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Taking an A-Level as a Private Candidate

Updated: Feb 4

Are you home-schooled? Or have you had a rethink and want to apply to university courses which require an A-Level you didn’t take?

Student revising A levels privately

Perhaps you’re on a gap year or career break and want to take an A-Level you were never offered at your Sixth Form? Or maybe you’re an adult learner looking for a new challenge - or to open up new opportunities in your career? You don’t necessarily need to enrol in a college or Sixth Form to do this. With the right preparation, wise decision-making and a sensible timeframe, you can take an A-Level as a private candidate. We’ve got some handy Dos and Don’ts below - but first, we’ve only gone and made you a lovely table of some of the A-Level subjects less commonly offered at Sixth Forms/ College, that might be of interest to you (you’re welcome!).

Private A Level list - part 1
Private A Level list - part 2

DO Take into Account the Amount of Learning Hours for Your Private A-Level

Take into consideration how much time you have to spare. Completing an A-Level course requires approximately 350-360 hours of study time. If we're going by the 39 weeks that make up a school year, that's roughly 8-9 hours of study a week. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, so be realistic about the time you have available as you will want to give yourself the very best chance of passing with flying colours.

DO Research the Specification

One of the advantages of taking an A-Level as a private candidate is that you can often “shop around” when it comes to the exam specification you choose. Most A-level students are at the mercy of whatever exam board their school or college has chosen. The content of the same subject will often have a lot of similarities, but the way it is broken down and assessed can vary. There may be specific topics you really love the sound of studying that aren't covered in the same way as another exam specification so read up, find people blogging or vlogging about the course or, if possible, speak to someone you know has taken the course. What did they enjoy? What would they recommend if there are elective parts of the course? Finally, keep in mind for more practical subjects such as the sciences or visual or performing arts, what might you be required to do for practical assessments and where would you get the space, resources and/or assistance to carry them out safely.

Student doing research for A Level

DO Check Out the GCSE Requirements for the Course

While schools and colleges will usually have entry requirements for different A-Level courses, you will have to judge for yourself whether you have the potential to take the subject. It may be useful to look at the kind of GCSE subjects and grades that schools/colleges ask of prospective A-level students for the subject you’re interested in. Sometimes it’s a case of a leap up in difficulty; if you achieved highly in your Maths GCSE then that’s good reason to think you have aptitude for taking it at A-Level. For other subjects, such as Sociology, for example, it’s far less likely you would have taken the less commonly offered Sociology GCSE and so good passes in English and Maths are beneficial. If you enjoyed and excelled at the research methodologies of GCSE Geography or delving into society’s big questions in Religious Studies then you may be well-suited to the demands of A-Level Sociology.

DON’T Choose a Subject With No Prior Experience

Whilst we have every faith you can do this, it simply doesn’t make sense to set yourself another massive challenge on top of taking an A-Level independently. Maximise your chances of excelling and minimise the likelihood that you will give up. You will be your own motivator so don’t make the hill even harder to climb. If you’re multilingual, take an A-Level to formally recognise your skill in the language. If you have a passion and a talent for a subject like music or carpentry, then you can let your enthusiasm power you through the more challenging aspects of the course.

DO Arrange Support With Your Learning

Whilst you can go it alone, A-Levels are designed with guided learning hours in mind. How much support you need is something you may not realise until you get going with your course but it is highly recommended that you have input from a teacher or tutor familiar with not only the subject but also, ideally, the exact specification (we can help with that!). They will be able to help you make a plan for your own learning, keep you on the right track and get you prepared for the exam. Speaking of which…

A level students revising

DON’T Leave Booking Until the Last Minute

From the outset, look ahead to the coursework deadlines and exam dates. All exam boards provide their own dates for the exams across May and/or June. If you ensure you have all these dates in your calendar, you can then plan accordingly. It’s advisable to get yourself booked in at your nearest exam centre at least six months ahead of the exam date. You should be able to find a private exam centre in a convenient location or, alternatively, you can look for public centres, i.e. schools or colleagues, that offer your precise exam. You can check your with your Local Education Authority, the Joint Council of Qualifications or you can look for centres by area on the AQA and Pearson websites. When it comes to booking, you will need to provide:

  • Your full name

  • Date of birth

  • Address, Email address and phone number

  • Unique Candidate Identifier (This will be on your GCSE statement of results)

  • Exam Code (Double and triple check this!)

We wish you the very best of luck and remember: our tutors are here to help independent learners like you so get in touch!


Blog Post Crafted by Jenny

Jenny is our Deputy Company Manager, co-managing our Admin Team.

She studied Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford College and got a First Class BA Hons from University of Manchester, before going on to teach Drama in schools.

She loves chilli con carne and a cup of tea, but not together, and is quite confident she could beat you at scrabble.

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