Today I thought I’d share my advice on picking subjects in school, whether it’s GCSEs or A Levels, or whether it’s whatever other qualifications you might be studying for around the world. So, without faffing around, here’s my advice:
First – Your Interests
As most people will tell you, you should definitely pick subjects that interest you and that you are willing to work at. At GCSEs in the UK, there are certain things you can’t avoid no matter how much you might want to (personally, I hated RE with a passion and wasn’t too keen on maths because of bad teaching), so when it comes to the subjects you choose, you should really go for something you don’t hate. Anger really isn’t conducive to studying, believe me.
Second – Think Ahead
Despite what I said above, joy isn’t the only factor to be taken into consideration. A lot of people dismiss the idea of doing a second language at GCSE because they think it’ll be a lot of effort and they don’t see the point. Then, they get to their A Levels a few years later and wish they had taken a GCSE in a language because that’s something most universities want in their candidates. So, I’d say it’s also very important to try to think longer-term about things. If you think you might want to go to university and have an idea of what you want to study, maybe it’d be a good idea to look at what universities look for – if they look at your GCSEs at all, for example, because many do – and you could gear your choices towards that.
Continuing along the same strain, if you take A Levels and are definitely considering the idea of university, you should consider facilitating subjects. In the UK, facilitating subjects will help you get into most universities because they have well-rounded skills sets and are seen as the ‘hard’ subjects, as opposed to the ‘soft’ subjects. They tend to be things like maths, sciences, and the humanities – though not religious studies. If you’re serious about university, you should try to take at least one facilitating subject.
Third – Fun Subjects
You can, of course, choose ‘fun’ subjects: in my school at GCSE (I finished mine in 2014 and chose them in 2011) we took them over a period of 3 years rather than the usual two, so we could fit an extra qualification in at the end. It was geared towards the modular system but the government changed it for my year once we were already started, unfortunately. Either way, we technically had a choice of 4 subject blocks, one of which had to be BTEC IT, but we could choose where to place it to fit our other subject choices. A friend of mine was always very science-y and maths-y, and as these were already compulsory, she took textiles as a ‘fun’ subject, one she didn’t think she’d have to stress too much about.
Personally, I was never too excited about science and maths and my heart was more into the humanities, so I didn’t take a ‘fun’ subject at GCSE. Instead I took French, Geography, History and the BTEC IT alongside my core subjects – and then when I chose my extra qualification to study in Year 11, I chose GCSE Computing (this was more in-depth about the workings of computers and programming than the BTEC had been).
Fourth – Be Wary of Hobbies
One thing I have to say, from my own experience at A Levels, is that if you want to take a qualification in something you deem to be a hobby, it’s not always a good idea. By this, I mean that I took Creative Writing for AS Level (the first half of A Levels before the government changed it for the year below me to one linear qualification) because I thought it was something I was good at, it was fun, and it could act as my ‘fun’ subject. Writing is my hobby, after all.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Honestly, taking something you enjoy as a hobby, like creative writing, or photography, maybe things like textiles and art too, and choosing to study it might be the worst idea. Taking something pleasurable and having it turned into a mess of exams, coursework, stress and grades can really take all the pleasure out of it and bring you down. I enjoyed the classes, initially, but as the year went on, it was just frustrating more than anything else. I didn’t have full freedom over my writing, I had to conform to the exam board’s ideas of ‘good writing’ and to be completely honest, I found myself losing my own writing style because of how much I was having to gear it towards the marking schemes. It ended up sucking the enjoyment out of it, especially when I was targeted an A and for various reasons only came out with a C grade. If you are considering taking a hobby at GCSE/A Level, be sure you know what you are doing.
Fifth – And Finally…
My last piece of advice to you, choosing your subjects, is to avoid choosing subjects because someone else is telling you to, or because your friends are taking the same ones. If you take a subject because your parents want you to, in your mind that subject will be associated with the frustration of being told what to do, and it’ll give it a negative association before you’ve even started. And taking subjects just because a friend has is always a bad idea, because it may play to their strengths and not yours.
It might be that you don’t know anyone else starting the subjects you want to take, but it’s an opportunity to make new friends – and if you end up thinking the rest of your class are complete jerks, it’s a good time to build your own sense of independence as you won’t be relying on someone else as your crash-pad or safety net.
And with that, I leave you. I hope this helps, even if it’s just one person, but this is what I’ve learned from my experience with qualifications, and I cannot stress enough that whatever subject choices you make, they must be because they are your choice and yours alone. It’s you who has to work for them, it’s you who has to stress about them, and it’s you who has to sit the exam, so don’t let yourself choose it for anyone else’s benefit.
See you next time!