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Should I take Further Maths and/or Chemistry A levels?

  1. Mar 28, 2012 #1
    Hello, I am new to these forums. I am in Year 10 and have decided to take Physics and Maths at A level. However, I need to choose 2 more A levels and have considered Further Maths and Chemistry.

    I would like to take Chemistry because I love science! But I'm worried there will be too much memorisation needed for the exam. I am considering Further Maths A level because I enjoy Maths and think it would go along well with my other subjects but I am unsure whether I can get a good grade in it.

    I hope to go to the University of Cambridge and study the Natural Sciences Tripos. If this isn't possible, I might take Computer Science or Geography or Economics but this is probably unlikely. I am currently considering a career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM).

    I find that if I do not understand something at school, I usually come home and look it up and then practise. I also find I have to revise (e.g. practice questions, revision guide, go back over information) to get the top grades in class. I am predicted A's and A*'s in every subject apart from English where I'm predicted a B. Nonetheless, I am still in Year 10 and have yet to sit any exams, so these predicted grades might change.

    However, my interests in science will most likely not change as I have been fascinated by the natural world as long as I can remember. At school, at the moment, I am also doing Maths and Statistics GCSEs. I am also doing FSMQ/ Additional Maths alongside my other GCSEs which is the equivalence of half an AS level and I have noticed that although I have found the topics difficult to comprehend, I usually understand it after some practice and I have also enjoyed the thrill of working out how to solve a problem when doing Additional Maths, even when it becomes challenging. Sometimes, in Maths, I have to ask the teacher for help (maybe because of his teaching?) but when they explain it to me on a one-on-one basis, I understand it in the end.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2012 #2
    Chemistry will help you only slightly. It will help SLIGHTLY if you take physics at undergraduate level, and will probably help more if you plan on studying the Natural Science Tripos. It may also help for chemical engineering. 100% Take Further maths, its not too difficult and will help you gain admissions on all the subjects you listed there.

    I wouldn't worry too much about finding the FSMQ difficult, as it does go over some topics in C2 as well as most of the topics in C1, which are the units you have to take for AS level mathematics. If I were you i'd try my best to get an A in the FSMQ, as it looks really good (as it is difficult for people your age). Also, when you start AS level mathematics, you'll find it a breeze, as you covered a lot of the stuff already, so would have more time to focus on physics/chemistry (if you take it).

    Also, If you plan on studying mathematics at university at cambridge/warwick then you'll need to take STEP, google it and take a look at the papers; usually people only take two of the step papers (STEP II and III for cambridge).

    Overall, just focus on your GCSEs right now, take further maths for sure, take chemistry if you really enjoy it, or else take a language (though they are hard).

    Best of luck.
  4. Mar 28, 2012 #3
    I believe the first year of natural sciences at Cambridge covers a lot of ground, so two sciences at A level will be very useful, maybe even a precondition in most cases. Further maths would also be very good to have. Cambridge are very selective, so if you are serious about going there you should take four subjects at A level. Unless there's something unusual about your circumstances you'll need good grades across the board to be considered.
  5. Mar 29, 2012 #4
    I see both of you have recommended Further Maths. But isn't that A level for the "most able" and difficult to get an A/A* in? How would I know whether I am "able" enough to take it? And how much would it help or hinder my performance in my other subjects (Maths, Physics, Chemistry)?
  6. Mar 29, 2012 #5
    hi there
    im currently in my first year of alevels, im doing maths, physics and chemistry. They are quite difficult alevels to do. But as long as you dont do what i did at the start of AS, which was not really paying attention, then its not to bad. So as long as you go to all your classes, do the assigments youll be fine.
    As for whether you should study chemistry or further maths. I would suggest, since your wanting to do natural sciences at uni, you should probably pick chemistry. The best thing you could do is study all 4 of them because that would be seen as really good when it comes to apllying for uni. But that being said,there will be a lot of pressure on you, as they are all quite demanding. Hope this helps.
  7. Mar 29, 2012 #6
    The difficulty of further maths will depend to an extent on the modules you or your school/college choose, though I understand that it is generally regarded as a relatively difficult subject. The only way to find out for sure whether you can do it is to try, but as a rule of thumb, you'll need to be able to get at least an A in maths at GCSE. Another thing to consider if you are serious about doing natural sciences at Cambridge is that you'll need to be good enough to get an A in further maths at A level to stand much of a chance, as Cambridge is possibly the most selective university in the UK when it comes to sciences.
  8. Mar 29, 2012 #7
    People with three subjects at A2 and one at AS do get in as well! If anything, that is the norm.

