The step-up from GCSE to A-Level Maths

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The step-up from GCSE to A-Level Maths can seem daunting and if you ask a group of older siblings or friends to reflect on the relative difficulty of these qualifications you’re bound to be bombarded with many conflicting opinions.

Whilst A-Level maths undoubtedly represents a step-up from GCSE, if you have solid foundations in key areas, it is certainly a manageable progression. Some key concepts from GCSE which will be invaluable at A-Level are:

  • Algebra (simplifying, factorising, laws of indices)
  • Quadratic Functions (solving, plotting)
  • Equations and inequalities (simultaneous equations, linear inequalities)
  • Sine Rule and Cosine Rule (finding missing sides and angles, using Pythagoras and trigonometric ratios)

Below are five reasons not to be put off A-level maths by the naysayers who claim the step-up is an insurmountable leap:

1) There are loads of resources readily available to help

Today , there are more resources at your disposal to help with your studying than ever before. These include:

  • Past papers (Edexcel, OCR and AQA all make these readily available on their websites)
  • Textbooks (many different publishers offer these, so why not ask your teacher or check out some reviews online)
  • Online videos (I’d recommend ExamSolutions and Khan Academy videos, but the whole of YouTube is just a few clicks away)
  • Revision guides (great for summarising information as the exams draw nearer)
  • Tutors (despite being costly, around 25% of Maths A-Level students use tutors as a source of help)
  • Apps (MathSpire offers an interactive textbook with automatically marked questions and interactive graphs)

2) Maths is the most popular A-Level Subject

Maths remains the most popular A-Level subject.  In 2019, there were 86, 185 entries in the UK.1This is far higher than the number of entries for the second most popular subject, Biology, which had 64,460 entries in 2019. This is testament to how highly regarded and widely applicable A-Level Maths is.

In this respect, you’re unlikely to be short of people to ask for help and advice on the subject.

3) Maths complements other subjects well

Maths skills are transferable to many other A-Levels. For instance, the skills you develop can be applied to:

  • Mechanics in Physics, including moments, vectors and uniform acceleration
  • Balancing equations and calculating quantities in Chemistry
  • Data analysis in Biology
  • Evaluating statistics from studies in Psychology
  • Drawing graphs and evaluating macroeconomic indicators in Economics
  • Understanding algorithms in Computing
  • Evaluating arguments in Philosophy
  • Analysing financial performance in Business Studies

More generally, the logical way of thinking and focus on clear methods gained from Maths A-Level provides a way of thinking about problems in a clear and methodical manner which can complement all subjects from essay-based to social sciences and beyond.

4) Stereotypes are unfounded

Don’t let stereotypes influence your decision to study A-Level Maths. The cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) model from psychology suggests that negative thoughts (cognition) influences how we feel (emotion) which influences how we act (behaviour). In this way, we should recognise that our pre-conceived expectations on who is “good at maths” affect self-esteem and motivation in the subject. Maths ability can be acquired and a “can do” attitude goes a long way. So, don’t let others or societal biases discourage you  from trying! Take a look at our blog on the benefits of a growth mindset to learn more.

5) It’s not about the grade you get…

Maths is an A-Level subject choice respected by employers and just finishing the course demonstrates the sort of quantitative skills which will be useful in later life.

Moreover, the way of thinking that A-Level Maths teaches and the transferable skills it offers means that even if you don’t achieve the grade you were hoping for, you are unlikely to feel short-changed from an A-Level in Maths.

The variety that Maths A-Level offers is also refreshing. Often people fail to appreciate the range within the Maths A-Level course. Mechanics, Statistics, Calculus and Geometry represent just some of the disparate areas within the A-Level, so you won’t be stuck on any one area for too long.

Hopefully these five reasons have allayed your concerns around the “step-up”, so if you do decide to take Maths A-Level – good luck!



1 Ofqual, 2019. Entries For GCSE, AS And A Level. Summer 2019 exam series, p.8.

Sophie Kitchin

Sophie Kitchin

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