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How Many A-Levels Should You Take (3, 4 or 5)?

In A-Level by Think Student Editor6 Comments

The time has come for you to decide whether you take 3 or 4 A-Levels, and it’s hard to choose. What are the benefits of 4 A-Levels? What are the drawbacks?

In this article I’ll be taking a look at whether or not you should take 3, 4 or 4+ A-Levels. I’ll be going over the major points of college and university in the hope of helping you decide.

The majority of A-Level students take 3 A-Level subjects. If you want to shine above the rest then you should be looking at taking 4 A-Levels. It’s a lot of work, and requires a lot of motivation and time. If you can pull it off, it does show that you have a very broad range of skills to universities – it definitely makes you stand out from other students. Even though 4 A-Levels makes you stand out, there is nothing shameful about only doing 3 A-Levels at all.

How any A-Levels Can You Take?

Students will normally take 3 A-Levels in Year 12 and then continue with those 3 A-Levels until the end of Year 13, where they will have their final examinations. However, exceptional students will often request to take 4 A-Levels straight from the start of Year 12 (and follow through with them until the end of Year 13). This is allowed but permission from your college has to be acquired.

Most colleges will try and persuade you to only do 3 A-Levels. This is because doing more than 3 A-Levels causes many inconveniences for the college (such as timetable clashes).

Furthermore, many students sign themselves up for 4 A-Levels and then get crushed by the overwhelming amount of work that accompanies doing 4 A-Levels. This can lead to students either dropping one of their A-Levels, moving to a BTEC or continuing with their A-Levels and getting very poor grades.

For more on information on how many A-Levels you can take check out this Think Student article.

How Does The Amount of Work You Have To Do Compare Between 3 and 4 A-Levels?

GCSEs were a lot of work – but how much more do you have to do in college? And does it change with the amount of A-Levels you take?

It’s recommended that for every hour and a half you spend in lesson, you spend an hour out of lesson. This is so you can keep up with all the intense work of A-Levels.

If you take 3 A-Levels, the study + in-college hours come out to a little bit more than your old in-school hours per week. This isn’t too bad, it’s just a lot more independent than school is.

However, if you take 4 A-Levels, you are required to do much more work than you had to at school! The number of hours is increased by about 7 hours, and even more if you do harder subjects. 

These extra 7 hours are added to your independent study. This means that your out-of-college hours will be filled up with the study you need to do for 4 A-Levels. 

Therefore, the obvious recommendation is 3 A-Levels. However, if you feel you’re up to the task, then go for 4 A-Levels.

Here is the time comparison:

  • 3 A-Levels – 13.5 in-college hours a week (plus the same outside of lesson) 
  • 4 A-Levels – 18 in-college hours a week (plus the same outside of lesson) 
  • School – 25 in-school hours a week 

It also depends on how fast you are at learning as a student. Quicker students will be able to process the important information faster, and so will need less revision hours. 

It will be easier if you choose subjects that go well together though. Similar subjects mean that you’re always in a similar frame of mind for your work, and it should come naturally.

The many hours of work you do will eat away at your free time, too. This means less time for parties and having fun, and more time revising…

Make sure that the amount of effort you put into one A-Level is the same for all your A-Levels, too. That way it’s easier to stay balanced.

Taking 4 A-Levels is likely to wear you out, too. Unless you’re used to working for hours on end and are prepared, I would not recommend taking 4 A-Levels. 

And just so you know, the work you do out of college should be about equal to the work you do in college.

How Much Harder Is Doing 4 A-Levels Compared To Doing 3 A-Levels?

We know that 4 A-Levels is a lot more work than 3 A-Levels, but just how hard will it be?

You need immense effort and motivation to study, as there is so much content you need to learn. This means you need to be a hardworking person to be able to persevere and achieve in 4 A-Levels. Not to mention the fact that the actual content at A-Level is hard in the first place! 3 A-Levels is hard enough to learn all the content, but adding another A-Level requires great determination.

It’s also quite hard to create a balanced revision timetable for 4 A-Levels. You have to make sure that you do enough revision for all your subjects, but also get enough sleep! Sleep is definitely important for the success of your exams! You need time away from your revision to soak up all the information you need to know, and sleep is perfect for that.

A-Levels are also a lot more independent than GCSEs ever were. You’ll have to do a lot more work independently, and that’s hard enough with 3 A-Levels, let alone 4! The amount of revision you have to complete for A-Levels is significantly more than that of GCSE. This is because you have to study more outside of lesson than GCSE (because you spend less time in lesson).

