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5 A Levels: advice?

(73 Posts)
Casey Sun 19-May-13 09:53:49

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?

RedHelenB Sun 19-May-13 09:57:39

Sounds a bit much - don't think you get many uni Brownie points for doing 5!

FreddieMisaGREATshag Sun 19-May-13 09:58:55

Don't do it. Voice of bitter experience. Three is adequate for most things, four is ample. Five is overkill.

notfluffy Sun 19-May-13 10:01:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

creamteas Sun 19-May-13 10:13:29

It does sound like quite a heavy workload, although because of the links between Maths and FM, this is probably less that 2 other subjects.

There only good reason to do this is really is if he is not sure what he wants to do next and thus needs to leave different options open.

Is your DS staying at the same school? If so the staff there should have a good idea if this is feasible for him.

Hopefully, the school can be flexible too, so if he starts this and then ditch one if it gets too hard. He might have a better idea then about what he wants to do next anyway.

There are no Jan exams now, so he won't be officially entered for a while.

LondonMother Sun 19-May-13 10:14:38

I think he should go for it, given the subjects involved. If he's one of those lucky people who continue to find maths easy all through A level it's a lot less work than an essay-based subject. Doing a lot of Maths will be a huge help to him with his Physics and possibly also the Chemistry and Biology - certainly if he went on with one of those at university level a strong grounding in Maths is very important. If he can maintain a high standard across all five subjects he will be a very attractive proposition indeed when it comes to university applications. He and his teachers will know quite early in year 12 if it's not working out and he can decide then what he wants to drop. I know things are changing in A levels but as far as I know it's still going to be AS > A2 for the next couple of years so he gets another chance to review his options at the end of year 12 and at that point it would be perfectly normal to drop from 5 to 4 (or indeed from 4 to 3, although if he's doing Maths sticking with 4 A2 subjects is not uncommon).

Having said all that, it's only worth doing if he's certain of getting top grades across the board. 3 As or A*s or whatever the top grade will be is always going to look better than AABB. It also obviously makes a big difference if he has a lot of outside interests that would limit his study time/energy levels, as in that case also he'd be better concentrating on a smaller number of subjects.

Good luck to him!

mumslife Sun 19-May-13 10:26:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

senua Sun 19-May-13 10:48:34

Is he staying in the same school? If they know him, his capabilities & the workload involved and have accepted him sitting 5 subjects then that should give you confidence.

What's the plan after A Level? Is he leaving himself time for work experience etc? - you don't want a Personal Statement that reads "went to school, did homework, went to bed" grin

Casey Sun 19-May-13 11:31:27

Thanks for all the feedback.
Unfortunately we are moving (big move, long distance), so the new school don't know him at all, except for his application form, school report and interview! But it is a very high achieving school, so I'm sure they'll be on the ball to ensure he does a suitable quantity of courses to achieve the highest grades.

To answer a few questions, no, he doesn't know what he wants to do next, which is the reason he wants to keep his options open. For a long time he's veered towards physics at Uni, but occasionally talks about pharmacy or biomedical; more recently he's spoken about chemistry, chem eng and genetics....

Casey Sun 19-May-13 11:32:56

I'm hoping that by Christmas it will be clearer to him which subjects he prefers and what he might do in future, then he could drop one.

AliceinSlumberland Sun 19-May-13 11:39:44

I wouldn't bother with further maths, no unis ask for five and he will have a lot on his plate with the other four. Most people only come out with three and most unis only ask for three good grades. It would be better for him to spend time saved doing volunteer work, perhaps at a hospice or local school, as that will add more to a uni application than an extra A-level. Have a look at and see if there's anything going on in your new area. It would also be a good way for him to meet new people in the new area. Four Alevels is plenty, five would be unnecessary.

Casey Sun 19-May-13 11:50:08

But the research he's done suggests that FM is very important for Physics at top RG unis...

And the school teach Maths+FM as a unit in 7 hrs a week (instead of 5 for a single subject.)

I would be very interested to hear from people whose dc has started with 5 courses, especially in the sciences, and either seen them through or dropped one.

