A-levels are a huge step up from the GCSEs. A-levels require more independent study, a higher degree of application, are more difficult and have several challenging questions.
A-levels are specifically designed to test your abilities to the fullest. Examiners do this by adding demanding questions, quizzing students’ mathematical ability, extending the syllabus, and setting strict time limits to the exams.
What are the Hardest A levels?
- A-level Further Maths
- A-level Modern Foreign Languages
- A-level Chemistry
- A-level Physics
- A-level Maths
- A-level Biology
- A-level Computer Science
- A-level English Literature
- A-level Economics
- A-level History
This article will go over the top 10 hardest A-level subjects and help you determine if you should study them or not. The list of the most difficult A-level subjects has been combined based on the general consensus of students.
1) A-level Further Maths
A-level Further Maths is the hardest A-level subject. Further Maths requires a high degree of mathematical ability and application. Students are expected to answer difficult and challenging questions which require an in-depth understanding of complicated concepts.
A-level Further Maths has some of the lengthiest exams. These exams can be up to 3 hours long depending on the exam board. Each question can be a maximum of 10-15 marks.
A question can require working of 2-3 pages. A-level Further Maths is the first real introduction to high school students of what university will be like.
A-level Further Maths has an extensive syllabus comprising of the following subsections which in turn are made up of many more modules: Pure, Statistics, Mechanics, and Decision. A-level Further Maths requires mastery in these subsections which make it so challenging and difficult.
Pure maths is focused on mathematics independent of any real-world application. Stats is the mathematical practice of analyzing numerical data in order to make sense of numbers.
Mechanics is quite similar to A-level Physics and it deals with motion and the forces which produce that motion. Decision is basically discrete mathematics which is the study of algorithms and mathematical logic.
A-level Further Maths demands a large amount of independent studying from the students. The average Further Maths student is expected to put in an extra 2-3 hour of studying every day in order to cope up with this challenging subject.
Less than 2% of all the students doing A-levels study Further Maths. Students who have aced their GCSEs and other A-levels have a tough time getting a good grade in Further Maths. In fact, many students only manage to scrape a B or C grade unless they significantly up their game.
Despite the difficulty, many students still opt to study A-level Further Maths because of its value in the eyes of employers and universities. You should have a minimum of a 7 in GCSE Maths in order to do well at A-level Further Maths.
However the difficulty should not deter you; just like all other A-level subjects, Further Maths can be conquered with hard work and dedication.
2) A-level Modern Foreign Languages
A-level Modern Foreign Languages are extremely difficult subject choices. You will be able to choose between Spanish, French and German. Most students tend to avoid modern foreign languages since they are hard to master at the level that is required by the A-level Examiners.
Examiners expect you to read, write, and speak the language. In addition to this, you are also expected to know the culture and history of the country where the language is spoken.
These languages have vastly different grammar rules as compared to English. Examiners will also penalize you for incorrect pronunciation during the speaking exams.
The three papers in modern foreign languages test various skills. Paper 1 is a listening, reading and writing exam, paper 2 is based on writing only, whereas the centre of focus in paper 3 is speaking.
All four skills must be mastered in less than 2 years, in order to do well in the exams.
To ace modern foreign languages, you need to have a real interest in the subject, otherwise, you will find it extremely hard and challenging. On the other hand, if you know any of these subjects as a second or third language then your journey will be considerably easy.
3) A-level Chemistry
Chemistry is one of the hardest A-level subjects. This is due to extremely complicated concepts and questions examiners expect students to answer.
A-level Chemistry requires a high degree of application of prior knowledge in largely unfamiliar contexts. Each year several new questions appear in the exams that test students analytical and critical thinking abilities.
A-level Chemistry has an extensive syllabus and examiners will ask you all the nitty-gritty. You need to have a really good memory to remember all the chemicals, their equations and respective properties.
Moreover, your mathematical ability will also be tested. You should ideally have a 5 or greater in GCSE mathematics to solve the moderately complicated questions in A-level Chemistry.
The practical exam is another extremely different component in A-level Chemistry. The examiners will look for highly accurate results in a time restrained atmosphere. Most of the students have a tough time completing the experiments in the given time.
The MCQ and theory paper are no easy feat either. The MCQ paper has some of the trickiest questions amongst all the A-level papers. The theory paper requires in-depth explanations. You will not be able to skip any of the parts of a question since they are interlinked.
