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What to Study

When choosing the right subject combination think about the following:

  • Will I enjoy studying the subject in depth for 2 years?
  • In which subjects will I give myself the chance to get the best grades possible?
  • Will I close off some career opportunities and if so, is that important?
  • What are the entrance requirements for possible degree courses that interest me? 

Your choice

Decisions about which A levels to study must be a personal one. Teachers and parents can be a great source of advice to students; your teachers will provide an honest insight into your academic strengths. Don’t be pressured into taking subjects you don’t want to study or don’t feel confident about. You will be studying the course, and taking the exams at the end of it, so it really must be a personal choice.

Which A-level subjects do universities want?

If you know that you wish to pursue a career in a particular field, then you need to consider which A level options will allow you to access that profession and consider the qualifications needed. For each university subject, there are preferred A levels that Admissions Tutors would expect students to have studied and for some there are very specific A levels needed as condition of entry. Check out the UCAS website at www.ucas.com for specific information about course entry requirements.

What are “facilitating subjects”?

The Russell Group (representing some of the UK’s most prestigious universities) have a list of “facilitating subjects” and advises pupils wanting to be considered for a Russell Group university to pick two of them as part of their A-level mix. The facilitating subjects are: mathematics and further mathematics, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and languages (classical and modern). Although we recognise the usefulness of facilitating subjects, they are not critical to obtaining university places.

Assessment: Exams or coursework?

Assessment is important for every qualification and you need to check how you will be assessed at the end of each year. For BTEC courses, assessment is varied and includes assignments, reports, presentations and tests. A levels are generally 2 or 3 units and each unit has an assessment each year; traditional exams still feature in most A levels but there is still a considerable number of A level subjects that have coursework or practical elements to them. Coursework takes the pressure off the final exams but if you are studying a number of courses with a large element of coursework then you may be burdened with a significant workload throughout the year. Coping with deadlines will be important so find out how you will be assessed.

Should I study BTEC and/or A level?

BTEC level 3 courses are broadly equivalent to A levels although students are awarded Distinction, Merit and Pass grades. Universities have differing views on equivalence but most will accept them as comparable qualifications when taken alongside A levels. BTECs should be in a relevant subject area to the degree a pupil wants to do. If in doubt, research university entry requirements. All universities publish precise details of what will be required both on their own websites and on the UCAS website. BTEC courses are excellent if you know that you wish to pursue a career in that area of study.

How important are GCSE results?

GCSE results are a good indicator of likely exam success at A level. For subjects such as maths and the sciences, if you don’t get an A*/A at GCSE, it becomes a really big leap at A level and you need to consider that. For other subjects such as the Humanities and new Social Science subjects the rule is not as strict but the ability to write well and high levels of literacy are very important as is an interest in the subject.

Keep your options open or specialise?

Growing up is about making choices, and you can’t keep every option open! If you know you want to study medicine, dentistry or engineering, then you can narrow your subject choice.

Think about what you enjoy and what you are likely to succeed at. If your GCSEs are A*-B and you study at least two of the facilitating subjects – ones you’re interested in and good at – then the options are wide.

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