All About A Level Chinese

May 10, 2022

In the modern world, the Chinese language is quickly becoming an essential communication skill. As a result, studying the A Level Chinese curriculum is an excellent way to master the language.

However, when preparing for your Chinese A Level exam, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. As individual schools will choose a syllabus set by an exam board, students will need to prepare according to that exam board’s curriculum.

Therefore, it is very important that students know which exam board they will be following. While these are not the only exam boards out there, this article will focus on Pearson Edexcel and Cambridge.

If you are already familiar with the Chinese A Level and want help preparing for the exam, find out more information about our online Chinese classes for high school students.

Is Chinese counted in A Levels?

Let’s start with an easy question: yes, Chinese AS and A Level exams are available. Pearson Edexcel offers both Mandarin and Cantonese and the assessment is available in both Traditional and Simplified characters. Cambridge only offers Mandarin and Simplified characters.

What is it like to study A Level Chinese?

Our colleague Christina sat her AS exam in Chinese in a rural town in Northern Ireland. In her personal experience, while the school did not have a Chinese teacher, they were very supportive of her and encouraged Christina to build her own curriculum from scratch. She later sat her Chinese A Level in Beijing where she was one of a handful of students sitting the exam.

“When sitting Chinese A Levels, you might not find yourself in a traditional classroom setting,” Christina says.

Christina also emphasized the importance of critical thinking skills and knowledge of current affairs for the Chinese A Level.

What are the A Level Chinese grade boundaries?

Chinese A Level grade boundaries depend upon which exam board curriculum students are following. Make sure your school or advisor knows which curriculum you are following as you will need their assistance in applying for university.

A Level Chinese Grade Boundaries for Pearson Edexcel

According to Pearson Edexcel, “AS is now a stand-alone qualification, meaning that AS does not contribute in any way towards an A level qualification, and you would choose between studying an AS or an A level. Most colleges will operate a 1-year course for AS and 2 years for an A level.” Here is more on Pearson Edexcel A Level results

For Pearson’s Chinese A Level exam, there are three papers graded on four assessment objectives (AO).

Pearson Edexcel Chinese A Level assessment objectives

To achieve a high score, students must demonstrate mastery of each of the required AO listed above in each of the three papers. As you can see below, Paper 1 carries the most weight, while the weight of Papers 2 and 3 are make up the remainder evenly.

Pearson Edexcel Grading Boundaries

Paper 2 is graded according to AO3 and AO4. For Critical and Analytical response (AO4), students are scored from 0-20, with 0 indicating no rewardable material and 20 indicating a relevant, detailed, well-developed response.

Pearson Edexcel Chinese A Level Paper 2 AO4

For grammar and vocabulary, students are again scored from 0-20, with 0 indicating no rewardable language and 20 indicating consistent, appropriate use of varied terminology and grammar.

Pearson Edexcel Chinese A Level Paper 2 AO4.2

For accuracy of language, students are scored from 0-10, with 0 indicating no rewardable language and 10 indicating accurate use of language.

Pearson Edexcel Chinese A Level Paper 2 AO3

A Level Chinese Grade Boundaries for Cambridge

For Cambridge, students can sit either the AS Level as a standalone exam (1 year), AS Level (1 year) + A Level (1 year), or the linear A level (2 years). Grade boundaries for the Chinese exam depend on which format students follow.

Cambridge grade boundaries Chinese A level

For Component 2, students are scored from 0-5, with 0 indicating poor mastery and 5 indicating very good mastery of the material.

Cambridge Chinese A Level Component 2 grade boundaries

For Component 3, students are scored on Language from 0-24, with 0 indicating poor language use and 24 indicating very good language use, and on Content from 0-16, with 0 indicating poor structure and vagueness and 16 indicating very good detail and structure.

Cambridge Chinese A Level Component 3 grade boundaries

For Component 4, students are scored between 0-25, with 0 indicating inadequate work and 25 indicating exceptional.

