Advice on A-levels - switching from physics to psychology

(48 Posts)
hackmum Sat 19-Sep-15 16:24:34

DD has started A-levels. She's currently doing maths, biology, English language & literature and physics.

She's finding physics a bit of a struggle (despite getting A at GCSE) and is thinking of changing to psychology. She doesn't have long to make up her mind.

She is slightly worried that neither Eng lan & lit nor psychology are facilitating subjects for Russell Group unis - though having had a look around, I've discovered that some unis like LSE and Sheffield seem quite happy with those subjects, and only seem to rule out things like media studies or art.

Her second worry is that if she wants to do something like biology or zoology at uni she might need a second science subject, though again, having looked around, a lot of unis seem happy to treat maths and even psychology as science subjects.

Final worry is that she's not sure whether she will like the psychology course, never having studied it before. The course will be AQA.

My thoughts are that it will be much better for her to do something she's interested in and will probably enjoy rather than struggling for the next year doing something that she finds difficult.

Anyone have any advice or thoughts to share?

RainBearr Sat 19-Sep-15 16:32:18

Not a parent but just started AS psychology myself and looking into similar careers.
I'm really enjoying it. We've nearly finished social influence and we're moving onto attachment soon. Have you looked at the spec? it's quite varied. Also doing English will help since you have to write 'essays' in the exams. Has your daughter missed many of the lessons? Which does she think she'll prefer? Also, psychology is nearly always classed as a science

RachelZoe Sat 19-Sep-15 16:38:59

Psychology and English are both absolutely fine for RG unis, no idea where you heard that, it's all course relevant though really, but if she wants to do zoology/biology then the more proper science the better. Could she switch english for psych instead? That might be a better subject profile for what she wants to do.

hackmum Sat 19-Sep-15 16:44:06

Thanks, both. That's quite encouraging.

RachelZoe: The Russell Group's list of facilitating subjects (which is on page 26 of this document www.russellgroup.org/InformedChoices-latest.pdf) excludes both psychology and English language & literature. (English literature on its own is a facilitating subject.)

The document does say, though, that you only really need two facilitating subjects.

She won't give up English - the problem really is physics, which she's just not getting to grips with. She could switch to chemistry but thinks that would be just as bad! Most of the other options in that group are out of the question (e.g. music, Spanish) so psychology is the best of the bunch.

But thoughts from other people also welcome - anyone's children doing AQA psychology?

fastdaytears Sat 19-Sep-15 16:45:56

I think the issue is that English Lit is fine but the combined lit and lang course is looked at as a less expected choice. But that may have changed.

I loved Psychology a level and would say do it!

hackmum Sat 19-Sep-15 16:48:08

But, just to follow on, the sticking point is that by doing such a diverse group of A-levels she may be closing down a load of options in future. So if you look at page 29 of that document, it says:

"Biological/Life Sciences are degrees based on Chemistry and Biology.
As long as you choose these two subjects at advanced level, a huge
range of degrees will be open to you. These include degrees leading to
a definite career path (for example, Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Pharmacy, Dietetics) and degrees based on research (for example, Biochemistry, Biomedical Materials Science, Pharmacology).

"Physical Sciences involve the practical application of Mathematics and Physics. As long as you take these two subjects at advanced level a huge range of degrees will be open to you, such as: Engineering (mechanical, electronic/electrical and civil), Physics and Materials Science."

In fairness, she's unlikely to want to study engineering, but if she stops doing physics she won't have the choice. And because she's already not doing chemistry, she's ruled herself out of a whole load of medical/biological type courses.

fastdaytears Sat 19-Sep-15 16:49:05

I'm sure I was AQA but it was ages ago. Have the school given her much to read through to help her make an informed decision?

I did French, English Lit, Biology and Psychology and Psychology was the easiest to get good results in for me. It is a mix of concept stuff and factual and quite easy to revise for as there are distinct topics and case studies so it's quite "bite size" if that makes sense. It was my highest score overall I think. They've picked the really interesting topics too so your DD should find it quite engaging.

hackmum Sat 19-Sep-15 16:52:28

fastdaytears - that's really good to know. And I think it will be a good match for DD's skills.

The school don't even know she's thinking of changing at the moment. I don't think they'll give her much advice - it's a huge school and she's new there. The one thing they have said is that there's a cut-off point of the end of this week for switching subjects, so the pressure is on.

fastdaytears Sat 19-Sep-15 16:55:19

Oh dear just you, her and the Internet then! Other thing while I'm on a roll is that the bit that a few of my group struggled with on psychology was the stats but your DD will ace that as she's doing maths!

hackmum Sat 19-Sep-15 17:05:28

Thanks, fastdaytears - that's exactly what I said about the stats! Her A-level is maths with stats rather than maths with mechanics so it should be right up her street. I do think it will work for her, as she's somewhere between a science person and a humanities person in her interests and abilities. She really wanted to do geography (her favourite subject at GCSE) but her enthusiasm was for physical geography whereas the course they're doing at this school is mostly human geography.

fastdaytears Sat 19-Sep-15 17:09:01

Oh that's annoying about geography but at least she figured it out in advance.

You prepared to live with an amateur psychologist for a while though? Lots of "oh I know what you REALLY mean by that" for my poor mum when I was studying...