4) A-level Physics
Physics is another challenging subject that many A-level students struggle with. The reason many students find A-level Physics so hard is because of the massive syllabus, tricky MCQ paper, application of prior knowledge in unfamiliar contexts, and time-restricted lab exams.
A-level Physics exams also require strong mathematical application. You must havs a strong command over GCSE Mathematics or higher. Most of the mathematics involved is applied in nature.
Year 12 of A-level Physics has the same topics as GCSE Physics but in more detail and the exams have harsher marking. Year 13 of A-level Physics has entirely new topics that you have never studied before.
They are more abstract in nature and you cannot test Year 13 topics in the lab; rather you will have to rely on the research and findings of former scientists.
For example, it would be easy to conduct experiments to understand kinematics(a Year 12 topic) but practically impossible to design experiments to test for quantum mechanics(a Year 13 topic).
Most GCSE level Physics questions involve one or two steps at maximum. A-level questions on the other hand require a multi-pronged approach making Physics a very hard subject.
5) A-level Mathematics
Maths is one of the most useful and difficult A-level subjects. It is very popular amongst students because it is a requirement for many of the courses at university such as Engineering, Computer Science, Economics, Accounts and Physics.
The maths syllabus focusses on Pure Maths, Mechanics and Statistics. You will feel like you are doing three different subjects instead of one. Pure Maths is independent of application whereas Mechanics and Statistics are based entirely on the application of mathematical concepts.
GCSE Maths exam questions have guidelines to help steer students in the right direction. A-level Maths question provide students with no hints.
Each individual question has a greater number of marks assigned to it. Moreover, the marking is also harsher. All these factors add up to make A-level maths so hard and demanding.
A-level Maths is a very respectful A-level and highly regarded amongst universities and employers. Although A-level Maths is a very hard subject you can do well in it, through hard work, dedication, and by solving lots of practice sets.
You should have a 6 or higher in GCSE Maths before seriously considering A-level Maths.
6) A-level Biology.
A-level Biology is one of the hardest A-level Science subjects. However, A-level Biology is slightly less difficult than A-level Physics and Chemistry since there are fewer calculations and slightly easier concepts.
A-level Biology has a massive syllabus where you are expected to know literally everything. You will need an eidetic memory to memorize all the content included in A-level Biology.
Similar to other A-levels; Year 12 of A-level Biology has nearly the same topics as GCSE Biology.
However, there will be a greater level of application required from you.
At the same time, the questions will be more demanding, examiners will mark more harshly, and the subject material will be more complex.
Year 13 of A-level Biology is a different ball game altogether. You will be required to study completely unfamiliar topics. Most of these will be quite abstract in nature.
The lab paper in A-level Biology is no easy feat either. Nor are the theory and MCQ papers. Each paper will test a different set of skills.
You will need to develop analytical, critical thinking and laboratory skills. You will also need to learn how to manage your time really well.
A-level Biology is one of the most important factors in determining students’ capabilities in order to study Medicine.
The exams are specifically made extremely challenging so as to help select the most competent students for Medicine.
7) A-level Computer Science
How hard is A-level Computer Science? A-level Computer Science is a hard subject. This is because A-level computer Science is based on logic, reasoning and programming. The concepts in A-level Computer are abstract in nature and difficult to understand.
A-level Computer Science is based on two components: theory and programming. The theoretical part of Computer Science deals with the internal and external structure of a Computer.
You will learn about the interlinking of software and hardware; and how their combined workings help computers run.
The theory papers of Computer Science are very straightforward. As long as you remember and have a basic understanding of the entire syllabus, you can ace the theory papers.
The programming papers expect you to write code during the exams. You will be marked for the logic and for whether the code fulfils the intended purpose.
You may also be asked to find issues in given code. Another type of programming question demands you to fill the missing part in the given code.
Some of the programs required are quite difficult to understand and write code for. These tricky questions make A-level Computer Science challenging and hard.
The easiest part of A-level Computer Science is the coursework project. You are required to create and design a program. Luckily, you will have an entire year to submit it. You can take help from Google, Youtube and other sources to do well in it.
Moreover, the project plays a significant part in your total Computer Science grade.
If you have a strong grasp of maths and logic, A-level Computer Science will be considerably less difficult. Overall just like any other A-level, Computer Science can be conquered with hard work and dedication.