To see what I mean about the hardness of A-Levels, check out either my article on how hard A-Level maths is, or my other article on how hard A-Level further maths is.

I’m studying 3 A-Levels at the moment, but I’ve got a couple of friends who are taking 4. They may be the smartest people I know, but the workload is insane! 

So, in conclusion, 4 A-Levels is a lot harder than 3. The workload is larger, harder, and only for the best of the best of students! So, unless you’re confident in your ability of working hard, I’d stick to 3.

What Are The Reasons For Doing 4 A-Levels Instead of 3 A-Levels?

Taking 4 A-Levels is a great way to show your talent and work ethic, but where can that take you?

4 A-Levels look great when applying to university. You have a much higher chance of being accepted with more A-Levels, especially in those top-band universities. Universities will never admit to preferring students with 4 A-Levels, however, doing 4 A-Levels most certainly shows them that you are academically gifted across a wider range of subjects.

It shows you can work hard and keep up with difficult content – something much needed when it comes to uni.

But make sure you do work hard… You may end up with 4 A-Levels, but 4 Ds won’t get you very far.

It’s also good for when you start looking for jobs. Taking 4 A-Levels as opposed to 3 will definitely make you stand out from other applicants applying for the same job. 

4 A-Levels aren’t just for entry level work, either. When you find yourself looking for promotions in big companies after education, your 4 A-Levels will come in handy!

Having 4 A-Levels (all with good grades) on your CV is seriously impressive. When employers see that you have gone out of your way to do 4 A-Levels, you will stick out like a saw thumb and immediately get a big fat tick to your name.

Because taking on 4 A-Levels is quite a formidable task, many people will prefer you over others. This is great because it widens the range of jobs you can get after you finish college, too.

And not only does 4 A-Levels stand you in good stead for university, it stands you in good stead for the absolute best universities.

They really don’t like to admit that taking 4 A-Levels is better than taking 3 – but when it comes to comparing you with other students, you will be preferred.

If you want to take your education to the highest level, then taking 4 A-Levels is definitely for you. Revered universities will take in only the best students, and a great way to show you are the best is by doing 4 A-Levels.

Apart from further education and jobs, there isn’t really much taking 4 A-Levels can gain you. It’s just up to you to decide whether or not the positives outweigh the negatives!

Do You Look Bad To Universities If You Only Do 3 A-Levels?

No. Not in the slightest.

It is true that all universities only ask for 3 A levels. No matter what university you apply for, they will only ever ask for 3. However, you may have to be extraordinarily good at those 3 A-Levels to be accepted into top universities.

Depending on what course you want to take, your final A-Level grade requirements will change. If you want to take a harder or more prestigious course, you must have better than average grades for example.

Also, a high scoring set of 3 A-Levels will be preferred to a low scoring set of 4! An A-grade student with 3 A-Levels is much preferred by a university than a C-grade (or B-grade) student with 4 A-Levels. 

This is because universities look for students who can organise and plan their workload according to their ability. In other words, students who don’t bite off more than they can chew…

It all depends on whether or not you think you can handle the workload of 4 A-Levels. If you don’t think you can, then just go for 3! It’s still a great amount of A-Levels and will get you into uni.

3 A-Levels is definitely enough to get you into university (and even one of the top universities in the UK). Just make sure that you try your hardest in them to ensure you can take your preferred course. If you decide to not request to do 4 A-Levels, make sure you get the grades in the 3 that you are doing!

3 A-Levels are also good for more than university. They can be equally as effective on your CV, job applications, apprenticeships etc.

If you want to go for that top university and are willing to work hard, go for 4 A-Levels. If you’re not fussed about which university you go to, and you don’t mind what course, go for 3!

Do More A-Levels Look Better On Your CV?

Yes. However, having more A-Levels on your CV is not always the best thing. If they’re unrelated to what you’re using your CV for, then it’ll be a bit pointless even having them.

For example, applying for a job in an accountancy firm with A-Levels in Bengali, Art and Design, and Photography won’t be very successful! 

Having said this, the right combination of A-Levels on your CV can be a great help. As long as they work with what you need them for, they can be a good asset in your application.

Employers will see how hard you worked at college and know that they can employ you to do the same thing. It’s a great asset to have whether you’re starting to look for jobs or already deep into the working world!

