As a new Sixth Form or College student, it can be very difficult to choose the right academic path to pursue after GCSEs. Especially when there are so many different qualifications out there, and new ones, such as T-Levels, being newly introduced. Making the right choice on what to study, and how to study it, is a complex and confusing process. If you are considering T-Levels and A-Levels, this article will help you to understand each of the qualifications and the benefits they bring, as well as how they are weighted by universities.
The main difference between T-Levels and A-Levels is that T-Levels focus on one subject while A-Levels are focussed on multiple. You take both in a school/college setting after the age of 16 once you have completed GCSEs. T-Levels are more practical/vocational based, whereas A-Levels are more theoretical, but both demand academic rigour and hard work to complete and are accepted by universities and employers.
While this may have given you a surface level answer to your questions, please read on for a better understanding of whether T-Levels or A-Levels are right for you. This will include full explanations of both of these qualifications.
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What are T-Levels?
T-Levels are new qualifications created by the government to be equivalent to A-Levels. They are focussed on trade and industry skills to help students enter the workforce; they are considered less hands-on than Apprenticeships. T-Levels are similar in content to BTEC qualifications of the same level, but with additional elements. Check out this article that discusses whether T-Levels will be replacing BTECs.
In Sixth Form you will take one T-Level, rather than the three or four that is expected in A-Levels. This will be focussed on a specific industry, such as Nursing, Childcare, Agriculture, or many more, with the skills learned giving you key skills for your future career in this area. This makes T-Levels a great option for students who know what industry they wish to enter in the future but are not yet ready to enter the workforce.
T-Levels have several parts: an academic part (a core component and a further specialism, such as to early years within the education T-Level) making up 80% of the T-Level, and an Industry placement (in a relevant business for 45 days as unpaid work experience) for 20% of the T-Level. There is also the requirement to pass a Level 2 maths and English qualification, as there is in all options at this level. Click here to learn how T-Levels are accessed.
In summary, a T-Level is a great option for students that already have an idea of what industry or area they want to work in. These students may not be ready to enter the workforce or may want to gain more technical skills in a structured setting before entering a job. They are also a great option for students who want to go to university, but do not want to do A-Levels.
What are A-Levels?
A-Levels are the traditional route for students to take after completing GCSEs. They are academically focussed and typically more theoretical than other qualifications, not creating a route into a specific industry or job. They do not involve study of a specific career or skills related to one, but instead on academic elements of a specific subject area.
Students typically take 3 or 4 A-Levels at once, but can also take 2 with another qualification, or many other combinations. There are A-Levels in many subject areas, including Maths, Psychology, English and Archaeology, among many others. If you are unsure about subject or qualification combinations or want to know about your options in this area, please contact your school or college for more information, as all schools do this differently.
For more information on A-Levels, please visit this helpful article on TheUniGuide.
A-Levels and T-Levels typically last 2 years and can be taken most Sixth Forms and colleges. Not all schools offer all of the A-Level options, but the core subjects are offered by most places. A-Levels offer a very academic pathway that is similar to GCSEs, with mostly taught content culminating in exams, however some do involve coursework. They allow students to take a wide range of subjects instead of restricting themselves to one area, and to keep options open for future study.
In summary, A-Levels are a good option for students who want to continue subjects at a rigorous academic level, and do not have a specific trade or job in mind, or who want to keep doing a range of subjects. They are great for students that want to focus on theoretical study of subjects they want to pursue at a higher level such as university, and who aren’t ready for the workforce yet.
Are T-Levels Better Than A-Levels?
Due to being very different qualifications intended for different things, there is no true answer as to whether T-Levels are better than A-Levels. It depends on your personal strengths, preferences and opinions as to which you prefer, and which is better for you to study. However, there are benefits and downsides to each qualification.
T-Level Pros and Cons
The benefits of T-Levels are that you gain on the job experience and skills that will help you in the workplace, but also key academic skills that will help no matter what industry you enter in the future. They provide the practical benefits of an apprenticeship in that you get work experience which is highly valued by employers, while also continuing the academic rigour that will help you if you choose to attend a university in the future.
However, they involve specialising in one area or subject. This can restrict your future options, as well as making it harder to change if you later decide you no longer want to study that area. T-Levels also are a very new qualification, meaning that while they are still well accepted by universities and employers, it can be hard to find resources and information about them online. This may make it harder to revise or understand content in the courses than it is for more established qualifications.
A-Level Pros and Cons
The benefits of A-Levels are that you can continue to study several subjects at once, meaning your options for study at university or jobs later in life can continue to be very varied. A-Levels are a well-recognised and established qualification that is highly regarded by employers and universities and is widely considered the traditional route. The varied subjects and multiple choices also mean that switching subjects or even taking shorter courses through AS Levels is common and easy in most schools.
