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A Guide to Choosing Your A-Levels

Year 11 is one of the most pivotal years of your education. Not only will you be sitting some of the most important exams of your education - your GCSEs - but it’s also likely that you’ll be choosing which A-Levels you would like to pursue for post-16 study.

The A-Levels you choose can affect your higher education and career path, so it’s key to choose them correctly now in order to avoid having to change later on.

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What grades do I need to take A levels?

According to UCAS, to study A levels, you usually need ‘at least five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4/A* to C’ and ‘at least grade B in the specific subject(s) you want to study.’

Of course, the specific requirements needed to study will vary across schools and colleges, and so it’s important that you check with the school or college you are hoping to study at. 

How many A-Levels do I need to choose?

If you look at the top 50 universities in the UK and their subject requirements, it is likely that they  will ask you for at least three A-levels (but usually excludes General Studies). 

Some students may op take on an additional AS or A2 subject to try and improve their chances of getting into a top university, but you should only consider this if you think you will still be able to achieve good grades in your three core subjects. 

The typical path taken by students is to choose four AS-level subjects, and then drop one in their second year of their post-16 study - also known as A2. 

Which A-Levels should I choose?

Obviously this is a rather subjective question, and only one that you will ultimately be able to answer. However, we believe that the A-Levels you should choose should consider two things: 

Are they a required subject for what you want to study at university? More importantly, do you enjoy studying them?

Your A-Levels are a huge part of your university application, with most courses having a specific subject or subject group on their entry requirement criteria. Therefore, before selecting your A-Levels, it’s important for you to think about what career path you may want to take in the future, and look at a few university prospectuses to see what the typical subject requirements are. 

Also already mentioned, it’s also very important to select subjects that you enjoy studying. During GCSEs, you will be studying a variety of subjects, keeping your timetable varied. However, when you do your A-Levels, you will only be studying three or four subjects in detail, and so it’s important that you enjoy them - as you will be spending a lot of time learning about them!

What if I don’t know what job I want in the future?

Lots of students will be in the same shoes as you and have absolutely no idea what they want to study at university or which career they want to pursue, and there’s no problem with that at all. When it comes to choosing A-Levels, it just means that you should choose keeping your options open.

Our advice to keeping your options open is:

Go for subjects you’re expected to do well in at GCSE level - If you perform well in these during GCSE, then it’s likely you’ll perform well in them when it comes to A-Level. The better grades you get, the more likely you are to get into a higher ranking university.

In addition to this, you should also choose subjects which benefit your skills. If you are a critical thinker and enjoy analysing evidence and information, then essay-based subjects such as English or Psychology would be good subjects to opt for. If you’re quite creative in your practice, then opting for Art or Theatre Studies may benefit you. Alternatively, if you enjoy problem-solving and logic-based assessments, then opting for science or mathematical based subjects may be a good move. Like the above, if you pick subjects that complement your skills, then it’s likely you will do well in them and go into your future with the best possible grades.

How do I narrow down my options?

When making your final decision, you should always read through the syllabi for the subjects that you’re potentially interested in. You could always check out some of the suggested secondary reading and see if you enjoy the course material. 

You should also speak to your teachers and see what advice they can give you. Don’t forget, they’ve been through this process before and have probably advised lots of students on what options they should be taking to accommodate their future choices. Speak to them, as well as friends and family who may be in similar careers to the one you want for the future. They may just have some life-changing advice!

But ultimately, go with your gut. It’s your subjects at the end of the day, and you’re going to be studying them. Always it’s a daunting, do try to enjoy this time. You’ll be beginning a new adventure in your academic journey and getting one step closer to achieving your goals for the future.

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Year 11: pivotal exams and A-Level choices. Need 5 GCSEs, B in desired subjects. Top universities want 3 A-Levels. Consider required subjects, personal interest, skills. Keep options open. Excel in chosen subjects. Seek advice, trust instincts.

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