Which Subjects Should I Pick at A-level?

There is a lot to think about when deciding upon your A-level subjects.

These choices will possibly influence what you end up studying at uni and for some readers, your career after that. They will also take up a lot of your time over the next two years so you need to make sure that you enjoy them.

GCSE students often make the same common mistakes when choosing subjects for their A-levels. A-levels are a step up from GCSEs in the level of depth that is studied and shift from in-class learning to more independent reading and research.

This means that you need to have a real interest in the subject to stay motivated and pay attention in class. The common mistakes that pupils always make are choosing subjects just because they like the teacher they had at GCSE, choosing the same subjects as your mates and choosing the subjects that you assume will be easy. 

Spoiler Alert: No A-level is inherently easy!

Try to avoid these errors because you may not even be put into a class with your favourite teacher or mates and the options that could be considered a ‘doss’ at GCSE all require the same amount of interest and work put into them at A-level. 

If you lack a real interest or passion for a subject you choose at A-level, it makes it a lot harder to deal with the workload and extracurricular reading needed to get the best marks. If you enjoy learning about a subject, that confidence will carry you through to exams really feeling like you know your stuff.

That confidence is extremely important to getting the best performance on exam day!

Before The Decision

Bear in mind that taking certain subjects will open up more University course options. These are called Facilitating Subjects. Facilitating Subjects are a handful of A-level subjects commonly asked for in universities’ entry requirements, regardless of the course you’re applying to. Use this handy tool to see if there are any subjects that you need at A-level to complete your University degree.

They are:

  • Biology 
  • Chemistry 
  • Physics
  • English 
  • Maths
  • Modern Languages
  • History 
  • Geography

It is also worth taking note that certain uni courses will require particular A-levels for the course to be taken. Many of them are obvious but the below are common examples.

  • A Pharmaceutical course will require Chemistry, and one extra from Biology, Maths or Physics
  • An English literature or language degree must have English literature.
  • A Geology degree will require at least two from Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology
  • An Economics degree sometimes needs Maths, very rarely do you need Economics

Generally, Maths is the most beneficial subject that you could take at A-level. It is one of the most respected subjects by both Universities and employers too. It shows a high level of intelligence and brilliant numeracy skills. 

When deciding upon which lessons to carry on with and which ones will be beneficial to your University options it is easy to categorise. 

What to expect of the core subjects at A-level

Maths A-level

Maths A-level is split into Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. Pure Mathematics deals with algebraic and geometrical reasoning building on the platform that you will have built over your years studying Maths previously. Applied Mathematics itself is split into two sections Mechanics and Statistics. 

Enjoyment of Maths is essential to continue it past GCSE onto A-level. Any grade below a 6 or 7 at GCSE it would be advisable not to choose Maths as an A-level subject. Even those with a 7 should speak to their teacher to make a joint decision whether it is possible to achieve a good grade. If you are considering Further Mathematics as well, a real enthusiasm and aptitude for mathematics are essential, and a grade 9 (A*) at GCSE would be advisable. You will be tackling university-level mathematics that only the most committed may understand!

English A-level

For English, you can choose between ‘English Literature’ or ‘English Literature and Language’. The former focuses on analysing novels, poetry and plays. The latter covers these too but also includes the chance to excel at creative writing and have a look at examples of non-fiction texts, written and spoken. 

Therefore, depending on your interests, English Literature is for those that want a deep dive into the classics and can spend countless hours reading. English Literature and Language is for those that also love reading and the classics but do not want to limit themselves to them.

For more advice on what to expect in the core subjects and sciences at A-level before you enter year 12, read this blog written by our own tutors.

What have other people gone on to do?

Sherpa tutor Parth studies Medicine at University College London (UCL) which is the top of its field. Click the image to contact him for any help with the sciences and Maths as well as any queries about applying to Medical School. He had this to say about his journey to choosing his A-levels:

One of the biggest things to look for when choosing A-level subjects is to first choose what subject(s) you would like to study after completing your A-levels. For example, during the start of my A-levels I went to open days and work experience events to understand what work I would like to do once I leave school. This gave me an understanding of what degree I will need to achieve at university.

Once you have narrowed it down start looking at the requirements universities have, these can be found on university/apprenticeship websites and prospectuses. The website and prospectus will also suggest other non-essential subjects that typically accepted applicants study.

Personally, this is how I chose my A-levels. However, I had many friends who were unsure of what to pursue as a career. Many of them chose to study A-levels based on subjects they enjoyed during their GCSEs and they felt they had done well during their GCSEs.

It might be worth taking some time to reflect on the subjects you learned and what areas you found interesting. It is also a good idea to read books based on the area of interest, for example, if you found GCSE biology fun find books online which discuss biology topics you found interesting.

If you enjoy reading the subject in your spare time it is perhaps a good idea to pursue the topic further! However, my biggest piece of advice is to pick subjects you genuinely enjoy as A-levels are difficult and will shape your future career so be careful and reflect thoroughly.

Check out our other blog here for advice from an A-level student that had tuition on Sherpa.

Check out this Studytuber on her journey to choosing A-levels

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Russell Kilgour

12th July

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