Hey there! Sign in to join this conversationNew here? Join for free

A-levels: Relative Difficulty and Uni Admissions Selection criteria Watch

    • Thread Starter

    Uni, (B)lacklist (Top 10 Uni power, Top 20 Uni Power, Top 20-50 Uni Power) A( , , ) A+B( , , ) Difficulty: (Worst Rank, Best Rank)

    Good as a 1st choice A-level: Generally Suitable A-levels (view of TRinity College Cambridge)
    Art History 1Arts
    Biology 1Science 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345670123456789(5th,2nd)
    Chemistry 1Science 1234567890123(2.0,1.8,1.2) A(1.5,1.4,1.0) A+B(1.7,1.5,1.1) (5th,2nd)
    Chinese 1Arts
    Classical Civilisation 1Arts
    Economics 1Arts 1234567890123456(1.7,1.7,1.4) A(1.1,1.1,1.0) A+B(1.2,1.2,1.0) (19th,12th) why power reduced
    Engl Lit 1Arts 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345678901234567890(22nd,18th) why green
    French 1Arts 1234567890123456(2.1,1.9,1.4) A(1.4,1.2,0.9) A+B(1.6,1.4,1.0) (8th,5th)
    Geography 1Arts 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345678901234567890(23rd,15th)
    German 1Arts 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345678901234567890(9th,5th)
    History 1Arts12345678901234567(1.3,1.2,1.4) A(1.3,1.2,1.3) A+B(1.2,1.1,1.2) (13th,8th)
    Irish 1Arts
    Italian 1Arts
    Japanese 1Arts
    Further Maths 1Science 1234567890123(4.0,3.1,0.8) A(1.8,1.4,0.4) A+B(2.6,2.0,0.5) (26th,1st)
    Latin 1Arts
    Maths 1Science 1234567890123(2.0,1.9,1.2) A(1.2,1.1,0.7) A+B(1.5,1.4,0.9) (16th,6th)
    Music 1Arts 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345678901234567890(10th,6th)
    Philosophy 1Arts
    Physics 1Science12345678901234567890123456789012 34567890123456701234567890(3rd,2nd)
    RE 1Arts 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345678901234567890(26th,20th)why green
    Russian 1Arts
    Spanish 1Arts 12345678901234567890123456789012 3456789012345678901234567890(18th,11th)
    Welsh 1Arts

    Ok as a 3rd A-level: A-levels of More Limited Suitability (view of Trinity College Cambridge)

    Archaeology 12345678901233(Arch & Anth)
    Art Desg 1234567890123B 3(Arts)12345678901234 (0.4,0.4,0.6) A(0.3,0.3,0.5) A+B(0.3,0.4,0.5) (29th,27th)
    Bus Std 12345678901234B 3(Economics)123456789 (0.3,0.5,0.8) A(0.4,0.8,1.2) A+B(0.3,0.6,1.0) (26th,23rd)

    Design & Technology 123453(Architecture)
    Drama/Theatre Studies B 3(Arts) 12345678901234(0.4,0.5,0.9) A(0.5,0.6,1.2) A+B(0.4,0.5,0.9) (30th,25th)

    Electronics 12345678901233(Engineering)
    Engl Language 123456789013(Arts)12345678901234567890123456789012 34567890123456789012345678 (25th,16th)
    Film Std 1234567890123Bc 3(Arts)12345678901234567890123456789012 34567890123456789012345678 (33rd,33rd) why Purple
    Law 123456789012345678Bl 3(Land Economy & Law) (0.3,0.4,0.8) A(0.3,0.5,1.0) A+B(0.3,0.5,0.9) (25th,18th) post on Law A-level and A-levels for Law
    Media 1234567890123456B 3(Arts) 12345678901234(0.1,0.2,0.8) A(0.2,0.3,1.1) A+B(0.1,0.2,0.7) (32nd,30th) why Purple
    Politics 12345678901234563(Arts) 12345678901234567890123456789012 34567890123456789012345678(24th,11th)
    Psychology 123456789012343(Arts) 12345678901234(0.4,0.5,0.8) A(0.5,0.7,1.1) A+B(0.5,0.6,1.0) (16th,12th)
    Sociology 1234567890123453(Arts) 12345678901234567890123456789012 34567890123456789012345678(31st,28th)

