How Hard is A-Level History

How Hard is A-Level History?

In A-Level by Think Student Editor3 Comments

When choosing your A-Level options, you want to make sure you have options that suit your future career plans but are also manageable. A-Level History is a subject that can take you down several paths, from History, to English, to Law, to Economics and other subjects. However, being so well respected, many students think A-Level History must be quite difficult.

This article will take you through how difficult A-Level History is, how difficult the exams are, and other statistics about A-Level History, so keep reading for all you need to know.

Disclaimer: A-Level difficulty is subjective and depends on the personal ability of the student. What one student may find challenging, another student may face less difficulty with, and vice versa. This article is based on the writer’s experience as a student who studied GCSE and A-Level History.

How hard is it to pass A-Level History?

Keep reading further in the article for exact statistics on how many people pass A-Level History. However, as a general answer, it isn’t too difficult to pass A-Level History.

To pass, you need some basic subject knowledge and a few facts, with a somewhat coherent argument. However, it’s obviously better to try and achieve a better grade than just a pass, so try your hardest in the exams!

How hard is it to get an A*?

Later in the article, I’ll be providing statistics for how many students achieved an A* in A-Level History in the past few years, so keep reading for the exact information.

Generally, it is quite hard to achieve an A* in A-Level History. You will need a lot of subject-specific knowledge and facts, and a coherent and sophisticated argument/writing style.

What is the A-Level History pass rate?

Provided by JCQ, the pass rate for A-Level History for 2022, 2021 and 2019 was 87.8%, 91.2%, and 81% respectively. From the statistics, you can see that A-Level History is not too difficult to pass.

However, it’s better to try and aim for higher grades. If university courses require A-Level History, most universities will ask for a grade B or A, which less people achieve. Make sure to try your hardest and aim for the best grade!

How many students get A* in A-Level History?

Below is a table for the number of students who achieved an A* from 2019-2022 (excluding 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing exams from being sat in-person).

Year Number of students achieving A*
2022 12%
2021 15.9%
2019 4.9%

As you can see from the table, only a select handful of students achieve an A* in A-Level History. However, it is definitely possible, so work hard for it and you can get there!

How much content is there in A-Level History?

In short, there is a lot of content to learn for A-Level History, and many students regard it as one of the most content-intense A-Level subjects.

For this reason, A-Level History was named as one of the hardest A-Level subjects in this Think Student article, which I recommend checking out if you’re undecided about your A-Level options.

How hard are A-Level History exams?

A-Level History exams are generally quite hard.

You have to know a lot of broad and specific knowledge across a wide range of historical periods, and exams can be 2-3 hours long. Staying focused for such a long period can be quite a strain, so quite a lot of students struggle with the exams.

However, with lots of revision and preparation, they are certainly do-able! During my A-Level History exams, I made sure to take 2–3-minute writing breaks and have fresh water with me, so I’d recommend the same.

How are A-Level History exams structured?

The exam structure for A-Level History depends on the exam board your school follows. However, across all the exam boards, each module for A-Level History has its own paper.

These exams range from 1hr 30mins to 3 hours long. There are 2 or 3 questions, usually essays of 25 marks or more, per exam.

What is in the A-Level History syllabus?

The A-Level History syllabus is a list of several different topics (historical periods), and your school chooses which modules students sit.

However, there’s a general structure for the course across the exam boards. I’ll give you a breakdown of the AQA, OCR, and Edexcel courses.

For AQA A-Level History, students have 2 modules: a breadth study and a depth study, one of which must be a British history option. The breadth study and depth study each have a 1hr 30min exam with 2 25-mark questions. The full specification is linked here.

For OCR A-Level History, students have 3 modules: a British period study (worth 25% of the A-Level), a non-British period study (worth 15%), and a thematic study with historical interpretation (worth 40%). The full specification is linked here.

For Edexcel A-Level History, students have 3 modules: a breadth study with historical interpretation, a depth study, and “themes in breadth with aspects in depth”. The full specification is linked here.

Each of the modules has a list of different topics for schools to choose from, so the periods you study will be specific to your school.

Does A-Level History have coursework?

For AQA, OCR and Edexcel, A-Level History does have coursework. The coursework modules across the exam boards are all worth 20% of the total A-Level.

AQA, OCR and Edexcel A-Level History coursework is a 3500-4500-word historical investigation on a topic of your choice (but it must be approved by your school).

What are the entry requirements for A-Level History?

A-Level History doesn’t have an official entry requirement set by exam boards. However, since A-Level History has a heavy workload and requires quite a bit of dedication, schools will often have their own entry requirements.

Most schools recommend that you must have achieved a 6 in GCSE History to take the subject at A-Level. These are different for every school, so this might be lower or higher, but GCSE grade 6 is the most common.

While you can take A-Level History without having sat GCSE History, this is generally not recommended because of how hard A-Level History is.

How many students take A-Level History?

Based on the official government website statistics, in 2022 42,885 students took A-Level History, a 3.1% increase from the previous year.

Over the years, the number of students choosing to take A-Level History has fluctuated. From 2018-2022, the number of students who chose to take A-Level History peaked at almost 47,500 students in 2019 and was lowest in 2020 at 41,120 students.

All these statistics are available on this page of the UK government website.

How hard is A-Level History compared to GCSE History?

Based purely on the grade distribution for GCSE and A-Level history in 2022, A-Level History and GCSE History seem equal in difficulty. The grade bracket with the highest number of results was a B in A-Level History (31.7%), and a grade 6 at GCSE (14.7%).

Ofqual has statistics for grade distribution for A-Level and GCSE History, linked here and here.

However, as a student who has studied both GCSE and A-Level History, I would say that A-Level History is definitely harder, based on the workload and the depth of knowledge required to achieve the top grades.

I personally had to revise a lot more for A-Level History than GCSE History, because there were so many more facts I had to remember.

Which subjects does A-Level History go well with?

A-Level History is a well-respected subject because of its difficulty, which you can read about in this Think Student article. Therefore, it can work well with Humanities and STEM subjects, depending on which field you want to go in to.

A-Level History is better if you want to enter a Humanities field, because it works with a larger range of subjects. Some of the best A-Level combinations with History are English, Geography, Modern Languages, Classics and Politics.

However, A-Level History can also work with STEM subjects. If you want to enter a STEM field, some good subjects to go with A-Level History include Economics, Chemistry, Biology, and Maths.

This Think Student article has a list of 17 A-Level combinations, some including history, that I’d recommend checking out.

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J Nugent
J Nugent
3 years ago

This appears to be a very subjective piece of “advice”offered as fact. Studying History would actually allow you to challenge propaganda such as this which appears to be written by someone who does not like history and finds it boring. Theythen write a piece suggesting everyone should agree. ALL A levels are challenging. ALL A levels have lots of information and suggesting that this is particularly true of History suggests some lack of understanding of the education process from the writer. If you are going to offer advice could there be an attempt to be more impartial and actually useful?

Reply to  J Nugent
3 years ago

Hi there J, Firstly, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t find this student’s opinion informative. The content listed on this site is written by students who each have their own unique opinion that some will agree with and some will not. We do not aim to present the information displayed on this site as absolute fact as many of the topics we discuss can’t be narrowed to simple quantitative arguments and we try to be as transparent as humanly possible. Due to this, I have now ensured that a disclaimer is now displayed on the sidebar of every single… Read more »

1 year ago

“you never explain what happened in a historical event.” There are literally questions that ask you how far something happened or to what extent you need to explain!