Choosing subjects? Here´s what you need to know

When it comes to working out which GCSEs and A-levels you should take, it can be tricky to separate the facts from the fiction.

Myth 1. If you want to do a specialist subject at university, you need an A-level in it

If you’ve set your heart on a degree in something like politics, anthropology, law or philosophy, you might think that studying it at A-level would give you an advantage – but that isn’t necessarily true. And it’s certainly not mandatory.

“It’s amazing how rare it is for people to know that they can apply for a degree in philosophy without having studied it previously,” says Dr Naomi Goulder, head of faculty and senior lecturer in philosophy at the New College of the Humanities in London.

Myth 2. You can’t study medicine unless you’ve done all of the sciences at school — and you definitely need A*s in them

It’s true that competition is always fierce to study medicine, so the higher your grades at A-level, the better – but it isn’t necessary to have all three sciences under your belt, or A*s.

“Most UK medical schools require applicants to have studied A-levels in biology and chemistry, but there’s certainly no expectation, or indeed advantage, in having three science A-levels,” says Dr Iain MacPhee, reader in renal medicine and dean for international education at St George’s, University of London.

Myth 3. You should steer clear of "soft" subjects at GCSE

Although today’s GCSE students can choose from more subjects than ever before, there’s still a feeling that traditional options such as history or modern languages are somehow superior – in the eyes of universities, anyway – to subjects such as art, music and drama. But this isn’t so.

“Arts subjects are by no means an easy option,” says Nick Garrard, assistant universities officer at South Hampstead High School and a member of the English faculty.“They stretch, challenge and encourage complex reasoning, immerse young minds in the unfamiliar and allow unique opportunities to work collaboratively, develop creative instincts and, ultimately, to steer the course and its outcomes.”

Myth 4. It’s a good idea to take as many GCSEs and A-levels as your timetable allows you to

“When choosing GCSEs, it’s vital students aim for quality over quantity,” says Jack Wallington, community director at The Student Room. “Strike the right balance to ensure a good set of strong grades rather than stretching study time too thinly,” he suggests.

“Beyond all the compulsory subjects such as science and maths, take subjects you are good at and genuinely enjoy while having half an eye on keeping your future options open.”

In an ongoing Student Room poll of around 800 post-GCSE students, 25.69 per cent of those surveyed took 11 GCSEs, 20.29pc took 10 and 17.29pc took 12. Some of those who bucked the trend indicated that they would choose differently if they had their time again.

Myth 5. General studies counts as a full A-level

Although this is technically true, many universities won’t include general studies in their conditional offers – so it’s best to think of it as the cherry on top of the cake, rather than an integral part of the cake itself.

That’s not to say there’s no point in taking general studies. It gives you the opportunity to hone your essay writing and problem-solving skills – and if you do well in the subject but miss one of your other grades by a whisker, some universities might take it into account.


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