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Is it a bad idea to do more than 3 A levels?

(35 Posts)
SecretSquirrels Thu 13-Oct-11 19:25:18

DS in Year 11 and hoping for a good set of A*s in his GCSEs at his very bog standard comp.
He is very hard working, ambitious and bright. He plans to do Maths, FM, Physics and Chemistry at A level and possibly History at least to A2.
He would love to go to Cambridge and I've been reading some of the Oxbridge threads with interest.
I wonder whether there is a danger of over-stretching himself and taking on too great a workload at the risk of doing less well than if he just did 3 subjects.
Given that he has the ability,can anyone give me an idea what the workload is like at A level?

kritur Thu 13-Oct-11 19:40:12

He should do 4 to AS and then take a view on whether coninuing all 4 to A2 is an option. The step up from GCSE is a big one, especially in those subjects (I've taught A-level chemistry for 6 years). He'ss have 4/5 hrs contact for each one and at least the same amount of independent study. He will find it hard, even though he is bright. He's choosing good subjects for Oxbridge and they much prefer 3 As or A*s than a less glittering offering in more subjects.

MindtheGappp Thu 13-Oct-11 19:48:15

Maths, FM and Physics all go together - but he has to love maths. If he doesn't, he won't be happy at all.

The basic minimum is to do 4 subjects at AS and 3 at A2. Whether you can do more is really restricted by the school. There isn't a lot to be gained by doing more than 3 A2, as entrance requirements are based on 3 full A-levels.

Assumingnhe nails the grades in his exams, the next most important thing is communicating his passion for his chosen subject. He needs to figure how to do this - reading work experience, residential courses...

kritur Thu 13-Oct-11 19:51:41

Not sure what area of the country you're in but it is Manchester science week at half term and there are lots of great lectures and sessions from high profile scientists that are great background for things like UCAS. For example there is a Cafe Scientifique session on the Fukushima disaster and a lecture on the mathmatics of death.

Ooopsadaisy Thu 13-Oct-11 20:00:28

Lurking with interest here.

Reluctant academic DS has spoken for the first time about doing 6th form at all. I really thought he wouldn't.

The usual thing (apparently) is to start 4 A-levels and then cut down to 3.

MindtheGappp Thu 13-Oct-11 20:07:28

It's fine to do just 3 AS levels and to continue all of them to A2 (fewer if planning a foundation course). An E (or U) at AS isn't going to give many UCAS points or deliver a great impression.

NeilsBoar Thu 13-Oct-11 20:07:46

I did Maths, Further Maths, Physics, General Studies and Chemistry (back before the AS/A2 split) and found that although it definitely seemed more work than those doing 3 A levels it wasn't too bad because of the overlaps between subjects and General Studies didn't require any work, just turning up to the exam!

However, I think putting them together with a non-science would have been too much for me personally. As it really would have had no overlap with the other subjects. I did do A-level French in night classes the following year and proved that even in a subject I was pretty good at that trying to do A-level in one year alongside a full time job was not a great idea, passed but only just.

In terms of university admission he'd definitely be better focusing on very high grades in a normal number of subjects (3 or 4).

CitizenOscar Thu 13-Oct-11 20:10:49

As far as I recall (over 10 yrs ago) Oxbridge didn't really count further maths as a full A level (technically it is but they didn't quite judge it the same as other A levels), so he might be wise to do the 4 you mention, especially if he wants to do maths or physics at uni.

The history might be too much but he could give it a go and drop it if he found it too much. I did 4 A-levels (pre-AS and A2 days) incl History and the workload for history was way more than my other subjects - I'd say I spent almost 50% of my time on history - and it's hard to get a good mark if you don't put in the time as there's so much to learn!

