Is A-level Mathematics Difficult?

A level Mathematics is one of the most challenging A level Exam, however, it is also the most popular A level subject. A level mathematics is an extremely versatile subject that students from various fields take as a facilitating subject.

This article is specially written for those students who are wondering if they should be taking Maths in their A-level. I have analysed the difficulty of A-level maths in this article to give you an idea of what to expect if you were to choose this subject in your A levels

In short, A level Maths is amongst the most difficult subjects in A level particularly because of the extensive syllabus, lengthy and challenging questions, and a huge step up from GCSE maths. However, with consistent practise students can get good grades in A level maths.

How Hard is A Level Maths Compared to GCSE Maths?

A level is a huge jump from GCSE mathematics. Students have 19 topics in A level maths compared to 6 topics in GCSE. All the topics in GCSE are pure maths. A level maths has approximately triple the amount of content compared to GCSE and the topics from Mechanics and Statistics in A levels require strong application of maths concepts.

Most of the questions in GCSE are pretty basic and with many being asked in a paragraph style in order to further guide students in the right direction before answering. Most GCSE math questions are usually 5-7 marks at maximum. A single question in A level maths can potentially be worth up to 12 marks.

GCSE questions are divided into many parts; if you were to mess up a part of the question, examiners would mark that incorrect, however, the examiners would still let you use that wrong answer, to fill the remaining part of the question. This way you would be credited marks for the remaining part of the question in GCSE. How I wished A levels would work the same way!

A level maths is the first formal introduction of Calculus for many students (especially those who have not taken GCSE further maths before). Calculus dupes and confuses many students; causing them some serious nightmares. Those students who have taken GCSE Further Maths would realize that the first year of A levels is very similar to that.

A level maths requires a large amount of independent study compared to GCSE maths. GCSE maths is not as in-depth as A level, therefore in GCSE attending lectures and practising a few past papers can potentially get you an A*. In your, A-level doing all the past papers is the bare minimum to get you the top grade.

GCSE has 3 papers, each worth 80 marks, in contrast, A level math has 3 linear papers worth 100 marks each. Luckily you will have the chance to use a calculator in all of your A level exams.

Taking into account the relative difficulty of A level Maths I would recommend a 6 (B) in GCSE mathematics before seriously considering A level Maths.

A-level maths difficulty

What are the Topics in A level Maths?

A level maths has an extensive and demanding syllabus. The AQA syllabus for A level maths has 19 topics, with 9 topics from Pure Mathematics, 5 form Mechanics and another 5 from Statistics. With the new linear examinations, students are expected to practice, learn and understand all these topics and give their exams at the end of two years.

The topics in A level math are:

  1. Proof
  2. Algebra and Functions
  3. Coordinate Geometry
  4. Sequences and Series
  5. Trigonometry
  6. Exponentials and Logarithms
  7. Differentiation
  8. Integration
  9. Numerical Methods
  10. Vectors
  11. Quantities and Units in Mechanics
  12. Kinematics
  13. Forces and Newton’s Laws
  14. Moments
  15. Statistical sampling
  16. Data presentation and Interpretation
  17. Probability
  18. Statistical distributions
  19. Statistical hypothesis testing

The A Level AQA Specification mentions these topics for A level Maths. Topics 1-9 are part of the Core maths syllabus. 10-14 are Mechanics topics which are very similar to A level Physics. If Physics is your stronghold then mechanics should be a breeze for you. Topics 15-19 are taught in the stats section.

a-level math

What is A level Maths Like?

In short, A level maths is the first formal introduction of many students to Calculus and Applied Maths. Calculus aids us in understanding changes between values that are connected to a function. Applied maths is the application of mathematical models in Statistics and Mechanics.

Calculus is something new for most GCSE students unless you have taken GCSE Further Maths. Calculus simply is all about interpreting functions, finding where the tangent is zero ( where the curve is flat), and the points at which curves are parallel/perpendicular etc.

These concepts are taught at GCSE, however, the methods are very time-consuming. Algebraic manipulation can make this happen much quicker. A level helps students learn these methods

Applied maths at GCSE is very basic. For example, find the cost of something if it was sold for 80 pounds after getting a 20% discount. The original price would be 100 pounds. This is an example of the level of application required at GCSE

In your A-level application of maths becomes more complex, you could possibly be asked to find the angle of the inclined plane if an object was released and it reached the bottom of the plane at 6m/s. Similarly, statistics questions often focus on probability, permutations and combinations etc.

Minimum Requirements to Study A level Mathematics?

To study any subject at A levels you require at least five GCSE subjects with at least a 4 (or C) in each of those subjects. You must have also studied A level English.

Furthermore, most colleges recommend at least a 6 (or b) in GCSE maths before seriously considering studying A level Mathematics. From my experience of A level Mathematics, I can assure you this is a reasonable requirement. Anything less than a 6 at GCSE will seriously make A level Maths a nightmare.

However, if you are committed to consistent practice and hard work, feel maths is your thing and you really want to pursue it, then definitely go for it.

Most colleges will be happy to make special considerations for you if you can convince them why your GCSE grade has not been as stellar as you expected and how you will rejuvenate yourself to do better at A-level.

Some colleges might ask you to spend an extra hour a week to practice A level mathematics in order to do well at A levels.

How hard is a-level maths

How to do well in A level Mathematics?

The most important factor in doing well in A level Maths is consistent practice and hard work. Make sure you ask your teachers if you have any difficulties or concerns and try not to fall behind the class. Maths is a cumulative subject and falling behind a couple of classes can negatively impact your grade.

Try to do as many past papers as possible. Most math questions have the same concepts that are asked in different ways, using different values and numbers. Once you get the hang of the core concepts A level maths will become significantly easy. Hence try doing at least 10 years worth of maths past papers.

Start your revision early enough, so that you have sufficient time to clear up any misconceptions and are able to do a considerable number of past papers. Starting early will help you alleviate stress and get you better prepared for your A levels. Students often cite their bad results were due to leaving too much learning for the last minute.

The Solomon Papers are a great resource for doing questions that are slightly more difficult than your A level exams. Practising the more difficult questions of Solomon Papers will really solidify your concepts and problem-solving skills which in turn will make the A level maths exams simple and effortless.

Other good sources for reinforcing concepts are Exam Solutions and Youtube videos.


A level Maths one of the most difficult yet popular subject. Maths is a facilitating subject required getting admission in many university courses and is also important for developing strong mathematical skills that can help in your everyday life.

Despite being a challenging A level, tens of thousands of students take Maths each year. Many of those students are not mathematically gifted yet they end up with stellar grades. How do they manage to do so well? Consistent Practice. With consistent practice and hard work, I am quite sure anyone can get a good grade in A level Mathematics.