A Levels: How to Choose The Right Subjects

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Amy studied at the University of Bristol and is our revision blog guru. She only graduated recently so understands the pressures of being a student better than most, and is here to share her wisdom so that you revise effectively, smash your exams, succeed at school and write cracking university and job applications.

The leap from GCSE to A Level can often feel a little daunting. You’re used to covering a wide range of subjects, and now have to whittle this number down to just three. 

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of key A Level subjects and what they entail, to help you make an informed choice. We’ve also included complementary second and third subject choices, and the university courses each subject lends itself to.

Even if you’re starting in September, it’s not too late to change your mind! Check out this blog for our tips on what to do if you think you’d like to change your choices.

If you’re considering taking an A Level that we haven’t included here, write it in the comments and we’ll be sure to add it to our list!

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 generally tougher than straight Maths A Level. 

Complimentary A Levels

You can’t take Further Maths unless you’re already taken Maths, so Maths will have to be one of your 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. 

University Courses 

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

Physics 

What?

A Level Physics explores the universe and the theories that explain it. 

Complimentary 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 compliment 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 considers the material world, how it works and what makes it up.

Complimentary 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, I.T, D.T and Psychology are also suitable alternatives. 

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 life, exploring the theories and principles involved in living systems.

Complimentary 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 Pschology, 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.

English Literature 

What?

A Level English Literature covers novels, poetry, plays, and non-fiction, from the UK and international canon.  

Complimentary A Levels

As a humanities subject, English works well with similar subjects such as History, Politics, 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.

History

What?

As you are 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 early British History to recent American history, and all that falls in between. 

Complimentary 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 much 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 considers issues facing the planet such as climate change, migration, natural disasters and social issues. 

Complimentary A Levels

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

University Courses

Geography translates extremely well into Development Economics and Environmental Studies; or teamed with a Chemistry A Level, 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, organisation, and economics. 

Complimentary A Levels

Straddling science and the humanities, Business Studies is complemented by a number of subjects. The most common is Economics, however 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, looking at both normal and abnormal behaviours in order to address social and personal issues. 

Complimentary 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.  

Complimentary 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.

Complimentary A Levels

Modern Languages compliments a lot of different areas, most notably a further language. 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 and Classical Greek.

Complimentary 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 will help prepare you to study Classics at uni include 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, Anthropology and Theology.

Politics

What?

Politics, also referred to as Government and Politics in many cases, considers both the government structures in place in the UK and worldwide, as well as historic and contemporary political issues. Your exam board with determine what nations, other than the UK, you will focus on. 

Complimentary 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) or International Relations.

Economics 

What?

Economics A Level is divided into two parts: Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Microeconomics is the concept of an ideal free market, whilst macro looks at a nation’s economics, and themes associated with social welfare.

Complimentary A Levels

Economics is heavily influenced by Maths and therefore it’s a good idea to take Maths and possibly Further Maths too, if you want to pursue it at higher education. 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. 

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