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Biology or Economics (A level)

  1. Aug 14, 2012 #1


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    I'm just sort of finalising what subjects I want to do next year before I get my results and have an enevitable 24 hr panic until I sign up for sixth forum the next day.

    I'm definitely going to be doing:

    Math w/ Further Maths (hopefully)

    As those are probably the most relevant 3 / 4 subjects for Maths / Physics at uni (some unis I think require a second science for physics) or engineering (specifically electrical or electronic although maybe chemical)

    But my sixth forum requires me to pick a 4th (or 5th depending on how you look at it) subject so the only options I'd take would be biology or economics.

    Now the careers / subjects advisor in school said biology (although that was before I did electrical engineering work experience and was more leaning towards chemical engineering) but now I'm not sure as I think I might enjoy economics a bit more but probably would be better at biology as its more facts based than economics which seems to be essays and supported opinions.

    I can see how economics could be useful especially as a lot of science / engineering graduates end up working in the financial services sector although I'm not convinced the qualitative nature of the subject and the fact its not really focused on finance related economics would incur that great an advantage.

    Whereas biology is probably has been my better subject at gcse (although I didn't do economics but business studies is similar apparently) and seems to be a good strong subject that's highly regarded by employers and universities.

    Any ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2012 #2
    I'm familiar with the A-Level system, although I haven't taken Economics.

    I think that other than possible A-Levels universities will require in order to do physics/engineering (I imagine Math/Further Math, Physics and Chemistry will more than satisfy any prerequisites, although I haven't checked) the other A-Levels you take will not so much prepare you for university coursework as much as demonstrate to universities your analytical abilities / ability to study. If you have the prerequisites, the universities won't really care, and I'm not at all sure - actually, very doubtful - that a Biology or Economics will prepare you for coursework in a degree or for a job later on.

    I know you said many physics/engineering grads go into the financial sector later on, but I think the maths courses you'd need to take for a physics/engineering degree would be vastly more helpful than the Economics A-Level (As I said, I haven't taken it, I'm extrapolating from what I know of the math). As for Biology, not as relevant to an engineering degree. I haven't finished my A-Level in Biology but from what I've checked regarding (American) universities it probably won't even get me through the intro course needed for a Biology major.

    If there was a significant difference in how universities respond to the different A-Levels (I know that among A-Level subjects, some are seen as noteworthy while others are quietly dismissed (think General Studies, or whatever they call it now)) I'd go for the one that is seen as more favorable.

    If there is no significant difference, and you think you can get around the same marks in both, go for the one you enjoy more! If not, go for the one you think you'll get better marks in.


  4. Aug 15, 2012 #3
    Your first four subjects will be more than enough for any physics/maths/engineering so you don't need to worry that much about your other subject. Both biology and and economics are "proper" subjects and will be viewed favourably (way better than media studies or something like that). In terms of your career options later in life, economics can be a bit helpful but its not going to be a major problem if you don't pick it either. So just go with whichever you are more interested in. You could go to a library or bookshop and have a flick through some A-level text books to see which material interests you more and then go with that.
  5. Aug 15, 2012 #4

    As an ex-econ major I would have to say that Econ is an interesting subject and I still read about it all the time. It depends which kind of Econ class you take as far as the essays go. If you are taking microeconomics then its mostly mathematical and if you have taken Calc 3 you would certainly be prepared, however only a basic knowledge of calculus is usually required. But if you are taking a class like "History of economic theory," then certainly you will be writing essays.

    I don't know about biology; I have never taken it.
  6. Aug 16, 2012 #5


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    Definitely should as far as I can see, I checked a load of uni prospectuses for various UK unis and for all of them the first 4 should more than cover me, only one that might want biology would be Cambridge but thats a Natural Science course so its a more all round course rather than all physics.

    On the engineering side quite a few chemical engineering courses seems to like biology as well as materials science at imperial (I didn't look at any more though)

    Well at gcse and extrapolating from what I can find out about the subjects, biology teaches stuff about scientific method (difference between accuracy /precision, sampling, hypothesis etc.) whereas economics is focused on essays but I'm not sure how much of part of maths / physics or engineering essays would be at uni?

    Going by the A level combinations list from Trinity college Cambridge (which most people seem to agree is a fair evaluation of a levels and their suitability) both subjects are listed as "Generally suitable" (which is the highest ranking) however economics is down as an arts subject.