    Suitable only for 4th A-level (view of TRinity College Cambridge)
    Accounting B 4
    Applied Science 4
    Citizenship 4
    Communication Studies B 4l
    Computing 4 (13th, 5th)
    Critical Thinking
    Dance Bc 4
    Environmental Science 4
    Gen Std B 4 (4th, 1st)
    Health and Social Care Bc 4
    Home Economics B 4
    IT (ICT) B 4 (14th, 4th)
    Leisure Studies Bc 4
    Music Technology B 4
    PE Bc 4 (24th, 11th)
    Performance Studies Bc 4
    Performing Arts Bc 4
    Perspectives on Science 4
    Photography Bc 4 (32nd, 31st)
    Science 4
    Science for Public Understanding 4
    Sport Studies B 4
    Travel and Tourism B 4
    World Development 4

    Not classified by Trinty Cambridge
    DT Prodn B (26th, 16th)
    English (25th, 19th)
    Fine Art (29th, 28th)
    Psych Sci (18th, 13th)

    How important is A-level selection?
    Well you need to do subjects:
    1) firstly you are good at and enjoy
    2) secondly form a good basis for further study. This matters both in terms of the knowledge contained in the course content and the study skills required.
    i) Some degree courses require specific A-levels. e.g. sciences (this includes Economics) often require Maths.
    ii) Do some A-levels that are in the same category (e.g. Sciences, Arts, Languages, Humanities) as the degree you may be targetting.
    iii) Avoid subjects with overlapping content (e.g. Businees and Economics).
    iv) Especially if you are aiming for a competitive uni or subject than look at how many A-levels you have chosen in each of the 3 categories above. i.e. good to have atleast 2 subjects in the Generally Suitable Category.

    But Remember:
    i)an A in business studies is more appealing than a D in maths - and playing to your strengths and interests is always going to make it easier to excel.
    ii) even LSE and Cambridge will pick somone with an AAA prediction including a blacklisted subject over someone with an AAC prediction excluding all blacklisted subjects.

    What do terms like Soft, Less Prefered, Less Respected and Blacklisted mean?
    These terms all refer to the reality that not all A-levels are treated equally by universities.
    (Unlike what the Government claims.)

    What do the B,Bl, Bc mean?
    B means blacklisted at both LSE and Cambridge
    Bc means blacklisted at just Cambridge
    Bl means blacklisted at just LSE

    What do the 1A, 1S, 3 and 4 numbers mean?
    Trinty Cambridge categorise A-levels into four groups
    1st or 2nd A-level:
    i) list A1: suitable science subjects (1S)
    ii) list A2: suitable Arts subjects (1A)

    3rd A-level
    iii) list B: suitable only for some subjects (3 followed by degree subjects/areas they are considered suitable for)

    4th A-level
    iv) list C: suitable only as a 4th A-level. (4)

    Note this is a simplification of the actual Trinity Cambridge position: http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/index.php?pageid=604
    For example Trinity do not talk about 3rd A-levels. But:
    i)For Arts Degrees they want applicants to have atleast 2 1A A-levels.
    ii)For Science Degrees they want 2 (or 3) specified 1S subjects.

    Hence I think that implies that any of the limited suitability subjects need to be supported by two group 1 A-levels.

    Also some A-levels are not claissified.

    Why do some subjects have 1 pair of numbers and some 2 pairs?
    Where there are 2 pairs:
    i) the 1st is a measure of how attractive subjects are to unis (the subject power) (data from the Exchange Report)
    ii) the 2nd is a measure of subject difficulty (data from the SCORE report)
    The Exchange Report considers less subjects and so for some subjects there is no measure.

    How is the subject power calculated?
    The Exchange report has data both::
    i) from the government what percentage of A-levelstudents study each subject
    ii) on how many students at each uni have each A-level.
    (tables 2 and 3 http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/ima...Hard_Truth.pdf)
    The Exchange report has data from 8 of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 unis. (Times overall rating used). So this gives an estimate of the situation at the top 10 and top 20 unis. Hence give a measure of how the situation varies between the top and the very top (answer not much!).

