5 A Levels: advice?(73 Posts)
ds1 has been accepted to do 3 Sciences, Maths and Further Maths. He's a very high achiever (predicted all A*). He does work hard at school, but it's fair to say he's never found the curriculum work to be very difficult or challenging to GCSE level.
I'm a bit concerned about the step up to A Levels and the wisdom of doing 5 courses.
Any advice? and how/when to make the decision to drop down to 4 or 3 if necessary?
Workload is more like 4 1/2 if 2 of them are Maths / Further Maths.
It depends on how strong he is at maths. If he was always top of the class in maths, (in a fairly academically strong school), and is breezing his way to A* then it's definitely worth trying (whilst keeping an eye on his results and happiness week by week, ready to pounce if he's showing strain), because A level physics is also pretty easy if you're a natural maths whizz, so that's three easy subjects and only two that need actual work.
I did this, and despite being a hopeless slacker I didn't find it too tough - mind you I used it as an excuse to slack off homework in each subject, so probably did less work in total than my 3 A level peers.
And,although some people have said FM is not essential for physics, it is a huuuge advantage and most strong applicants will have it unless it is not offered at their school which is fair enough, of course.
Oxford do not state it as a requirement, because they know not all school offer it, but if your school does offer FM and you didn't take it that weakens your application great deal, and everything else would have to be absolutely stellar to get an offer.
your son sounds like potential Oxbridge material (if he fancies Oxbridge) so it would be a shame to stsrt with a disadvantage, this stuff isn't publicised enough if you ask me.
I have DS1 in year 12 doing 5. He is doing 3 sciences, Maths and Further Maths. He wants to do Maths at uni. He was certainly discouraged from doing 5 but he stuck it out and seems to be doing OK.
As others have said it's a big step up from GCSE and A* GCSE students can still struggle with the Maths in particular.
DS1 is now working 100 times harder for his AS levels than he did for his but he's loving it. He does plan to drop Biology for A level because he will be doing STEP and some extra Maths modules.
He has researched entry requirements for Maths and decided that things like DoE and Critical Thinking would not be of great value.
I don't see a problem with changing schools. None of the schools here have a sixth form so all of them move on to 6th form colleges.
oxbridge probably are biased towards f.maths to be fair, especially if you had the opportunity to do it and didn't. But other places with strong physics departments often don't worry, simply because they have to teach the stuff in any case as a) it's largely modular, so they can't guarantee even further mathematicians have done much eg mechanics and b) too many schools don't offer it, so they would be discriminating against many potentially good applicants to insist on it.
For example, I know Birmingham physics dept. insist on A levels in maths and physics and then look for A* predictions rather than looking at f. maths being taken.
We did the schlep around unis lat year & the one thing they stressed (including Cambridge which DD1 got an interview for) was they didn't see any advantage in having 4/5 A's they would rather students got 3/4 concrete A/A*'s & had time to study effectively and thoroughly.
DD1 found it a real mental shift doing A's having been an A* student for GCSE's, loved it but it took her the best part of A2 year to pull her grades up and really get her head round the different techniques.
If he's unsure of his career path, then keeping his science range broad, with Maths as a fourth will keep his options open, and he can always drop one if he feels he needs to after AS.
A lot of the maths they do in Maths/FM/Physics is the same stuff apparently.
Maths and further maths is normal. Check how they do the modules. Some schools, for reasons that don't make sense, teach some of further maths early on. If so, he may struggle. But, if further maths is essentially an A2 course, there is no harm, because he should be able to pick it up later, or to drop it if need be.
If he takes, say, one further module in the lower sixth, that is fine. He could still reassess and drop further maths if it's not working. However, if he's happy doing 5, he could go on to do more further modules.
Does he know rough amount of extra home study required each course ? Maths and further maths comes under one here
Ds2 looked at 5 but after seeing amount home study had opted for 4 and will decide end of AS if will drop one or not . But helps as he knows what he wants to do so based choices around that
He's only yr11 now, so I guess I should really be saying 5 AS Levels.
