Importance of A-Levels
“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.” –L. Frank Baum
🏗️Building on your knowledge from GCSEs
GCSEs are a great way to explore a decent breadth of topics within each science subject; A-Levels allow you to explore topics in much greater detail.
🧠Developing the principles, knowledge and study habits necessary for coping with a medical degree
You will dramatically increase your depth and breadth of your knowledge of science allowing you to understand the fundamentals of medical science ranging from DNA replication to transcription to translation to protein synthesis to protein structure to human physiology. This will lay the foundations of your knowledge which will then be built upon further at medical school.
🏛️ Meeting the entry requirements for medical school
Having a very competitive application process and rigorous course, medical schools have high entry requirements relative to other subjects.
👇 We have provided a table below to give you guidance👇
(*Always check the university website for up-to-date information.
Universities can also offer Access into Medicine Programs and Foundation Years - these are available on the individual medical school website)
Choosing A-Level Subjects
“If you don't know where you're going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” – Laurence J. Peter
🧡Choose the subjects you love
Choosing your A Levels is a very personal choice and you should pick subjects that you are passionate about and will enjoy studying in depth for two years. If Biology and Chemistry are subjects that you do not enjoy it is worth considering whether you would enjoy a course and career in medicine.
🏛️Most universities will insist on either Biology and/or Chemistry*
Typically this is Biology and/or Chemistry which hopefully align with subjects you are interested in anyway as a prospective doctor. If only one of these is compulsory a second science subject (Physics, Maths, Biology or Chemistry) of your choosing is often required. However, this may vary from medical school to medical school so check out their websites for more information.
From our experiences, getting in without Biology is very rare (even if the subject is not strictly compulsory) and understandably so! The vast majority of your course is comprised of human biology and while it is taught from scratch students without a Biology A Level can definitely expect to work a bit harder to gain that grounding, especially at the start, and to defend their choice in an interview.
Slightly less obviously, Chemistry is almost always compulsory for med school and applicants without it are rarely successful. Some may say that the Chemistry you need for a Medicine degree is rarely above A Level standard and so it’s easier for you and the medical school to teach the course with all Chemistry as assumed knowledge from A Levels rather than teaching it from scratch. True or not, think very carefully before dropping chemistry!
🤔The third subject is left up to your discretion
The final core subject, and often the only real choice for most med school applicants is whether to study Maths or Physics as a third subject. Our advice here is to go with what you enjoy and think you are better at. Universities statistically don’t seem to mind (though as always it’s worth doing your own research when applying). From experience, both will prove useful, with statistics from Maths forming a part of many Medicine degrees, and physical knowledge of pressure and forces allowing a deeper understanding of physiology.
As always, check the university website for up-to-date information
If you’re feeling particularly keen, you can do four A-Levels. However, doing your fourth subject should NEVER be at a cost to your other three subjects. Getting A*A*A is better than AAAA. Really consider how you will be able to manage your time, part-time jobs, volunteering etc.
The EPQ is a tempting and very common choice as it allows you some independence in really exploring a question that you are interested in. Even better, some medical schools will offer a lower offer with an A in EPQ. As such, this might be worth taking into account if you are doing an EPQ and trying to pick which university to apply to.
Our advice with an EPQ is to try and pick a topic to explore that is medically related that you have a particular interest in. Often it proves to be a really valuable insight into university-style learning as well as a great topic of conversation in interviews!
❌Subjects to Avoid
Finally, though we are not writing this article to discourage you from picking any subjects, it is worth being aware that some A Levels aren’t counted by universities! Check the websites before committing but broadly, General Studies, Citizenship Studies, Critical Thinking and Global Perspectives are ones to avoid.
"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe".
- Anatole France
Ask questions. Always think about why? Ask yourself first and try and see if you can think up a solution. If you can't, ask your classmate or your teacher. If your teacher is explaining something and you don't quite understand how we've gone from step 3 to step 5, ask because the chances are other classmates also don't quite understand. Additionally, finding out step 4 will allow you to better understand all of the other steps because you've actually worked it out from first principles as opposed to just memorising answers.
📋 Use your Subject Specifications
A specification is a booklet created from your exam board which outline your whole course from topics to subtopics to individual syllabus bullet points. It is therefore everything that the examiners can test you on in the exam paper. You can use it tick off the points on the specification that the lesson has covered as well as use it to cover syllabus points not covered in the lesson.
⌛ Start revising early
One of the major causes of stress among students is time management. Therefore, if you start forming your notes and flashcards (or whatever revision resource you use) earlier on, when it comes to revising, you have everything ready for you. Although it may be time consuming, it's far more less stressful for you than to cram (which doesn't work) and allows you to consolidate your learning and be ahead of the class rather than being left behind.
📝 Practice past papers under timed conditions
Practice makes perfect. Practising past papers under timed conditions allow you to better understand the question structures and phrases. Knowing the knowledge is not enough, you need to practice under timed conditions. Therefore, make sure you incorporate completing as many past papers as you can into your revision (using the time limit to get you used to this too). This technique is especially important in maths as, unlike the sciences, they can never ask the same question, but the answering technique is always the same.
🧠 Memorise mark scheme answers
Once you’ve completed and marked your paper, ‘steal’ answers from the mark scheme that you haven’t got in your notes and incorporate them. As you do more and more past papers, you will recognise the pattern of questions and what the specific marking points are. At the end of the day, if you don't have the marking points, you will not get the marks.
👩🏫 Utilise examiner's reports
Use the examiner's report to better understand what the examiners want to see and this will allow you get into the right mindset. In doing so, you'll be able to better adapt to unseen questions even if you haven't learned the mark scheme answer for it.
⭕Extract lessons from each of the marks you have lost
Ensure you're keeping a record of all the marks that you have dropped in terms of topic and question format to allow you to adapt your revision schedule accordingly.
👋 If you can, buddy up with someone
It’s always useful to have someone you can rely on for help when you’re unsure of how to answer a question or if you require a piece of information. You can use your buddy in addition to your textbooks, online resources and teachers. It’s great when you’re revising at home and when either of you get stuck on something to know, you will be able to help each other. You could also use it review notes and create flashcards together. It’s also a great way to break up the monotony of revision and to motivate each other.
🌡️ Be constantly evaluating your performance
Knowledge is gained from experimentation. Be continuously improving your strategy and adapting depending on the results of your past papers and homework. Be proactive.