A Levels: How to Choose The Right Subjects

Embarking on the transition from GCSEs to A Levels is often a daunting experience. And rightly so! Just as you’ve gotten used to taking 10 or 11 subjects, you now have to whittle this number down to just 3 or 4. 

This year, the school closures and social distancing rules mean that many Year 11 students haven’t been able to access advice from their teachers or trial classes. If this applies to you, it’s natural for you to be feeling a little lost or confused about your subject choices. And the uncharted waters of teacher-awarded GCSE and IGCSE grades certainly won’t make the decision any easier!

But worry not. Save My Exams is here to save the day! We’ve called on our study experts to compile a list of the most popular A Level subjects and  to deliver you the details of exactly what they entail.

As an extra helping hand, they’ve included complementary second and third subject choices, and the university courses each subject lends itself to.

So, arm yourself with this essential knowledge and get ready to smash Sixth Form!

Maths and Further Maths

What?

A Level Maths is comprised of three main elements: Pure Mathematics, Mechanics, and Statistics. Further Maths broadens and deepens your understanding of the subject, and is considered more difficult than Maths A Level.

Some schools teach the full Maths A Level course in the first year of Sixth Form then the Further Maths course in the second year, whereas other schools teach the courses side-by-side over two years.

Anyone who enjoys the subject and is predicted to achieve a Level 8 or 9 (A*) in their GCSE Maths is in a good position to pursue Maths and Further Maths A Level. If you are predicted a lower grade, speak to your teacher before making your mind up. 

Complementary A Levels

If you’re looking for a third and final A Level subject, then a science such as Physics, Chemistry, or Biology is recommended. However, music or philosophy are often chosen as a creative partner. 

University Courses 

As well as lending itself to the study of Maths (duh!) at university level, Maths can also lead nicely into the study of Engineering (of which there are many kinds), Economics, Physics and Accountancy

Physics 

What?

A Level Physics explores the universe and the theories that explain it. You can expect to combine practical experiments with topic-based learning, and to cover particle physics, cosmology, forces, electricity and more. 

If you love to ask questions about why things are the way they are, and you’re prepared to put in the hours learning all sort of rules and equations, this subject could be a great choice for you.

Complementary A Levels 

It is advised that you take Physics alongside another science such as Chemistry or Biology. In addition, it’s highly recommended that you take at least Maths, if not Further Maths as well. Physics requires a considerable amount of Mathematics, so a Maths skill set will greatly complement your Physics A Level.

University Courses

A Level Physics lends itself to subjects such as Engineering (of all types) and Computer Science at university.

Chemistry

What?

A Level Chemistry is an in-depth study of the material world, and how humans interact with it. You’ll move from the small scale – elements in the periodic table – to the large scale – resources and energy use. And of course there will be plenty of opportunities for practical experimentation too! 

A Level Chemistry is by no means a walk in the park, but if you loved GCSE Chemistry then this A Level course will be a fantastic opportunity to challenge yourself.

Complementary A Levels

Much like the subjects listed above, Chemistry works well with additional sciences, such as Physics and Biology; as well as Maths and Further Maths. However, if you’re looking to stray from the traditional path, Computer Science, D.T and Psychology are also suitable subject partners. 

University Courses

Chemistry at A Level can lead to degrees such as Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Geology, Pharmacy, and more. It’s also useful should you wish to study Medicine, Veterinary Science or Dentistry.

Biology

What?

A Level Biology is the study of living organisms and systems – from plants, to humans to animals. From studying the operation of hormones in the human body to the complex adaptations of Darwin’s finches, Biology is a subject for the curious-minded

Complementary A Levels

By now, you’re probably aware of what we’re going to say… Biology works well with additional sciences such as Physics and Chemistry, as well as Maths and Further Maths. It also works nicely alongside Psychology, or other natural sciences such as Geography.

University Courses

Taking Biology as one of your three A Level subjects lends itself to the life sciences. Biochemistry, Neuroscience, Dentistry, Veterinary Science and Cognitive Science are all common university degrees taken by A Level Biology students.

If you’re excited by the idea of studying Zoology or Marine Biology, an A Level in Biology is essential. 

Hey, you! Find out what it’s really like to study Biochemistry at Oxford University in this blog post

English Literature 

What?

A Level English Literature will involve the in-depth study of novels, poetry, plays, and non-fiction work. If you loved English GCSE, you enjoy reading a variety of books and you don’t mind writing essays, English Literature A Level will be a good pick. 

Complementary A Levels

As a humanities subject, English works well with similar subjects such as History, Politics, Philosophy and Modern Languages. However, your scope of choice is not limited to just these, as English Literature also works in combination with creative subjects such as Art, Textiles, and Drama. 

University Courses

English A Level can be transferred to degrees including Creative Writing, Film and Television, English Language and Literature, Art History, Liberal Arts, Journalism and Law. The essay writing and critical analysis skills you develop will prepare you well for most essay-based uni courses. 

History

What?

As we are sure you’re already aware, History A Level is a study of the past! It examines the political, economic, social and cultural issues affecting different people and places and different points in time. History syllabuses vary, but you can expect to learn anything from Stuart-era British history to 20th century American politics, and all that falls in between. Essays and the study of different historical source material will feature heavily. 

