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Choosing A-levels for a physics degree

a level saturnWant to do a physics degree but not sure which A-levels are best? Check out our handy guide to choosing the right course.

Which GCSEs will I have?

Most sixth forms and colleges ask that you have fairly good grades in any A-level subject you want to take. For example, if you want to take A-level chemistry, you may have to have at least a grade B at chemistry GCSE. These can sometimes be flexible, but be warned! If you choose a subject that you did not enjoy or do well in at GCSE, chances are it won’t get any easier at A-level!

Cassie, a physics student and Big Bang Blogs advisor, says “the jump from GCSE maths to A-level maths was quite extreme, but after a couple of weeks you soon settle into it.”

Choosing the right ones for you

It doesn’t necessarily help to plan your whole future before you choose your A-levels – work the other way around. Think about what you enjoy doing and what you are good at. Look at your predicted GCSE results: are you better at chemistry or English? Art or history? Which subject excites you?

When you have worked out roughly what you enjoy doing, check your combination of subjects. Most university courses only ask for requirements of two A-levels, so there is some flexibility to pick an extra subject that is a bit more flexible.

a level lab coatsHow much maths can I handle?!

Maths and further maths – how much do you really need?

Some people want to get into physics, but aren’t confident about doing two maths A-levels. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to do further maths. You do, however, have to have a good grounding in maths before you start your physics degree.

Almost all universities insist on a maths A-level before you start a physics degree. This is because physicists use their maths skills all of the time. To skip the foundation maths and go straight on to a degree could lead to you to getting very confused! If you have already done the A-level, your life at university will be much easier.

Harry says: “Further maths A-level really helped when I got to uni as we did the same material, so it helped having gone through it once already before.”

How many A-levels should I take?

Traditionally, students tended to take three A-levels. However, it is now becoming increasingly common to take on four or sometimes five. The important thing to remember is that you can now take an extra AS level on top of your other subjects, which might mean more of the ‘easier’ first-year work, but then allow you to drop down to fewer subjects in your second year so you can concentrate on the ones that you have prioritised.

James, a Big Bang Blogs advisor, took four AS levels – maths, physics, geology and further maths. However, into the second year he decided to drop further maths so he could concentrate on the other three.

Still not sure what you should take?

Why not check out fasttomato.com, which gives you an idea of the best subjects for you based your answers to a series of questions. Give it a go – it could give you some inspiration about your future career!

My Physics Course is run by the Insitute of Physics, and lets you search all the available physics courses in the country according to location, subject and entry requirements, amongst other features.

And, of course, the UCAS website will give you an idea of the A-levels you need to get before you can take certain degree courses.