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Choosing A-level and BTEC subjects

The subjects you take at A-level can have a major impact on your future direction so before embarking on two years’ hard work it’s well worth doing your research. Here’s our five-point guide to making your choices.

1. Ability and enjoyment

Thinking about the subjects you are good at and enjoy is a useful starting point. If you enjoy your studies, you are likely to be more motivated. Similarly, having a natural ability in your chosen subjects can increase your chances of success. For this reason you often need a certain grade at GCSE to study a subject at A-level, so you’ll need to check what subjects are open to you.

There can be significant differences from studying subjects at GCSE to A-level, so it doesn’t always follow that choosing a subject you enjoyed before will be a safe bet. It still pays to do your research, even if you feel you’re on familiar ground.

 

2. Your GCSE results

Enrolment on courses is conditional on meeting both the Minimum Entry Criteria and Individual Subject Criteria. Each centre has its own individual entry criteria so you need to check these individually.

3. New subjects

Streetly Academy and other educational establishments offer A-levels in subjects that you won't have studied before. If any new subjects appeal to you, it’s worth taking some time to find out what’s involved to avoid disappointment laterKeep a balance in mind. Choosing a couple of familiar subjects alongside one new one can help leave your options open. If you want to study certain subjects at university, it is not always necessary – or indeed helpful – to have studied them at A-level. This generally applies to new subjects at A-level, such as Law or Business Studies, whereas for more traditional subjects an A-level in that subject is usually essential for university study.  

BTECs are general work-related qualifications which can lead to further study at college or university, apprenticeships or employment. They focus on a particular vocational area, so you need to have decided on the general area of work you would like to do. A wide range of subjects are available, such as art and design, engineering, business studies, travel & tourism, public services and health & social care.

BTECs can be taken on their own or with GCSEs and A Levels. Level 3 BTECs are equivalent to A levels and can lead to university. You will need 4/5 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above to do a Level 3 BTEC.

4. Subject combinations

Some universities discourage students from taking certain combinations of A-level subjects, especially where there may be an overlap in content, such as with Business Studies and Economics.The issue of subject combinations can be particularly important if you’re studying Science subjects. 

5. Course content, assessment and workload

You may find it helpful to look at your course syllabus, sometimes called the specifications, which sets out course content and requirements. Find out which exam board your school or college uses for your chosen subject, as both the content of the course (modules or topics) and the way it is marked (ratio of coursework to exams, amount of exams) can vary. Check with teachers about this. You may also want to think about the likely workload of your choices. Find out what’s required in terms of essay writing, independent reading or extended projects and consider what this may mean in terms of your chosen subjects.

6. Future plans

If you have a particular career in mind, you may need to choose certain A-levels in order to meet entry requirements for degree courses or further study. If you don’t yet have any career ideas, then keeping your options open can be just as important. Top universities usually require three academic A-levels, not including General Studies or Critical Thinking. The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, has produced a guide which sets out how the subjects you study at A-level can determine which degree courses will be open to you in future. You can also check entry requirements for university courses on UCAS.

 

Changing your mind


Making decisions about the unknown is difficult. Whilst things may not turn out how you expect, it’s worth noting you can be surprised in a positive way – modules with the least appeal at the outset can end up being the most enjoyable.


There’s no failsafe solution here but if you do feel you’ve made the wrong decision after starting your course, speak to your tutor as it may be possible to change subjects.

 

Getting advice

Speak to your subject teachers and current course students to get an idea of what the course involves and what’s likely to suit you.

Your parents, family and friends can help shape your views but remember you are the one who will be doing the work and it’s your future that will be affected, so it’s important to be happy with the choices you make.

You can also speak to a careers advisor for help – visit the National Careers Service for contact information or see Mrs Stevenson

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