Complementary A Levels

As part of the humanities family, History works well with subjects in a similar area of study, such as English Literature, Politics, Modern Languages, Geography and R.E. There might be some overlap in the social and political issues you cover in each of these subjects.

University Courses

Using History as your starting point, you could go on to study International Relations or American Studies at university, or even Art History, Politics or Law.

Geography 

What?

A Level Geography involves the study of our natural world – from rivers to glaciers and volcanoes – and also the issues facing the planet – such as climate change, urbanisation, natural disasters and population change. 

If you’re passionate about the environment and sustainability, or you love to travel and learn about other countries, you’ll love Geography A Level.

Complementary A Levels

Geography is a multifaceted subject that works well with any of the sciences, as well as Business Studies, Economics, History, English Literature and Religious Studies. 

University Courses

Geography translates extremely well into Development Economics and Environmental Studies. Additionally,  teamed with a Chemistry A Level, it could lead to the study of Geology or Geoscience.

Business Studies

What?

Business Studies is the study of business and business processes. At A Level it’s a combination of accountancy, finance, marketing and economics. If you’ve got ambitions of running your own business one day, this will be a valuable course. 

Complementary A Levels

Straddling the social sciences and the humanities, Business Studies is complemented by a number of subjects. The most common is Economics, but Business also works well alongside Maths, Further Maths, Politics and Psychology. 

University Courses

Using your Business Studies A Level, you could go on to study Business Management or Marketing at university.

Psychology 

What?

Psychology is the study of the human mind and behaviour. You’ll explore topics ranging from child development to neurological disorders and famous psychological experiments. 

If you’re fascinated by the complex workings of the brain, Psychology will be a great fit for you.

Complementary A Levels

Again, like Business Studies, Psychology falls between the humanities/science divide, so there are a lots of possibilities when it comes to picking complementary subjects. Perhaps the most common is Sociology. However, you can also consider Maths, Biology, History and Geography.

University Courses

Those that study Psychology at A Level often go on to read degrees in Social Work, Education, Early Years/Childhood Studies, or straight Psychology.

Art

What?

A Level Art allows you to build a body of work that reflects your style and creativity. Through supporting contextual studies, you will also gain an understanding of historic and contemporary visual art practice. If you enjoyed Art GCSE and you’re prepared to spend a lot of your time building your portfolio, Art will be a rewarding subject for you. 

Complementary A Levels

Art A Level is often taken alongside D.T and Textiles. However you’re not only limited to these options; Art is a fantastic creative outlet to take alongside subjects such as English, Maths and the sciences.  

University Courses

Those studying Art A Level often go on to study some form of Art at university such as Fine Art, Design, Fashion, or Art History.

Modern Languages 

What?

Modern Languages encompasses a range of languages: from French, German and Spanish, to Russian, Italian, Chinese, and more. At A Level, as well as speaking, listening, reading, and writing, you will also learn about the history and culture of said country, in the native language.

Complementary A Levels

Modern Languages complements a lot of different areas, most notably a further language or Classics. However, it is also common to study English Literature, History, Politics or R.E. alongside an MFL A Level.

University Courses

If you decide to continue your Modern Language journey to university, then you may also want to consider a joint honours with any of the subjects listed above. A huge benefit of an MFL degree is the opportunity to study abroad for a few months to a year, to practice and improve your language skills.

Classics

What?

Classics consists of A Levels in Latin or Classical Greek. You’ll also learn a lot about the culture of these early civilisations through an exploration of famous ancient literature. 

Complementary A Levels

Not all schools offer Classics as an A Level option, but many do. If your school does not, some universities offer introductory classes to those who are new to the subject. If you’re interested, it might be a good idea to do some studying in your own time, or attend classes or tutoring outside of school hours if you want to take a Classics degree. 

Subjects that support a Classics A Level include English Literature, History and Modern Languages. 

University Courses

If you are able to take Classics A Level, it can lead to degrees in straight Classics, History, Art History, Archaeology or Theology.

Politics

What?

Politics, also referred to as Government and Politics in many cases, considers the government structures in place in the UK and abroad, as well as historic and contemporary political issues. Your exam board with determine what nations, other than the UK, you will focus on (the US is common). Politics students should have a keen interest in current affairs, and should also enjoy debating and writing essays. 

Complementary A Levels

Politics works well with the majority of humanities such as History, English Literature, Geography and Modern Languages. It’s also extremely common and beneficial to study Economics alongside Politics. 

University Courses

Rather than straight Politics at university, many choose to take PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), History or International Relations.

Economics 

What?

Economics A Level is divided into two parts: Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Microeconomics is the study of the theory behind an ideal free market, whilst Macro explores the operation of a nation’s economy, and themes associated with social welfare, recessions and government policy. You might even learn how Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies work! 

Complementary A Levels

Economics is heavily influenced by Maths and therefore it’s a good idea to take Maths and possibly Further Maths too. However, other relevant subjects include Business Studies, History and Politics. 

University Courses

Those taking Economics A Level can transfer these skills to International Development or a multitude of Business-focused, Finance and Accountancy degrees. 

Did we miss out any subjects? Let us know and we’ll add them in!

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