Choosing your A-Level subjects is a key time, signalling the start of a new part of your education. However, choosing the right subjects for you can be extremely difficult, particularly if you are interested in subjects, you have not tried before. In this article we will explain the popularity ratings for A-Levels in 2023, to help you understand where each subject stands, and key information about them such as the pass rates. We will also suggest how they might help you in a future career, with tips from current students studying these subjects.
Be advised: The ranking is based off our research on A-Level entries. This data was collected from the government website.
Least popular A-Levels based off entry rates.
Below you can find the visualisation of A-Level subject popularity (top – Least popular, bottom – 11ᵗʰ least popular). Displayed on the chart is A-Level popularity found by number of entrants in the UK.
You may also be interested in the most popular A-Level subjects. You can view these here.
Walkthrough of the A-Level popularity rankings
The A-Level popularity rankings are based on data collected by the UK government and OFQUAL (the UK exams regulator). They are based on the number of students entered for that subject across all exam boards, and then what grades they gained on average.
Subjects such as English, Law and Classics are among the least popular A-Levels in the UK, but despite this they are still very good qualifications to hold and are the same level of difficulty as other A-Levels. Some reasons why they may be less popular could include a range of skills needed, being a more niche subject, or having a lot of content.
Some subjects have less than 2,000 entrants across the UK, and these are included under the heading of “Other subjects” on the government website. These have been left out of this ranking list, as they do not make up enough entrants to be part of the rank.
Please note that the entry requirements stated for each subject are suggested based on typical requirements published by sixth forms around the UK. Therefore, there may be variation in what previous subjects are required and the grades you need in them. Make sure to check with your college or sixth form about what you would need, as it may differ from what is suggested here.
The number of exams and content studied is based on the AQA specification for that A-Level. Again, it is important to check with your college about what board you may study, and what content will be included.
If you are interested in tips on which subject combinations are good for universities at A-Level, please read this Think Student article.
10. A-Level ICT (Computing)
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Computing
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||80.5%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||9.6%|
|Number of exams||2 + NEA coursework|
|Entry requirements||7+ in English and Mathematics GCSEs|
AQA A-Level Computing has 2 exams, each lasting 2 hour 30 minutes. Each exam counts for 40% of the A-Level, and is a written exam involving some essay writing, and some data analysis and maths, and also some written examples of programming in a language of the candidate’s choice (from a given set).
The A-Level Computing specification focusses on the fundamentals of programming and data, as well as looking at some of the political and ethical issues surrounding data and computers in the modern age. The NEA assessment requires that students solve or investigate a practical problem using computing skills, presented through extended writing.
A-Level Computing students often go on to study business management or computer science at university. Other common choices include science degrees, or mathematics, as the A-Level course develops understanding in these areas. An A-Level in Computing leads well to careers in software engineering and development, as well as research, but also to entrepreneurship, with many graduates starting their own companies or developing new technologies. Many also enter civil service, in organisations such as GCHQ.
9. A-Level Further Maths
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Further Maths
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||92%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||39.7%|
|Number of exams||3|
|Entry requirements||8+ in Mathematics GCSE and 4+ in English|
AQA A-Level Further Maths has 2 exams, each lasting 2 hours. Each exam counts for 33% of the A-Level, and focusses on problem solving skills through calculation and application of learned methods. Students are allowed a calculator in all exams.
The A-Level Further Mathematics specification is based around 3 key modules, which are mathematical language and proof, problem solving, and modelling, as well as key content and methods. Students then choose 2 of 3 optional modules, out of mechanics, statistics, and discrete mathematics.
A-Level Further Maths students often go on to maths further at university, or other STEM and science options. Engineering is particularly common, but students also often work in architecture or finance and trading. An A-Level in Further Mathematics also works well to begin a career in law, and in university research or teaching.
If you want to learn more about A-Level Further Maths check out this Think Student article.
