A-Level qualifications are enshrouded in a rare dichotomy: at once so ordinary that every student in the UK at least considers sitting them (and a substantial portion do) yet exceptional in that they have the power to determine your entire future.
UK students are perhaps used to that juxtaposition; their General Certificate of Secondary Education is actually far more impactful than any A-Level qualification can be.
Most people place great value on A-Levels because they provide the most obvious gateway to universities but did you know that you could also take university courses having only sat GCSE exams?
All of that is beside the point. What really matters is that, since the education reform that dictates every student must be engaged in an educational venture until s/he turns 18, more students than ever are signing up for A-Level courses.
They have plenty of subjects to choose from. So many, in fact, that they may dither over which courses to take.
That is why your Superprof outlines a way of selecting your A-Levels so that you can derive the most benefit from them, whether you intend to seek out university courses or vocational courses.
What Can You Do with Your A-Levels?
Obviously, A-Level results that meet entry requirements pave the way for the university programme of study you want.
Some students go that route: keen to get on with their life, they whip right through their degree courses, anticipating all of the support their university can provide them in finding suitable work after graduation.
What if, after most of your life spent studying, you are completely fed up with being inside a classroom?
Gap years have been a long-standing tradition in the UK. The well-to-do would ship their kids off to distant shores – in Europe and even Russia, to get a taste of culture and art. In fact, a person would not be considered well-rounded unless such a journey had been taken!
Today, students of any means take gap years after they complete their A-Levels. Some might head to Asia to teach English for a semester or a year while others might volunteer for a cause they’re passionate about at home.
Whether you take a position in an industry related to your field of study – another opportunity made possible with A-Level qualifications in hand, or sign up for a Higher Apprenticeship, the mark of a successful gap year is that you do something productive.
Wait… what is a Higher Apprenticeship?
That is something else you can do with your A-Levels.
While those who have sat GCSE exams and have no intention of enroling at university may seek out apprenticeships, students with A-Levels under their belts may find such positions in more ‘elevated’ industries.
Those include Finance and Information Technology; positions with a bit more responsibility that would pay you a bit more money.
Those are just two ways to use your A-Levels to your advantage; there are more…
How Many A-Levels Can You Take?
Students who are currently working toward their gruelling GCSE ordeal may shiver at the thought of taking as many GCE Advanced Level exams… for a good reason!
At GCSE level, students are expected to sit anywhere between eight and ten exams. While good grades are hoped for by teachers and students (and caregivers!) alike, only GCSE Maths and English Language require a pass.
If somehow, a student does not earn passing marks on these exams, s/he will have to resit them.
With A-Levels, there are no required subjects to take or to pass and no recommended minimum (or maximum) numbers of exams one must sit.
UCAS generally specifies the A-Level grades needed to qualify for university: usually three grades, most often with one of them being an A.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get into university if you earn three Bs or one A and two Cs but you may have to wait until Clearing to select your programme.
Three A-Levels (and good marks on your GCSEs) is generally the norm; however, some universities are leaning more toward four A-Levels these days.
Sitting four A-Levels gives you a bit of wriggle room; should you not test as well as expected on one of your preferred subjects, you have that fourth grade to fall back on.
How would that work if, say, you wanted to study Modern Foreign Languages at university but scored poorly on your Spanish Language exam, while scoring brilliantly in Film Studies – the subject you chose as your ‘fourth’?
Your situation is not as dire as you might think.
While it is important to score as highly as possible on your relevant A-Levels, you won’t be turned away if you miss the mark in one of them because, besides showing your readiness for university study, A-Levels disclose your determination to work hard.
In some respects, that determination is more important than the courses you choose.
Find out more about the number of A-Levels you might take, as well as which ones not to take…
How to Choose Your A-Levels
If Stephen Hawking and Jocelyn Bell Burnell are your heroes and the film Dark Matter your favourite, there is little doubt you would study anything but Astrophysics at university.
Likewise, if Shakespeare’s plays the Brontë sisters’ works fill your bookshelf and the library is your favourite hangout, English Literature might be your course of study.
What if you like both the Brontë sisters and Stephen Hawking?
No worries, you are not condemned to spend your life reeling in indecision; exam boards have just the test for you.
Well, exam boards have just the test for everyone but, for those puzzling over their choices, unsure if choosing one course of study commits them to a career field they might not enjoy after 10 years or so, there are what’s called facilitating subjects.
The important thing about choosing your A-Level subjects, even if you go for facilitating subjects like Further Maths or Chemistry and Biology is to not choose subjects that are too closely related.
That applies whether you know what you want to study at university or not.
University admissions boards tend to cringe when they see Economics, Business Studies and Accountancy together because business studies curriculum includes segments on accounting and economics.
They interpret this practice as doubling up; getting two A-Levels for the price of one, in a sense.
Choosing your A-Levels can be a matter that can cost you quite a loss of sleep as well as the goodwill of anybody you might annoy into giving you any advice you might not take anyway.
However, if you follow certain rules of thumb, you might not have such a hard time choosing.
Keep these points in mind as you review your options:
- Don’t choose a course of study simply because your mates did
- Don’t choose any subjects you think you might make an easy A in – they generally turn out much harder!
- Don’t choose courses because they sound cool without knowing a bit about what they entail.
- Do some research about your subjects and what-all they involve
- Choose according to your interests – how relevant they are to what you plan to do with the rest of your life.
- Talk to people who know you to get an outsider's idea of what might be the best courses for you.
It is difficult to see your entire life when you’re not even an adult yet, but that is what is expected of you when choosing A-Levels.
Don't let the pressure get to you!
What if You’re Limited by the A-Levels Your School Offers?
If the exam is available, you should be able to test in that subject, right?
It happens more than you would think: common subjects – anything from Geography to Photography are listed on exam board websites but not necessarily in your school or college’s curricula.
What can you do if the course of study you’ve long anticipated following is not available to you? And why wouldn’t they be?
You might be surprised at the reasons that sixth form colleges don’t offer certain subjects. For some, no teacher is available while for others, not enough students have shown an interest to warrant making a ripple in their scheduling timetables.
The exam boards and UK schools share a common interest: they both want the highest pass rate possible.
For schools, attainment of that goal sometimes demands leaving more difficult subjects like Further Mathematics off the selection list while the awarding bodies like to help cultivate teaching skills by offering seminars and workshops in the most popular subjects.
However, OCR, Edexcel and AQA hedge their bets by still making the tests available to A-Level candidates who might take exams privately.
If taking exams privately is not an option for you, you might look around where you live; you might find a different college that does offer the courses you want. If not, you may have to reconsider your A-Level selections…
Does the rest of your life depend on which A-Levels you take? In a narrow sense, yes, it does. But, put into a broader perspective, A-Levels are just the last stepping stone to your adult life.
You might not be able to choose the stone you step on but you can certainly polish it up and make it the best stone ever…
Just like your A-Levels!