What A-Levels Do I Need To Study Natural Science?

Applying for a course at Cambridge is a nervous time, so making sure the A-Levels you have chosen are suited to the course is vitally important.

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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If you are considering studying Natural Science at Cambridge it is crucial that you keep in mind that the A-Levels you take can impact what you can study in the course.

We will go over the A-Levels required to study Natural Science and why making the right choices is essential.

What Is Natural Science At Cambridge?

The Natural Science Tripos is the unique framework of most science subjects at Cambridge. The course offers a wide range of physical and biological science subjects from 16 departments.

The blurring of boundaries between the different sciences means you get to study various subjects, some of which may be new to you. As a result, you can change your mind about which subject to specialise in.

Which such flexibility, it is possible to take purely biological sciences, purely physical sciences or a combination of both.

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What Are The A-Level Entry Requirements?

The standard offer potential students receive is A*A*A. Applicants must have at least two science/mathematics A-Levels – these subjects being Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics.

Most students will have at least three of these, and some colleges require it.

Your choice of Part IA subject options will be restricted if you only have two science/mathematics A-Level. In these circumstances, you will usually be expected to achieve an A* in them.

Taking an additional AS-Level is encouraged and may strengthen your application and increase the choice of subjects you would be able to study.

The most valuable combinations are:

  • A-Level Biology, A-Level Chemistry and AS Mathematics or Physics
  • A-Level Chemistry, A-Level Mathematics and AS Physics
  • A-Level Physics, A-Level Mathematics and AS Further Mathematics

From a Freedom of Information request submitted to Newham College we can take a closer look at what subjects applicants take at A-Level and from which it is clear to see students accepted in 2020 a significant portion studied Mathematics.  

By taking A-Level Chemistry, it will enable a greater choice of biological subjects in the second and third years. A-Level Mathematics is generally required for anyone wanting to study physical sciences.

If you do not have A-Level Mathematics, you must complete some preparatory work before the start of the course. You must take Mathematical Biology as your mathematics subject in Year 1.

What Are The Subject Specific Requirements?

The specific subject requirements depend on which subjects you wish to study, as many first-year options require particular preparation.

Biology of Cells – Highly desirable: A-Level Chemistry; Useful: A-Level Biology.

Chemistry – Essential: A-Level Chemistry (A-Level Mathematics is also essential to continue to Chemistry A in Part IB); Highly desirable: AS/A Level Mathematics.

Earth Sciences – Essential A-Levels: At least two of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.  No previous subject knowledge is necessary.

Evolution and Behaviour – Highly desirable: A-Level Biology.

Materials Science – Essential: A-Level Mathematics and either Chemistry or Physics. No previous subject knowledge is necessary.

Physics – Essential: A-Level Mathematics, and either Physics or Further Mathematics (with three mechanics units); Useful: AS/A-Level Further Mathematics.

Physiology of Organisms – Useful: AS/A-Level Biology and/or Physics.

Mathematics – Essential: A-Level Mathematics.

Mathematical Biology – Desirable: A-Level Mathematics.

As you can see, Biology of Cells, Evolution and Behaviour, and Physiology of Organisms do not require any specific A-Level subjects.

Additional A-Level Requirements

As previously mentioned, Cambridge expects students taking A-Levels in science to complete and pass the practical assessment.

For anyone considering taking Critical Thinking, it is not considered an acceptable third A-Level subject for any course at Cambridge. While it is regarded as a worthwhile addition to your portfolio of qualifications as a fourth AS or A-Level subject, it is unlikely to be part of a conditional offer.

Similarly, Key Skills and General Studies are not required or included in academic assessment.

Cambridge’s typical offers are based on students taking three A-Levels together in Year 13. The majority of applicants to the university are studying three or four A-Level subjects in Years 12 and 13.

This is considered sufficient to show the breadth of interests and ability to manage a range of differing academic tasks. However, the university emphasises they would rather applicants develop a broader and deeper knowledge of the subjects most relevant/closest to their chosen course than accumulate additional A-Levels.

Other Important Entry Requirements

All applicants must take a pre-interview Admissions Test called the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment.

Candidates have to answer two sections of multiple-choice questions. Section 1 covers questions in Mathematics plus one science – either Biology, Chemistry or Physics. Section 2 comprises extended multiple-choice questions in Biology, Chemistry or Physics.

In addition to the NSAA, applicants to Magdalene and Trinity colleges are required to take a college-set assessment at interview.


As you can see, the A-Levels you chose are incredibly important, and significant consideration should be taken when selecting them.

If you are undecided about what subjects you wish to study for your Natural Science course, consider the A-Level subjects mentioned which increase the choice available to you. 

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