    If the power is 1 this means the subjects is proportionaly represented at that group of unis.
    If the power is >1 this means the subjects is overly represented at that group of unis.
    If the power is >1 this means the subjects is underly represented at that group of unis.

    Which 8 uni are used for the Top 10 rating?
    Oxford (1st), Imperial (3rd), St Andrews (5th), Warwick (6th), UCL (7th), Durham (8th), York (9th), Bristol (10th).
    So the missing two are Cambridge (2nd) and LSE(4th).

    Which 13 unis are used for the Top 20 rating?
    Oxford (1st), Imperial (3rd), St Andrews (5th), Warwick (6th), UCL (7th), Durham (8th), York (9th), Bristol (10th), Loughborough (12th), Exeter (13th), Leicester (14th), Bath (15th), Nottingham (16th=),
    So the missing seven are Cambridge (2nd), LSE(4th), Kings College London (11th), SOuthampton (16th=), Edinburgh (18th), Lancaster (19th), Newcastle (20th), Glasgow (20th).

    So 2 of the top 10 and 7 of the top 20 unis are missing?
    Yes but given how static the data is over the unis we do have, I don't think it would make a big difference

    And what about if a different measure of which are the top 20 unis were used?
    Again I don't expect that to make a difference

    Which unis make up the 20-5o unis?
    14 uni from the Russel and 1994 groups of unis are used:
    Sheffield (22nd), SOAS (24th), Birmingham (25th), Cardiff (29th), Manchester (27th), Royal Hooloway (30th)Liverpool (34th), Queens University Belfast (31st=), Reading (31st=), Queen Mary (37th), Sussex (38th), Surrey (39th), Essex (42nd), Goldsmith (46th)

    What the A( ,) and A+B( , ) entries about?
    To see if variations in A-level achievement matter I have representation calculations but instead of looking at all students taking each A-level instead:
    i) look just at Grade A students for the A( , ) entries
    ii) look at Grade A and B students for the A+B( , ) entries

    How are the subject difficulty rankings calculated?
    The Score report has the estimates of subject difficulty using 7 different methods for 33 A-level subjects. (Table 23 page 84 http://www.cemcentre.org/documents/n...2008report.pdf)

    For each method I ranked the difficulty methods. So each subject is ranked 1st-33rd by each method. The above table gives the worst and best ranks.

    How do the difficulty estimators work?
    They compare how students who do multiple A-levels do on each one. So if lots of students who take both subjects X and Y get higher grades on subject X then that would subject that subject X is easier, subject Y harder.

    Do the estimators work well?
    They are not perfect: General Studies (GS) and Further Maths (FM) give particular difficulties;
    i) very few students do well at GS but this is because they don't take it seriously rather than because it is hard.
    ii)Many Further Maths students get grade As (which suggests it easy). Few of the Grade A students have lower grades in other subjects (which suggests it is hard). The full list of rankings is (1st,10th, 5th,3rd,26th,11th,6th)
    But generally they work well. e.g. the different estimators give pretty consistent results.

    What do the colours mean?
    Green means the evidence suggests the subject is attractive to unis and/or a relatively more difficult subject.
    Blue refers to evidence that is attractive to unis but not as attractive as green evidence.
    Purple means the evidence suggests there are concerns about the subject but not as many as with the red. e.g. representation of 0.5 rather 0.3 and in the third group not the fourth.
    Red means the evidence suggests the subject is unattractive to unis and/or a relatively less difficult subject and/or blacklisted

    Should I not do red subjects?
    Well there are caveats:
    1) None of the three softness measures reflect any of the unis outside the top 20:
    i)The Blacklist flag is generated by 2 top top unis in Cambridge and LSE
    ii)The Exchange Report power figures given are only representative of the top 10 and top 20 unis.
    iii)The Score report makes grade comparison between the results achieved in different subjects. And hence the score dat is not (directly) representative of the opinions of any of the unis.
    2) If the subject is directly rated to your uni course (e.g. Drama for Theatre Studies) situation changes. i.e. the above table is averaged over all uni courses.
    3)You do also need to consider what subjects you are good at.
    4)correlation is not causality. i.e. it is possible that less academically gifted students choose certain subjects and that would make those subjects look bad in terms of subject power.
    5)Do need to think about your aims. i.e. the subject power of his red subjects is much higher at the unis in the top 50 but outside the top 20:
    Business 0.8
    Drama 0.9
    Law 0.8
    Media, Film Studies 0.8
    Psychology 0.8
    6)Certainly ok to consider red subjects as extra subjects.
    But you should be cautious and research the situation before selecting red A-levels.