8. A-Level English
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level English, including both language and literature
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||Language – 85.7%
Literature – 88.2%
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||Language – 6.2%
Literature – 16.5%
|Number of exams||2|
|Entry requirements||7+ English GCSE and 4+ Maths|
AQA A-Levels in English language or literature have 2 exams, each lasting 1 hour 30 minutes or 2 hours. Each exam counts for 40% of the A-Level, and is a written exam involving extended essay writing, analysis of extracts, and work on prose and poetry both studied and unseen, for literature. Language exams involve analysis and discussion on language development and methods.
Both A-Levels also require NEA work, coursework of 1500-2500 words. This is based around comparative study of texts, a language investigation, or a piece of original writing for Language students.
The A-Level English Literature specification has students study a Shakespeare text, as well as poetry anthology, a collection of poetry, a modern play and both a modern and historical novel. A-Level English Language students study children’s language development as well as language changes throughout history, writing skills and discourse on language.
A-Level English students often go on to study English to degree level, or any subject requiring extended essay skills. Creative writing and journalism are also very popular options. Politics and law are great choices for careers for English students, as well as editing or publishing pathways and teaching.
Think Student has many great articles about English. A few of them are listed below:
- A-Level English Language Guide
- A-Level English Literature Guide
- English Language vs English Literature
7. A-Level Law
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Law
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||71.3%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||8%|
|Number of exams||3|
|Entry requirements||7+ in English and 4+ Mathematics GCSE|
AQA A-Level Law has 2 exams, each lasting 2 hours. Each exam counts for 33% of the A-Level, made up of multiple choice, short answer, and essay writing questions.
A-Level Law has 3 compulsory units: the English legal system, criminal law, and tort. Students can then choose between the optional modules of contract law or human rights law. These modules are assessed in the examinations separately but give students a strong overview of the key elements in law.
A-Level Law students often go on to further careers in the legal system, from barristers to legal advocates to working in the prison system. Politics is another common choice, as is international relations and language studies at university.
6. A-Level Physical Education
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Physical Education
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||79.4%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||12.4%|
|Number of exams||2 + NEA|
|Entry requirements||5+ in English and Mathematics GCSEs|
AQA A-Level Physical Education has 2 exams, each lasting 2 hours. Each exam counts for 40% of the A-Level and is a written exam involving some multiple choice and short answer questions, as well as essay questions. The NEA component is based on your performance in an activity of your choice as assessed by a coach, as well as written or verbal analysis of your performance.
The A-Level Physical Education specification looks at anatomy in the context of sport, physiology and sport psychology, as well as skill acquisition, and the role of sports in society.
A-Level Physical Education students often go on to study sports or physiology at university, often going on to careers in coaching or peripheral sports jobs like physiotherapy and nutrition coaching. However, some students also go on to professional sporting careers.
5. A-Level Design & Technology
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Design and Technology
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||80.8%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||12.7%|
|Number of exams||2 + NEA|
|Entry requirements||6+ in English and Mathematics GCSEs|
AQA A-Level Design and Technology is split into 2 options, product design or textiles. Both options have 2 exams, each lasting 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes. Each exam counts for 20-30% of the A-Level, and is a written exam involving some essay writing, and some short answer questions.
The NEA part of the specification is worth 50% of the A-Level. It involves creating a design project based around a chosen brief, and a written portfolio of explanations and evidence of the project. The rest of the A-Level studies technical principals and designing/making, including looking at manufacturing processes and skills.
A-Level Design and Technology students often go on to study business or product design at university. Architecture and engineering are also common choices for further study. DT A-Level students also go on to apprenticeships, particularly in trade careers.
4. A-Level Drama
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Drama
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||91%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||14.9%|
|Number of exams||1 written + 2 practical|
|Entry requirements||7+ in English and 4+ Mathematics GCSEs|
AQA A-Level Drama has 3 exams, with the written examination lasting 3 hours. This is an open book exam requiring extended essays on dramatic methods and analysis, 40% of the A-Level. The second exam requires a performance of devised drama, which means writing the performance yourself. The third is similar but requires performance of 3 existing extracts of drama. Students can contribute to these performances as actors, directors, or designers.
