Over the shoulder of a student sat at a desk working on a laptop, with an open notebook and pen.

Difference between studying at A-level and university

Of course coming to University is a huge step on your personal journey, and you can’t wait to embrace the freedom that comes with it, but, you have also now got to embrace a whole new way of learning – here’s a quick overview of the difference between studying at A-level and at university.

Types of assessments

The types of assessments you are graded on tend to be more varied. This is because A-Levels mostly consist of coursework and exams. At university, however, lots of different assessments are graded – including group projects, presentations, working on hypothetical scenarios and practical assessments. Depending on the course, you’ll be doing anything from planning an event to conducting scientific experiments.

How you are taught

A-Levels are often consistently taught in a classroom setting made up of fairly small groups. However, at university, your course content tends to be taught to much larger groups – in a lecture situation the lecturer stands at the front and students take notes. Many courses also conduct seminars, whereby they discuss topics centred around a reading that was set prior to the seminar. This allows students to come prepared to discuss a topic with other students, and the lecturer in this situation only acting as a guide, meaning they are much more student led.

Free time

During A-Levels independent study tends to be more structured, you’ll have your free periods, but work is still set on a weekly basis and all leads up to an assessment or an exam. University requires more independent work – at the start, you may be set reading prep for seminars but all in all, students are expected to tailor reading personally to what they wish to specialise in. This results in students getting the most from their degree as they are working on an area that interests them and not just because they are made to do so.


At A-Levels grade boundaries for getting a particular grade tend to differ between each exam board, meaning that criteria can often differ per subject. However, at university the grade boundaries are universal. A first (1st) is the highest grade, achieved for exceptional work of achieving 70%+ in an assessment. This is followed by an upper second (2:1) of achieving 60-69%, lower second (2:2) of achieving 50-59% and third (3rd) of achieving 40%-49%, with anything below 40% being a fail. By having universal grade boundaries it makes it easier for you to understand your progression and aim to improve.


At A-Level you tend to be provided with many of the resources you’ll need for the course, with students often only purchasing the odd revision textbook. At university students often need to seek out their own resources, accessing more books and journals than needed at A-Level. The library both physically and online is a great place to start when searching for these resources, with most libraries having the ability to get a resource in at your request. Searching online for second-hand bookstores is also a must. Abe Books being one of my favourite sites for getting cheap books, as it is often okay to use older additions but is worth checking with lecturers on different course guidelines as some course material becomes faster outdated than others.

This article is featured on Learning at Lincoln.