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A level Physics or Geography?

(27 Posts)
TeenageAngst Fri 09-May-14 16:03:51

Help! DS is a good all-rounder and should get a decent spread of grades at his GCSEs which he's taking now.

His current A level choices are:


but he's having major second thoughts about geography (which is now 'boring') and is considering physics instead egged on by the physics teacher who's convinced him he's a gifted physicist hmm but as he's at an 11-16 school and will be going to a SFC she won't be teaching him anyway.

He appears to be better at all the sciences (predicted A*/A) than Geography (predicted B) but says he dislikes sciences and enjoys Geog more (but he dislikes them all really). there are no other realistic options for no 4.

Can't help thinking in this competitive world he should do what he'll get a better grade in - so Physics, going on what we know now, and also it fits well with Maths. But, Geog goes well with Economics. Also I hear that the jump between GCSE/A Level in sciences is more pronounced.

Things have changed so much since I was a teenager. He's indecisive and I don't know what to think. I've consulted various teachers including at his SFC but they've all said vague things like 'he should do what he enjoys'.

AMumInScotland Fri 09-May-14 16:09:09

They're both very good subjects, academically rigorous, immediately recognisable to future employers etc. Either would be a good choice.

Unless he knows what he wants to do next, and really needs one or other, then they are very unlikely to limit his choices in what he does later, specially when he also has History in the list, as that is much more a reading/essay-based subject whereas geography and physics are both more analytical/scientific.

Toss a coin, whatever comes up won't be a bad choice.

TheWave Fri 09-May-14 16:09:47

Maybe have a look at the actual syllabus for the geography as I've heard it can be different to expectations depending on the board the SFC will be doing?

TeenageAngst Fri 09-May-14 16:16:55

We did that Wave, I read out the course content for both from the prospectus and got him to make a happy/sad face on a scale of 1 - 5, he grimaced at all of it grin

TeenageAngst Fri 09-May-14 16:19:05

Yes MuminScotland I'm coming round to that view. I think in the absence of a compelling reason to change (his choices have been officially registered at the college) then inertia is the best option!

FurryGiraffe Fri 09-May-14 16:26:28

Does he know anyone (or could he be put in touch with anyone) at the SFC he will be attending? Could he get some real life feedback on what the geography and physics courses and teaching are like at the SFC? That might give him a better idea of what he's letting himself in for either way.

squizita Fri 09-May-14 16:43:43

Sorry as a HoY at an 11-18 school - why is a student with some B grades being recommended 4 A levels in the first place? Major warning sign re IAG (independent advice and guidance) from the 11-16 school.

In terms of maximising wellbeing and attainment (i.e. getting higher grades and not being burned out) a student with a mixture of A*-B would be better off doing 3 A levels. They're much more likely to get 3 high grades - viewed more favourably by UCAS - than 4 with the risk of 1 or more being slightly lower.
We wouldn't recommend a student with a mixed profile (B-A* is mixed) start with 4. To put it in context without outing my school - we are amongst the best ALPS scorers (how progress is measured in A level nationally) for science in the UK, and have one of the highest rates of students moving on to Russell Group and heavily over-applied universities in our area of London. Our wellbeing and student happiness is also good (we get a 3rd party to survey this).
This was not always the case. When we asked students to do 4 A levels as standard they got lower grades and were more 'burned out'. University applications (and drop out rates during the 1st year) weren't good.

If he does feel 4 is the right amount for him...
Geography can vary a lot syllabus to syllabus - he needs to find out as depending on whether he likes physical or human it may be enjoyable or boring!
Physics requires excellent maths. As in, if his maths grade isn't also A*, he may end up frustrated.

TeenageAngst Fri 09-May-14 17:16:47

Sqizita I said exactly that when we trawled round the open days. It is the SFCs saying do 4, not the school. Back in the dark ages when I did mine (mid 80s) only super bright kids did 4. The norm here seems to be start with 4 then drop least favourite/successful after year 1 and end up with 3. (The super brights stick with 4 I guess). That's the case at all of our possible SFCs - at least 4 colleges, and one of them is very highly rated indeed. I don't see the point of the 4th subject. Does that AS level make any difference to anything?

Interestingly also one of the SFCs is also telling me he's G&T which I just think is ridiculous and I do not feel describes a student with a mixed profile as you say.


TalkinPeace Fri 09-May-14 17:37:11

speaking as somebody who did both at A level (in the stone age) and one of them for my degree
the choice is ......

Field Trips or Lab Work grin

TeenageAngst Fri 09-May-14 17:55:33

Thanks TalkinPeace I will put it to him in those terms!

Hang on, there's a thought - will physics be cheaper - for me!

Bonsoir Fri 09-May-14 17:56:44


History, Geography and Economics is overkill IMO.

