Sixth form and A-level subjects option after GCSE Results

After the release of GCSE exam results, it is vital to make the right choice in choosing A-level subjects as it can make the difference between going to a top university or a not-so-reputable one.

The top universities do discriminate and admission tutors at each department have their own preferences and prejudices!  I’d just like to provide a brief summary in terms of A-level options and also to refer you to other articles that I’ve written about this important subject matter in the past.

a. Subject Choice – below is a list of A-level subjects, from which I recommend that a young person with ambition should take a minimum of two:

  1. Maths
  2. Physics
  3. Chemistry
  4. Further Maths
  5. History
  6. Economics
  7. Languages, such as: first category – French, German, Latin, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. There are other languages, which I call second category, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic, but I recommend the ones I’ve listed in the first category first.
  8. English (- any of Literature, Language or Lit/Lang).

b. There are other subjects, such as Biology, Psychology, the second category of languages I listed above and some others, which are quite useful and universities value, but my list above is in order of my preference, based on personal experience of what I believe top universities prefer.

d. There are other qualifications that are similar to A-level, such as the IB (International Baccalaureate) and the Cambridge Pre-U. The IB is now considered to be superior to the A-level, as it is broader in terms of the volume of material to be studied. It also has sufficient depth and rigour as the A-level. The Cambridge Pre-U is the most demanding and is only offered by a very tiny number of top Independent Schools and Grammar Schools for the most academic of young people.The A-level is the safer option, as most good schools and colleges have the expertise in terms of teachers to deliver it successfully and it is still the most highly recognised.

e. The BTEC is a vocational qualification and is not, in reality, an equivalent or the A-level. Almost all universities, including the very top ones,  list the BTEC as being acceptable; however, in reality, the lecturers at the top institutions do not like it and their courses are not designed with the BTEC in mind, but, rather, with the A-level, the IB or, the very best of all – the Pre-U. A young person who is admitted to study at a top university with a BTEC qualification will almost certainly struggle and has very little chance of completing the degree course

f. The BTEC is good for someone who is more interested in vocational qualifications and it must be borne in mind that success can be achieved by other means and not just by academic qualifications.

g. In is important for the young person to play to their strength and choose subjects they are likely to do well in; however, I would still ask the young person to include at least two of the subjects in the list above if they want to increase their chances of gaining admission to a top university.


A-level Maths

I will single out Maths and write a brief comment as it is the most useful of A-level subjects. However, experience shows me that, if a student achieves an A grade or Grade 7 in Maths at GCSE / IGCSE after working extremely hard for it, that student is unlikely to achieve a good pass grade at A-level if they choose to do it. Achieving an A* or Grade 8 or Grade 9 in GCSE Maths usually shows evidence of ability to succeed at A-level. A mathematically talented young person who has not worked hard and achieves a Grade A or Grade 7 at GCSE has a chance of achieving a high grade at A-level if they work hard at that level. It is important to play to your strength. See the link below to a specific blog post on A-level Maths

Choosing A-level subjects is very important and I have written about this extensively in the past. Please see the links below for some of the articles and you’ll also discover links to other websites after visiting ours

Below is a link to an audio on suggestions and advice about A-level subject options - narrated by Richard Turner - a producer on BBC Radio 4

video – A-level Revision part 1 –

video – A-level Revision part 2 –