Five things to think about when choosing your A-level subjects

Choosing the right A-level subjects can be a very difficult task – there are many things to consider, e.g., do you enjoy the subject? Will the subject be useful for your future career? What if you change your mind during the course? Should you choose a subject you have never studied before?

Take a look out the five points below for further advice on which subjects to take.

1) For the undecided

The British education system can seem rather strange when we consider that at 15 years old students are required to choose those subjects that will then have a significant impact on their lives. These subjects will determine their university course and career options beyond that.

There are always some students who have a clear idea of the university course they would like to study and know exactly which positions they would like to work in after; this makes choosing A-level subjects easy. However, if you are undecided as to which university course you would like to apply to, there are numbers of combinations of A-level subjects that keep options open.

The Russell Group (made up of 24 leading universities in the UK) identifies a number of “facilitating” subjects. These are most often pre-requisites for different courses at these universities and should be considered if a student is still unsure about which course to take. The subjects are:

History, Geography, Maths and further Maths, English literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and languages.

There are many courses that require specific subjects to be taken at A-level, e.g., music, art, drama, but equally there are many that do not have pre-requisites at all, for example: law.

2) A-levels are tough

Many students note the big step up between GCSEs and A-levels as they are required to carry out more work between lessons. A-levels test a student’s organisational skills, as at this stage teachers are unlikely to chase students who are late for deadlines or have missed vital lessons.

You must also remember that free periods are not in your timetable for you to spend socialising with your friends – these periods give you time to complete work (essays, projects, coursework etc.) on your own; they also allow you to do vital research and extra study of the subjects that you are taking.

3) University course prerequisites

If you already know what you would like to study at university, then it is important to make sure that your A-level subjects match the course’s prerequisites. If you are applying for a course in medicine, then it is more than likely you will need to take two different sciences at A-level. Do not make the mistake of choosing the wrong pre-requisites and visit the university websites or call universities to make sure.

Equally, if you are unsure of the course that you would like to take, but have already chosen your A-level subjects, such websites as Which? University  have tools that allow you to work out which courses you can apply to. It is also a good idea to speak to teachers at your school (if possible, a careers advisor) as they will be able to give you a better understanding of the possibilities with your choice of A-levels.

4) Are there easy A-level subjects?

This is a question often asked, but the most important thing is to make sure that you are interested in the subjects that you take. Motivation is key to achieving the best grades at A-level. Of course, maths, the sciences and modern languages are perceived as being difficult subjects, but if these subjects interest you more than those subjects considered to be “easier”, for example, psychology, they are a better choice as you are more likely to get the grade you are hoping for.

The difference in difficulty between A-level subjects is not as large as people may think and is entirely subjective. If you have managed to achieve a high grade in GCSE physics then it is likely that A-level physics will not be too difficult to transition to (despite being a “difficult” subject); if you only just managed to “pass” GCSE geography, then geography A-level (despite being an “easy” subject) is likely to be rather difficult to achieve a good grade in.

5) A new subject?

Many schools offer new subjects at A-level including: anthropology, global development, travel and tourism, psychology, economics; but is it wise to begin a new subject at A-level?

This all depends on the student themselves, and the amount of research they have carried out beforehand. Psychology is a popular choice for students at A-level – most schools do not offer this subject at GCSE – but it is certainly not the best choice of subject for all students. There is a high risk, when taking a new subject, that it is something you won’t enjoy or find interesting. On the other hand, if it is a subject you have been interested in for a while, i.e., you read a lot about it in your free time, and you understand the A-level requirements, take the leap and enjoy a subject that you have never studied.

If you are methodical about your choice, take the time to ask questions and do your own research, you will find the perfect combination of subjects for you.

Are your GCSE exams coming up soon? Are you having trouble revising? Follow this link for information on how best to revise!