But better to do Further Maths if he is doing Maths and Physics.

castlesintheair Fri 09-May-14 18:10:10

Definitely physics. Maths and physics go together. History and Economics (or Politics) go together. I was forced to do Geography A' level and it was unbearably dull. If I was advising him though I'd say maths, further maths, physics and if he wants to do 4 another science possibly economics.

friendface Fri 09-May-14 18:10:21

DS is doing A levels in geography, economics and history and they work very well together - even more so if you're more interested in human geography. Having said that, if he wanted to go into geophysics obviously physics would be a more logical as, technically, that could be studied without geography a level but not the other way round.

With regard to doing four rather than three - I didn't know you could only study four now and then drop one for the second year? DS definitely didn't get a choice

TalkinPeace Fri 09-May-14 18:17:23

PS my third A level was Maths and Stats

my degree specialism was glacial hydrology within Geography so it all fitted quite well

friendface Fri 09-May-14 18:26:28

Having seen DS's geography notes castles it is not at all how I remember it! The module he has just finished on conflict seemed particularly interesting.

One other thing - if he finds that economics is his thing and he wants to carry on with it it is very important that he keeps up with his maths. DS found he was cut off from the universities he liked because he doesn't have maths A level. In the end he decided on a different subject but it is worth keeping in mind.

squizita Fri 09-May-14 18:35:50

The 4th can get UCAS points... But usually what happens is AS grades of say BBBD ... And the D blots the copy book so to speak, although dropped (as unis will see them when shortlisting).

SFCs get funding per course taken ... Hence they are keen on 4. Unfortunately it makes some courses viable which would otherwise not be possible. I am not sure if their accountability is the same as school 6th forms?

Portlypenguin Fri 09-May-14 19:19:34

I had exactly this decision to make 15 years ago. I wanted to go to medical school and was told biology/chemistry/physics/maths were the only option. I hate physics and was rubbish at it.

Chose geography over physics (with biol/chem/maths, pre as/a2 days). I got all As and went off to Oxford to read medicine.

Both good subjects, suggest he chooses which would be more enjoyable.

intheenddotcom Fri 09-May-14 19:37:34

Current advice is 4 AS then 3 A2 Levels - more than achiveable by an A-B candidate.

If he is science I'd personally get rid of history or economics and do geography and physics. There is a lot science overlap with geography that makes things easier.

You don't generally need economics to study economics in HE (check with likely unis though) and akin to Law is generally considered not really worth the time. 4 decent, traditional A Levels are better.

senua Fri 09-May-14 19:46:52

If I was advising him though I'd say maths, further maths, physics

This is why I would say don't do Physics (unless he was mad keen). You get channeled into a niche too early. If you go with Geography then you keep more options open.

Don't people still do four subjects in Y12? If you start with four then you can drop one and still have three A Levels. If you only start with three then you have to stick by them, come what may. DS found that his favourite subject became the one he dropped and his 'filler' (which he expected to drop) was his best grade.

squizita Fri 09-May-14 20:52:01

hmm Current advice is not to do 3 regardless of ability. Not in Outstanding centres or IAG training schools - but as these are rare as hens teeth, most schools seem to take the cram in 4 approach.

UCAS don't like it. Starting with 4 is achievable but often makes a whole grade's difference: it has a big impact on university entry.

And maths, further maths, physics? Again hmm the amount of times I have had to gently explain to parents 3 Cs in those "big hitters" isn't actually more impressive than 3 As in other (facilitating - I.e. traditional/academic) subjects... Those 3 subjects have the highest drop out rates, followed by English Lit - as in dropped before an AS is taken. Mainly as they're the 3 parents pick for their kids.

WhereAreMyGlasses Fri 09-May-14 21:10:56

I did 3 of those subjects (didn't do History) I think to do physics you have to really love maths and agree that further maths would really help.

However, as others have said if you're not totally sure about the mathsy route don't switch - geography gives you more options.

I ended up doing geography at uni (however it's very different to school)

prettydaisies Fri 09-May-14 21:52:15

DD does physics and geography. Physics is more mathsy and geog writing essays. She also does english lit and maths. She will be going to uni in october to read geography.

hellsbells99 Sat 10-May-14 08:22:45

DD1 is in yr 12 and doing physics as her 4th option - she loves it! She did find it very difficult to start with but has now got into her stride. She is now unsure which subject she will drop. Her friend is doing both physics and geography - she is definitely dropping geography as she finds it so boring.
I would go for subjects that he is scoring the higher grades for.

hellsbells99 Sat 10-May-14 08:25:51

Also be aware that some uni courses do want 4 subjects at AS level. Do look now at the different degrees and what he may want to do before choosing AS level subjects.

TeenageAngst Sat 10-May-14 09:26:12

Thank you all. We have ruled out further maths, he's just not keen enough. We had a long chat with maths teacher at SFC open evening who stressed that you have to be seriously into maths to do it, and he isn't. The fact that DS wandered off during this chat was enough to convince the teacher that maybe he had the wrong attitude. (I'm working on his social skills by the way). Interesting WhereAreMyGlasses - perhaps he isn't mathsy enough for physics then.

Squizita, it is definitely the current advice round here and I have no energy to battle that one too!

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