    I believe that for Natural Sciences degrees, one might need to do two sciences and maths, as mentioned above. So yes, take both physics and chemistry. Further Mathematics at A2 is a requirement if you would like to study *mathematics* at Cambridge, not Natural Sciences.

    I, for one, do not particularly appreciate/like the way mathematics is presented at A-Level - much prefer to read a proper undergraduate text book on the subject - and found it tedious and doing more of it in the same manner, would have greatly discouraged me. If you're more patient than I am, do it. The only reason I finished my A-Levels was because they are required to get into university, which is where I'd like to be, and not because I enjoyed them. But again, that's just me.

    At any rate, you should give all four subjects a shot, since you have an interest in them. Knowing more maths can only be useful, I suppose. You might also consider trying to begin your study of A-Level mathematics over the summer.
  9. Mar 29, 2012 #8
    Cambridge will certainly accept people with sub-optimal grades if they are impressed by them for other reasons, but this data from 2008 indicates that the majority of successful applicants had over 540 UCAS tariff points.
  10. Mar 29, 2012 #9

    Is there any data regarding their conditional offers, though? While 3 A*s and 1 A (=540 UCAS points, yes?) or higher are achievable grades, I find it hard to believe that they actually require such grades. Perhaps accepted students end up achieving better grades than the required ones.


    Typical offers are A*AA in mathematics and two sciences. STEP/AEA are encouraged but not required. Matriculation offers of EE exist as well. Not sure if that's possible at all colleges or if it's just a Magdalene thing...
  11. Mar 29, 2012 #10
    The Cambridge website lists A*AA as the standard conditional offer. It's worth remembering that A levels are not the determining factor in Cambridge admissions, and many who are capable of getting these grades will not be accepted.
  12. Mar 29, 2012 #11


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    You seem to be wanting to take only courses you're guaranteed to make an A in. I think that's the wrong mindset. You should take courses because you will find them interesting, because they will be challenging and because you get to learn new things.
    Going for an easy A is a cop-out and it will harm you later on.
  13. Mar 29, 2012 #12
    Which was my point all along...

    On that note, the OP and anyone applying to Emmanuel/Cambridge, might benefit from this:
  14. Mar 30, 2012 #13
    Ok. The key point is that meeting the standard conditional offer requirements is not the major hurdle for most people in the admissions process.
  15. Mar 30, 2012 #14
    This might be off topic, but if I were to be considering a career being a scientist (e.g. physicist), what would the career prospects be? Are there many jobs where you earn a sufficient amount of money to live on? And most important of all, I have heard there is very little job security, so people become employed quickly and most jobs are temporary with very few being permanent- is this true? I was considering becoming a physicist but would like a permanent job, with an adequate salary (approx. £40000 or over after several years of experience) and one that is stable so I do not become unemployed constantly.
  16. Mar 30, 2012 #15
    I believe the non-permanent positions you read about were postdoctoral positions in physics, which (seem to) usually last a year. This section and "Career Guidance" are a good resource to find information on employment with a Physics PhD. From what I gather, there are more jobs to go around for people who are good with PDEs and programming.
  17. Mar 30, 2012 #16
    Okay, thanks, I'll post a new thread on this in the Career Guidance forum and see what people on there know. :)
  18. Apr 2, 2012 #17
    So you think I should go for subjects I will/might enjoy, even if I may not get an A or an A* in it?
  19. Apr 2, 2012 #18


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    Absolutely. Challenging yourself is the key to a succesful life.
  20. Apr 3, 2012 #19
    If you love science, why are you thinking of dropping Chemistry and taking Further Math? Do what you love! If you find that Chemistry involves too much memorisation, and you find you enjoy Maths more, you can change later. Look here:


    Chemistry seems to give you more options on the Natural Science tripos - as you might expect! Further Maths is surely the better option for the Maths tripos?

    Don't get too set on Cambridge, other places are good...
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