Okay – so you’re sure (or quite sure) that you don’t want to study a science subject at university. But you’re here because you’re on the fence about taking Maths A-Level. You think there might be some value in it – perhaps because people keep telling you it’s a subject worth taking, or perhaps you feel this yourself intuitively, but want more facts.
Mathematics is the most popular A-level subject: in 2019, it was taken by 86,185 students in the UK, more than 20,000 more than the next most popular subject, Biology.1 Total entries have grown steadily over time, as shown in the following graph (which also partially reflects demographic changes in the number of 18-year-olds).2
But why is it so popular, and why should you take it? It’s a decision that you should make for yourself, and you’ve already made a good first step by seeking out information so that you can make an informed choice.
What’s the point of studying Maths A-Level?
1) Maths teaches you to think logically and systematically to solve problems (not just maths problems)
When you solve a maths problem, you have to define your terms and the assumptions you’re making. This methodical approach is transferrable, for instance, to the kind of research you might do if you study a social sciences degree at university.
Being able to tackle a complex question and break down your thinking into logical steps is the essence of solving a maths problem – and of constructing a logical argument in answer to an essay question! The two tasks are different, of course: they require different sets of complementary skills, and their answers are expressed in different language. But there is enough overlap between the fundamental structured thinking skills required that a grounding in one skillset can bring helpful insights to the other.
In the workplace, the ability to work systematically and logically to devise plans and execute projects is often highly valued. Whilst studying Maths A-Level isn’t the only way to develop these skills, it provides a solid and demonstrable foundation.
In short, Maths teaches you to structure your thinking – and this may serve you well in many things you may wish to do in the future in terms of work or study.
2) Maths keeps doors open for future (well-paid) careers
In an increasingly data-driven world, many companies value numerical competence in order to interpret graphs and data. Many graduate jobs which are open to applicants from all degree backgrounds require candidates to score well in a numerical skills or numerical reasoning test. Studying A-Level Maths will give you the confidence and practice to succeed in these tests.
There is also significant evidence that if you take A-Level Maths, you are more likely to earn more in your career. A study from 2016 suggested that those who took A-Level Mathematics earned 11% more in their early 30s than those who did not.3
When will I even use what I learn doing Maths A-Level?
3) Maths is inescapable in everyday adult life
Aside from the applications in work and study described above, a firm grasp of mathematics is helpful in everyday life for things like interpreting graphs and statistics in news reports and managing personal finances. GCSE Maths equips you with some good basics, but A-Level Maths will secure you with the knowledge and confidence to carry out tasks you’re likely to want to do in the future, such as: work out the best way to pay off student debts, choose the most cost-effective mortgage, and make sensible investments.
What if I find Maths difficult?
4) Support is available! Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
If you struggle with Maths and are considering taking it for A-Level – kudos for you for being the kind of person who is willing to take on a challenge. A growth mindset* will take you far in life.
Let’s be clear – if you find Maths difficult, that doesn’t simply mean you’re no good at it. Perhaps you could do with some more practice, or perhaps you could do with someone to explain a concept again to you in a slightly different way. Perhaps video explanations of difficult concepts which you can pause and rewind and play again might help you to make sense of things. Maybe interactive graphs which help you to visualise functions and formulae will help those numbers and letters on the page become less intimidating. (This is one of the ways in which MathSpire can support you.) Other online resources and apps are available too – you only have to look! Don’t forget that your teacher is there to support you – don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
The purpose of school is to build your knowledge, skills, and confidence for the future. Taking a subject which you don’t find the easiest may be a valuable experience in which you demonstrate resilience (by working through challenge) and resourcefulness (by seeking out the materials you need to succeed).
If Maths isn’t your favourite subject, and you don’t plan on studying a higher education qualification in which it will be directly useful, A-Level Maths might not seem particularly appealing in the short-term. The long-term advantages, however, of the skills that you gain from studying Maths, may serve you well in the future. If you’re hesitant because you find Maths difficult, overcoming a challenge might be good motivation, and there are plenty of tools to help you! And, who knows – as you get better at Maths, you’ll probably find that you enjoy it more!
1 Ofqual. (2019). Entries for GCSE, AS and A Level: Summer 2019 exam series. Coventry: Ofqual, p.8.
2 Graph plotted from data retrieved from: Ofqual, Data tables for provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A Level: Summer 2019 exam series.
3 Adkins, M. and Noyes, A. (2016). ‘Reassessing the economic value of advanced level mathematics’, British Educational Research Journal, 42(1), pp.93-116.