Teachers and parents constantly drum into A-Level students that their futures hang on their A-Level results. But is it true?

How Important are A-Levels, Really?

April 3rd 2017

When you were a student, did your exasperated parents ever ask “Don’t you realise how important these exams are?” As a parent, have you ever used a similar line on your own reluctant teen? Teachers and parents around the country are used to drumming into A-Level students that their futures hang on the results they get from these crucial exams. But is it true?

What are A-Levels For?

For most students, A-Levels are a means to an end, the end being a desirable university place. Getting enough UCAS points or getting the required grades to secure your uni place is undoubtedly the main point of A-Levels, in the real world. Very few students sit A-Levels if they do not intend to head to university, and the qualifications themselves are notoriously poor preparation for the real world of work – students not heading to university would be much better advised to take alternative qualifications.

So, does that mean that once you university place is confirmed, nobody will ever again care about your A-Level results? Surprisingly, no, that’s not the case. Many professional careers still have strict A-Level requirements as well as a degree requirement, so those results will still matter when you leave university. In other careers too, many undergraduates start looking for employment before their degree is finished, so A-Level results are a useful filter for graduate employers.

Having said that, some major employers such as Unilever are sceptical about the value of A-Level results and deliberately do not take them into account in their graduate recruitment programme, preferring to set their own tests instead. For most graduates, however, A-Level results will still matter during the search for that all important first job.

What About A-Level Mocks?

A-Level mocks are very useful to students and teachers, as they pinpoint areas of weakness and help to set targets and to predict grades. With the coming A-Level reform un-linking AS and A-Levels, and all but eliminating January exams, A-Level mocks are set to become a great deal more important still, as some universities will want to see mock grades to help them make application decisions.

The days of winging it through the mocks are numbered, therefore – the pressure will soon be on to put in your absolute best performance in the mock exams, just as you will in the real deal.

The End of the Self-Made High Flier?

There will also be stand-out individuals who make it to the top of the pile without formal qualifications or without a degree, but statistics suggest that the number of high earning people without a degree is falling. This would suggest that A-Levels, leading to that all important degree, are actually increasing in importance, not fading.

A-Levels as Part of a Well Rounded Application

In 2014, for the first time in over 30 years, the proportion of A-Level students gaining A* to E fell, albeit only by 0.1%, but competition for degree places shows no signs of slowing down. A-Level results look set to continue to be the basic filter applied by most universities during the application process. However, it’s important for candidates to stand out among the competition, and the best way of doing that is to have something interesting to say for yourself in addition to top notch A-Level results.

Parents and teachers are clearly correct to remind students how important A-Levels are, but they should also spend time encouraging teens to develop their personal skills and wider interests too, so that they can present a well-rounded package to universities and to future employers.

Qualifications are not and never have been the be all and end all of a successful career, but they do remain crucial for getting onto the first steps of your chosen path. Will anyone care about your A-Level results in 15 year’s time? Probably not – but they will care this year, next year and the year after that, so it’s definitely worth the stress and the effort to get the best results you possibly can.


William Clarence Education is the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, we help and advise families from around the world to reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of British education.  

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