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What are A-Levels? 5 Key Advantages Over IB from an A Levels Graduate


日本語記事「A-Level 卒業生が紹介!AレベルがIBより選ばれる5選」→(準備中)

This blog is operated by Kokusaba, a group of university student tutors with international backgrounds based in Tokyo and abroad. Get to know Our Tutors on our site and hope you enjoy this article written by our own experienced student tutors!

Thinking about the A Levels

Diving Deep or Keeping Options Open?

So, you're almost a high schooler or a parent of one, staring down the path to further education, and the A-Level vs IB debate is raging in your head.


The IB has been popular for quite a long time. However, as schools offering A Levels as a curriculum programme are slowly picking up popularity in Japan, this might be a perfect opportunity for you for various reasons.


If you do choose the A Levels, we at Kokusaba have many experienced tutors who have gone through the A Levels and can help you have a better experience. As someone who has had A Level experience, let me share my advice on the A Levels. Let's break down the reasons why A Levels can a good fit as compared to the IB for your high school life!


1. A-Levels let you specialize in 3-4 subjects you love. 


In comparison to programs like the IB, which focus on being all rounded, A-Levels require that you choose a few subjects that you want to specialize in later on.

First, we must preface that most A-Levels students only choose 3-4 courses at the highest level, called A-Levels (just like the programme name).


Yet, this deep dive into your focus allows you to master complex concepts and impress universities in your chosen field. Think Physics, Chemistry, and Biology for that dream medical school application, or Literature, History, and a Language for that English Literature degree, making the A Levels good for specialization. On the other hand, IB requires at least three HL (High Level) subject courses in addition to SL (Standard Level) courses, which are still deemed to be as difficult as HL courses, just with less breadth to the content taught.


2. A-Levels Courses offer you Flexibility

Secondly, a clear advantage of A-Levels over IB is its flexibility and ability to pick and choose subjects. The IB Diploma requires you to take one course from each of: Language Arts, Second Languages, Sciences, Social Studies, and Mathematics. There's no need to take high level courses in all of those areas in A-Levels.


Hence, unlike the IB's broad curriculum, A-Levels give you more freedom. Struggling with a subject? You can always swap it out in the first year or even drop it altogether if it isn’t meant for you! This is especially helpful if you're unsure of your exact career path.

You can tailor your A-Level subjects to different university courses, keeping your options open for longer.

3. A Levels will help you master Exam Technique

Another thing to note is that A-Levels are renowned for their focus on exams. This might sound daunting, but it hones valuable skills. You'll become an expert at answering exam questions effectively, a skill that will come in handy throughout your academic journey, especially when you will be racking your brain on passing other university tests like the SAT and APs, which are needed for admission for many top ranking universities.


In contrast, IB provides more than just a "learn and test" approach. Their focus on personal development as a learner and thinker has made the IB a very broad programme with components such as TOK (Theory of Knowledge) and the famous EE (Extended Essay) projects, which students find time-consuming. This often leads students to think about their commitments with enrolling in an IB program.


4. A-Levels gives you freedom with your time

If you are a person who prefers to work on personal projects based on your passion and your own pace, A Levels offers you plenty of time to do so.

In addition to the TOK and EE projects in IB (from last section), students often find themselves tied to their CAS (Community, Action, Service) commitments outside of class time. CAS is another required component of the IB which often takes away the freedom from many IB students.


However, in A-Levels, extracurricular activities are not mandatory, and this means you can spend time the way you would like without the added pressure of it being graded.  



Engaging in fun activities like robotics since the A Levels gives you lots of time.

5. A-Levels provides a Fast-Track to University

By taking specialized courses in a few subjects, many universities allow you to transfer your A-Level credits into university first-year credits, just like your IB and AP courses that other international schools may offer. As a result, that gives you a lot of saved time and money – a big deal for many students and families – and you will not be at a disadvantage for taking A-Levels over IB with your gained credits!


This means you don't need to take introductory courses at university, and many people who have done well in the A Levels end up graduating a year early due to transferred credits! 

So, is A-Levels Right for You?

A-Levels are fantastic for focused, independent learners who thrive under pressure. However, if you crave a broader academic experience with intense extracurriculars, then the IB might be a better fit. 

For those who already know what to major in university, taking the A-Levels saves a lot of time, money and effort by focusing on what you know you want.
Studying and focusing on the A Levels, improcing exam technique

The Takeaway


In conclusion, A-Levels offer a deep dive into your chosen subjects, flexibility in course selection, and strong exam preparation. If you're a focused student who has a clear direction in mind, then A-Levels could be the perfect springboard for your university dreams.


Remember, the best program is the one that aligns with your learning style and goals. Talk to teachers, counselors, and current students to get a well-rounded picture before making your decision on A Levels, and the subjects you choose. If you do need advice on what to choose and how to go about the A-Levels, do feel free to visit the Kokusaba website!


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