The Student Room Group

am I being dumb about my a-level options

ee
(edited 5 months ago)
If you are studying anything stem related, you 100% should take maths - alot of unis will automatically reject you for not taking maths. Also, you shouldn't be picking a levels based on "wanting a challenge". If the a levels are too easy you can always read around your subjects and that will be much better for your uni application. You need to pick a levels based on what's going to help you with university. Essentially a levels are just stepping stones if you are planning to go to university
Reply 2
If your intention is to do physics at uni then maths is a must. Same with the majority of computer science courses. Further maths is by no means necessary, although you will be disadvantaged for the 'top unis'
I think you really need to take maths, or you'll kinda be massively limiting ur options if you decide you want to do engineering/ physics/ maths in future. Also A level physics is v different to GCSE, and actually involves some creative problem solving (or maybe my teacher just taught it in a fun way lol)

also you can develop academic interests outside of school too, so I don't think seeming like a human calculator will be too much of a problem! Could you do an EPQ?
For the most part, unis mainly just care about a level grades and how good you are at the subject you are applying for, so don't worry too much about trying to show your skill in creative subjects, you can show this through extra curriculars
ee
(edited 5 months ago)
Original post by unoplusfourcard
yeah you're right, I think I'm just choosing not to do maths because I don't want to be bored, and I found all of maths at GCSE boring, dull and robotic. I think if I can do it then I should do it, plus I actually enjoy the roots of maths, just not mindlessly applying equations, but I don't know if I can drop any of the options I've already chosen. I could perhaps drop RP, I can educate myself on those sorts of ideas through books and discussion with people who've stuck with the subject, but my computer science teacher would murder me if I didn't choose comp sci. my physics teacher is amazing, the curriculum is nice, and I'd love to keep that subject. computer science might even be a bit easy seeing as it's a major interest of mine outside of school, so I could stick to qualifying in courses outside of school if I want to study that at uni. I kinda wanted to take comp sci to force myself to learn a programming language properly, but I could always make a videogame as my EPQ or something - or maybe a paper about some kind of computer ethics or whatever. so I could do physics, maths, further maths and spanish, but it does make me feel a bit empty to drop RP... I'm not sure what to do really. studying AI and computer science at uni suits me quite well, as does cyber security. The only thing making me hesitant is that I've struggled to stay motivated with maths over the past couple of years, just because it's quite dull :/ I'd have to fully commit to it. Plus I'm not a huge fan of the maths teachers at my school... what do you think?


A level maths is a bit better, but still largely dull unfortunately. Further maths is a lot harder and more engaging, so if you are interested in maths I would recommend it, not to mention unis love fm. Also if you take fm, the nornal maths a level will be so trivial you don't really need to spend much time on it. If you are applying for computer science related degrees, it would be good to have the a level in CS, but is entirely uneccessary if you put in the time to improve at Cs in your free time. The a level Cs is very bad and you really don't learn that much. For the most part, unis couldn't care less about your fourth a level if it's not related to your subject, so if you are looking to be a strong applicant I would recommend trying to pick a levels related to what you are applying for. That being said, you should choose subjects you will enjoy as that's what you will be best in, so just try and factor everything in.
Original post by unoplusfourcard
yeah you're right, I think I'm just choosing not to do maths because I don't want to be bored, and I found all of maths at GCSE boring, dull and robotic. I think if I can do it then I should do it, plus I actually enjoy the roots of maths, just not mindlessly applying equations, but I don't know if I can drop any of the options I've already chosen. I could perhaps drop RP, I can educate myself on those sorts of ideas through books and discussion with people who've stuck with the subject, but my computer science teacher would murder me if I didn't choose comp sci. my physics teacher is amazing, the curriculum is nice, and I'd love to keep that subject. computer science might even be a bit easy seeing as it's a major interest of mine outside of school, so I could stick to qualifying in courses outside of school if I want to study that at uni. I kinda wanted to take comp sci to force myself to learn a programming language properly, but I could always make a videogame as my EPQ or something - or maybe a paper about some kind of computer ethics or whatever. so I could do physics, maths, further maths and spanish, but it does make me feel a bit empty to drop RP... I'm not sure what to do really. studying AI and computer science at uni suits me quite well, as does cyber security. The only thing making me hesitant is that I've struggled to stay motivated with maths over the past couple of years, just because it's quite dull :/ I'd have to fully commit to it. Plus I'm not a huge fan of the maths teachers at my school... what do you think?


