If you are about to receive your GCSE results. Good luck! If you had worked hard for them, you will no doubt be feeling about collecting them. I hope it goes well for you and you manage to get the results you need to help you move in with your life.
If you plan to stay in education you may also be considering your A level choices. Advice on A level choices is varied and can depend on who you speak to and their own educational background.
Here is some advice that I think is impartial and also puts the some of the many points to consider in one place.
Do something you like and do something you are good at
This is always my number-one piece of advice. There are various other factors to consider when choosing A level subjects of course, but after you’ve considered these, please always come back to these two questions:
– Am I good /going to be good at this subject?
– Do I/will I enjoy this subject?
If you do this, it is difficult to go far wrong with your choices. You have to remember that A levels are difficult qualifications to get. Whatever the press may tell you, whatever you hear about ‘grade inflation’ or that A levels are no longer the ‘gold standard’ in British education, the fact remains that they are tough. There is an old cliche about the gap between gcse and A level and that many are unable to bridge this gap, but it is more that a cliche. It is true. If you have no real interest in the subject or if you struggled at GCSE level, no matter how good (or bad) your teachers or how hard you worked (or didn’t), you will have a difficult time over the next two years.
Do you want to go to university? What do you want to study when you get there?
Some people already know what they want to do post-A level which can be a big help in choosing A level subjects. For example, if you want to be a doctor, you will almost certainly have to do at least two from biology, chemistry, maths and physics. If you want to do a history degree it makes sense to study history A level, if you are keen on biochemistry it would make sense to do biology and chemistry and if you want to study French, it would be difficult to do this without French A level!
If you’re not sure about what you want to do post-A level, don’t panic and don’t feel like you have to decide now. A levels are not “vocational” qualifications, in themselves they don’t prepare you you specifically for a career. They are designed to be studied, learned and enjoyed and although some subjects may guide you towards particular careers, that is not necessarily the main reason to choose a subject.
I want to be a lawyer so I’ll do A level law, right?
This is a common misconception. You don’t need to do law A level either to be a lawyer or to study law at university. Similarly you don’t need an economics degree to study economics and you don’t need to take business studies A level to study business. In fact a huge number of degree subjects do not have any specific A level requirements. I therefore suggest you go back the the “do I enjoy this/am I good at it” rule when considering your A level choices.
Having said that, in recent years, the Russell group http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/ (a group containing some of the UK’s leading universities) have recently stipulated that they prefer students to have a specified number of ‘facilitating subjects.” This is a rather short list of A level subjects – just maths, english literature, biology, chemistry, physics, history, geography and any modern foreign language count as facilitating subjects. So, if you are considering applying to a “top” university you would do well to do at least one and maybe two or three of these subjects.
However, I would advise not getting too hung-up on facilitating subjects, especially if they don’t meet the “do I like it/am I good at it” criteria. There are many A level subjects which are very interesting and may be more likely to suit you. I happen to think that, for example, media studies, psychology and film studies are unfairly derided as “soft” subjects. Several of these allegedly “soft” subjects are academically demanding, interesting and provide unique opportunities to study material you may never otherwise get.
Do your homework
For this reason, it is extremely important that you do your homework and know what you are studying. What is the subject ACTUALLY about? Will you enjoy this? Will you be good at it? Film studies is not all about making films, in fact it is quite closely aligned to english literature. Drama and theatre studies is only around 50% acting, psychology is not about analysing dreams and philosophy is not a big two year debate on the meaning life. Perhaps the most misunderstood of these is psychology which, at A level, is a very scientific subject very similar to biology and so well suited to students taking sciences and maths.
To impress a university entrance panel, take three or four subjects and do well. Taking five, six or even more subjects does little to improve your chances. Three (plus an AS level) is definitely much better than two, but after that there is a law of very diminishing returns. Focus on getting AAA not BBBBB!!
Don’t chose your best GCSE scores if your mind was set
A common mistake is for students to pick their A levels before GCSE results day, only to find that they do slightly better in another subject at GCSE and make a late switch to this subject. For example you pick English, French and maths because you like them and are good at them, then on GCSE results day, you get an A* in history and an A in French so you decide to history instead of French. Don’t switch! You chose French for all the right reasons and those reasons are still valid!
Good luck on results day!