A-Level Drama students often go on to acting colleges or other performance careers such as studying theatre at university. Many also go into media careers such as TV or radio presenting, or scriptwriting. Other pathways include art therapy and teaching drama, as well as directing or producing performances or media.
3. A-Level English Language & Literature
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Language and Literature
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||86.1%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||9%|
|Number of exams||2 + NEA|
|Entry requirements||7+ in English and 4+ Mathematics GCSEs|
AQA A-Level Language and Literature has 2 exams, each lasting 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours. Each exam counts for 40% of the A-Level, and is based on extended essay writing, both analytical and critical commentary. The NEA is 2500-3000 words, written on methods of language analysis and connections between chosen texts.
The A-Level Language and Literature specification is underpinned by key analytical methods of the English language and lexicon, as well as applying these to understanding literature. Students study a key drama and poetry text, as well as an anthology of texts. They also study themes such as remembered places and imagined worlds, applying this to critical commentary about texts.
A-Level Language and Literature students often go on to study linguistics or literature at university. They also often study politics, international relations, or history, going on to further careers such as scriptwriting, teaching, and politics. Many language and literature students also find careers in speech therapy, due to their study of how language is developed.
2. A-Level Music
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Music
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||85.5%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||17.3%|
|Number of exams||2 + NEA composition|
|Entry requirements||5+ in English and Mathematics GCSEs
Grade 6+ standard in a solo instrument or vocal performance
AQA A-Level Music has 1 written exam, based on appraising music through analysis of harmony and listening skills. There is also a performance exam, which must be recorded, on a solo instrument or voice and can include ensemble performance. Finally, the NEA component is a composition portfolio, with one piece written to a brief and another free choice.
A-Level Music students are required to study, in preparation for their written exam, set pieces of music from the western classical tradition. They also must choose 2 additional areas of study from pop music, media, theatre, jazz, contemporary traditional music, and art music.
A-Level Music students often go on to careers in music, for example in performance, conducting, or composing. Students choosing this career tend to study music at a conservatoire or university. However, students also go on to careers in teaching or music therapy, as well as many other careers.
1. A-Level Classical Subjects
Below is a table illustrating some key data about A-Level Classics
|Pass Rate (grades C and above)||91.8%|
|Percentage of students achieving A* grades||24.6%|
|Number of exams||3|
|Entry requirements||6+ in English and 4+ Mathematics GCSEs|
OCR A-Level Classical Studies has 3 exams, each lasting 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes. Each exam counts for 30% of the A-Level and is a written exam involving extended essay writing and analysis of historical sources in translation.
The A-Level Classical Civilisation specification has 3 main parts: literature study around the world of the hero, culture and the arts, and beliefs and ideas. These are studied in reference to a period spanning Archaic Greece to the demise of Imperial Rome, and the various cultures and societies that this time period presented.
A-Level Classical Studies students often go on to study classics or politics at university, often leading to careers in law and politics, or archaeology later in life. Another common choice of course is PPE, politics, philosophy, and economics. Students also often go on to careers in media and historical studies, including museum conservation and historical advising for television and radio.
Does it matter if you take an unpopular subject?
As times change, education also evolves. The cause for subjects, university courses and careers to fall out of or jump into favour is because requirements and circumstances change. Unpopularity of a subject is subjective to a substantial extent – it depends on numerous circumstances such as the country you are studying in, the school or sixth form you are attending, and even the gender demographic.
A general rule of thumb for the popularity question is how academically based the subject is. Ones that focus on the arts, humanities or social sciences and traditional values like religion, deemed “soft subjects” tend to fall back in comparison to the general critical subjects (known as facilitating subjects) like the core sciences and mathematics.
Taking these so-called unpopular subjects should not affect the chances of you getting into a university. As long as you make sure you’re hitting the entry requirements for the course at the university you’re planning to attend.
For more helpful tips on choosing the right A-Levels for you, please read this helpful Think Student guide.