Throughout your time at school and college, you were told how valuable maths is as a subject, but how important is it really as an A-level subject and what do you need to prepare for it?
In this page we will go through what your options are for progressing your studies on Maths after your GCSEs, why you should consider studying A-level Maths, how to best transition between GCSE and A-level Maths and what A-level maths calculator you need in order to maximise your chances of success.
What are your options if you want to study Maths after GCSEs?
Once you have completed your GCSE Maths, you may have found that you actually enjoyed the course, and you want to continue studying the subject. If that is the case, you have a number of options opening up to you:
- Vocational qualifications
These courses are like A-levels, but the main difference is that you are not stuck in a classroom the whole day, and you can apply what you study to practical real-life environments. There are a number of BTEC Nationals, which are at level 3, the same as A-level, that cover Maths or other closely-related subjects. These can lead to an apprenticeship, university or employment.
- A-level Maths
This is the most popular choice if you want to continue studying maths. It is a two- year course, and many colleges – not all – will require you to achieve a grade of 6 or above in your GCSE Maths in order to carry on doing A-level Maths.
- AS-level Maths
In short, this simply refers to first half of the Mathematics A-level. You could study the subject for just one year and achieve an AS-level qualification, and then focus on something else during your second year or carry on to complete your A-level Maths. Your AS-level grades won’t count towards your final A- level grade, but will still contribute to your university application. This is because they form the base for your predicted grades, and will contribute to the total UCAS points you apply to university with.
- A-level Further Maths
Further Mathematics is like an ‘add-on’ to the main maths A-level. You can only study it in conjunction with or after A-level Maths. It broadens and deepens the topics you study in your A-level.
It is not essential in order to continue your studies at a higher level, but it is highly recommended if you want to pursue a degree in maths and other related subjects, such as chemistry, medicine, physics, etc. and it will make your transition to university easier.
- AS-level Further Maths
AS level Further Mathematics is a separate AS-level that can be studied alongside AS- level or A-level Mathematics.
Why study A-level Maths?
Why is it a good option if you aren’t yet sure about your future career?
The most reputable A-levels that open the doors to more opportunities in terms of universities are: English, Maths and Science. These are particularly good if you aren’t sure about what you want to study at university yet, as they give you a good, solid base for a large number of degrees and careers. They also really open up your options when it comes to choosing what to do next.
A-level Maths forms part of what are known as “facilitating” subjects. These are defined by the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, as subjects that universities require students to have in order to be accepted on to many degree courses. Therefore, in order to maximise your higher education degree choices, you may want to choose at least one of these ‘facilitating’ subjects, such as A-level Maths.
What university degrees require A-level Maths?
If you already have a particular university course in mind that you really want to pursue, then it will be worth checking the entry requirements needed for it, and you may be surprised to see how many have got A-level Maths listed.
According to mathscareers.co.uk, the courses that require A-level Maths in all universities are:
- Actuarial Science
- Aeronautical Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Electrical/Electronic Engineering
- Engineering (General)
- Mechanical Engineering
Additionally, they are often, though not always, an essential requirement for:
- Computer Science
- Management Studies
What career opportunities do you have with A-level Maths?
Sir Adrian Smith conducted a review of post-16 Mathematics in 2017 and one of the most interesting findings was that 30% of the ‘skills shortage’ in the national economy is Maths. This means that individuals with this type of skill are highly desirable to employees. The same study also found that people who take A-level Maths earn an average of 11% more over their lifetime, no matter what exact career path they decide to take after finishing their studies. Furthermore, jobs where “mathematical sciences qualifications are essential were found to have salaries of £29,000 or more, compared with only 19 per cent of the UK workforce overall.” A-level Maths also encourages the development of a large range of soft skills such as logical-thinking, problem-solving and decision-making, which are all highly transferable to most workplace environments and career paths.
Transitioning from GCSE to A-level Maths
No matter how many times people tell you, you won’t realise how much of a step-up A-level Maths is compared to GCSE Maths until you actually experience it. The style of content in most cases it’s actually very similar, but the content itself will be a lot harder, building upon the skills you will have already acquired and taking them a level – or two – up.
If you have achieved a grade of 6 in GCSE Maths, you may find the initial period of A-level easier and the transition smoother, and that is why many colleges make it a prerequisite for enrolling into A-level Maths. It is particularly challenging not only for the depth of the content, but teachers will expect you to do more independent work. This makes sense when you think it’s preparing you for a university degree, where independent work is the norm.
Aside from the course itself, the A-level exam questions tend to be more time-consuming and each question is worth more points, so it requires a certain skill and level of concentration to be able to do well in them. A-level Further Maths takes things even a step further; so before embarking in it, make sure you will be able to keep up with the level of work required. Workload can be very intense at times and goes into even more depth. It is considered one of the hardest A-levels out there, but because it’s more difficult it is also more rewarding when you manage to complete it and it will be highly regarded by all Universities
Generally, the number one piece of advice to succeed in staying on top of your A-level Maths course is not to underestimate it and to start studying for it from day 1, not wait until exam time to do it all. Reading textbooks, watching videos and completing worksheets in preparation for your A-level course will also help with the transition. It should give you a head start on your peers and will impress your A-level teacher.
Can you use your GCSE calculator for A-level Maths?
In short: no. No matter what you do in life, to do a good job you need the right tools; and when it comes to maths, one of the most important tools is your calculator.
Your GCSE calculator may have served you well, but it is essential that you ensure that you have an appropriate A-level Maths calculator, otherwise you really risk falling behind as it won’t have all the functionality you will need to do well.
As a bare minimum, you will need a calculator that has statistical distributions built-in. Calculators with this required functionality also have numeric solvers that are geared to A- level Maths.
The best calculators have graphic displays so you can calculate and show your solutions in multiple ways: graphs, charts, tables and calculations. The better the calculator, the more verification tools you have to check your answers in exams.
The advantages of using a graphic calculator are even greater for Further Maths. This course includes matrices, complex numbers, polar and parametric functions. All of these are built- in to the graphic calculators.
Our top recommendation for a graphic calculator is the Casio FX – CG50. This is top of the range when it comes to A-level Maths calculators and A-level Further Maths calculators, and a popular choice among students. It has a colour display, which makes it much easier to use when you are doing graphs and tables. Plus, it has spreadsheet, geometry and 3D graphing tools too, so it packs the powerful punch you’ll need, as you dive deeper into the syllabus. If you are into coding, there’s also MicroPython and BASIC so you can create your own programs for specific tasks.
Maths is an excellent option when it comes to choosing your A-level subjects, but one that needs to be pondered carefully due to the in-depth and intensive nature of the course and exams. What is sure is that if you manage to successfully pass it, it will put you in good stead for any university degree and career option you may choose to undertake later on. If you have already made your choice, then don’t underestimate the importance to come prepared, by using your GCSE summer to study up for it and buying your new calculator in advance.