|
You can learn more about these equivalent grades by checking out this page on the University of Liverpool’s website.
For base grades of A-Level qualifications, students should need to receive between 80% and 89% to get an A grade. For more on this, check out this article by Crimson Education.
Therefore, it would suggest that A-Levels are on par with qualifications, where there is a similar percentage. This includes qualifications, such as the European Baccalaureate, the Certificate d’Enseignement Secondaire and other Belgian qualifications and the Standard XII of India.
On the other hand, A-Levels do appear to be easier than qualifications, where more than 3 subjects are generally studied. This is especially the case for the Malaysian STPM as 3/5 of the subjects studied are equivalent to the 3 subjects that students would typically do at A-Levels.
Do more students pass A-Levels than their international equivalents?
Pass rates can be a good factor to consider when looking at how difficult one qualification is compared to another. This is because if the qualification is harder, it would be more difficult to pass and if it is easier and then vice versa.
Due to the availability of data, I can show you all of the previously mentioned qualifications with their pass rates. However, with a small selection, we can still consider whether A-Levels are easier or harder than other qualifications internationally.
Look at the following table, which shows the pass rates of the European Baccalaureate, the International Baccalaureate, the Austrian Matura, International A-Levels and US AP classes, compared to A-Levels.
|A-Levels||97.2% (2023)||Ofqual website linked here.|
|European Baccalaureate||95- 100%||European School Bergen website linked here.|
|International Baccalaureate||79% (2023)||Relocate Magazine, linked here.|
|Matura (Austria)||93.5% (2021)||Statistics Austria linked here.|
|International A-Levels||90.6% (2023, average)||Cambridge International website linked here.|
|APs (USA)||67.4% (2023, average)||College Board linked here.|
*For the European Baccalaureate, no exact figure was found and so the statistic included is a generalised range.
*For both International A-Levels and APs, no overall figure was found and so an average was taken from the pass rates by subject. As a result, while they can still be useful to give us an idea of how they compare to A-Levels, they may not be entirely accurate.
From these figures, it would suggest that A-Levels are less hard than their international equivalents. This is because they appear to have the highest pass rates, other than the International Baccalaureate. On the other hand, with AP classes having the lowest pass rate, it would suggest that students find these the most difficult.
How hard is the A-Level assessment compared to international equivalents?
One of the best ways to look at whether A-Levels or its international equivalents are harder is to look at the actual set up of these qualifications and compare them. This includes how these different qualifications are assessed.
Look at the following list to get an overview of some of A-Level’s international equivalents and how they’re assessed and to see how they compare to A-Levels.
- A-Levels- For A-Level qualifications, students will normally take 3 but sometimes 4 subjects. The assessment is normally exam-based but there may be a coursework element. For most subjects, students will have 2 or 3 exams per subject, so typically between 6 and 9 in total. You can learn more about this, in this Think Student article.
- International A-Levels- International A-Levels are very similar to A-Levels. However, due to their nature, they have no coursework and so are 100% exam-based. Due to this, they have more exams than the typical A-Level qualifications. For more on this, check out this guide by Pearson Edexcel.
- European Baccalaureate- The European Baccalaureate is another 2-year course, where students study a range of different compulsory and optional subjects, amounting to at least 10. The European Baccalaureate is assessed 50% by internal work and exams and 50% by 5 written exams and 3 oral exams. For more on this, check out this page of the European Schools website as well as this page of the European School Bergen website.
- International Baccalaureate- The International Baccalaureate (IB) is where students do 6 subjects and an extended essay. The IB assessed through both coursework and written exams with there being 2 main components of coursework. You can learn more about this by looking at this page and this page on the International Baccalaureate website.
Once again, this wasn’t an extensive number of examples to compare A-Levels with. However, as it is clear that for other qualifications there are more exams and more subjects studied, it would appear that A-Level qualifications aren’t that hard compared to their international equivalents.
This is especially because for A-Levels you only have a limited number of subjects to study and as a result a limited number of exams. Thus, this allows you to focus more on each one, which I feel makes it slightly easier than some of these equivalents.