A level choices - particularly maths

(22 Posts)
longingforsomesleep Sat 30-Mar-13 23:47:14

Background, as briefly as possible:

DS is in year 11 and has chosen to do Maths, English, Geography and Biology in year 12. He knows it's possible to change his mind, particularly in the light of GCSE results in the summer and he is starting to have second thoughts about maths.

He did his maths GCSE at the start of year 10 and got an A. He was immediately expected to start AS maths which he struggled with (I never really felt he'd consolidated GCSE maths and wasn't happy with him doing it so early). He got an E in C1 at the end of year 10. So he is redoing C1 this year and the plan is to complete the AS (by doing C2 and D1) in year 12.

He has got it into his head that he ought to have AS maths (doesn't plan to do A2) as this will look good on his CV. I think, as long as he's got GCSE maths, that's enough and I'm worried about him taking a subject that doesn't come easily to him when lots of other subjects do (he's predicted A/A* in all GCSE subjects).

So my question is, is there much advantage in having AS rather than just GCSE maths? His real interest is Geography and he wants to do that at university. Even if he decided to go into some sort of financial job surely GCSE maths would be enough? Anybody got any advice?

BackforGood Sun 31-Mar-13 00:06:13

<Diclaimer - I'm "only" a parent, not an A-level teacher or admissions tutor >

IME, a lot of A* GCSE maths students find AS really difficult. I know someone close to me who went from A* at GCSE to a D at AS, and, after that, I talked to quite a few youngsters at different schools, and they said that was a pretty typical pattern. As a rule, they seemed to 'click' in the 2nd year and do better at A2 though.
I understand it has always been a very different subject at A-Level, even from an O-level. Thinking back to when I was at school, it seemed to leave numbers behind and all become a lot more theoretical.

A lot of people have commented to me that the jump (for all subjects) between GCSE and A/s level is a really big one, probably the hardest jump anywhere in education, so what I've been advised, and what I wholeheartedly agree with (now ds is in Yr12) is that they should should the 4 subjects they really like / want to do, rather than anything they think they 'ought' to do. If he's not an enthusiastic mathematician, then I'd say it's not for him.

Startail Sun 31-Mar-13 00:15:11

Having a D for A level and an a for O level, I agree there ia a big jump.

Unless your DS wants to do biology at university (and for that I needed chemistry) maths is probably not going to be that useful. Some areas of Geography need stats. but they normally teach them.

offerday Sun 31-Mar-13 09:23:35

Your DS sounds quite similar to my DS. He also took GCSE maths early and then went on to another qualification. The trouble is that school never asked if he wanted to do this - he may be good at maths but that doesn't automatically mean that he likes it - and he bombed the other qual.

My DS also wants to read Geography and has offers, despite having nothing beyond GCSE maths.

My advice is to study subjects in the sixth form that he really enjoys and will do well in. My DS has offers but his favourite uni is asking for AAA.shock
Have you researched uni yet? Geography is a weird subject because it doesn't know if it is a BSc or a BA - the two strands demand different A Levels.

longingforsomesleep Sun 31-Mar-13 11:14:48

I have an older ds so I know all about the big leap from GCSE to AS in most subjects and ds2 may well be one of those kids who does very well at GCSE but struggles with A levels.

I'm sure he won't need maths AS to do Geography at uni. He's really looking ahead to his working life - doesn't have a clue what he might want to do but thinks AS maths would be "a good thing to have". I think those of you who have said study what you enjoy are right. I just wanted to see if anyone thought DS was right and that it would be worth him persevering with AS maths.

I'm so cross with the school because we had a load of angst just before he did his GCSE maths at the start of year 10. If he doesn't continue with AS maths next year he will have been pushed early and painfully into GCSE maths and then spent 1.5 years studying AS maths with nothing to show for it. All the top set maths were put in for GCSE at the same time and I wanted to ask if he could drop to the middle set so he would sit it at the end of year 10 but ds saw this as a 'demotion' so wouldn't let me.

He's now saying if he gets anything less than a B in C1 this summer he will drop it. DS1 is doing A level maths and says many people don't think C2 is any harder than C1 - just more of the same so if he can get a decent grade in C1 it might be worth continuing.

I can see several months of anxiety ahead! Not to mention the fact that he's now wondering if he should have chosen English Language AS rather than English Lit!!!