Just for reference i have a friend who missed his Cambridge Cs offer because he got an A* in mandarin and missed the A* in cs so he still got the right grades just wrong subject
Original post by unoplusfourcard
yeah you're right, I think I'm just choosing not to do maths because I don't want to be bored, and I found all of maths at GCSE boring, dull and robotic. I think if I can do it then I should do it, plus I actually enjoy the roots of maths, just not mindlessly applying equations, but I don't know if I can drop any of the options I've already chosen. I could perhaps drop RP, I can educate myself on those sorts of ideas through books and discussion with people who've stuck with the subject, but my computer science teacher would murder me if I didn't choose comp sci. my physics teacher is amazing, the curriculum is nice, and I'd love to keep that subject. computer science might even be a bit easy seeing as it's a major interest of mine outside of school, so I could stick to qualifying in courses outside of school if I want to study that at uni. I kinda wanted to take comp sci to force myself to learn a programming language properly, but I could always make a videogame as my EPQ or something - or maybe a paper about some kind of computer ethics or whatever. so I could do physics, maths, further maths and spanish, but it does make me feel a bit empty to drop RP... I'm not sure what to do really. studying AI and computer science at uni suits me quite well, as does cyber security. The only thing making me hesitant is that I've struggled to stay motivated with maths over the past couple of years, just because it's quite dull :/ I'd have to fully commit to it. Plus I'm not a huge fan of the maths teachers at my school... what do you think?


Some questions for you:
a. What are your GCSE predicted grades?
b. What domain do you want to move toward post-Uni?
c. Why Spanish? It's maybe the easiest of European languages, not difficult to learn, not especially impressive on your CV unless you want to do Modern Langs / translation etc later. GCHQ for example are interested in ppl with non-European languages eg Russian / Arabic or with classical languages like Greek & Latin which mark you out as a bright and logical thinker. What does Spanish give to your CV?

Many underestimate the step up from GCSE to A Level which can be much more interesting/challenging/fun. If you are capable of Maths and interested in STEM then you should take it: many STEM degrees will be closed to you without it. If you are interested in a CS related course, esp AI / Machine Learning, at degree level then for many of the top courses you should have FM too. However this isn't necessarily so if you want to do Cybersecurity. You can check courses and their requirements for yourself herre: https://digital.ucas.com/coursedisplay/results/courses?searchTerm=computer%20science&studyYear=2022&destination=Undergraduate&attendanceTypes=Full-time&subjects=Computer%20science&subjects=Artificial%20intelligence&subjects=Software%20engineering&qualifications=Bachelor%20degrees%20(with%20or%20without%20Honours)&postcodeDistanceSystem=imperial&pageNumber=1&sort=MostRelevant&clearingPreference=None

At A Level Maths & FM are more interesting than GCSE - FM could be stretching or at least interesting for you. And there's useful overlap with the CS Alevel in algorithms, vectors and more.

CS A Level: this is worthwhile and should be interesting - if your school doesn't make it so, you can do so for yourself. The older specifications weren't, but for example AQA wrote their current spec with input from Unis. It reflects much material covered in the degree to the extent that at some top unis you can be exempted your first year if you have good grades in Maths, FM and CS. Things covered on the spec that are recovered then extended at Uni include OOP, Functional programming, algorithmics and efficiency (eg Big O), vectors (eg for POV in games dev), web stack from scripting to database back ends, encryption, cybersecurity etc. There is a sizeable coursework project which you can use to extend yourself and which can form a solid part of your UCAS application in personal statement or interview. You can use whatever language(s) you choose and program a challenging project - it's research & programming based so you're supposed to learn beyond what you've been taught at AS level, and could be a game, model/simulation, solution to a problem etc .

Note that unis can only ask for courses at A Level that they can reliably expect their students to have had opportunity to study, hence not asking for FM or CS when some schools can't teach it. Remember - if you have these they can be used to differentiate you from other applicants.

Just ask if you want to know more.

Good luck :smile:
ee
(edited 5 months ago)
(Original post by unoplusfourcard)a) straight 9s, maybe a couple of high 8s if I don't bother to revise over the next few weeks, but I should be getting all mid to high 9s. i stupidly didnt study latin for gcse, but I was good at that when I took it in year 9, so potentially I could put in the work and transfer some spanish skills and do a latin a-level (maybe)
b) not too sure really, I'm open to a lot but I was looking toward either studying cyber security or looking at artifical intelligence at university, but I have also considered the gchq apprenticeship, which only requires 2 stem subjects and maths isn't specified (this was my plan A for a while but I never really put much thought into it)
c) i just like the language, it's fun, easy and exciting to speak - i do study mandarin outside of school, i'm slightly below GCSE standard in that because I only started it about a year ago, but my current school doesn't provide a-level mandarin, and I'd need to really work to bring my level up in that anyway (which would be fine, because I'm really interested in the language). I just generally like languages and thought spanish would be a good one to study seeing as I find it very easy, but I see how it doesn't differentiate me that much. i take french and spanish for gcse, and I'd like to think im about AS-level standard in spanish right now, my french is a lot worse, i've always been good with languages so potentially, if I worked very hard I could up my skill level enough to take a latin a-level? being decent at spanish could really help with that, so I'd have to speak with a latin teacher about that.