If you want to know more about how much employers care about your A-Level results, check out this article.

But remember, A-Levels aren’t the only thing you put on your CV. They may help, but the rest of the stuff on your CV also plays a part in your job applications. 

So even if you get 4 straight A’s in your exams, it won’t matter if you’ve got no other achievements! You should balance out your CV with curricular and extra-curricular activities.

And because of this, only having 3 A-Levels isn’t going to affect your CV much. Unless the employer is specifically looking for your A-Level grades, it’s not likely to make a difference.

In conclusion, having 4 A-Levels on your CV mixed with other achievements will make you stand out. However, 4 A-Levels on there own aren’t an excuse to have no other knowledge, skills or experience.

How Many A-Levels Do Most Students Take?

Deciding between 3 A-Levels or 4 A-Levels is a hard choice to make. So, what have other students gone for?

The table below shows the percentage of students that took a specific number of A-Levels. The data in the table is from 2022 and was taken from the government website.

Number of A-Levels taken Number of students Percentage of students
1 31,290 11.3%
2 49,765 18.0%
3 181,580 65.8%
4 13,135 4.8%
5 185 0.1%
6 5 Less than 0.1%

Most students start Year 12 taking 3 A-Levels and finish Year 13 with 3 A-Levels. It is very rare for students to take 4 A-Levels from the get go – that’s why it’s looked up upon so much.

There are some cases where people start with 4 A-Levels in Year 12 and then drop an A-Level when they start Year 13. This is a good way of doing things as you can get a feel for how hard doing 4 A-Levels is before you have to do an actual exam on them. Therefore, if you are really struggling in Year 12 and it’s looking like you’re about to get 4 D’s you could drop one and go on to get 3 A’s in Year 13.

The reason the majority of students take only 3 A-Levels is because doing 4 A-Levels is only for students with the absolute best academic record. Also, it’s not necessary to take 4 A-Levels at all, therefore, many people just do the bare minimum to get through A-Levels.

What Are The Requirements For You To Take 4 A-Levels?

So, you’ve made the decision to take 4 A-Levels, but what do you need to get there? 

A strong set of GCSEs are essential. Colleges make the final decision on whether or not you can take 4 A-Levels, and 99.9% of the time they will not let you do 4 A-Levels if you do not have an extremely strong set of GCSE results.

They make the final decision because they know the difficulty of the courses they teach. They also know what kind of students succeed with 4 A-Levels, and can often help you make the right choice.

You need to be hard working, determined, and motivated to be able to take 4 A-Levels (or at least make your college think that you are all those things). This is due to the high-stress, high-workload environment that 4 A-Levels produce.

However, the tricky part it that you have to actually prove to the college that you’re all of those qualities. Again, this is why your GCSE grades are absolutely essential when applying for college.

You can also use your CV to your advantage here. A good, well-written CV will show people that you have the ability to take 4 A-Levels. 

The entry requirements for 3 A-Levels are the same for most colleges. 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4/A*-C, including passable grades in both English and Maths. 

This is then be similar to the requirements to study 4 A-Levels. There aren’t actually any specific requirements, but we can use the ones mentioned above to estimate.

If 5 GCSEs at 9-4/A*-C is the minimum to study 3 A-Levels, it’s safe to assume that you’ll need a few more than that to study 4.

From my personal recommendation, I’d say you should have at least 9 GCSEs at grades 9-6/A*-B before even considering taking 4 A-Levels.

In Year 12 (2018 for me), I walked into the college office, asking to do 4 A-Levels with the following set of GCSE results:

  • 6 GCSE’s at Grade 9
  • 2 GCSE’s at Grade 8
  • 2 GCSE’s at Grade 7

When I did make the request, my college were extremely hesitant to let me do 4 A-Levels. After a lot of persuasion and a lot of questioning they finally did let me do 4. How difficult the process was for me should give you a rough idea as to what it takes to get a college to let you do 4 A-Levels.

It is only so hard because the work load is extremely heavy – unless you’re prepared, you won’t be able to keep up.

Even though there are no actual requirements for studying 4 A-Levels, I suggest you follow my guidelines. If you want to succeed in college, you need to find the right amount of A-Levels for you!

Can You Have A Job While Studying 4 A-Levels?

We know that taking 4 A-Levels is a lot of work, but does that mean you can’t have a job?

