Unlocking Your Academic Potential: A Guide to Choosing A-Level Subjects You Love

03 Feb, 2024 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge

Choosing which subjects to study at A-level is an important step in a student’s academic journey. Your A-levels can impact the university you attend, the degree you study, and even your first job after graduation.

This guide aims to provide actionable insights on how to choose subjects that are aligned with your interests and aspirations. This is your decision to make – and it’s a personal one – so it’s most important to make choices based on your individual passions and goals.

What Are A-Levels?

A-levels are qualifications taken in British schools and colleges, and some international schools around the world. Students usually start studying for their A-levels at age 16, and take their final exams two years later. 

A wide range of subjects are available to study at A-level, from a variety of exam boards. The A-level grading system is as follows, from highest to lowest: 

  • A* (highest passing grade)
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • E (lowest passing grade)
  • U (unclassified)
  • X (absent student)

These grades act as the basis for offers from UK universities. Conditional offers are usually determined by a student’s predicted A-level grades, while unconditional offers are based on results already achieved.

Understanding the A-Level Structure

Most students spend two years studying for their A-levels after secondary school. It’s standard to take three to four subjects, but there are occasions where students choose to take less or more. 

There are also other qualifications that can be studied alongside A-levels, such as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), which is an independent research project.

Why Subject Enjoyment Matters

When choosing your A-Level subjects, the most important thing is to focus on the subjects that best align with your interests and passions. 

When you enjoy the subjects you’re studying, you’re much more likely to stay motivated and engaged in your studies, ultimately enhancing your academic performance! 

It’s been statistically proven that happier students get higher grades. A study published in 2022 revealed that “students’ levels of happiness are positively correlated with their academic success”. If you’re happier, your grades will benefit, so it’s important to prioritise the subjects you’re passionate about when selecting A-level subjects. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing A-Level Subjects

However, this can still feel like a difficult and daunting decision for many students. So, we’ve come up with four of the most important factors to consider when choosing your A-level subjects.

I. Academic and career aspirations

When choosing A-level subjects, make sure to align your choices with your future academic and career goals.

If you’re hoping to pursue a scientific career, you’ll want to take Sciences at A-level. Similarly, if you’re interested in a career in accounting or finance, it would be useful to prioritise Maths or Economics. 

It’s important to consider your future aspirations before you start your A-levels, to give you as smooth a start as possible when it comes to applying for universities and jobs.

II. Personal interests and passions

Before selecting your A-level subjects, take some time to reflect on your personal interests and passions.

If you’ve always been interested in big existential questions, you might enjoy Philosophy, or if you’re a budding entrepreneur, you might enjoy Business and Economics.

If there was a particular subject you really loved at GCSE, have a look at the corresponding A-level course content to see if that interests you too!

Oxford Scholastica students at graduation

III. Skills development

A-levels are often a time of growth and development for a student. As well as gaining new knowledge about your subjects, A-levels help you to develop essential skills for the future. 

Different subjects foster different skills, so consider what you’d like to gain from your studies. Subjects like English will encourage creativity, research and critical thinking, whereas subjects like Chemistry will enhance your problem-solving skills and analytical abilities. 

Think about what you’d most like to learn and take away from these two years. Which skills matter the most to you?

IV. Guidance from teachers and career counsellors

It can be really valuable to seek advice from trusted teachers and career counsellors. They can often offer helpful insights into what might work best for you, based on their experience and knowledge of the educational landscape. 

Choosing your A-level subjects is a big decision and you don’t have to face it alone! Your teachers will be able to help you work out which subjects are right for you.

Practical Steps for Selecting A-Level Subjects

There are some practicalities to consider when picking your A-level subjects. Here are some practical steps to guide you through the selection process.

1. Research university requirements

If there’s a specific course or subject you want to study at university, take the time to check the course entry requirements to make sure your options align, and optimise your chances of getting a place at the university! 

For example, if your goal is to study a degree in Physics, then you might need an A-level in Maths to qualify for a university Physics programme. 

University prospectuses are particularly useful if you’re interested in seeing the requirements for a specific course. You can also access course information online: just search the university name, the subject name and “entry requirements”. 

By searching “York Chemistry entry requirements”, for example, you’ll be able to find the specific course website with all the relevant entry information. 

2. Self-assess and reflect

It’s also important to engage in self-assessment and reflection. If you need a starting point, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Which subjects do I find the most interesting?
  • Which subjects do I find the easiest?
  • Which subjects do I want to learn more about?
  • Which subjects do I score highest in?
  • Which subjects teach me the most useful skills?

Use the answers to these questions to help you make your choices. It can be surprisingly useful to take a couple of moments to simply reflect.

3. Attend trial periods and taster sessions

Keep an eye out for relevant A-level taster sessions, too. Some schools offer trial periods so students can experience a subject firsthand before making any final decisions. Participating in a taster session or trial period can help you to confirm your choices – or even explore new ones! 

Our Oxford summer school is also a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a subject for a short period of time. Our residential courses are ideal for gaining new skills and experiences, and making informed decisions for your future.

Large group of students at the Oxford Scholastica summer school graduation

4. Balance practicality and passion

Arguably one of the trickier parts of selecting your A-level subjects is balancing practicality with passion. Although it’s important, first and foremost, to pursue your interests, it’s also key to consider your aspirations for the future. If you have specific goals for university or for your career, make sure your A-level subjects coordinate with these. 

It can be difficult to prioritise both, but most of the time it’s possible to find a middle ground. If the subjects you feel like you “should” be taking (to get you your ideal career) fill you with dread, then it might be worth reconsidering what you’d like to pursue in the future. If you feel passionately about a subject, that’s usually a sign it’s the right path for you. 

Overall, although choosing your A-level subjects can be tricky, with some self-reflection and guidance, everything becomes a little easier. 

Try to approach this decision-making process with curiosity and enthusiasm for your academic journey! This is an exciting step in your academic career. 

Good luck!

jessica

By Jessica Mason

Jessica is currently studying a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, and has a particular interest in Early Modern theatre. She enjoys writing articles and has lots of experience in student journalism.
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