A-levels (short for Advanced GCE) are a form of academic qualification taken in the United Kingdom, primarily by those at 18. In the Curriculum 2000 reforms, A-levels were changed from being exams taken at the end of two years and replaced with two one-year courses: the Advanced Supplement (AS) course and the A2 course, which taken together are equivalent to an A-level.
A-levels are graded using letters: A, B, C, D, E and U (for unclassified), and since 2010, an A* grades.
A-levels are set by three competing examination boards: AQA, OCR and Edexcel. All started as non-profits, and have been closely affiliated with universities. Edexcel has become a private for-profit company and is owned by the educational publisher Pearson. Due to concerns about quality and consistency between examination boards, the government set up a regulatory body in 2010 called the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, or Ofqual for short.
Following the A-level results each year, considerable debate often happens in the popular press as to whether or not A-level (and GCSE) exams are getting easier. The science writer Ben Goldacre expressed skepticism, suggesting that there is little evidence to think that exams are getting easier.
The government have been attempting to make it so that there is parity between academic A-levels and vocational qualifications. This has been done by introducing very close equivalent qualifications: GNVQs, VCEs and AVCEs, and more recently a qualification known simply as "Diplomas".