Cambridge Chinese A Level Component 4 grade boundaries

How can I study for A Level Chinese?

The best way to prepare for A Level Chinese is to enroll in an A Level course at your school. In the event that your school does not offer an A Level Chinese course, it is possible to do it on your own.

Distance Learning

These are A Level Chinese courses from a third-party institution (such as National Extension College and the Distance Learning Centre) where the curriculum is designed for you. The course materials will be posted to you, and you will be connected with a tutor who will mark your assignments.

books with ABC blocks

Set Your Own Curriculum

If you want a more tailored approach to your Chinese A Level, studying privately online with a tutor may be a good option. With online private one-on-one lessons, you can study flexibly around their school schedule and focus on the skills and components of the exam which you find most challenging. Check out Culture Yard’s private online Chinese lessons† if this option would suit your learning needs.

†Please note that Culture Yard's default curriculum is designed for non-native Chinese learners. If you are a native speaker, let us know and we will tailor a course for you accordingly.

Courses > private course image

How hard is A Level Chinese?

If compared to the HSK, A Level Chinese is harder than HSK 6. While HSK 6 is very language-centric an focuses primarily on the use of Chinese for communication, A Level Chinese involves not only language, but requires critical thinking, knowledge of current affairs, and an ability to express one’s views in a logical, organized way.

When compared with the Gaokao (高考), the Gaokao is likely more difficult than the Chinese A Level as it covers a broader range of topics including maths, literature, foreign language, history, politics, and geography. Additionally, the Gaokao is the sole criterion on which Chinese university admission is based, while A Level exams are only part of what makes up a university offer.

If I'm Chinese and get an A* in A Level Mandarin, will it count in my offer?

If you are Chinese, the answer is maybe.

Depending on the university, A Level Mandarin may or may not count if you are a native Chinese speaker. It is best to check with the universities to which you are applying.

How do I do A Level Chinese as a bilingual Chinese speaker?

Bilingual students are allowed to sit the exam, as are Chinese native speakers. However, if you are native or bilingual in Chinese, universities may feel that a Chinese A Level is not reflective of a strong candidate. Some universities might specifically say in the offer that they will not count an A Level in your native language.

What is my language level if I get a A* in A Level Mandarin?

There have not been any studies done on the exact correlation between the CEFR and A Level language exams, but if you get an A*, your approximate Chinese level is between C1 and C2 on the CEFR.

passing marks on an exam

What HSK level is A Level Chinese?

A Level Chinese is beyond HSK 6. HSK 6 merely tests a learner’s Chinese language skills in the areas of listening, reading, and writing. However, on the Chinese A Level, students will be expected to read classic Chinese literature, be familiar with current affairs, use critical thinking skills, and use logic to express themselves in an organized way.

When are A Level Chinese exams in 2022?

The institution through which you are taking the exam will provide you with the exact date.

Pearson Edexcel’s Chinese A Levels are held between April and June. Speaking assessments may be completed in April, while all other assessments are held in May or June of the same year. These are Pearson's Chinese A Level exam dates for 2022:
Date Paper
Thursday 26 May, Morning Paper 1: Listening, Reading and Translation
Thursday 9 June, Morning Paper 2: Written response to works and translation
Arranged by school Paper 3: Speaking

Exact dates may vary between UK schools and international schools.

Dates for Cambridge’s Chinese A Levels vary based on Cambridge’s administrative zones. You can find which date applies to you here.

When are A Level Chinese results released?

A Level exam results come out in August each year. This year, results will come out after 8am on Thursday 18 August 2022. (Note that if you live in Scotland, A level results will be released on Tuesday 9 August 2022).

If you want help preparing for your Chinese A Level, find out more information about our online Chinese classes for high school students.

About the Author

Eden has been learning Chinese since 2008. She fell in love with the language, food, and culture and never looked back! Eden lived in China for six years, including in Harbin, Beijing, and Dali.

Eden- Author