Pico2 Sat 19-Sep-15 17:11:20

I'd be least concerned about whether she'll enjoy it as Psychology is a great subject at A Level and really interesting. It is easier than Chemistry & Physics. It sounds very much like the right subject for her given her science/humanities overlapping interests.

noblegiraffe Sat 19-Sep-15 17:24:55

This blog about whether facilitating subjects actually facilitate entry to the best universities is interesting:

www.lkmco.org/what-a-level-subjects-do-russell-group-universities-prefer/

From the few universities that replied, it turns out that the facilitating subject list is a bit of a myth, and other subjects are perfectly acceptable, or even better than a facilitating subject.

roguedad Sat 19-Sep-15 19:02:11

Think long and hard before taking this route. Right now your DD has a strong A level profile that says she is a serious student taking real subjects that will open doors to many university courses (engineering, science, computing..) with a balancing subject from the Arts side. The change you are proposing kills that and makes her look like someone who does not know what she is doing, taking two soft options. From the point of view of a uni admissions tutor (and I did admissions of one sort or another at 4 RG unis) this idea is really bad. If she does want to drop physics could she do a modern language (what were her GCSE grades like?), or computing (coding not ICT) ? Anything of substance would be better than psychology. I had a long hard look at the GCSE and A level papers for it a couple of years ago and was appalled at the lack of substance to it. This was triggered by some school choice issues. But the subject is dubious enough at a research level, and totally fails to exhibit the type of solidity that makes it worth studying at school at all. Take a look at this article and the papers behind it (I had cause to look at this sort of thing professionally):

www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/27/study-delivers-bleak-verdict-on-validity-of-psychology-experiment-results

This is the sort of thing you need to pay attention to (and have her read it and the associated underlying research), not that it’s a bit of fun at school. It’s particularly relevant to your comment above as it is clear most psychologists can’t actually do statistics at all.

ShellingPeasAgain Sat 19-Sep-15 19:29:05

How good is her maths? From what DS, 6th form physics whizz, and DH engineering degree, tell me, maths and physics are very closely related. If her maths grade was high then physics should be doable. How is she finding A level maths?

ShellingPeasAgain Sat 19-Sep-15 19:34:48

Although, having said that physics is much more mechanics than stats.

DS is taking chemistry and says it's completely different and more difficult to undertake than GCSE. He got A* for GCSE without a lot of work so he wouldn't recommend it for someone not interested or very good.

ShellingPeasAgain Sat 19-Sep-15 19:35:55

Not to say that your Dd is either of those!

Pico2 Sat 19-Sep-15 19:53:49

I completely disagree with roguedad. Psychology is a great subject to study at school. For extremely academic pupils it is probably best as a 4th subject with more traditional A Level subjects as the other 3.

The difficulties of applying the scientific method to the mind make psychology a great subject for really addressing the scientific method. Students are able to critique original research (albeit not the actual papers) and consider whether the results are robust. For some students, A Level Psychology is the first time that they have really engaged with science in a critical manner. Experimental psychology is fraught with difficulties, but that's what makes it so interesting.

hackmum Sat 19-Sep-15 20:03:18

Thanks, everyone. It's interesting to get all these perspectives, though doesn't necessarily make it easier to make the decision (esp after seeing RogueDad's view). In the group that physics sits in, there really aren't many other realistic options, certainly not computing or German (the modern language she studied at GCSE).

But also interesting to have NobleGiraffe's view about facilitating subjects.

Hmm. We'll have to think about this.

Junosmum Sat 19-Sep-15 20:13:04

I did Bio, chem, history and eng lit, and changed from lit to physics after about 3 weeks. Physics A level DOES get easier - it's quite a leap from GCSE to A level that people don't really talk about.

What does she want to do at uni? 2 science and 2 humanities + maths is a good mix, 3 humanities is likely to leave her options limited for science based subjects, especially as biology is barely recognised as a science most of the time (you usually need chemistry + another science for science based subjects, including medicine, veterinary science, zoology).

She needs to think very carefully before switching.

Kennington Sat 19-Sep-15 20:25:28

Switch to chemistry instead?
In my limited experience there are way too many uni courses in psychology and therefore a lot of competition in that area.

PressTheAButton Sat 19-Sep-15 20:26:13

Does your DD know what sort of grades she should get and what sort of universities she might be interested in.

Physics Alevel is a super strong Alevel but only if you get a decent grade. A high grade at phychology would be far more beneficial than a poor grade at Physics

I don't think RogueDads advice applies to most Unis. Universities have to be very open with their admission requirements - I don't think having varied Alevels would be a problem for a lot (but not all) courses.

The way to keep the most doors open is to get 3 (or 4?) great grades.

I currently have 4 DC at uni so feel qualified to comment wink

PressTheAButton Sat 19-Sep-15 20:41:41

Have you checked what grades your DDs school gets in physics and psychology?

BlueBelle123 Sat 19-Sep-15 21:17:27

DD has just switched from psychology to maths, not for her she is very logical and more of a black and white thinker apparently psychology is all about the grey, I would strongly advise going to a taster lesson before deciding and speak to the physics teacher about her doubts.

eatyourveg Sat 19-Sep-15 21:22:15

This week's TES has an article on Pg 12 (sorry can't find it in the online edition to give link) in which Barnaby Lenon chair of the Independent Schools Council, argues that

"Schools should persuade girls considering studying psychology to switch to hard sciences such as physics"

It goes on to quote him saying "Teachers should be saying to pupils, you'd be good at physics and it leads to more university options than psychology which is what the Russell group says"

No idea if that's sensible or just cods wallop grin

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