Jobforlife Sun 31-Mar-13 11:42:37

My eldest DS only achieved a D grade in AS Maths, after sailing through GCSE Maths with an A. He then dropped it, but perversely, chose to do an Economics degree! He seems to be coping with the maths now, so I think it is sometimes a maturity thing...
In my DD's case, the school decided to sit the IGCSE Maths in year 10 so that they could do IGCSE Further Maths in Year 11. This is apparently a good 'bridging' qualification to make the transition to AS level smoother. She will sit the IGCSE Further Maths this summer, and depending on the result, may well choose AS level Maths, as much of the curriculum will already have been covered.
Like the OP's DS, she isn't really considering Maths at AS because she enjoys the subject - more a case of thinking it will look good on her CV, and it being the lesser of a few evils (she'll probably do English, History and Spanish as her other three AS level subjects). We may well encourage her to choose a fifth subject to start yr 12, and take a view by Christmas which subjects are working best for her. Is this something your DS could consider longingforsomesleep?

Littleturkish Sun 31-Mar-13 11:52:22

No advantage in having the AS. He should pick a subject he loves, not one he thinks will 'look good'.

He sounds bright enough to benefit from differentiating his application in a much more interesting way- completing voluntary work, doing some independent research, getting work experience by job shadowing in his field of interest.

michaelrB Sun 31-Mar-13 12:06:39

Maths is the most marketable A level subject (particularly in RG universities) so he should continue with it to the highest level possible providing he is likely to get a top grade ie A-B.

busymummy3 Mon 01-Apr-13 00:04:02

My DC is in Y11 and is predicted A/A* in GCSE's this summer.
Has chosen to study AS levels in 4 subjects - History, French, Government and Politics and English Literature. Has to do RE (Faith School).
Is having second thoughts now about English Literature and thinking of either Maths or Biology. Just feels could be a heavy workload with amount of essays and although does not particularly like Maths or Biology is good at them.
What do others think?

Viviennemary Mon 01-Apr-13 00:13:17

I know a couple of people who have found the A level maths really difficult. If he is struggling now I can't see the point in doing the AS if he doesn't intend to do the full A level. But take the advice of his teachers as they will know him best.

Gruntfuttocks Mon 01-Apr-13 00:26:56

DD was very similar to your DS - took Maths GCSE early then found AS very hard. The rest of her set took C1 alongside GCSEs - most of them bombed it and ended up re-sitting the following year. She held out against doing the exam and took it in L6 and got a good grade, having dropped a set and gone over all the material again. She carried on and sat the rest of the AS in the summer, but was disappointed with the marks - it was a huge struggle and took up a disproportionate amount of her time. She wanted the maths to support her science A levels and uni course but decided to concentrate her efforts on her other subjects for U6 - good decision, and she went on to do well in these. She has picked up the maths again now by doing an Open University course in her gap year. Perhaps something for your DS to consider if he drops the maths now but wants to go back to it later?

offerday Mon 01-Apr-13 08:25:40

The lack of maths A Level shouldn't be a problem. The big recruiting firms want good raw material that they can train - they define that as someone with a good class of degree from a respected awarding body. They can do their own assessment of numerical skills by psychometric testing.
www.prospects.ac.uk/accountancy_banking_and_finance_sector.htm

noblegiraffe Mon 01-Apr-13 08:57:57

There is absolutely an advantage in having AS maths, it is a very well regarded subject as it is considered difficult, and post-16 maths is considered to be so beneficial that they are shortly going to make it compulsory. So if he can take AS maths, then it would be an excellent idea. It would look good on a CV if going for financial jobs too - it shows you are numerate, can think logically, and also are willing to take a challenging subject. It would put him above the many other candidates who would only have GCSE.

However, he has been badly failed by his school in being forced to sit C1 in Y10 after only having got an A at GCSE, and apparently now being forced to sit it again in Y11? A far better idea would have been for him to resit his GCSE with the aim of boosting his grade to an A*. What maths lessons is he having at the moment to ensure he improves his C1 grade in the summer? Is sitting all 3 AS modules in Y12 an option?

complexnumber Mon 01-Apr-13 11:28:50

There is a quote I quite like:
"I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors."
Caballero, James

longingforsomesleep Mon 01-Apr-13 12:04:10

Noble - he is in a class of students in the same position most of whom, according to my son, have decided not to pursue maths into year 12 so are treating maths lessons (currently being run by a supply teacher) as revision lessons for other subjects.

To be fair he did have the option of doing GCSE statistics instead of redoing C1 in year 11. The plan at the moment is that he does C1 this year and in year 12 does C2 and D1 to complete the AS.

I have grumbled to the school on many occasions about doing GCSE maths so early. Their argument is that most of the students in the top set will go on to do A level maths and, because A level is so much harder, it gives them longer to do it in. Having spoken to teachers individually though I get the impression this isn't fully supported by staff.

I think all we can do now is review his subject choices when he gets his results in August and if, after repeating the year, he doesn't get an A or B in C1 then he will drop maths.

