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Choosing Your A-Levels


Choosing which subjects to take for your A-levels is a major decision. It won’t just impact upon your studies throughout the course of the following two years; it could also determine what course you do at university and influence your future career (Ratcliffe, 2016). So what factors do you need to take into consideration when deciding what to study? The most important criteria are what you’re good at and what you’re likely to enjoy. If a student enjoys a subject then he or she is likely to display a higher degree of motivation when studying it. If the student is competent at a subject then it can enhance his or her chance of success.

Subjects can sometimes be on offer to take as an A-level that have not been previously available at earlier stages of education (UCAS, n.d.). This means that pupils are likely to be unsure of whether they like them or are good at them. Rather than taking one of these subjects on the off chance that it will be suitable, it’s advisable to take the time to discover what each one entails. This can be done by speaking to teachers at open days and asking them lots of questions (UCAS, n.d.).

For subjects that you are already familiar with, your GCSE grades can provide an insight into whether or not you’re competent at them. If you were convinced that you wanted to study maths at university but only got an E at GCSE, it would be unwise to select your A-levels based on the requirements to do a maths degree (Willis, 2016). It might be better to have a total rethink of your future plans.

Your A-level subjects should be tailored towards making it possible for you to study your desired subject at degree level. Certain subjects are essential if you want to do a specific degree, for example, an A-level in biology and either maths or another science is often required to be accepted on a biology degree course. Maths and physics A-levels are frequently needed to get a place on an engineering course, and chemistry and at least one other science are commonly required to do a dentistry degree (Willis, 2016).

Some universities look down on certain A-level subjects, for example many admissions tutors refuse to acknowledge grades in general studies or critical thinking (Ratcliffe, 2016). This means that the credibility of each subject should also be taken into consideration when making your choice. Getting a high grade in a subject that few take seriously is clearly less worthwhile than attaining the same grade in a respected subject.

If you’ve already chosen A-levels without take these issues into consideration it’s not the end of the world; the majority of schools and colleges allow students to change their options provided they don’t leave it too late after making their initial decision (Newcastle University, n.d.). This means that it is important to tell a member of staff about your desired change as soon as possible.

In addition to choosing what A-levels to study, schools and teachers are also allowed to decide which exam board to use. In theory, it is no more difficult to gain a specific grade by opting for one exam board than it is to do so by choosing another (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, 2017). However, there is frequent speculation at teaching events and on social media about which exam boards are easier than others (Meadows, 2016).

Executive Director of Strategy, Risk and Research at the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation Michelle Meadows (2016) has admitted that there are differences between the exam boards in terms of the content of the exams that they produce. The official regulations allow for variation between different boards so long as an appropriate amount of material from the stipulated curriculum is covered, the assessment is valid, and the exam is sufficiently challenging. This means that teachers are able to opt for the specification that they believe are best suited to their pupils’ needs (Meadows, 2016).

Your exam board could potentially have a major impact upon your ability to study your desired course at university, as it can influence your grades. It is advisable to discuss which board to choose with your teachers and provide them with advice and opinions when necessary. One way to assess the choice of boards is to look at their past track record. Some exam boards have made highly publicised errors, for example the AQA board has previously included a question that was impossible to answer in a chemistry exam and the OCR board has confessed to omitting important details from a chemistry paper that rendered a question unanswerable (Pells, 2017).

It is clear that careful consideration is required when deciding upon both which A-levels to do and encouraging teachers to opt for a specific exam board. It’s worth taking the time to find out about potential subjects and exam boards before committing to anything. After all, a couple of hours of research could influence both your immediate academic future and the course of your subsequent career. Whatever choices you make, ensure they’re well thought through and focused on providing you with the highest possible chance of success.



Meadows, M. (2016). How to choose your exam board. Retrieved from

Newcastle University (n.d.). Changing your A-level choices. Retrieved from

Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (2017). Annual report and accounts 2016 to 2017. Retrieved from

Pells, R. (2017, 14 June). Exam boards apologise for errors in multiple GCSE and A-level papers. The Independent. Retrieved from

Ratcliffe, R. (2016, 3 February). Six questions to ask before choosing your A-levels. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Ratcliffe, R. (2016, 3 February). Six questions to ask before choosing your A-levels. The Guardian. Retrieved from

UCAS (n.d.). Tips on choosing A level subjects. Retrieved from

Willis, A. (2016, 25 August). GCSE results 2016: How to choose your A-level subjects based on your GCSEs. Metro. Retrieved from



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Studying for A-levels and need help with exam prep or assignments? Contact us to request personal tutoring or proofreading services.