Hope that helps. I went to Oxbridge but I know things have changed since I went so if people have more up to date info, then pay more attention to them but history by its nature is a difficult extra subject. IME / IMO English or a foreign language might be "easier" as they're more skills-based than mega-fact-learning-based iyswim. That's if he wants to add an artsy subject for balance.

nbee84 Thu 13-Oct-11 20:22:43

Just to point out Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry is 4 A levels, adding History would make 5. Further Maths is an A level choice and not an add on - this is a mistake that my ds made when choosing his A levels.

Ds has done the same choices as above and fully intended to take all 4 to A2, but when it came down to it he decided to do 3 and concentrate on getting good results rather than do 4 and stretch himself too thinly.

Has your ds any idea what he wants to do at uni (if he's planning on going)? Mine is applying for Mechanical Engineering.

SecretSquirrels Thu 13-Oct-11 20:23:33

He does love Maths and Physics.
I know the History doesn't overlap. He was given the idea of doing an AS (not A2 - not used to the terminology) in a Humanity when he went on a trip to Cambridge.
He met under grads who had 5 or 6 A levels and fears he won't stand a chance if he only has 3.
I have said better 3 A*s than 5Bs.
I may have to confess that I have consulted MN.

kritur Thu 13-Oct-11 22:11:40

I did biology, chemistry, history and french to A-level (pre AS/A2 era) and it was more difficult than doing pure sciences and maths. That said compared to many scientists I don't have much trouble with extended writing, essays, theses etc. I went on to do a degree and PhD in chemistry and also achieved an Oxbridge offer which I didn't choose to take up in the end. He's still got time to figure out what he really wants to do, it's early days yet.

webwiz Thu 13-Oct-11 22:12:34

I think it depends on what your school normally offers- in my DCs sixth form everyone does 4 AS and then 3 A2.

DD2 did Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry to full A level and History to AS. By the end of year 12 she was glad to get rid of history and concentrate on Maths and Science. She is doing Maths at university now and needed high grades to get on her course so I think a 4th subject to A2 may have diluted her grades. Oxbridge count further maths as a full A level and it is highly desired for a lot of maths based courses. Definitely better to have 3A*!

Jamillalliamilli Thu 13-Oct-11 22:19:09

My understanding is some uni’s aren’t interested in ucas points, (often the RG ones) and some are, and general studies is now one that many uni’s wont count, and F/M is a whole one (we also didn’t realise that)

Odd situation’s left son currently doing maths, f/m’s, physics, chemistry, history at A/S and English Lit at A2, (intending to take the first four to A2 next year) and it’s a very heavy workload and I'd seriously advise against it.

I’m waiting for him to accept it's too much and drop one, probably history because it’s (still) very time consuming.

I think a lot depends on how easy individual students find the work. Not being a swift reader or note taker’s doing mine no favours in humanities, but we know someone taking 7 who's doing really well with it, but they’re the exception and one of life’s naturals.

jgbmum Thu 13-Oct-11 22:35:12

DS1 took Maths, FM, Physics, Chemistry and Geography to AS. Then dropped Geography and continued with the other 4 to A2.
With the benefit of hindsight, I think he may have turned 1 or more As into A*s if he had dropped the Chemistry, and focussed on the other 3.
He has just started an Engineering degree at a RG Uni, and has found the chemistry very useful as he has chemistry modules as part of his aerospace degree which he is finding very easy thanks to his A2 qualification.

SecretSquirrels Fri 14-Oct-11 16:37:32

Thanks for all your comments. We are going to open day at 6th form next week and your comments have given me plenty of questions to ask.

ASuitableGirl Fri 14-Oct-11 16:46:16

I am another who did 5 A Levels pre AS/A2 being the same ones as NeilsBoar. Main difference was that out of a timetable with 20 periods in it I got 3 free periods compared to friends doing three proper A Levels who got rather more time to study at school and were doing fewer subjects as well.

