Maths was the most popular A-level subject in 2016, and Further Maths one of the fastest-growing. The Russell Group of universities describe Maths and Further Maths as ‘facilitating subjects’ because so many different degrees have a mathematical component. These include psychology, geography, biology, architecture and chemistry, among others.

So which of the A-level Maths units are the best choices for which uni subjects? We invited a guest writer to advise TSR users.

Ellie Darlington is a Research Officer at Cambridge Assessment, which manages Cambridge University's three exam boards and is home to the largest research capability of its kind. You can tweet Ellie @Cam_Assessment.

Maths options now

At the moment, A-level Maths comprises six equally-weighted units: four compulsory ‘Core Pure Maths’ units, plus two applied maths units. These are chosen from three possible strands:

1. Statistics
2. Mechanics
3. Decision Maths

This means that there are 6 different pathways through A-level Maths:

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Quite which applied options you take can depend on a number of factors, including:
  • Whether your school has the resources to teach it
  • What your teacher thinks you’ll do best at
  • What your teacher thinks you’ll enjoy
  • What your classmates want to study

Maths options from 2017

Students taking A-level Maths starting in September 2017 will have no choice over which units they study. Everyone will study a core of pure maths, with some statistics and some mechanics topics.

The current structure means that freshers who have all taken A-level Maths can arrive at university with different knowledge. Some have specialisms in one area, but studied neither of the others. Others may have dabbled in two but know nothing of the other. That can make it difficult for lecturers to plan their teaching effectively without some students struggling, and others getting bored.

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What should I take if I want to study science, maths or social science at university?

Do I need to do A-level Maths?

Generally you have to take A-level Maths if you want to study a maths, physics or engineering degree. Anyone applying to study other sciences or medicine is generally expected to have studied A-levels in scientific subjects, and people applying to study social sciences are generally expected to demonstrate mathematical ability, which may be as high as A-level Maths, but as low as a C at GCSE, depending on the university.

Even though you might not have to take A-level Maths to get accepted on certain science and social science degrees, it doesn’t mean it won’t be useful for you to do it before you go to university so that you find first year courses easier to adapt to.

Which units should I take?

Here at Cambridge Assessment, the parent of exam board OCR, we asked over 4,000 STEM and social science undergraduates who had taken at least AS Maths whether they thought the optional units they took were useful preparation for the mathematical component of their degrees. The findings from our study might be useful to help you decide which optional units would be most useful for you, depending on what degree you’re thinking of studying.

The table below summarises the recommendations from the study based on the responses given by students of those different subjects who had taken AS- or A-level Maths and/or Further Maths.

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Should I take Further Maths?

Further Maths can be really useful preparation for a range of degree subjects (see above) and is required by some universities if you want to study physics, engineering or maths. The changes to A-level Maths from next year mean that taking Further Maths will be the only way to specialise in certain units, or to take Decision Maths at all.

Note that if you are applying to do medicine, some universities don’t count Further Maths as a separate subject (e.g. if you do A-levels in Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry, they would only count this as doing 2 A-levels). Make sure you check individual university websites to be sure.

Should I take Core Maths?

As well as A-level Maths, new qualifications called ‘Core Maths’ are being introduced. These are aimed at people who achieved at least a C in GCSE Maths and want to study more maths, but not necessarily to A-level. Core Maths will develop problem solving skills and focus on the use of maths in real-world contexts, including applications of statistics. Core Maths might be more suitable for anyone going on to study certain social science subjects.

If you've finished maths A level - which modules did you take, and why? If you're yet to take maths A level - are there some modules you want to do more than others? How does this affect you?