    I haven't looked at an economics A level textbook (although I did take a look at a biology one) ,I did look at the past exam papers for both subjects and I found that the biology papers tended to be mostly factual recall or application of facts to different situations, whereas economics was quite subjective in that their was really no right or wrong answer as long as you looked at certain issues and evaluated them. So its more coming down to how good your essay writing is really.

    Economics at A level (Its the UK level of education below undergrad) doesn't actually have much mathematics, the hardest I could see was a couple of formulas related to supply and demand, and those were real easy, you wouldn't even need much pre-calc math for them.

    Mostly economics at A level is about evaluating and analysing a data source (basically they give you a situation with a couple of pages of background and some data in a table or graph) or essay's such as:

    “Recession leads to increased calls for trade protection”
    (a) Explain the main reasons why nations engage in international trade.
    (b) Critically examine the view that protectionism is the best method of safeguarding living standards.

    “Fixed exchange rates create stability”
    (a) Explain the main factors which influence the rate of exchange of the UK pound (£) against the American dollar ($).
    (b) Critically examine the desirability of the world’s major economies introducing a system of fixed exchange rates.

    Employers criticise restrictions on migrant workers
    (a) Explain what is meant by the term scarce economic resources.
    (b) Analyse how labour markets might be affected by a decrease in the supply of migrant workers.
    (c) Critically examine the view that the government should not intervene in labour markets.

    Cost of hosting the Olympic Games keeps on rising
    (a) Explain what is meant by a merit good.
    (b) Using appropriate examples, explain some of the methods a government could use to increase the consumption of merit goods. [15]
    (c) Evaluate the view that hosting the Olympic Games in 2012 represents a misuse of public money in the UK.
  7. Aug 18, 2012 #6
    I just finished doing exactly the same as you are considering. I did Biology AS in my first year and did not regret it at all. At the beginning of my first year, I chose Physics, Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry but was stuck for a final option between Biology, Computing and Economics. What initially tipped the scale for me was that Biology tended to have more females and there were no essays :P. Having just finished my GCSEs, I had a massive distaste for essays :P. My biology course did however end up requiring a 1500 word report on a subject of your choice, so the "no essays" thing went a bit down the toilet... I did enjoy writing it regardless as it involved a lot of independent research and personal reading of journal articles and medical encyclopedia.

    Biology at A level is a lot more interesting than at GCSE as it is far more in depth. I actually had great difficulty deciding whether to drop Chemistry or Biology at the end of first year.

    Doing 5 subjects really is a killer on the exam front as well as the free period front though. You will sit 12 maths exams plus retakes over two years in addition to 4 Physics and 4 Chemistry. Further Maths is a lot harder than maths, but it looks great on UCAS applications (especially if you sit maths AS+A2 in the first year and can get an A* clear to them) and means you can doss a bit in the first year of university...
  8. Aug 19, 2012 #7


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    The essays in economics would probably be one of the main issues I have with the subject as I'm not that great at writing (as in handwriting) and I tend to get a bit stressed with them as I find them hard to pace myself or plan them out in the given time.

    I also like the fact that with biology you are more concerned with learning facts and concepts and then applying them whereas in economics there is a level of uncertainty as your response is personal to you and its how you address the question mainly.

    Would you reckon that biology tends to be a better achieving subject as that appears to be the case at my school compared with economics?

    I think for math w/ further maths we do all of AS and A2 Maths in the first year and then the same with further maths in the second year.
  9. Aug 22, 2012 #8


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    Any other thoughts as Friday is D Day for a decision?
  10. Aug 28, 2012 #9
    I think that Biology tends to be a little easier in terms of grade boundaries than other sciences because a lot of people who take it are people who have less of an aptitude for science and take mostly humanities subjects. Your chemistry will help you out where others might tend to struggle. Compare that to physics where 95% of the class will study maths and a good 50% will study chemistry or computing.
  11. Aug 28, 2012 #10


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    I chose Biology in the end as my grade in Business Studies was only an A (and I felt I worked far harder in it compared to Biology. Also it wasn't just one unit that let me down, 2 of the units where poor for the amount of effort I felt I had put into them and I absolutely worked my socks off with the coursework)

    I had an interview with one of the schools careers advisors (who also happened to be my chemistry teacher so she knew me) and she advised me to take Biology both based on my better grade in the subject (as I'm probably going to take Further Maths she basically said I need to make sure that my other subjects aren't going to be compromised by the extra work load so I obviously have experience with Biology and done very well in it at GCSE). The second reason was the fact that in their experience anyone who takes 3 / 4 science subjects and then adds an arts / humanities subject on doesn't do as well in the arts subject due to the different mindset and methodology in these classes.
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