    So where did the idea for this table come from?
    Originally it came from an article in The Economist:

    What is in the spreadsheet?
    It gives the SCORE and Exchange data and shows how the difficulty ratings and the power are calculated.

    I'm thinking about doing economics at a top university. Which would be the perfect 4 A levels?
    Check out my sticky threads in the economics forum.

    But for econ at a top uni for perfection you want:
    i) both Maths and Economics A-levels.
    ii)Further Maths
    iii)A science e.g. Physics
    iv)Essay based subject e.g. History

    Which I know makes 5 not 4. But:
    i)Consider doing 5 not 4 subjects to A2.
    ii)If you are intend on doing 4 subjects then starting 5 AS and not 4 gives you a choice of what 4 you carry on in your final year.

    Why are you suggesting doing more than 3 A-levels?
    Back when I did my A-levels AAA was the gold standard (in September it will be 2 decades since I stated studying my A-levels!). AAA would get you into pretty much any uni (except possibly Oxbridge) for any subject (except the most competitive e.g. Medicine). Back then virtually no one did more than 3 A-levels (apart from a few people who did Further Maths). But in the last 20 years the situation has changed dramatically.

    Take as an example economics: an area where I have studied the admissions process extensively. In TAELT (The Alternative Economics League Table), I have given information about admissions for economics at 60 different universities. At 49 of the courses I would be confident that AAA predictions would get you an offer (assuming you did A-level Maths when that is mandatory). But there are 11 where that is not the case. And they are, not surprisingly, the best 11.

    If you are interested in another subject you can get a crude idea of what the situation is as follows. Just look to see how many of the unis for that subject have an average tariff above 420. (i.e. all the TAELT top 11 have a tariff above 420 and only 1 uni outside the top 11 has a traiff above 420.) That will give you one meausre of how valuable a 4th A-level might be.

    [URL="http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rDvWgkoc5D5dZKfWi25Cu9w& output=html"]http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rDvWgkoc5D5dZKfWi25Cu9w& output=html[URL]

    What about other universities?
    Well there is this information for sheffield. They rank A-levels into 2 categories: A-levels 'always' acceptable and A-levels only acceptable as a 3rd A-level.
    Attached Files
  1. File Type: xls SCORE_A-level.xls (71.5 KB, 1899 views)

    Wow, that's really good.
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by backintime)
    Wow, that's really good.
    Glad you like it.

    This is awesome, and I'm sure will be a great help to potential A level students.

    What about subjects that aren't listed, like Philosophy?

    I wonder if this could put an end to the "Which science is most respected?!?!!!11" and "Which is more difficult - Geography or Politics??!!111" threads? :tongue:

    And by the way, is Philosophy A-Level counted as part of the RE A-Level in all of these statistics?
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by Kneechuh)
    This is awesome, and I'm sure will be a great help to potential A level students.

    What about subjects that aren't listed, like Philosophy?
    P88 of the Score report explains the subject selection:
    The dataset analysed here came from the National Pupil Database for England, held
    by the DfES.8 It contains results from all the level 3 examinations, including A-levels,
    taken by candidates at centres in England in 2006. These examination results are also
    matched to students’ earlier achievements at GCSE, Key Stage 3 and 2, and to data
    from the Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC) where available.
    The original dataset contained records from 574,000 candidates, of whom 250,000 had
    taken one or more A-levels. Results from 88 different A-level subjects were available,
    but some of these had quite small entries. Our analysis was limited to the 33 subjects
    with at least 5,000 candidates in order to make the results reliable. By limiting the
    analysis in this way, we did lose a small number of candidates (1,318, ie 0.5% of those
    with one or more A-level entry) who had taken only the smaller entry subjects.

    So subjects that are not taken by at least 5,000 candidates do not appear on the list.
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by backintime)
    And by the way, is Philosophy A-Level counted as part of the RE A-Level in all of these statistics?
    To answer your 2nd question 1st, I don't think so no.

