Why Study General Studies?
General Studies is a subject which encompasses all aspects of the world around us. It deals with politics, ethics, literature, language, culture, science, technology and mathematics. Candidates are therefore required to have a general knowledge of each of these fields and are examined on them accordingly.
Lessons normally take the form of structured debates about current events or themes relating to specific modules. Whilst it is nearly impossible to predict which topics will appear in the exams, it is important that candidates are able to analyse information and make balanced arguments.
Generally candidates who have strong critical thinking skills will score well on the science and maths papers. Those who are able to write well-formed essays will also score well, as essay questions are a main aspect of most General Studies exams.
While rigorous study is certainly not needed to score well in this subject, it is worth reading the newspaper daily and taking an interest in current events. Many students have a flippant attitude towards General Studies exams because they feel that it is not recognised by top universities and that it is mostly easy to attain a high grade. However the questions on each exam require a moderate level of thought and attention and are designed to test the candidate's ability to interpret texts, logical problems and essay questions. There are also a range of top universities that are willing to include the subject in offers for some subjects. Furthermore, if a candidate misses thier offer but scores highly in General Studies, it may give them an advantage over others who are in a similar situation and secure them the place.
Why Not Study General Studies?
The majority of universities are unwilling to include the subject in thier offers. Schools often make it obligatory for all students to take the subject and it can use up lesson space on a timetable. A considerable number of exams are also added to a candidate's exam schedule which could intefere with preparations for other subjects which are more important in terms of fulfilling a university offer.
Despite the cliché opinion of General Studies being an easy subject, some candidates can actually find aspects of the exams quite difficult. They test a whole spectrum of skills which some people either don't have or aren't used to using.
Most A Level courses have six modules, with three for the AS and another three for the A2. Generally, each paper will focus on one main area - science, the Arts, Society; each of which will deal with subtopics (such as technology and medicine in the case of the former). Some papers will have a multiple choice element which also incorporates the need to interpret texts or study logical problems to determine the correct answer. The other half of these papers will usually have a choice of essay questions which are worth a considerable amount of marks.
There is the option of doing coursework at both AS and A2-level. If you are with the OCR board, it is worth 20 per cent. With Edexcel, it counts for a third of your final mark. Most schools, however, decide not to undertake the coursework.
Units shown are for AQA (A):
GSA1 This is the Culture, Morality, Arts and Humanities paper. You basically just have to write essays on certain issues. It's not that hard if you manage to read a good quality broadsheet newspaper a couple of times a week.
GSA2 This is the Science, Mathematics and Technology module. To be honest, my year all found this quite hard as most of us hadn't done any Maths since GCSE. If the Sciences aren't your forte, then you just need to work extra hard at the other papers (I got a C on this paper, and still came out with an A overall).
GSA3W Society, Politics and the Economy was much like GSA1. The multiple choice element makes it relatively easy to get a good grade on this paper (I got 100% putting no work in), which can make a big difference if you fall down in other areas.
GSA4E/F In this unit, there's an option to do either a Modern Foreign Language multiple choice comprehension paper (French, German or Spanish) or a European Culture multiple choice paper. The latter tended to focus on modern art.
GSA5 This Science, Mathematics and Technology module was horrible - my 'A'-Level subjects were all humanities and I'm really not the most Science-minded person. It's not a total disaster, though, because it's easy to make up the shortfall in other areas.
GSA6 Society, Politics and the Economy was again more of the same very general topics. Just be fairly well-informed on current affairs (and maybe be prepared to waffle a bit!) and you'll be fine.
Read the newspaper daily. It is also worth familiarising yourself with the structure of each exam paper so you are fully prepared. If you are not confident with your ability to write structures essays it could also be worth practising beforehand.
You are usually given a resource booklet 4 weeks before the A2 exams. Read the resources carefully and make sure you understand them prior to the exams to save time.
Whilst General Studies is not regarded as a staple qualification by universities as a whole, it can be known to swing decisions in people's favour on results day - if they have missed their offer by a grade and got a good grade in General Studies, for instance. It can show universities that a student has more scope potential than just within the bounds of the subjects they are studying.
However, there are many courses which do accept General Studies as any other subject. It is worth checking with the admissions department of individual universities before applying to see whether they accept the subject. Information is also avaliable on the UCAS entries of each subject.