In a sense, the practice is self-defeating: students are told to seek education in the subjects that interest them; that fascinate them and draw them in but, come time to pursue those subjects, there no way to follow through.

Yet we know that exams in Further Maths, Foreign Languages and certain science subjects are available; we only need to look at awarding bodies’ websites to prove it.

Why aren’t those courses/exams offered in your sixth form? The answers to that question are many and varied.

Now, your Superprof expounds on the causes for failing to meet students’ requests for certain A-Levels subjects and what you can do to follow your heart into the education you want.

From the Exam Board’s Perspective

As you likely well know, there are five main exam boards active throughout the UK: AQA, OCR, WJEC/CBAC, CCEA and Edexcel. All save WJEC/CBAC have incorporated minor exam boards; those exams are now called by their parent-organisation name.

For instance, you wouldn’t search for study materials for the North Regional Examinations Board A-Levels; you would search for AQA past papers and marking schemes because AQA is the NREB’s parent company.

Scotland has its own exam board; it is called the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

You can study modern foreign languages through Cambridge's King College
Cambridge International also offers A-Level exams, in the UK as well as abroad Image by alexxxis from Pixabay

Thanks to Ofsted, the entity that oversees all things educational, all of the exams and the material they cover is quite nearly the same. However, they differ slightly in the way they phrase their questions, how they mark their exams and the way the exams are structured.

Another way they differ is that some exam bodies offer a wider range of subjects than others.

There is substantial competition between all of the exam boards; they won’t earn any money if nobody wants their exam… right?

One way they vie against each other is by making exams easier for the students to pass and another is by providing training for teachers on how to guide students’ efforts towards passing grades.

A third way the competition affects you is in the subjects each testing body caters to. Some exams offered by one examining body won’t necessarily be offered by another. There is a reason for that.

Like any other business – and, make no mistake: examinations are big business, awarding bodies need to cut costs wherever and whenever possible.

To that end, they may stop offering GCE A-Level exams in certain subjects that are simply not profitable.

So, while the exam may still exist and, indeed, be current – meaning that it will satisfy regulatory bodies, it will not be taught or tested in college. They are simply maintained so that, should a student wish to test privately, s/he may.

Now, the question remains: how many A-Levels can you take if you don’t know what subjects will be offered?

From the Schools’ Perspective

As teachers generally work towards their students’ success, it would seem counter-intuitive that they would intentionally fail to make desired A-Level subjects available.

Your school and teachers most likely do not want to see you deprived but, like examining bodies, they too have financial reasons to deny helping you to prepare for exams in certain subjects.

Let’s say you’re love-struck in all things Bollywood and have resolved to learn how to speak Hindi so you no longer have to rely on dubs or subtitles to understand your beloved films.

Believe it or not, there have been stranger reasons to choose A-Levels!

You may decide to study social care based on what you saw in films
Your desire to study any subject may come from anywhere, the henna tattoos you saw in your favourite Bollywood film may move you to study Art and Design! Image by Amrullah Ab from Pixabay

The trouble is, there’s only you; not even your best mates are interested in learning how to speak a foreign language even if they do love a good curry with their cinema.

Considering the A-Level exam for foreign languages can cost hundreds of pounds and an instructor might be hard to find, your school or college may deny you this particular second language.

A lack of teachers is one of the main reasons that certain A-Level subjects cannot be offered; the other one, as mentioned above, is a lack of interest on the students’ part.

Unfortunately, both of those factors leave the more eclectic subjects you might test in off the registers.

A third reason why you might not get to study the subject you want is because of the exam timetables.

With roughly one month to schedule every single exam of the 2020 academic year, your school administrators may be hard-pressed to fit more than a handful of subjects into each day of testing.

Taking that idea to its logical conclusion: there is only so much time for exams and every exam must fit within the given timetable. Whatever doesn’t fit must be left off.

One final reason you might not get to test in a subject you most want to: schools want good results.

We mentioned that reason before, when talking about the awarding bodies; that they must make their exams passable or risk not being contracted to provide materials.

The same reason holds true for schools: they too need to maintain a track record of academic success. If the exam in question is deemed too difficult or has previously had a poor pass rate, the school simply won’t buy it, teach it or administer it.

That is why some subjects you might expect to be able to test in at the advanced level, such as Physical Education, Further Mathematics and Government and Politics will not show up in your course catalogue.

The Mickey Mouse A-Levels

The official decree is that all A-Levels are equally valuable; the truth is far from that.

The debate has been going on for a while now over ‘respectable’ versus ‘worthless’ or ‘Mickey Mouse’ A-Levels.

As far as UCAS is concerned, if you earn ABB on your A-Levels, it doesn’t matter whether they were in Design and Technology or basket weaving; your grades meet university entry requirements.

Your prospective university has something to say about that, though.

While most universities don’t specify which academic subjects you must test in to meet their entrance requirements, they tend to prefer ‘respected’ subjects such as English Literature over Knowledge and Enquiry or General Studies.

In fact, General Studies and Critical Thinking courses are usually thought of as fodder; just something to get a grade in.

Because universities are getting more selective in the A-Levels they will accept, courses like those have so fallen out of favour that AQA stopped offering Critical Thinking as a subject several years ago.

If you were hoping for a qualification based on any of those ‘non-respectable’ courses, think again: if the exams are available, your school might not offer them because they really carry no other weight than to earn a grade.

And, if you pinned all of your hopes for a decent future on a Russell Group University, you’d best forget about taking any ‘blacklist’ A-Levels!

You might be wondering what A-Levels you should take to qualify for the university enrolment you want…

Got through your college prospectus carefully to pick the right courses
Prepare for the university courses you want by selecting from those A-Levels that are available to you Image by Janeb-13 from Pixabay

How to Get Around a Limited A-Levels Selection

Your further education being contingent on the A-Level courses and exams you will sit, you will most likely want to test in the subjects that interest you – that you intend to make a career out of, even if they’re not offered at your sixth-form college.

Fortunately for you, there are ways you can do that.

1. Check with other schools and colleges around where you live.

There are more than 4,300 such schools scattered all across the land; unless you live in a very remote region, there is a good chance that you will find more than one school within easy commuting distance.

You may end up doing your English Language studies at your original college and going to the second campus for just the subject that your home school doesn’t offer.

2. Take advanced courses online and test as a private candidate

For some students, this option pulls ahead of the others because online studies release them of time constraints going to school imposes, permitting them to find part-time work or gain valuable practical experience through volunteering.

If you were going to test in Religious Studies, Business Studies or Media Studies, such initiatives may prove particularly beneficial in terms of your future employment!

The downside to this plan is that you would have to pay for your exam and for your place at a testing centre yourself; that may cost you several hundred pounds.

3. Reconsider your selections

This suggestion runs counter to the ‘study what you like’ philosophy but it may be your only viable choice if paying for exams is beyond you and there are no other colleges you could study at.

It doesn’t mean you must abandon the subject that so stirred your passion; you may have to treat it as an avocation rather than your primary means of earning money.

The important takeaway is to pick A-Level subjects that you have access to, subjects that are weighty enough to be well-considered by the university of your choice and that you can earn better than the minimum grade in.

Now discover what you can do with those good A-Level grades

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.