    (Original post by backintime)
    I wonder if this could put an end to the "Which science is most respected?!?!!!11" and "Which is more difficult - Geography or Politics??!!111" threads?
    I think it helps but certainly not definitively:
    1)The research does not control for the fact that A-level subject selection is not independent of other relevant factors. e.g. the candidate's past academic record
    2) we don't have data for lots of less popular A-levels (e.g. Philissophy)
    3) Both the Score nor the Exchange Reports lump together all students irrespective of the subject they finally study at university. And that would be a useful breakdown for students with a particular subject destination in mind to have.

    why no () for accounting?
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by KyriakosCy)
    why no () for accounting?
    Because neither the Exchange nor the Score report considered it.

    (I added it in as it is blacklisted by both LSE and Cambridge. But I guess I should be consistent and add in all the other subjects blacklisted by LSE and Cambridge)
    • Thread Starter

    I have added in the following subjects that are blacklisted either by Cambridge (Bc) or LSE (Bl) or both (B):
    Communication Studies Bl
    Dance Bc
    [COLOR=red]Drama B (0.4, 0.5) (30th, 25th)
    Health and Social Care Bc
    Home Economics B
    Leisure Studies Bc
    Music Technology B
    Performance Studies Bc
    Performing Arts Bc
    Sport Studies B
    Travel and Tourism B

    i dont understand how accounts and ICT is blacklisted, i find it wayyyyyyyyyyyy harder than sociology

    (Original post by Imson)
    i dont understand how accounts and ICT is blacklisted, i find it wayyyyyyyyyyyy harder than sociology
    (Y)!! :tongue:

    I always thought English Lit was highly considered.
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by Imson)
    i dont understand how accounts and ICT is blacklisted, i find it wayyyyyyyyyyyy harder than sociology
    Accounting B
    IT (ICT) B (14, 4)
    Sociology (31st, 28th)

    1) all the measures suggest that Sociology is a particulalrly easy subject.(i.e only 33 subjects were rated by SCORE).

    2) the measures suggest that ICT is not that easy. But I think top unis are concerned it is not necessarily great preperation for uni. i.e. they question how academic it is.
    3) Finally with Accounting again I think unis are concerned that it is not that academic.

    (Original post by collegedropout)
    I always thought English Lit was highly considered.
    Engl Lit (22nd, 18th)
    I have not coloured English red or green, as I also though English Lit was a strong subject but the Score Report suggests English is relatively easy.
    • Community Assistant

    Community Assistant
    This is cool, but a shame that not all subjects are included. Interesting nonetheless.

    Interesting to notice that according to this i've taken two red subjects and a black one. Lol.

    Wow economics is way to low it's the best/most acknowledge social science and even has a noble prize
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by Gallium)
    Wow economics is way to low it's the best/most acknowledge social science and even has a noble prize
    Economics (1.7, 1.7) (19th, 12th)
    Well 1.7 is a good power.

    heh I definately agree History is harder than English Literature...!

    Thanks for doing this, just wish I had seen this 2 years ago, when I was deciding my A levels!
  • See more of what you like on The Student Room

    You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

  • Poll
    Would you rather give up salt or pepper?
    Help with your A-levels

    All the essentials

    The adventure begins mug

    Student life: what to expect

    What it's really like going to uni


    Essay expert

    Learn to write like a pro with our ultimate essay guide.

    Uni match

    Uni match

    Our tool will help you find the perfect course for you

    Study planner

    Create a study plan

    Get your head around what you need to do and when with the study planner tool.

    Study planner

    Resources by subject

    Everything from mind maps to class notes.

    Hands typing

    Degrees without fees

    Discover more about degree-level apprenticeships.

    A student doing homework

    Study tips from A* students

    Students who got top grades in their A-levels share their secrets

    Study help links and info

    Can you help? Study help unanswered threadsRules and posting guidelines

    Sponsored content:



    Find out how a Higher Education Achievement Report can help you prove your achievements.

    Groups associated with this forum:

    View associated groups
  • See more of what you like on The Student Room

    You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

  • The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

    Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

    Write a reply...
    Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.