“I want to do a Natural Sciences degree – do I need A Level Maths?”

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Gardens of Robinson College, University of Cambridge


“For Physics at Cambridge, A Level Maths or equivalent was required, and Further Maths was heavily encouraged.  


Are you interested in a science degree, but not sure whether to take A Level Maths? We’ve got some advice from Richard and Rachel – they both studied Physics at the University of Cambridge, and took A Level or Higher Level IB Maths.  

Click here to read Part 1 of our interview.

Now, here’s what they had to say about studying Maths…


Tell us about your degree – how much maths was involved? 


Richard: Natural Sciences is a very broad subject, and what you study will be completely different depending on the options that you choose. I chose to study Physics, Earth Sciences and Materials Science. Over time, you specialise more until you are studying one subject in your final year: for me, this was Materials Science.  

However, all candidates had to study maths in their first year. Pretty much all options had a heavy focus on maths and were much easier if you had a strong foundation in maths. I had to use knowledge of calculus, geometry, statistics, vectors and more during every year of my degree. For Physics at Cambridge, A Level Maths or equivalent was required, and Further Maths was heavily encouraged. 

Rachel: Maths, along with Physics, was an important part of our degree, which is why applicants must have studied them for IB (or at an equivalent level). For example, you need a good understanding of matrices and transformations for Materials Science (but not necessarily for other Natural Sciences)and I think differential equations (and everything in that area) are applied frequently in Physics. 


What were the main differences between school maths and the maths you used at university? How do you think A Level and IB compare in terms of preparing you for your degrees? 


Richard: I felt that a lot of the mathematical concepts covered in my undergraduate degree were the same as those I studied at A Level; however, the exam questions were much more “involved” – they required a deeper understanding and were less formulaic.  

Those who studied IB tended to have studied less maths than A Level students – this was considered by the university which repeated a lot of A Level content. However, this content was covered very rapidly and some IB students that I know really struggled in comparison to those who had studied A Level Further Maths. 

Rachel: Having studied IB, I did notice a difference with my peers who had studied A Levels. Since A Level students study a smaller range of subjects, most of my peers had studied Maths and Physics in more depth than me, when we first entered university.  

When I began my course, we covered basic concepts to ensure that we began with the same knowledge, but the module that I chose was very fast-paced. There were some parts of the course which assumed a degree of universal knowledge – for example, whilst I had no background in geometry from studying the IB, my peers were familiar with it from their A Level knowledge. 




Want to make sure your maths knowledge is up to scratch?

Click here to find out more about how MathSpire can help you, and download the app for a free trial! 


MathSpire Team

MathSpire Team

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