His Maths is very good - three of them vie for top of the year group position, it depends on how close they are to full marks in the exam. BUT I was like this at 16 too, and I found Maths A Level very challenging.
Also, ds2 is passionate about maths, in an uber-nerd sort of way. (Witters about it all the time, knows pi to a ridiculous number of decimal places, silver medal junior Olympiad winner etc). Ds1 has never been like that. But I don't know of that's just cos ds2 is weird and bonkers, or whether that's what all maths/further maths students are like...?!
PS thanks for all the comments: very helpful.
If he were mine I'd let him start with 5 but with a very probable plan of dropping at least 1 pretty fast. Truth is he will decide what to do based on how manageable work load is AND how nice the lecturers are (only stick with nice supportive ones). He can't figure all that out until after he starts.
If he's mathsy look at the course requirements for Cambridge, Imperial and Warwick, they are all place that top maths students might end up applying to.
I think that changing schools when everyone changes such as when schools dont have sixth forms and everyone goes to college is different from moving into an established cohort.
It was an extra thing for DD to deal with. It wasnt simply making new friends and finding her way round a new school. Existing students at the school had started their sixth form studies at the end of year 11 so started year 12 having already started IYSWIM. DD had to run hard to catch up.
I'd let him try it with a view to dropping one. I agree that if he wants to do maths or physics then he needs to keep FM because his school offers it (top universities accept no FM if not available obviously). I have noticed that Cambridge will give hard 4 or 5 subject offers and do not necessarily reduce the requirements because a student is offering more subjects so the offer is more challenging to meet than the usual A*AA (eg A*AAA)
In getting the offer you'd think that a poor module in the context of 5 subjects would be less critical than one in 3 subjects but I wouldn't count on that. Minimising the chances of getting a lower mark by concentrating on fewer subjects seems wiser imo.
If he is joining a new school then "I am doing 5 subjects" is quite a statement to make. It will be difficult to row back from that without losing face. Can you make it a condition that:
You will allow him to do five subjects if you have the final say in whether he keeps going or not.
Then he can blame his big, bad mum for the decision.
For the 1st time our school 6th form are encouraging the students NOT to take Further Maths as an additional option, but instead as 1 of the normal options. They say that the work load of 5 often proves too much and students would be better starting with 4 (including FM). 1 of DD's friends is still opting to do 5 including FM though.
The exam load of 2xmaths (3 exams per year each) +3xscience (2 exams per year each) and no january modules would be quite daunting. The lack of Jan modules also removes one of the obvious checkpoints where you might decide 5 was too many after all.
DS1 &DS2 have both taken 5 subjects at AS, inc maths and FM, then dropped down to 4 at A2.
At their school FM can only be taken as a 5th subject as the school worry that good GCSE students may struggle at AS and if you have used up 2 of 4 options in maths then you are stuck with having to see maths through to A2.
Although annoyingly, they then insist it has to a 4th subject at A2.
For them, the decision to take both was a bit of a no-Brainer as they both want to study engineering at uni, so having both is much better.
If he's a maths lover then do the five AS and drop biology perhaps if it's too much.
I did maths at university and wish we'd pushed our school to do further maths, it would have msde my first year much easier.
What about dropping biology?
Bit more investigation of next stage, job options after?
You don't have to be a mathematical genius to do well at FM! And beware comparisons with ds2. There are some people who're amazing at maths, but probably lots more who enjoy the FM course and could enjoy and do well at university-level maths.
DS gained A* in his maths & science GCSEs last year & found the jump up in maths was greater than in physics. For that first term at sixth form, DS was spending 20-25 hours extra just on maths! He was putting himself under unnecessary strain because he had read how important it was to have further maths. The truth of the matter is its not always a compulsory subject unless you want to read maths or sometimes physics. Often unis like you to have further maths, but they also look at other subjects/interests of the pupil. DS has been given much more support & information on universities & their requirements now he's at sixth form & even though he dropped further maths last term, he's still planning to go to one of the top places for his chosen subject.
