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3 or 4 A Levels

Year 12

This is often a dilemma for students as to whether to continue with four A levels or drop one after their AS exams. Many schools in fact encourage students to only take three.

If you have the ability to take four A levels and score very highly in at least 3 of them, then you should consider continuing with all 4

If however, you think that taking the fourth will put the grades of the other 3 in jeopardy, you should drop the fourth after your AS exams.

Why take 4 A levels when universities only ask for 3?

It is true that all universities only ask for 3 A levels. However, you need to understand some of the nuances and unwritten ‘rules’ in their approach. Leading universities such as Oxbridge, UCL, LSE, Durham, Imperial and Warwick, are inundated with applications from first class students and they have to take some sort of logical approach to reduce the numbers. Students studying for 4 A levels who are predicted to achieve high grades may increase their chances of success than those with 3 A levels at similar predicted grades.

A university admissions tutor at Durham University was asked the question as to whether 4 A levels were required for his particular course. He confirmed that the requirement was only 3 A levels at grade A. He was then asked how many students in the previous year’s intake had 4 A levels. He said it was 76%. However, you may find another university (eg bristol) value extra curricular activities over a fouth A Level. It’s therefore important to ask the right questions of the universities.

There are numerous examples of extremely bright and able students being rejected from universities. This is because simply meeting the basic requirement is often not good enough

However, it is also true that there are many students who acheive entry at Russel Group universities with 3 A levels. A number of leading secondary schools also advocate 3 A levels over 4, and acheive first class results, in terms of both Oxbridge entry as well as other preeminent universities. It is therefore a decision you need to give much thought to and is very much dependent on your own abilities and motivations.


It’s not only about university entry

The other important consideration is what your CV will look like. Your academic record is not only about obtaining a place at university. This is just the start. Very quickly you will be looking at gaining placements, summer internships and graduate roles. If you decide to seek a role in a highly competitive profession such as law, banking, consulting, accountancy or a big retailer such as P&G you will find yourself competing with the very best students, from both the UK and Europe. One of the parameters will be your A levels. Those with four could be at an advantage to those with three.

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