The exam board: AQA
The endorsement: Art and Design (Photography)​​​​​​​
The first term of the A-level is spent exploring new skills and ideas. Following this, students complete two components (projects) over two years. The first is called the Personal Investigation and is comprised of one sustained project chosen by the student. The second is called the Externally-Set Assignment.
Personal Investigation
  • Due for completion at the end of January of Year 13
What's assessed
Students are required to conduct a practical investigation, into an idea, issue, concept or theme, supported by written material. The focus of the investigation must be identified independently by the student and must lead to a finished outcome or a series of related finished outcomes.
How it's assessed
  • No time limit
  • 96 marks
  • 60% of the A-level
Externally-Set Assignment
  • Due for completion in May of Year 13
What's assessed
Separate question papers will be provided for each title. Each question paper will consist of a choice of eight questions to be used as starting points. Students are required to select one. Students will be provided with examination papers on 1 February, or as soon as possible after that date.
How it's assessed
  • Preparatory period (from 1st February in Year 13)
  • Followed by 15 hours of supervised time in May
  • 96 marks
  • 40% of the A-level
Photography students should produce practical and critical/contextual work in one or more areas of study, for example, portraiture, landscape photography, still life photography, documentary photography, photojournalism, fashion photography, experimental imagery, multimedia, photographic installation and moving image (video, film, animation).
Overarching knowledge, understanding and skills
Students should be introduced to a variety of experiences that employ a range of traditional and new media, processes and techniques appropriate to the chosen areas of study. Knowledge of photography should be developed through research, the development of ideas and making, working from first-hand experience and, where appropriate, secondary source materials.
Students are required to participate actively in their course of study, recognising and developing their own strengths in the subject and identifying and sustaining their own lines of enquiry. 
Courses based on these specifications must require students to develop practical and theoretical knowledge and understanding of:
  • Relevant materials, processes, technologies and resources
  • How ideas, feelings and meanings can be conveyed and interpreted in images and artefacts
  • How images and artefacts relate to the time and place in which they were made and to their social and cultural contexts
  • Continuity and change in different genres, styles and traditions
  • A working vocabulary and specialist terminology.Courses based on these specifications must require students to develop the skills to:
  • Record experiences and observations, in a variety of ways using drawing or other appropriate visual forms; undertake research; and gather, select and organise visual and other appropriate information
  • Explore relevant resources; analyse, discuss and evaluate images, objects and artefacts; and make and record independent judgements
  • Use knowledge and understanding of the work of others to develop and extend thinking and inform own work
  • Generate and explore potential lines of enquiry using appropriate media and techniques
  • Apply knowledge and understanding in making images and artefacts; review and modify work; and plan and develop ideas in the light of their own and others’ evaluations
  • Organise, select and communicate ideas, solutions and responses, and present them in a range of visual, tactile and/or sensory forms.
Students can work entirely in digital media or entirely in non-digital media, or in a mixture of both, provided the aims and assessment objectives are met.
Areas of study
Students are required to work in one or more area(s) of photography, such as those listed below. They may explore overlapping areas and combinations of areas:
  • Portraiture
  • Landscape photography (working from the urban, rural and/or coastal environment)
  • Still life photography (working from objects or from the natural world)
  • Documentary photography, photojournalism•fashion photography
  • Experimental imagery
  • Multimedia
  • Photographic installation
  • Moving image (video, film, animation).
There is synoptic assessment in both components of the A-level that provide stretch and challenge opportunities for students as follows:
In Component 1, students develop work based on an idea, issue, concept or theme leading to a finished outcome or a series of related finished outcomes. Practical elements should make connections with some aspect of contemporary or past practice of artist(s), designer(s), photographers or craftspeople and include written work of no less than 1000 and no more than 3000 words which supports the practical work.
In Component 2, students respond to a stimulus, provided by AQA, to produce work which provides evidence of their ability to work independently within specified time constraints, developing a personal and meaningful response which addresses all the assessment objectives and leads to a finished outcome or a series of related finished outcomes.
Assessment objectives
Assessment objectives (AOs) are set by Ofqual and are the same across all A-level Art and Design specifications and all exam boards.
The assessments will measure how students have achieved the following assessment objectives:
  • AO1: Develop ideas through sustained and focused investigations informed by contextual and other sources, demonstrating analytical and critical understanding.
  • AO2: Explore and select appropriate resources, media, materials, techniques and processes, reviewing and refining ideas as work develops.
  • AO3: Record ideas, observations and insights relevant to intentions, reflecting critically on work and progress.
  • AO4: Present a personal and meaningful response that realises intentions and, where appropriate, makes connections between visual and other elements.
Weighting of Assessment Objectives:
Full Specification:
AQA will soon be discontinuing the AS route for all Art & Design endorsements, so from September 2020 all students will undertake the two-year A-level route. Below is the current specification, although a new version is due to be released soon.