A side note; DS's godfather took five A levels & went on to get a double degree on maths & physics. It was his school who insisted he take five A levels & the strain was enormous. He's been invaluable on the advice he's offered to DS & actively encouraged DS to drop further maths. For DS this was the right decision & it may well be that your DS flourishes in the subject (& the others he's considering). No idea if my late night waffling has helped you to advise your son, but A levels are hard enough without adding extra pressures on a young person's shoulders. Wishing your DS well for his GCSEs
my nephew who did Natural Sciences regretted not taking further Maths as it disadvantaged him during his course - he did 3Sciences + Maths
if your son considers Physics Further Maths would be of great use to him.
My nephew decided on Physics after first year, now finished Msc in Physics in Cambridge and is doing another one in Kings - neuroscience
maybe Natural Sciences will be way forward for him if he finds all sciences equally interesting?
My nephew did some extra science course in the summer at some uni in London after y12, he thinks this helped him to get an unconditional offer
Mine is taking five. At least to AS. Double maths, economics and a humanity subject and then a "fun" subject. Its entirely up to him whether he carries on.
1. look at university entrance requirements. LSE economics for example wants to see further maths, but is likely to off A* for the maths and AA for two other facilitating subjects not including further maths. Eg they expect 4 A levels.
2. the advice my son got was that the maths required at University for an economics degree would be around Further maths level. He might as well learn it in a classroom environment if he had the opportunity. I assume this is equally true for physics or engineering.
3. an awful lot depends on the quality of the teaching. My son is loving double maths, something he did not expect as he is a sound rather than a gifted mathematician. I hope his grades will reflect this as there are other subjects where he would have been more sure of getting a top grade.
4. There is a real step up to A/S from GCSE. I would echo previous comments. DS has had to work a lot harder this year and take it all more seriously. I assume next year will be harder still and with the distractions of UCAS. 5 A/S levels mean a pretty busy exam time table.
I have no idea what my son will do. Probably he will drop the fun subject at some point, possibly very late when he sees his A level exam timetable, though at the moment he is really enjoying it.
Depending on what your son wants to do I would identify four core subjects, and one extra. If he wants to do something sciency I would aim to keep the double maths. If he then wants to do something bio/chemistry and he is finding the workload heavy he might drop physics, or something physics/engineering and drop biology. A final decision can be made once he has started the school, had a chance to experience the workload and the syllabus and also identify who the better teachers are.
Lots of private school boys do three sciences and double maths. It is often known as "the Asian five", perhaps reflecting the preferences of students from Asia who come to Britain for sixth form. The boys I know doing this combination are English, but very bright.
DD1 (currently half way through a MMath at Bath) did Maths, FM, PHysics and Chemistry at AS, then dropped Chemistry for A2. Her school advised that three guaranteed A/A* at A2 was better than risking a B if doing more subjects. She did two STEP papers, but did all the prep for that herself - her advise is, if you need STEP, get on with past papers from the start of Y12 as it's totally different to A levels, and they don't provide actual answers, just "suggestions" for solving the problems.
But at the same time she kept one eye on her post uni CV, and did DofE to Gold, the Extended Project and a sports coaching qualification.
I doubt she'd have fitted it all in if she'd done more subjects. She probably put in an hour of own study for every hour in class, which has set her up well for uni.
Casey, my DS is in year 12 and taking the same 5 sujects at AS level. He was definite about maths, further maths, physics and chemistry, but he had to take another subject, as maths and further maths go together. (They all give one subject up after AS levels).
He couldn't decide between music or biology. He eventually chose biology because he hadn't ruled out studying medicine. Now he knows he's not interested in medicine and will be dropping it. He wants to study maths at Cambridge.
Secretscwirrels, your DS sounds very much like my DS - he's incredibly focused and hardworking. He knows he needs top grades to achieve his aim, so he works very hard and he's doing really well, especially in maths. He hasn't found the work too difficult.
GCSEs were easy for him, and he didn't have to work hard at all. However, when he began the A level courses, at first he had to adapt to the sheer volume of work. It's very different to GCSEs. Once he'd adjusted, he was fine.
If your DS wants to go to a top university to study maths or science, and he has the ability, then he should definitely study maths and further maths.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.