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What A Levels Should I Take?


Mahnoor
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“What A levels should I take?” “I’m not sure what I want to do in the future but I want to keep my options open” “Where could my A levels take me?”. Choosing the right A level subjects can feel really tough, but if you are strategic, take your time, and ask lots of questions you will find the right combination for you. 

There are more than 40 subjects available at A level. Your sixth form is unlikely to offer all of them. However, you will still have a lot of choice. A level subjects range from ones you have already studied at GCSE such as Sciences and Maths to ones which sound interesting but which you may not know much about. 

The aim of this article is to help you get a good idea of your possible options and to help you see things more clearly regardless of whether you are set on a particular career path or not. We will consider the best A levels to take, the specific A levels needed for different degrees as well as ‘facilitating’ subjects.

How Many A Levels Should I Take?

Even the best universities only require you to take three A levels (excluding General Studies. Your offer will be based on these three A levels. Some students choose to take on additional AS or full A level subjects which gives them a total of four or five A-levels. You won’t be at a disadvantage for only taking three A levels, with the possible exception of the occasional Oxbridge college. 

Of course, it is better to take three subjects and get outstanding results in all three than it is to take on four or five and get sub-par results. Think about the amount of workload you can realistically manage. Talk to your teachers and older students about the workload you can expect from the subjects you are thinking of studying.  

Usually, students choose four AS levels subjects and drop one of those at A2. General Studies is a compulsory fifth AS or even A2 subject at many sixth forms. However, it will not usually count towards university admissions. It also doesn’t require much extra studying.

An important piece of advice is: don’t take subjects that are too similar. For instance, Biology is very similar to Human Biology. It is important to be focused but it’s better to demonstrate a wider breadth of knowledge and skills by picking complementary but different fields, such as Biology and Chemistry. 

Also bear in mind that exam boards differ. For instance, OCR Maths has a reputation for being harder than AQA or Edexcel. Although you won’t have any choice in which exam board you use (unless you are self-studying a subject), it is a good idea to look up which exam board your school uses. This is to ensure that you are comfortable with the kind of assessment your school’s chosen exam board uses.

A Level Choices And Careers - How To Keep Your Options Open

Research careers you might enjoy before finalising your subject choices for A levels. We have a range of articles on different careers so have a look at them! If you are not sure of what you want to do yet, that’s completely fine too (many students are in this position!). However, in that case, it is good to leave doors open to careers you might want to pursue by choosing ‘facilitating subjects’. 

Have a look at the different routes into careers that you find interesting and their individual entry requirements. If you have a specific entry course in mind then check entry requirements on the UCAS website or on individual university websites.

The Best A Levels For Specific Degree Subjects

Medicine

Chemistry is normally considered essential for medicine, with at least one other science subject (normally Biology or Physics). However, the vast majority of applicants usually have three or more science subjects, which will put them at an advantage over someone with only two sciences.

  • Chemistry
  • Biology/Human Biology
  • Physics
  • Maths
  • Psychology (note that this is unlikely to be considered for your second science subject; it might make a good AS subject or fourth A-level)

Engineering

Usually requires A levels in Mathematics and at least one other science, usually Physics. Further Maths is not usually an entrance requirement, but it is considered highly desirable to at least AS level. Many universities also see Technology subjects as desirable.

  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Further Maths
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Environmental Science
  • Geology
  • Geography
  • Computer Science
  • Design and Technology
  • Economics
  • Statistics

Economics

Because Economists deal with a lot of numbers, you will need Maths and ideally Further Maths at A level. Economics at A level might be a good insight into the subject at degree level. However, don’t worry if your school doesn’t offer it. Business Studies is also considered a relevant A level.

  • Maths
  • Further Maths
  • Economics
  • Business Studies
  • Government and Politics
  • Statistics

Politics

A Politics degree doesn’t usually have specific entry requirements. A combination of humanities and sciences will provide a solid foundation and good general knowledge that is needed.

