by Graeme Matthews

July 14, 2020

If you earned top grades in your GCSE’s i.e a combination of 8’s or 9’s then you are probably considering staying on in your school to complete A-level courses or maybe switching to a sixth form college to continue your studies. Whether to stay on at your secondary school or switch to a sixth form college is a difficult decision in itself. However, what is a an equally difficult decision is deciding what A-level subjects to take next year!

Where do you go for quality advice? Do you listen to your friends? Or maybe your older brother or sister who have taken their A-levels? Maybe one of your teachers at school? Do you take an A-level because your friends are taking it and you could study together? And how do A-levels impact the courses you take at university? What happens if you change your mind?

This blog post discusses 6 tips for choosing your A-levels so that you can make an informed choice when choosing your A-level subjects.

Tip # 1: Take Facilitating Subjects

Maybe you are one of those students that know what you want to study at university. You have your entire life mapped out! You know, that one student in your year who knows what university they want to attend, what company they want to work for after they graduate and even in what city they want to live. If so, great!

But, maybe you are one of those students who isn’t quite sure what they want to study at university. You may have a general idea of what you want to study as in it’s something to do with science or business or maybe you have no idea at all! Well, if this is you, you want to take facilitating subjects for your A-level subjects.

What’s a facilitating subject? Facilitating subjects are biology, chemistry, English, geography, history, maths, modern and classical languages and physics. If you don’t know what course you want to do at university, pick two of these subjects to keep your options open when choosing courses later on!

Tip # 2: A-levels are harder than GCSEs

OK. This one may sound obvious but there is a huge difference between A-levels and GCSE’s! You are either picking the A-level subject because you need it for the course that you are interested in, you scored a really high grade in the subject at GCSE or it sounds interesting.

One thing to keep in mind is the time commitment of A-levels and whether you can focus on the subject for this time each week. A rule of thumb is that A* students put in about 20 hours and C students put in about 5 hours a week of study time per subject outside of class time.

So, think about this for a minute and ask yourself whether you could complete a course that you may not be interested in but that you need in order to get onto the course that you want to do at university? And, just because you scored high marks at GCSE do you really want to study it for two years at A-level? And just because it sounds interesting do you really want to study it at A-level especially if you haven’t taken it at GCSE?

So, before picking your A-level subjects, have a think about how you want to spend the next two years of your life. If you don’t like maths, do you really want to spend hours each week completing maths heavy subjects? On the other hand, if you like writing a lot maybe writing intensive subjects like English Literature are better suited for you.

All you need to do is to pause a minute and ask yourself the following question “Is this how I want to spend the next two years of my life?” If you can answer it in the affirmative without any hesitation and you really see yourself taking the A-level subject then sign up for it. If not, then you may want to consider another subject.

Tip # 3: You Know What Course You Want To Study

OK. Maybe you are one of those students that know what course you want to study at university. Great! If this is the case, then all you need to do is carefully choose your A-levels. I say this because certain university courses want a specific combination of A-level subjects.

So, check out the course that you want to study at several different universities to make sure that you are signing up for the correct combination of A-levels. For example, pharmacy must have: chemistry, plus at least one from biology, maths and physics.

Once you have double checked that you have the correct combination of A-level subjects then you can sign up for your A-level subjects.

Tip # 4 Certain Universities Want Specific Combinations of A-Levels

A-Level Mark Schemes

True! Certain universities have preferred combinations of A-level subjects for their version of the course while other universities have a different combination of A-levels for their course offering. For example, the University of Bath and the London School of Economics and Political Science have certain combinations of A-level subjects that they regard rather highly and certain A-level subjects that they don’t regard so highly for a given course.

So, what do you do in this situation when choosing your A-level subjects? If you know that you want to study a given course that has different combinations of A-level subjects depending on which university you attend then take two facilitating subjects (see tip # 1) and one other subject that you are interested in and you have maximized your chances of getting onto these courses. This is because all universities like the same facilitating subjects so taking two of these subjects meets some or all of the requirements for most of the courses offered by universities.

Tip # 5 Do Your Homework

Before choosing your A-level subjects you need to do your homework and check out the universities that are offering the course that you want take at university. This means you gather as much information as possible on the course and the university. Visit the university website, check out the department homepage and read the course requirements. If you need to call the university and talk to someone in the department. Or even visit the university.

The important point is that you want to feel confident that you know as much as possible about the course, what combination of A-level subjects you need to take and student life at the university before you decide to commit two years of your life studying A-levels.

Don’t just chose one university to research! Check out a university that is a challenge for you to be accepted at, one which you could probably get into and a safety school just to be certain that you get the full picture!

Tip # 6 But What Happens If I Change My Mind

It happens to the best of us! You start with the best of intentions. You choose a course that you think that you are interested in. You take the required A-level combination so that you can take the course at university. You are even on track to get really good grades. But, as you start looking at university choices you begin to realize that this isn’t the subject you want to study at university.

So, what do you do? Is all lost? Have you wasted two years of your life? Are you doomed to study a topic that you aren’t interested in? The answer is no! Lots of universities have lots of courses that you can take that don’t have essential subject requirements.

If you liked this video where  I shared with you 6 tips for choosing your A-level subjects then make sure that you hit the notification bell because in the next video I am going to show you how to study effectively for your A-levels so that you can earn higher grades on your exams in less time and with less effort.

I hope that you have a great day and I’ll see you in the next one!

About the author 

Graeme Matthews

Graeme Matthews has a B.Sc and an M.Sc in Chemistry and a PhD in Adult Education. He has been teaching a combination of university level, college and A-level chemistry for over 23 years. He has taught over 10,000 chemistry students in his teaching career. He has a proven track record of helping students earn an A* on their A-level chemistry exams so they can attend the university of their choice.

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