How To Choose Your A-Levels

It's A-level selection time. Are you making the right choices? It's hard to know which A-levels will strengthen your application for specific Oxford and Cambridge degrees. We go through how to choose the right A-levels and what to choose when you are still unsure of degree choices.

Author: Rob Needleman

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Choosing your A-levels is an exciting and intimidating time, made worse if you have not decided on your degree choice. 

Although there is the possibility to change A-levels during the first few weeks of starting, later on in your studies, it is pretty much permanent for a year. 

To make sure you don’t waste your time and potential choosing the wrong A-levels, we have put together a guide on how to choose the right ones for applying to Oxford and Cambridge. For those of you who are still unsure on which degree to apply to, we have some suggestions on how to keep your options open.

Let’s get started with how many A-levels you should take. 

How many A-levels can you take?

Oxbridge say that there is no requirement to offer more than three A-levels, and it is recognised that not all schools are able to accommodate students taking four A-levels. They say that excelling in three relevant to the degree you are applying to is almost always preferable to performing well, but not as highly in more than three A-levels.

However, the majority of students applying will have four or more A-levels, and of those students applying, they will have the best A-level grades in the country. Therefore, to be able to compete with them, it is a good idea to take four or more A-levels, as long as the subjects are relevant and you know you will be able to cope with the workload and achieve top grades.

Your A-levels are just one part of your Oxbridge application. Performing well in your Personal Statement, Admissions Tests and Interviews is key for offer success. 

Prepare effectively over the next few months with our expert Oxbridge guidance and structured learning. We help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive Admissions Test score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxbridge application, from History to Medicine.

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A-level Assessment and Workload

Cambridge states that their Admissions Tutors look for students with a strong academic ability and potential, a genuine interest, suited to the course they have applied for and will benefit from and flourish in the learning environment they offer.

We mention this because when choosing your A-levels, we recommend selecting those that you will perform well in, and have a genuine interest in. If you are better at being tested through exams, then less coursework heavy subjects may be more suited to you. However, if exams are something you really struggle with, then it’s probably a good idea to choose A-levels where you are not just tested on your performance in final year exams. If you are going to achieve better grades in these subjects, this will increase your chances of offer success.

Also, if you enjoy what you’re studying, you are likely to be more motivated throughout the two years of A-levels. This will make your studies much more manageable.

Oxbridge degrees that require A-level subjects

Arts and Social Sciences

For Arts and Social Sciences degrees, then a suggestion is to choose the following A-levels as they will provide a solid foundation for your subject combination (these suggestions come from Cambridge University):

English Literature, History, Languages and Mathematics are good core subjects. Other suggestions to combine these subjects with include: an additional language, Ancient History, Classical Civilisation, Economics, English Language, Further Mathematics, Geography, Politics, History of Art, Law, Music, Philosophy, Psychology, Religious Studies, sciences (Biology, Chemistry or Physics) and Sociology.

Sciences

For sciences, you’re advised to take at least two, and ideally three, of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics. There are pairings for each subject, such as Biology and Chemistry, Chemistry and Physics, and Mathematics and Physics. For courses where Maths is required, Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics can be grouped together. Other subject choices can also be useful, including Computer Science, Design and Technology, Electronics or Psychology.

Some Oxford and Cambridge degrees specify the A-levels you are required to take to apply for the degree. Make sure you check the relevant course pages so you know which A-levels you need to take. Here are two popular degree examples from both Oxford and Cambridge with their A-level requirements:

cambridge-medicine-entry-requirements

For applicants applying to Medicine, Cambridge ask for:

cambridge-medicine-entry-requirements

For applicants applying to Medicine, Cambridge ask for:

cambridge-engineering-entry-requirements

For applicants applying to Engineering, Cambridge ask for:

cambridge-engineering-entry-requirements

For applicants applying to Engineering, Cambridge ask for:

oxford-classics-entry-requirements

For applicants applying to Classics, Oxford asks for:

oxford-classics-entry-requirements

For applicants applying to Classics, Oxford asks for:

For applicants applying to Economics and Management, Oxford asks for:

For applicants applying to Economics and Management, Oxford asks for:

Degrees That Do Not Require Specific A-Levels

Some Oxford and Cambridge degrees do not specify the A-levels you are required to take to apply for the degree, but will often give suggestions. For example:

Oxford and Cambridge Law A-level Requirements

oxford-law-A-level-entry-requirements

Both Oxford and Cambridge provide suggestions for which A-levels to take when applying to Law. Oxford suggest taking at least one essay subject but they say it is not required for Admission. However, it is essential that you take a modern language at A-level if you would like to study abroad in France, Germany and Spain.

oxford-law-A-level-entry-requirements

Both Oxford and Cambridge provide suggestions for which A-levels to take when applying to Law. Oxford suggest taking at least one essay subject but they say it is not required for Admission. However, it is essential that you take a modern language at A-level if you would like to study abroad in France, Germany and Spain.

Unsure of what degree to apply for?

It can be quite difficult to choose A-levels that keep your options open. Applicants may go for a mixture of science and arts subjects thinking that this will cover all bases, but it means that you will have a weaker application than a student applying with more focussed A-levels.

For example, you may have taken Biology, Geography, English and Music and are on track to achieve really good grades (A*A*AA). You then decide you would actually like to study Biology at Oxford. Although you have Biology in your arsenal, your application will be far less competitive than a student applying with Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Geography who is on track to achieve A*AAA. Remember that most successful students who apply for a science degree at Oxbridge have three or four science or maths A-levels.

For those that are really stuck and do not have a clue what to choose. As long as you believe you will achieve good grades (as mentioned earlier, Admissions Tutors look for students they believe have a strong academic ability and potential), it is sensible to select A-level subjects that are required by Oxbridge degrees. These follow some of the examples we showed earlier. The A-levels are Languages, Chemistry, History, Mathematics and Physics (with the option of Biology and Further Maths too). This ticks the A-level boxes for a large number of Oxbridge degrees. 

If you have a particular career or job or further study in mind. It is worth researching the key requirements that the roles ask for, speaking to career advisors at school and calling recruiters to get an idea of which A-levels they usually look for or will help you early on in your career.

Final Tips

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We help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive Admissions Test score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxbridge application, from History to Medicine.

Discover our Oxbridge Premium Programmes by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

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