For GCSE students, the idea of a slimmed-down set of subjects and actually only studying what you want to is must be quite a tempting idea.  Indeed, as a Year 11 student the prospect of never having to read Shakespeare or discuss moral and ethics of various topics again was quite an enjoyable notion (Miss Thompson, Miss Hoyle – no offence, but it wasn’t my thing.)

The reason, however, that you’re picking a smaller number A Levels to study is because they’re much tougher and require a lot more thought than GCSEs ever did.  Unless you’re the next academic prodigy who can sail through 20 A Levels etc, then I suspect a GCSE-style slate of A Levels is not going to be your thing.  That’s not intended to insult or patronise, it’s just the way it works!

Generally, most Sixth Forms require you to start off with 4 AS Levels and then you will have the option to move down to 3 for A2.  Therefore, when you leave Sixth Form you will likely have three complete A Levels and an additional AS Level in another subject.  You’ll be entirely at your own free will as to what you pick, though your chosen college/Sixth Form will likely have divided them into different option blocks, whereby you pick one from each.  Sadly, there has to be a few logistics in there!

When it comes to picking your A Levels… well, it’s quite a complex and often difficult problem, as you will have to battle different emotions and feelings in order to pick what is best for you.

The first thing that I will say is that the decision really needs to be made my you.  Whilst taking advice is always a good skill, you have to be careful.

  • Teachers: Quite possibly the worst person to ask, in my view, for teachers are not going to tell you that you shouldn’t study their subject unless you happen to be the worst person they’ve ever taught.  If that was the case, you probably wouldn’t have survived GCSE with them.
    Teachers, whilst no doubt wishing to help you, are one group of people that stand to benefit from having large classes of students at A Level.  It’s quite rare to have a packed-out classroom at A Level (with the exception of mathematics, perhaps) and so such a busy register for them looks rather good – teachers can be pushed up the order for promotions and the like.  Some Sixth Forms are paid per student too.  I’m not saying that teachers are dishonourable, but it’s something to think about when your teachers are suddenly swooning over you.
    Another thing to remember is not to choose an A Level subject purely on the basis that your teacher was awesome at GCSE.  The chances of them actually teaching you at A Level are going to be relatively slim.  Even if you are lucky enough to get that same teacher, it’s not going to affect the content you have to learn.
  • Schools: Please don’t read too much of the advertising in a Sixth Form prospectus – it’s all there to entice  you.  Look at the course material and that’s it.
  • Parents: Oh no, duck!
    The think about parents is that they want the best for you – no bad thing, of course.  The problem is, they have presumably not sat in on your lessons – it’s likely that they don’t really know what your preferences are and what you feel most comfortable with.  The exception to that, naturally, is if you actually tell them about these things.
    It’s true that your parents work in big world of work and will perhaps try and guide you towards the subjects that are ‘more favourably looked upon’ by potential employers.  That’s fair enough, but believe me when I say that a university degree will be much higher up on their list.  Obviously the support will be appreciated, but remember that it’s up to you as to what you do.
  • Siblings: OK, so at least they’ve studied the subjects more recently.  In that respect, an older sister or brother might be of some use to you.  They will have a more up-to-date look at the subjects studied so it’s possible that they might have some valuable input.  Approach with caution, however, as they’re going to tell you the good and the bad based from their point of view.  If you’re going to ask them, the best option is to just take the facts from them, like what the modules contained.

That’s, strangely, the biggest piece of advice going – to be careful who you ask.

  • Moving away from that, another thing you need to do is read university prospectuses and consider what they’re looking for in a particular subject – perhaps you’ve got something in mind for uni.  If that’s the case, consider adding a couple of those into the mix for consideration, but remember that recommended subjects lists will rarely prescribe all of your choices for you.
  • Reading Sixth Form prospectuses are a different story, however.  Many will bombard you with stats about percentages of pupils who get a Grade A, but remember that you make your own successes – those pieces of data are based on everyone else.
  • Picking your A Levels might also mean thinking about different combinations of subjects.  If you’re definitely doing Mathematics and Further Maths, you might want to find another option that fully utilises the benefits of learning those two – Physics would sit very nicely there indeed.  Clearly, you won’t want to over-specialise, but ultimately it will make your life a lot easier with a nice set of similar subjects that all link together.  For example, my Maths A Level featured Mechanics 1 as an A2 module – it was basically a repeat of the 2nd half of my AS Physics.
  • Be prepared to compromise!  Sadly, you’re going to have to say goodbye to a few subjects that you wish you could keep on with.  You, for instance, might have the choice between two subjects where you got on well and have always managed to succeed with them.  However, if making them both fit into your studies will be impossible (thanks to some cruel option blocks) then you’re going to have to let your head rule your heart and decide which of the two will be most beneficial to your future.
  • The last major piece of advice I would give you is to make sure that you choose subjects that you’ve always liked and got on with well.  I know it’s obvious-sounding, but you can’t believe the number of people I’ve seen take A Level subjects because they felt they had to, rather than because they wanted to.  It’s sad to see, and often they were the ones who found it difficult to stay motivated through the tough bits.

Hopefully that’s a good guide on how to go through your various A Level options.  Your college will perhaps limit the combinations through option blocks and the like, but once you get to it, you’ll find that picking what you feel are your strengths and making compromises on others is all going to serve you well.



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