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Choosing your subjects

So, the time has finally come. You’re sitting there, confused, either in Y9 trying to pick your GCSEs or in Y11 trying to pick your A Levels. You may be thinking

‘How can I possibly decide when my choice will dictate the entire future of my education?!’

Not to worry boss, it’s a lot less scary than you think – let us show you how you can turn that 😵‍💫 into a 🤩

Take our advice, and choosing your subjects will be so easy. Whether it’s medical/dental school, law school, engineering school or wherever!

 

GCSE

Alright, so let’s tackle this through a series of questions and answers. Let’s a go!

What are the main subjects I should take? 🤝

For a lot of you guys, your school will set the following ‘core’ subjects as subjects you have to take for GCSE:

  • Maths
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

You won’t have much of a choice regarding these subjects (other than science which we’ll touch on next) so there’s no need to worry about them at all.

Ok, beyond those, what choices do I have? 🤔

Aside from those above, you’ll have the option to pick another few subjects to take that are completely up to you. Let’s split these up into 4 categories:

  • Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) → The main 3 are German, French and Spanish although some schools offer other languages too such as Mandarin. It also may be the case that choosing a language at your school is compulsory, so do check that.
  • Humanities → Examples are History, Geography and Religious Studies
  • Technical subjects → These include subjects like Computer Science, Design and Tech and Food Technology
  • Arts → This would be subjects such as Art (obviously), Music and Drama

There isn’t a compulsion to pick one from each category, and there are other subjects too like Economics and PE that you may able to choose which don’t fit too well into any of the above categories.

Now, I mentioned that you can’t choose not to do the core subjects previously. However, with science there’s a bit of an exception. You can choose to do either triple science or combined science (aka dual award aka trilogy). The difference between them is that triple science gives you 3 GCSE grades (1 for each science) but out of combined science you only get 2. For combined science you still study all 3 sciences but with less content and detail than for triple science.

That makes sense, but how on Earth do I still choose these optional subjects? 🤠

There is one golden rule when it comes to picking your subjects:

Pick subjects you like and are good at

I know, I know, you guys are probably thinking ‘well duh’, HOWEVER a lot of students deep it more than it needs to be!

Don’t pick your subjects based off what your friends pick or if your favourite teacher teaches that subject! Base it off your own likes and interests – these are the best ones for you – or else you may regret your choice.

Got it, so how do these choices affect my further education? ➡️

In a nutshell, your actual subject choices themselves won’t affect much how colleges/sixth forms/universities see you – the grades you get in those subjects matters way more.

If they were to look at your GCSEs, maths and English language (2 of the core subjects) are what are looked at most commonly, and sometimes science too. Some universities have baseline grade requirements for these 2 subjects but may only have a number requirement for the rest (e.g. a minimum of 5 GCSEs between grades 4-9).

If any of you are specifically worried about combined vs triple science, taking combined science won’t disadvantage you compared with triple. If you’re planning on taking a science subject in the future for A Levels or university, you’d want to pick triple science anyway. However, if you pick combined and want to do a science A Level, it isn’t too big of a deal either, you’ll just have to catch up a bit extra in Y12/13 than those who did triple.

This is all great news! Why? Because it means that you’re not limited in your options for what you want to pursue after school. If you change your mind and want to go down a different route for A Level and beyond, you can 😄

 

A Levels

Even though you guys in Y11 have already run the gauntlet once since you picked your GCSEs options back in Y8 (the good old days right 😅), you probably still have questions since A Levels are a littttle different. Well, time to roll out the Q&A…

How are A Levels different to GCSEs? 🤷

The thing to realise about A Levels is that of course you’ll have a lot fewer subjects to deal with, but each of them has a lot more volume and content and goes into much more depth than the same topics did at GCSE. All this means is that you guys will end up with pretty much the same amount of workload → a fact important to keep in mind for one of the questions we answer in a bit…

Another important difference is that now your subject choice matters a lot more. You’ve probably already had some thoughts about what you want to do after Y13 and if not, then it’s time to sit and have a proper think.

Have a look into higher education e.g. undergraduate courses at university that you’re interested in and especially at the grade requirements – most courses have some sort of compulsory subject and minimum grade requirement. Doing this research will help you narrow down your options for A Levels and will probably largely dictate the subjects you choose.

What’s the rule for picking A Level subjects? 😆

The exact same one as with GCSEs! Let’s remind you:

‘Pick subjects you are genuinely interested in and you believe you can get a good grade in!’

Hopefully the subjects you need for the course you want to do after A Levels is the same as the ones you like and are good at 🙂

However, the above rule is especially true for your 3rd subject if, for example, the course you want to apply for has 2 subject requirements. Don’t pick this 3rd subject randomly or based on what your friends do, or what you might think will look good! For example, with medical/dental school, people often end up picking up Maths when they don’t need to, seeing as the majority of universities only require Biology and Chemistry.

Can I do a subject at A Level without having done it at GCSE?

The bottom line is – yes you can!

The important thing to do would be to talk to your school, though. They might advise against it or have their own policies so having a chat with your teachers/head of sixth form/exams officer early on along with your parent or guardian would definitely be a smart move.

Actually, some A Levels aren’t even offered commonly as a GCSE, such as Psychology!

Should I do a 4th A Level?

This is a question that may be swimming around in your head, especially if you’re being indecisive and can’t choose between 2 of your subjects (so you want to do both).

Now, remember what we said earlier about 3 A Levels basically being the same amount of work as 9 odd GCSEs? Because of this, we’d only really advise you go for a 4th A Level if you really love the 4th subject and are confident in your ability to handle a heavy workload.

If you’re doing it for university, again it would be a good idea to look at the grade requirements or email in to the university and course you want to apply to to check if a 4th A Level would even give you a competitive advantage!

However, if you’re happy with your 4 subjects and think you’ll be able to deal with the work- then by all means go for it! A lot of schools also have the safety net of you being able to drop a subject if it’s too much for your during Y12, so not to worry 😄