Jobs are very tempting when in college. Don’t get me wrong, money is a great thing to have at this stage of education.

You can start saving for university, a car, or anything else that you want! Or you could spend it on fun night outs with your friends, it’s up to you.

But it’s important to balance your studies with free time whilst in college. Too much of either and you can see college life go down the toilet!

This is why it’s difficult to keep a job when studying 4 A-Levels. It can interrupt either your studies or social life, or even both.

That can lead to a decline in either grades, or friends. And without either of these it’s hard to find your motivation to study in college.

Having said this, holding a job with 4 A-Levels is not impossible. It is hard, but it can be done with the right amount of focus and perseverance.

You need to be able to keep up with all the work issued to you, and also with everything you learn! It’s all well and good doing the work, but you need to remember it too.

It also can depend on what job you take – a job of more than 40 hours a week is NOT going to work! 

Maybe, just maybe, you could work a small job. I’d suggest no more than 10 hours a week if you want to keep up with your studies. 

If you don’t keep up with your studies, and have too much on your plate, then you could fail miserably!

It all depends on how you work as a student. If you’re good at keeping up with your work and completing deadlines, then having a job should be no problem.

However, if that doesn’t sound like you, then I recommend sticking to your studies. There will always be opportunities to make money, and whilst you’re in college, study should be your priority.

Taking 4 A-Levels and being successful in them will show an employer serious dedication! It will also set you apart from other people who only take 3. 

Which A-Levels Go Well Together?

It all depends on what you want to do with your life after college. If you want to go into further education after college, then you need to choose subjects according to the course.

For example, if you wanted to go into Actuarial Maths, then you’d study Accounting, Economics, Maths, and maybe even Business. 

However, if you wanted to go into an apprenticeship, your choices would be different. This is because apprenticeships also look for extra-curricular activities, and so A-Level choice matters less.

You could choose to go straight into work, starting at the bottom of a company and working your way up. This means that your A-Levels would come in handy at later times, when you compete for promotions among colleagues.

It all depends on what you want to do. I’d suggest looking at where you think you’re headed with your education, and make a choice based on that.

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, then try talking to your tutor or friends. Even your parents can be a help sometimes – don’t forget, they’ve been through this too…

It also helps to group certain A-Levels. Sciences, The Arts, English, Maths etc. That way, if you can choose one A-Level, you can see all the related A-Levels. 

Take a look online, too. There are many other students who have gone through the same process as you, and have shared their thoughts.

They may help you figure out just what it is you want to do at college. It is difficult to choose, so make sure you look at all the options available!

Make sure you check out this Think Student article that contains an extensive list of good A-Level combinations.

I’m a student currently studying A-Level Maths, A-Level Further Maths, A-Level Physics and A-Level Computer Science in college. It took a while to work out what I wanted to take, but it helped to talk with other peers.

Finally, if you are going to take 4 A-Levels, I recommend that your fourth A-Level should be very similar to one of your other A-Levels. This way, when you revise content for one A-Level it will also help you for your fourth A-Level as the content will be similar – reducing your workload slightly.

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4 years ago

You must be really talented to keep up with your combination

Aaron Abdur Rahim
Aaron Abdur Rahim
3 years ago

I have 5 AS levels, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Further Maths, and Computer Science and as the COVID 19 pandemic is going on, less classes per week, and all of these are online. Still getting a good amount of free time despite 5 subjects.

Herman Luther
Herman Luther
Reply to  Aaron Abdur Rahim
3 years ago


Reply to  Aaron Abdur Rahim
2 years ago

i think 4 is sufficient, even for ivies. I personally don’t find CS useful. You don’t need it for CS degree at all.

2 years ago

In msia, most did 3 A-level subjects but many did 4, some did 5 and few crazy ones did 6. It is 6!!!! Guess what those who took 4-6 A levels did manage to ace A or A* for all subjects. It isn’t hard to persuade colleges either, they generally allow student do more as they like in the beginning but will intervene should they do badly in A2.. British schools are just being fussy and over reacting.

1 year ago

3 A level is common in UK but in Asia 4 A level is the norm, some even did 5 or 6. Many top Asian uni have higher expectation from students than Oxford and Cambridge, for example, 3A* + 1A is the lower boundary requirement for medicine degree in Hong Kong University, 2A* + 2A is the minimum for their dentistry. Most oxbridge students just aren’t good enough for Asian uni. no joke.