  • History
  • Government and Politics
  • Geography
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Economics
  • English Literature
  • Foreign Language
  • Law
  • Maths

Psychology

You will usually need a science A level to study Psychology at university, ideally Biology and/or Maths. Social sciences and humanities can provide useful background knowledge as well. If your school offers Psychology, then it is worth taking it so that you definitely know whether you find the subject interesting enough to continue it to degree level.

  • Psychology
  • Biology/Human Biology
  • Maths
  • Chemistry
  • Sociology

Mathematics

It is a no-brainer that you would need Mathematics at A level to study a Mathematics degree. Some universities also deem Further Mathematics as essential. However, a lot of the universities offer catch-up classes in case your school doesn’t offer it. 

If you have the option of taking Further Mathematics, definitely go for it. Taking a third science subject will also strengthen your skills in related areas. 

  • Maths
  • Further Maths
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology/Human Biology
  • Statistics
  • Computing

Computer Science

You don’t have to know coding or programming in order to take a Computer Science degree. Mathematics is essential and Further Mathematics is desirable. Studying at least one other science subject would also be useful.

Many students think that taking ICT A level would be advantageous. However, it is probably better to avoid it.

  • Maths
  • Further Maths
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Electronics
  • Geology

'Facilitating Subjects'

Facilitating subjects are the subjects most commonly required or preferred by universities to get accepted into a variety of degree courses. The subjects are as follows:

  • Mathematics and Further Mathematics
  • English Literature
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Geography
  • History
  • Languages (Classical and Modern)

These subjects are most often required by top universities. Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of all the ‘hard’ A levels. Instead it is the case that opting for A levels from this list will keep your options open. 

If you are considering Oxbridge then choosing subjects from this list is even more important. Clare College in Cambridge states that “most of our successful applicants over the last couple of years have offered facilitating subjects for most or all of their A-levels.” 

Now if you are thinking that none of your first choice subjects are on that list, then don’t worry. It highly depends on which degree you are aiming for. If you have your heart set on something like Music or Art, those subjects are more likely to be a part of your A level choices, even at top universities. 

What A Levels Should I Take If I Want To Do An Apprenticeship?

If going to university is not for you then Mathematics and Sciences are good for keeping your options open. Many apprenticeships, be it degree level or higher, are in technical areas such as Engineering and IT. These require you to have Science and Mathematics A levels.

However, there are other opportunities available in areas such as business and finance. These sectors often don’t require specific subjects. 

Choose A Levels You Can Get Good Grades In

It is crucial to understand that A levels are harder than GCSEs. Have a think about how well you might do in the subjects you want to choose. Achieving good grades depends on both ability and motivation. If you love a subject or you know you need it for your dream career, your passion will propel you forward, even if it is not your strongest subject. Be careful about picking subjects you are not good at especially if there is not a very good reason for choosing it. 

For instance, you might have worked tirelessly to get an A* in GCSE Maths and just scraped a B in your exams whereas you got As and A*s in other subjects with relatively less effort. In that case, think carefully about whether there is a good reason to pick it for A level. Don’t be tempted by the fact that it is on the list of facilitating subjects or that your parents think it’s a good idea. 

If you want to take a subject at A level that you haven’t studied before, think about how you are doing at GCSE in subjects that draw on similar skills. For instance, if A level Politics interests you then reflect upon how good you are at GCSE History. 

Take Subjects You Enjoy Studying

As a final word, remember that motivation is a key factor in success. If you pick a subject that you are not passionate about, or that will at least help you go into a career that excites you, will you really be motivated to work hard at it for two years?

Yes, Chemistry, Maths, and German might look good on paper. But if your heart is sinking just thinking about studying them, it’s trying to tell you something very important.

More Content

Make sure to have a look at our other articles on a range of other interesting topics and much more here:   https://examqa.com/articles/

We have a YouTube channel as well (the fun never ends!). Check out our amazing videos on science, maths and a lot more here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuGRdmg8NcUgn0ymT7-jKNg

 

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Deniel
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