However, A-Levels can be very difficult academically for students. They represent a much harder level of understanding than GCSEs, and can be hard to adapt to, as well as requiring a lot of work and commitment from students. This can be restrictive for students, as well as academically demotivating, however the rewards of completing them are well worth it.
General Pros and Cons
Both qualifications involve studying at a school or college and learning in a similar way to at GCSE. This provides continuity and helps you to focus and have a structure, as well as the support that colleges provide in extracurriculars and options after you finish. They both present the option to study things that you did not have the option for at GCSE, such as Childcare or Classics, making them a good way to combine your interests with your academic work.
However, the fact that they are in a school can feel stifling for some students, as it can feel as though you have no independence. Studying at a college can make this less difficult. If you do not want to study a qualification that is mainly academic, the options below may help you find another path for your next level of education.
How Many UCAS Points are T-Levels and A-Levels Worth?
Universities in the UK accept T-Levels and A-Levels as generally equivalent, with a T-Level being worth usually 3 A-Levels. This is why you only take one T-Level at a time. The grades are explained in this table, but essentially for each level of grades there is a general point value, which is equivalent to a T-Level grade, or an A-Level grade.
|UCAS Tariff points
|Distinction* (A* core, distinction in occupation specialism)
|Pass (C or above core)
|Pass (D or E core)
Of course, A-Levels can be passed separately and you do not always get 3 of the same grade. The approximate tariff for each individual grade is: A* = 56, A = 48, B = 40, C = 32, D = 24, E = 16. These are then added up with other qualifications such as extracurriculars to create your overall UCAS score, which some universities give offers on.
How are T-Levels Graded?
T-Levels are graded similarly to A-Levels. Both are assessed in coursework and exams, depending on the course, with varying percentages given to each component of the course in the final grade. The exams may be multiple choice or long answer questions, but usually involve a mix of both.
The grade of each exam is then combined to create an overall core component grade given in A*-E, with A* being the best. The occupational specialism component also receives a grade from distinction, merit, pass or fail. These grades together create the overall grade of distinction*, distinction, merit, or pass.
If you are concerned about how your T-Level or A-Levels will be graded, please contact your school or college for more information about your specific course and how it is assessed. They will be able to give you the most up to date information about these qualifications. For more information on how T-Levels are assessed, please visit this Think Student guide.
Can You Go to University with T-Levels?
The final question that most students have about T-Levels is whether you can get into university after taking one. The answer is yes! T-Levels are just as well respected by most universities, especially at the top-grade bands as can be seen by the UCAS point table above. For more information on taking T-Levels as a route to university, see this Think Student guide.
T-Levels are an academically rigorous qualification which also provides hands-on experience and requires independence in arranging and completing a work placement. This makes them ideal for universities, as well as impressive on CVs when applying for jobs later in life. T-Levels can be a path to anywhere in life and are intended to be a well-rounded qualification that equals A-Levels in merit and academic success.
Are There Options Other Than T-Levels and A-Levels?
The most common post-16 options after T-Levels and A-Levels are BTECs. BTECs are practical/vocational qualifications similar to T-Levels, but with a more hands-on focus, again studied at a school or college. They provide students the opportunity to gain experience in a field or subject of their choice, while also teaching them key skills that will help them to succeed in that industry in the future.
There are 16 subject options for BTECs, and they are typically taken either alongside A-Levels, or as a stand-alone qualification. They can be studied at GCSE, A-Level, or degree equivalent levels, and provide a good alternative to more classroom-based ways of learning for students who want hands-on experience. This handy Think Student guide will help you if you want to know more about the difference between T-Levels and BTECs, while here you can find more information about whether T-Levels are replacing BTECs.
Another option post-16 is the International Baccalaureate system. This is a less common but still very well-respected system of education which is equivalent to A-Levels. It involves continued study of 6 subjects, including 2 languages, social science, experimental science and mathematics, and then either an arts subject or another of the other options.
This programme also includes an extended essay and a theory of knowledge class, making it a wide option for students who are not sure they want to specialise in a certain subject yet. It is most commonly taught at international schools and colleges, so ask around your local area if you are interested in this option. You can find more information about the International Baccalaureate on this UCAS page.
The final other option for post-16 education is the Apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a qualification completed while working for an employer. There are many different levels, with Advanced Apprenticeships being equivalent to 2 A-Levels.
This article provides an in-depth look at how to apply for an apprenticeship.
You can complete an apprenticeship in almost any industry and are usually paid as an employee while gaining your qualification: you are being paid to learn! It is a great option for students who know what industry they want to enter in the future, and those who are ready to enter the workforce after completing GCSEs. The UCAS information page on apprenticeships can be found here.
If you have more questions about T-Levels and A-Levels, or are still unsure which is right for you, please contact your school head of year or careers advisor, as they will have more information about both qualifications, and how you could choose. Whichever you choose, remember that it is your education and you should do something you want, not just because it looks good to universities, and to choose something that makes you feel excited to learn.