If you're finishing up your GCSEs, you might already be thinking about your A levels. You might have already even heard horror stories about difficult exam papers, or students doing all-nighters to complete coursework. But just how hard are the A level exams?
It's no secret that moving from GCSEs to A level study is a significant leap. Not only is the level of study more complex and in-depth, but you'll also be required to conduct lots of independent work. This means revising, doing all the required reading, and sometimes choosing to spend Saturday night studying at home rather than going out with friends.
So, what makes the A level exams so difficult? Let's take a look.
Are A-level tests hard?
Any A level exam is going to be difficult, no matter what subjects you take. In fact, data from the AQA shows thatover 50% of A level students resit at least one of their units.
FromA level Englishto A level science, you can expect two years of rigorous study, lots of course work and a variety of other graded assignments, some of which will contribute to your final grade.
While you might have already completed 10 GCSEs with top results, A level exams are a lot more demanding. Here's why:
You'll be studying several subjects at once. If there's one thing that A-level students find most difficult, it's juggling several in-depth subjects at the same time. A levels are often compared to first-year university work, and most students will typically study three or four A-levels at the one time. That means three-to-four sets of homework, several reading lists, and at least three exams to pass.
You'll have to memorise lots of information.It's not true that exams are nothing more than memory tests. At A level, you'll spend two years going in-depth into each of your subjects, and you'll finish your studies with invaluable knowledge about each one.
However, you will still be required to retain and remember lots of different (and often complicated!) information. You won't know in advance what subjects are going to come up in the final exams, so you'll need to cover all the bases and memorise lots of facts just in case.
All your work counts.Most A level students spend 2 years studying each subject, and the quality of your work will typically be assessed throughout your two years of study. When it comes to A levels, you won't be able to cram an all-nighter the night before your exam and still scrape a B. Your teachers will predict your grades based on your coursework and preliminary exams, so almost everything you do before your final exam counts.
You'll have to learn to work independently.When studying for your A levels, you'll be required to undertake independent study and analysis, often coming up with your own theses, dissertations, or experiments. At GCSE level, you were mostly tested on your comprehension and understanding. At A level, you're also being tested on your ability to think critically and independently.
What are the hardest A-level subjects?
It's tricky to rank A levels based on their difficulty: everybody's competences are different, and every student has their own academic strengths and weaknesses.
For example, if you love numbers, puzzles and fixed answers, you might find A level maths a total breeze. For those who prefer debate, analysis, and questions with no right answers, you'll probably excel at A level English.
However, some subjects are objectively more complicated and difficult than others. These are the top five hardest A-levels in 2022
A-level Further Maths -A-level further Maths is considered the hardest A level subject. The final exam involves four papers, and you'll study everything from Matrices to Polar coordinates.
A-level Modern Foreign Languages -Second on the list of difficult A levels is Modern Foreign Languages. This is considered one of the hardest subjects, mostly due to the nature of the final exam: you'll be expected to perform a speaking test, a writing test and a reading comprehension test in order to pass. Mastering three different skills in another language - while juggling your other studies - can be a pretty difficult feat.
A-level Chemistry -When it comes to any A level difficulty ranking, you'll always find Chemistry somewhere in the top five. A level Chemistry involves a combination of theoretical work, practical work, and independent study, with the final exam being a practical assessment alongside a traditional exam paper.
A-level Physics -We can't talk about the hardest A-levels without talking about Physics! Physics is generally considered one of the most difficult A level subjects, most likely due to the complexity of the subject matter itself. From astrophysicals to engineering physics, success in this subject requires a minimum of passion for the sciences.
A-level Maths -Much like Further Maths, regular Maths is one of the hardest subjects to study at A level. You'll study everything from probability to statistical sampling, and your final exam will consist of three complicated papers. A level maths is considered one of the hardest A levels due to its general complexity, as well as the fact that students will need a base understanding of certain scientific principles to carry out the work.
GCSE Exams vs. A Level Exams: What's the difference?
The main difference between GCSEs and A levels is the intensity of the study. At GCSE level, you'll typically go over lots of different topics within a subject, usually only touching the surface-level of any given topic. At A level, you'll go into depth on each subject, topic, and sub-topic; you'll be expected to demonstrate comprehension while also being able to offer independent analysis.
A level exams are hard for a reason - they're typically used to determine whether or not you'll be an appropriate candidate for higher education. When you apply for a place at university, your application will first be judged by your A level results (or predicted results) before anything else. While you can certainly take your A-levels without the intention of proceeding to higher education, having a strong set of A-level results is the best way to bag a place at a top university.
So, are the A levels exams tough? Yes. But that doesn't mean you can't obtain top grades with some hard work and commitment. While the A level exams are hard, they're going to teach you how to work independently, retain information, and succeed under pressure. Whether you want to go straight into the world of work or go on to university, having a solid set of A level results is a great way to kick off your future.
What are the easiest A levels?-Some of the easiest A levels to complete are Food Studies, Law, Drama and Film Studies. However, it's important to point out that all A levels require work and commitment in order to pass. There's no 'easy A' when it comes to A levels.
Is it hard to take four A levels?-Taking four A levels instead of three will massively increase your workload. However, for those wishing to pursue certain degrees (such as Medicine), having four A levels will strengthen your university application.
What happens if I fail my A level exams? -If you fail your A level exams, you'll be able to retake them as many times as you wish. Retaking an A level exam costs anywhere between �100-�6000, depending on your subject and chosen institution.
This post was updated on 01 Aug, 2023.