my school offers latin and the classes would have very few people, so I could dedicate my y12 year to really upping my game there. I would feel **** about not taking cs tbh, my comp sci teacher has really nurtured my passion for technology so I'd feel awful not taking the a-level, and if you think it's worthwhile I might reconsider about dropping it - but that means I'd have to drop physics. i can't do maths without further maths, and I think I'd appreciate the challenge of FM. so my a-levels could perhaps be latin, maths, further maths and comp sci? or would i go with latin, maths, further maths and physics... it's tough.

thanks for all the information, and also thanks for the link, i've been searching through unifrog but I'll use UCAS too. I might be underestimating the step up from gcse to a-level, but I've been working through a-level books for a few years on and off when I get bored in some lessons, and although the step up is there, it's not necessarily hard - just more satisfying, like the things you learn are filling a few more holes in the brain and leaving less things unanswered than in gcse, if you know what i mean. i also think that maths and comp sci are a must-have combo together, but my problem is that I just like too many subjects lol. what do you think would be a good combination to go with knowing now that i might be able to take latin?

Ahh, thanks - it helps to understand some background. UCAS is useful in that it's where your uni application will ultimately go, so it's current with it's info and has lots of other resources to help you choose. You're doing a good job of evaluating for yourself too.

M, FM & CS would be a solid foundation. Physics would be good, but if you're not going into engineering it's not essential and there are countless people doing that combination. Latin, if you could get to A2 standard in the time, would be distinctive and mark you out as a bright student; good for your logic skills too.

You mentioned an EPQ at some stage... tbh I'd not set yourself up for that too if you are doing the A Level coursework project in CS. That would be a good focus over the summer term of AS into A2 year and give you a relevant talking point at any interview, just as much as an EPQ would. That would mean you are also free in the summer term to look at something like the GCHQ summer internship program: be aware this closes to applicants in November of the precending year.

If you find you're in need of extension, have a look at the Cisco training online - there are networking courses badged by them, free to students online. Also, to stretch your maths and programming/logic skills, try doing programming exercises here https://projecteuler.net/. Have you a Github account yet? Save your programming projects there and build them up over the next couple of years. You can cite your Git link on your applications and make those projects you're proud of, or at least that demo your skills, public.

Also, do competitions: In November do BEBRAS; in December do Southampton Uni's Cipher Challenge; in January do the Turing Challenge from Manchester Uni. Do Olympiads in CS, do Maths Challenges. Join your local Maker / Hackathon group; offer to support junior students at school in learning to program - maybe a club one lunchtime a week; follow interesting ppl on YouTube eg Mosh for programming, Tom Scott, and these interesting Developers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZRLKDlSaAI . These things keep you fresh, keep your skills expanding, and are super-curricular mentions for your UCAS application form. They can set you apart from the rest.

Whenever you think you know CS, push a bit harder and ask more questions, be curious and keep exploring.

I hope some of this helps. Shout if I can answer any questions.
Good luck :smile:
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by unoplusfourcard
so far, the options I want to go with are physics, computer science, RP (religion and philosophy) and spanish.

I'm quite happy with these options, I enjoy all of them and I think taking this spread of subjects will stand me in good stead for post sixth form, however, I feel like I'm missing a trick by not taking maths and further maths. I have the option to take further maths, I can't do further maths without maths, however, the maths curriculum looks really dull (further maths looks more interesting). If I did take maths and further maths, my subjects would look like spanish, physics, maths and further maths.

I'm thinking down the lines of further maths making me stand out as a candidate, but then again, it doesn't necessarily show my creativity and analytical thinking as much as a wider spread of different subjects would. I chose physics with no maths because I want a challenge, so it might feel a bit wasted if i choose maths and further maths to go alongside it in the end. I do like the idea of studying both maths subjects and think I'd enjoy it if I fully committed, but I'd hate to back myself into a corner and choose options that make me look like a human calculator without any other interests (plus im not sure how I'd cope with four lessons of maths in a row followed by physics on a monday). basically, I'm stuck in a rut and can't decide what to do. I reckon I'll stick with all four subjects and not drop any regardless of what I choose, and I'm pretty sure that I'll be getting all A*s or As at the end of sixth form.

after sixth form, I'm considering studying cyber security (hence the maths subjects would be ideal) but I don't really have any ideas about my future other than that.

what are your thoughts? should I stick with my original four subjects or alter my options? am I being a bit stupid?

Hi @unoplusfourcard,

Although it may seem early, it's worth looking into what universities you'd like to apply to in the future as some will require more traditional qualifications (A-levels), while others will be open to BTEC and other A-level equivalents. It will help to gauge what subjects you should be taking.
I wouldn't worry too much about how your A-levels make you look as your personality and interests should shine through when they read your personal statement. I would suggest coding camps and such for programming experience outside of sixth form since many courses, like cyber security, will have introductory programming modules where no little to no prior experience is needed.
You can't go wrong with Maths though; it's a real door opener!:smile:

Hope I can help!
-Sienna, 1st year Web programming w/cyber security student :tongue:
ee
(edited 5 months ago)

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