I have seen on MN before that FM is not considered a full subject by some universities - am v surprised at that tbh. My sister studied Maths at Cambridge from 2001-2004 and her A Levels were Maths, Further Maths and Physics. So FM must have been OK then at least smile

FM in some ways could be considered more straight forward than a completely different A Level but it is hardly in the league of say General Studies

gettingalifenow Fri 14-Oct-11 17:50:16

I would never in a million years describe Further Maths as straight forward!! And since when has it not been counted as a full A level anywhere? I think its the hardest A level you can do, but then I'm not a mathematician. In fact, when DS applied to Oxford, they actively wanted FM for physics and if you didnt have it you'd have to do remedial maths classes for the first year.

DS did Maths, FM, Physics and Spanish to A2. My DD1 did 5 ASs and 3 A2s and any more then that just isnt necessary for university entrance and you're really risking dropping a grade on one of your main subjects.

DD2 is just choosing and will do 4 ASs and 3 A2s - that's all her school advise is necessary or wise.

SecretSquirrels Fri 14-Oct-11 18:05:35

This thread is the first I've ever heard FM as a questionable choice for someone who is very able at Maths.
I barely scraped a pass at O Level so it all seems very hard to me blush

ASuitableGirl Fri 14-Oct-11 18:26:01

Well possibly not straight forward but it is doing more of what you are already doing rather than something completely different. I do agree that Further Maths is hard (I have two (retired) Maths teachers as parents smile)

webwiz Fri 14-Oct-11 18:27:15

I'm not sure where the Further maths isn't counted as a full A level comes from as I've only ever seen it stated on MN.

petal2008 Fri 14-Oct-11 19:04:42

My Ds is in year 11 and just had a talk at school with regards to 6th form etc. He wants to do maths, further maths and physics as he wants to study astrophysics at uni. He has been told he needs to chose one more subject for AS and then drop one for A2. As I am old school (took my A levels in the 70's!) this makes no sense to me. Why not study what you want for the full two years rather than take up time on an extra subject?

Now needs to decide what to go for. Do you go for a subject that you enjoy but not necessarily want to study at uni or something that is going to enhance your chosen subjects?

Choice of history (which he loves but would only want to carry on with if he gets the same teacher which is obviously not guaranteed), chemistry or geography.

I presume all this chosing is academic until the GCSE results are known?

glaurung Fri 14-Oct-11 19:43:08

Cambridge wrote a guidance document on the number of A-levels advised. It's here

In summary, 4 for scientists isn't discouraged although 3 is enough, but on further maths, Cambridge guidance to those wanting to apply for maths and physical science courses includes the following paragraph...

"Further Maths is thus a particular case which should be considered separately from others. In many ways it is effectively not a fourth, distinct A level, but grows out of work done for A level Maths. The combination of Maths and Further Maths is not, for those strong in the subject, as heavy a burden as combinations of Maths with any other A level. In addition, many applicants have effectively completed A level Maths by the end of Year 12/Lower Sixth. Where schools cannot provide more, we accept the thinner diet of Maths, Further Maths and Physics as a possible A2 combination, but with reservations. It is not an ideal preparation for Physical Natural Sciences, given the breadth of the Tripos. We would expect students taking only those three A levels to be broadening or deepening their studies in some way, in the case of Maths applicants, this might mean preparing for STEP. "

ASuitableGirl Fri 14-Oct-11 19:49:51

Most people applying to Cambridge would have STEP as part of their offer anyway. Warwick often wants STEP as well. (Sixth Term Entrance Papers AFAIK. There are three in Maths I think and you can get graded 1,2 or 3 on them. So an offer might be 3As and a STEP 1 and a STEP 2)

Trills Fri 14-Oct-11 19:52:12

I would definitely recommend starting with at least 4. You don't have to say in advance whether you intend to carry on with your subjects in the second year, and the first year exams result in a qualification so the time is not wasted.

jgbmum Fri 14-Oct-11 21:51:35

I think the part of the reason for taking additional subjects at AS is that if you find the subject becomes difficult, you can drop it after AS and you still have 3 separate subjects to take to A2.

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