8) A-level English Literature
How hard is A-level English Literature? A-level English literature is a moderately difficult subject. The large variety of tough texts you must study and remember, long-essay based answers you need to write, and the in-depth analysis you must provide make A-level Literature a relatively challenging and hard subject.
You will be expected to study texts from prose, poetry and drama. Each kind of text requires a different set of skills you must master.
You must also remember specific incidents and quotes from the texts in order to get the top grade. There are tens of texts that you must prepare for before sitting your exams. Hence saying there will be a lot of extended readings is an understatement.
In A-level Literature there is no right or wrong answer. You must express your opinion but you must provide evidence such as quotes to back your views.
Overall the questions are straightforward but the examiners’ making is very harsh.
You will also need to develop your vocabulary and overall writing skills by extended reading and writing. Reading the core texts in the syllabus will not be sufficient; you must research around the subject as well.
A-level Literature is particularly difficult for those students who prefer close-ended questions, applying formulas and rote-learning.
A-level Literature is very open-ended and you are free to defend whichever side you want. You will not be spoon feed. There will be a lot of independence in answering the questions.
Ideally you should take A-level Literature if you have a 6 or higher in GCSE English.
There will 2 papers and some coursework for your A-level Literature exams. With one of the papers being open book and the other closed book. You will be asked to write two essays as part of your coursework.
Overall A-level Literature is a moderately difficult subject. You must really like the subject so that the readings, in-class discussions and long essay based answers do not become boring.
9) A-level Economics
A-level Economics is another moderately difficult subject. It is not as hard as Further Maths but not quite as easy as Psychology or Food Studies. The reasons for the apparent difficulty in A-level Economics is due to the tricky essay structure, large syllabus, and mathematical calculations involved.
The Maths is involved in A-level Economics is not more complex or difficult than GCSE Maths. However, the maths is more applied in nature in A-level Economics.
Hence, for most students, the math is tolerably difficult and a 5 in GCSE Mathematics should suffice.
The A-level Economics syllabus is undoubtedly very extensive. It is basically divided into two components: Microeconomics and Macroeconomics.
Macroeconomics looks at the economy holistically whereas Microeconomics focusses on the market structures, supply, demand, and opportunity cost.
The biggest challenge in A-level Economics is a tricky essay structure. Examiners want students to answer the questions according to a very rigid manner.
It takes students quite a long time before they can become accustomed to it. But once they do A-level Economics does not pose such a great challenge as it did before.
Many of the A-level Economics topics are quite straightforward and self-explanatory. You can read the textbooks like a novel.
Year 13 Economics is considerably more difficult, due to the inclusion of complex topics and abstract concepts.
Most students are easily able to manage the workload and master the essay structure. A-level Economics is one of the most respected subjects amongst commerce students and universities. Hence you should definitely go for it.
10) A-level History
A-level is another moderately hard subject. It has a gigantic syllabus and you must remember practically everything.
You will be required to write several long essay based answers where you must provide strong evidence and convincing arguments to defend your views.
The A-level syllabus History is quite interesting but immense. You will need to read 1000 years worth of History.
You must also read about topics from sources other than your textbook. You will also be expected to remember important dates and events.
A-level History is a very lively and fascinating subject. There will be several in-class discussions which will help you reinforce the topics you have already studied.
Moreover, most teachers will assign several long readings before the topics are formally taught in class.
A-level History is not the just a simple regurgitation of facts. You must critically analyze the different aspects of history to get the top grades. In A-level History, you will also be asked the why and how questions rather than the simple what, when, and where questions you were asked in GCSE.
The A-level History coursework makes up 20-25% of the grade. Hence, there is a larger emphasis on the actual exams since they carry more weight. There are three papers for the A-level History exams. Each paper deals with a different era in History.
Luckily there will be no lab exams or complicated calculations in A-level History as there are in the traditional science and maths subjects.
However, it does have an extensive syllabus and requires critical thinking. Overall A-level History is a moderately difficult subject.
The list of the hardest A-level subjects is based on the general opinion of students.
How hard you find a subject, depends on your natural inclination towards that subject, your prior knowledge and whether the subject truly interests you.
The overwhelming majority of students find the subjects on this list more difficult than average. You should only use this as a guideline.
This list should not deter you from taking any of the subjects on it, especially if you need it as a pre-requisite for a course at university.
You can get a good grade in any of these subjects as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort needed.
If you find you are struggling with any of these subjects it is perfectly normal. I can assure you that if you work hard you can definitely get a good grade. Good Luck!