Choosing the right GCSEs and A-levels for Medicine

Hi, I’m Senan. I’m a Year 12 student and I wrote this blog post all about how I chose my GCSEs and A-levels to support my Medicine application.

Choosing the right GCSEs for a medicine application

Selecting subjects for GCSE was relatively straightforward. Maths and English (language and literature) were compulsory. Knowing from quite early on that I wanted to study medicine, I chose to study Triple Award science in biology, chemistry and physics rather than double/Combined science. I did a very quick check for mandatory subjects for university applications to medicine and learned that selecting chemistry, biology and either physics or maths at A-level would keep all UK medical schools open to me. I didn’t have a lot of time to look into all the details of the admissions process at that time but reckoned that studying these options at GCSE would facilitate me taking them at A-level and allow me to keep my options open while I did further research. 

Other choices required more thought. I don’t find language learning very easy. I do study Arabic out of school but deciding on whether or not to struggle through GCSE French was hard. In the end I did opt to study French for a few reasons. My school encourages students to do the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which includes doing a language. I was vaguely aware that Modern Foreign Languages were recommended or mandatory for admission to at least some European universities e.g. in Ireland (although I did not know if this would apply to me and my situation/course choice). It also meant that universities in France and French-speaking Canadian regions would remain open to me and I might have opportunities to travel abroad in the future as part of my medical studies or during an intercalated year. I also knew that language teaching and learning has a long tradition at Imperial College London and medical students are offered language modules in Year 2 of medical school. I wondered if other universities offered such opportunities and decided taking French at GCSE would be a potentially rewarding challenge for me. 

I still had two subjects to choose. I’m not very artistic or musical and didn’t distinguish myself in these subjects at KS3. I decided on history and geography, both because that would complete my EBacc requirements and I had enjoyed them throughout Y7-9 and was confident in my ability get high enough grades to apply for medicine. At this stage I wasn’t totally clear on what GCSE grades I would need but realised they should be as high as possible to be competitive. 

Choosing the right A-levels for a medicine application

Unlike my GCSEs, my A-level subjects were much harder to pick for a multitude of reasons. One of these was the fact that I was so busy studying for my GCSEs that it was kind of difficult to find the time to do research into lots of different universities and find out what A-level subjects were mandatory for different medical school admissions.

Summary blog posts on the internet were useful, though I had to try and cross-check the information so I wouldn’t make a serious error. I learnt that a majority of medical schools require A-level chemistry and a many specify both chemistry and biology. I expected to do well in these at GCSE so everything looked on track there to continue to A-level.

Chemistry was obviously something I really needed to focus on and do well in. I really love studying biology, so was happy to commit to it further. It was more difficult to choose between physics and maths as my third subject. I enjoyed maths more and was expecting a top grade. Physics itself contains a lot of maths and doing both together makes more sense than studying it in isolation I thought. Learning that a majority of successful Cambridge medicine applicants had taken maths pushed me further towards that choice as I wanted to keep BMAT university options open to me as well as applying to those requiring UCAT for admission.

You may be wondering why I didn’t choose to do both maths and physics as surely doing four A-level subjects would really impress universities I apply to, don’t you think? I knew older students who were taking 4 and even 5 A-levels. However, many of the university medical school websites I checked indicated that there was no additional benefit in the short-listing process for taking on more than 3 A-level subjects. This was also confirmed at my local medical school open evening.

Obviously, taking on additional subjects has other benefits but I preferred to opt for an Extended Project Question (EPQ) instead. I felt this would offer me more scope for skills development in areas that would ultimately benefit me at university e.g. in formulating research questions, searching the literature, designing a study, reporting results, summarizing and making recommendations and presenting my work. I know the EPQ will add to an already heavy subject work burden and that a medicine application is already a complex enough process with many aspects such as requirements for healthcare-related work experience and volunteering, additional exams such as the UCAT and expected new BMAT replacement exam, preparation for interviews and so on, but I’m hoping to manage the stressors by being as organized as possible. 

In summary, I suppose you could say that my GCSE and A-level subject choices were dictated by mandatory admission requirements aligning with my natural interests and ability along with practical choices to keep as wide a range of choices as possible open to me or develop skills which would be of use in the future. 

Written by Senan

Senan is a Year 12 student who is aiming to study medicine. Outside of school he loves to play football and spending time with his friends.

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