Caitycat Sun 19-May-13 11:56:20

Five will set him up to under achieve across the board, it is very hard work and will also mean he has less time to get to know the others in his year and foster the new relationships that will be v important for him. I would get him to think now about whether he is more likely to want to pursue maths or science and to choose accordingly. I have spent a lot of time working with Oxbridge applicants and what is important is how well they do in the subjects they are studying an extra will make no difference to then but 85 rather than 90 percent in an AS paper will, for one student he didn't get an interview at all for Maths and the reason given was that although he had an A at AS he had got a B in one module. Your son may turn out to be brilliant with considerable extra capacity but in that case I would advise doing and extended project to show off his ability to organise and write up his own resarch which shows different skills to just another A level.

prettydaisies Sun 19-May-13 12:01:30

DD has done this at her school this year (Y12) because Maths and Further Maths is counted as one subject (they get 1 hour extra tuition a week compared to other subjects). She will have completed her A2 in maths by the end of Y12. She is also doing geography, physics and English Lit. However next year she is only allowed to continue with 3.
She has managed this year, but has worked very hard. It is doable.
My son is going to start off doing exactly the same as your son next year!

isitsnowingyet Sun 19-May-13 12:03:14

My niece and nephew both did 5 A levels (including Further Maths) and both ended up at Oxford doing Maths. Needless to say they are both 'workaholics' and that this isn't for everyone, but for some - yes. If he wants to do Physics then Further Maths is perfect for that.

glaurung Sun 19-May-13 12:04:22

Further maths is good, but not usually essential for physics even at good universities. Ds did 5 and saw them through with no problem (and still plenty of time for sport, music, DofE, part time work etc too), but some of his peers regretted the choice and either dropped one early on or two after AS. I think starting out with 5 but keeping a close eye on things is quite a sensible way to go - some children find they detest the maths and others loathe biology, so starting both gives the option to make a more informed choice about which to drop, or if it's all going well and enjoyable to keep all 5 up.

claraschu Sun 19-May-13 12:06:03

My son has ended up doing 6, and it has been fine (he did maths a year early, which helped). It doesn't give you an advantage as far as university entrance to do more subjects, but he was not sure what subjects he was interested in, so wanted to have variety (more like the Baccalaureate).

I do think that, if your son is the kind of person who effortlessly does well, A levels continue to be not such a big deal.

Relaxedandhappyperson Sun 19-May-13 12:10:21

Further Maths is definitely a Good Thing if he wants to do anything physicsy. Maybe not utterly essential but will make things far easier at the next stage. Plus if you are naturally very good at maths it's not that hard to do extremely well. As other people have said, you basically do further maths, and the maths comes along with it.

Let him start them all, and see where he thinks his heart lies.

Bertrude Sun 19-May-13 12:13:08

Another voice of bitter experience, also doing Maths and Further Maths, then had to do general studies as a 6th.

I had no life. I had no friends. I played rugby still, but I didn't have time for anything other than college work, rugby one evening a week and rugby on a Sunday afternoon. I had a free period on a Wednesday afternoon and that was it. All my friends made new friends during their free time, whereas I had none so was pretty much a billy no mates other than my fellow maths geeks (not a problem, but none of us had the time to socialise outside our classes)

FreddieMisaGREATshag Sun 19-May-13 12:15:27

My DS did these five and it buggered him for medicine because he got a B in chemistry. Not saying he wouldn't have got a B anyway, but he would have had more time to study if he hadn't been doing 5.

No uni is going to ask for 5 a-levels, even for medicine.

Casey Sun 19-May-13 12:37:04

Well, I seem to be getting two clear, contradictory messages on this thread!

Thanks for all the comments.

He's got a full week of sixth form induction, and I'm sure the school will stress how much hard work it is. So he may come back from that wanting to drop one already.

I found Maths A level very challenging and a big step up from O level, which I'd found easy. (Though got an A in the end.) If he is in that position, he can easily drop down to single Maths, but will still have a wide range of options open to him.

I just don't know how - at this stage - you can have a real idea about future careers and what subjects will appeal. I've been testing him on some science GCSE stuff and it all seems very simple and very basic to me, and I'm not a scientist and haven't "studied" any science for nearly 30 years!

glaurung Sun 19-May-13 13:08:24

That is the problem I think, GCSEs are very basic in comparison and being predicted or even gaining A*s at GCSE isn't a reliable indicator of how you will achieve at A level - you just don't know what he will enjoy or be good at in advance.

Good luck, whatever he decides.

Stubbed56 Sun 19-May-13 13:31:07

I did 4 A levels, 3 sciences + maths and an S paper too, and to be honest I found it a doddle at the time. I worked hard though. However most of my contemporaries at university (studying micro biological type sciences) had not bothered with biology and didn't suffer. It was covered in the first two or three weeks.

I would recommend leaving out biology unless he is feeling really confident, it won't make any difference in the future.

Of course he can always drop a subject after a term or so?

WorrySighWorrySigh Sun 19-May-13 13:43:13

Dont underestimate the impact of changing schools. My DD changed schools for 6th form and has struggled despite having A*/As across the board at GCSE.

eland Sun 19-May-13 13:56:36

So he's coming into y12 - everyone does 4 then don't they, so it's only FM extra, and as has been said that's not like an extra subject if he's a strong mathematician, and he must be or he wouldn't be taking it.

He should probably drop one after AS, but keep the FM if he might want to study physics.

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