In the short term, I worry that he's going to spend a disproportionate amount of time over the next few weeks trying to get to grips with C1 at the expense of revising for his GCSEs.

titchy Mon 01-Apr-13 12:52:39

Maths compulsory post 16? Tell me more noblegiraffe.

noblegiraffe Mon 01-Apr-13 20:01:14

Titchy, Gove has said that anyone who doesn't get a C in maths or English should have to keep trying till they're 18, or if it's completely beyond them, some sort of real life maths course
www.lawontheweb.co.uk/news/2012/07/630-maths-and-english-to-be-made-compulsory-until-age-18

And there has also been a couple of reports lamenting the UK's lack of numeracy compared to other countries where the majority study maths post-16. The Carol Vorderman maths curriculum review of 2011 and Elizabeth Truss's MP's report in 2012 both suggest maths in some form be compulsory post-16. So, further maths and/or maths A-levels or AS-levels (if they stay) for the best, some as yet undefined higher maths course for those in the middle, and the GCSE resit for the bottom end.
www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18522634

Not sure how firm those plans are yet, will have to see what happens when they overhaul A-levels.

noblegiraffe Mon 01-Apr-13 20:16:44

longing it really makes me cross that some schools are messing up their students' maths education so badly. Even GCSE Stats in Y11 is a poor choice for those wanting to do A-level as it means that they will have had a year without studying algebra.

Is the supply teacher teaching him a maths teacher actively teaching or are they just being left to it? If it's a maths teacher then hopefully he can take advantage of the fact that his classmates aren't bothered and get some 1-1 or small group teaching in the lessons. If his school has a mymaths website login, there are A-level lessons on there, and interactive worksheets which would be really useful for him.
If he got an E in C1 at the end of Y10 after only having got an A at GCSE, then that's a really good sign in terms of his maths ability. There is a big jump to A-level and the fact that he managed to register a grade in Y10 suggests he is capable of A-level and would have probably done much better if he'd taken his exams at the usual ages. It would be a shame if he didn't get his B and continue his studies. If it's taking up lots of his time, could you afford a tutor? Or do you know any teenagers doing well at A-level or further maths who could help him?

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 03-Apr-13 12:41:52

Is the supply teacher a specialist maths teacher with experience of teaching A level? If not, I think you should complain to the school. It is probably too late to do anything about it, but it is wrong for students trying to do AS without a decent teacher.

I was encouraged by my school to do "fasttrack" maths, sitting my GCSE at the end of Y10 and then doing a full AS in Y11. However, in y11, my class had lots of problems, as one of our teachers had long term abscence. As we all already had "good" GCSEs, and could retake the AS next year anyway, we were not always given a maths teacher to cover that class, and our teaching was patchy. I got a B at AS, due to my dad being a maths teacher and teaching me the syllabus himself.

One thing I would be aware of is that doing multiple re-takes is now frowned upon by top level universities. Retaking C1 in Y11 won't be too much of a problem, as there is a "reason" for the retake, but I know a few people who sat all of their AS modules at least twice, and C1 three times to boost their grade. This meant they got good A level grades over all, but some courses (e.g. medicine) would not accept their final grade and this has become much more strict since I did A levels.

I don't know if it is too late for a tutor to make a difference, but I think it might help.

ancientandmodern Wed 03-Apr-13 13:13:41

OP Not sure if my daughter's experience is useful info -- she took Maths at GCSE in Yr 11 and got A*. Signed up for A level Maths, along with Geography, Chemistry and Biology. Hated the AS Maths with a passion, and after half a term dropped Maths in favour of Gvot and Politics. Ended up with Geog, Chemistry and Govt and Politics A levels
Subsequently has gone to top RG university to read Geography and currently has an offer for a fiercely competitive training contract with Big4 accountantcy firm for tax consultancy.
Based on that, would say that AS Maths is in no way vital either for a Geography degree (although beware -- some courses do have quite a substantial Maths element) or a career in financial services.
Personally, I think getting your son to keep on doing bits of AS Maths risks destroying his self esteem and confidence -- I'd suggest to him he doesn't bother with that, but develops some activities and interests which match his Geography enthusiasm.

longingforsomesleep Wed 03-Apr-13 20:26:56

All interesting and very useful comments - thank you. Interesting that a couple of you mentioned Govt and Politics as that is his 'fifth' choice - though a bit of an unknown quantity.

He's done quite a few C1 papers over the last few days and seems more relaxed with the whole thing (he can be a bit of a drama queen if things aren't going exactly as he wants). His supply teacher was a qualified maths teacher and his 'proper' teacher returns from maternity leave after the Easter hols - although of course they only have a few weeks of school left.

No point in making any major decisions yet - he wants to wait and see how he does in C1 and then rethink if necessary. Dead set against a tutor though I would willingly get one. Also dead set against DS1 and DS1's girlfriend helping (both doing A2 maths at the moment)!

speedology Fri 05-Jul-13 20:00:54

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