4 A levels? The good, The bad and the downright ugly.

So this is quite a niche blog post but I’m hoping if you have stumbled across this on the internet then it will be useful for you, as when I was looking for a post like this last year I couldn’t find ANYTHING on the topic. This is the time of year when people are considering carrying on with 4 a levels and not dropping a subject at AS, and that is what I chose to do last year when I was in year 13. Now that I have gone through it and have my results I feel that I am in a  good position to talk about my experiences and help you make an informed decision. This is not biased in anyway as I am giving you the pros and cons and I honestly think it is quite dependent on what type of person you are and ultimately how dedicated you are… have a read and make a decision for yourself! 

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So first of all, think I should give you a bit of background knowledge about me. I took economics, business, geography and sociology at A level and I came out with A*, A*, A and B (although the B is currently being remarked, fingers crossed!). As much as I moaned about the workload at the time and it was probably one of the hardest things that I have ever done, I have no regrets about taking 4 subjects and it was definitely the best decision for me and my work ethic.  

Im going to put it bluntly, you need to have the academic ability to take 4 subjects. This is not me trying to boast about my ability but it is more of a fact, you need to be top performing in AS and year 12 mocks to even be considered to take 4 subjects. It is a huge pressure and there is so much work to do that the teachers need to know that you will take it seriously and work hard. Year 13 is hard enough with 3 subjects so adding a 4th onto that makes it even more stressful, and you need to be prepared for that. Some would argue that it is better to concentrate on 3 but again I would say it is personal choice. Listen to your teachers and your parents but ultimately if you think that you can do it, then really try to convince them to let you. My teachers were skeptical about me taking 4 (mainly because of how demanding my subjects are, as they are all essay based) but I have come out with the top grades, so if you do know deep down that you can do it then believe in yourself and push to get it. 

The main benefit of 4 subjects is that there is plenty more room for failure, as universities only take into consideration your 3 best subjects. This means that you don’t have to rely solely on the 3 subjects that you are doing, as you have an extra one to fall back on if you sit a bad exam or make a mistake in one of your papers. This is what happened to me and its the reason that I got into my first choice uni, which is crazy to think about and I have a lot to thank 4 subjects for. One of my grades was significantly lower than expected (since had a remark thank god) but if that was the case I wouldn’t have got into uni, and it would have caused so much unnecessary stress if I didn’t get in until the remark happened. So for my first choice I needed AAA and I ended up with A*A*AB. The subject that I would have dropped would have been business and without it I would have opened A*AB, which would have had the potential to jeopardise my university position. Imagine how stressful that would have been on results day morning! However, due to my 4th subject, I had a lot less to worry about and it made results day a lot less nerve-wracking. 

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Having 4 subjects sets you apart from others and, although universities only use your 3 best results, they will also take into consideration the fact that you have a fourth subject there as well. If you miss a grade, the university will reconsider you application and if you have 4 subjects then you will definitely shine. That extra subject doesn’t only show that you are an academic person but it also shows that you are dedicated with a strong work ethic and that is exactly what the universities are looking for. In short, it is clear evidence to show how much potential you have… any university would be silly not to accept you! 

This is quite a personal one as it is all dependent on what subjects you are taking, but one perk of me taking 4 subjects is that they linked together SO WELL so taking an extra subject can actually help your overall. This is because you gain general knowledge that can link to the other subjects, and it makes you a more well rounded student overall. For example I don’t think that I could have got an A* in business without my economics A level, because one of my 20 mark questions in business was about ‘economic impacts’ of something so that I could draw on both subjects for my knowledge, and that obviously sets you apart from others and allows you to access the top grade boundaries. Definitely worth considering if your subjects are in the same ‘category’ (science, humanities etc) because although it is a lot more work, it might help you in the long run. 

A huge downside to taking 4 subjects is that it is a vicious cycle of time, or more to the point the lack of time. You need to spend more time in sixth form because of extra lessons (5 hours a week), so you lose a huge proportion of your frees but you get more homework/revision because the extra subject is as demanding as the other three. I found that I was doing about an extra 10 hours a week in comparison to others doing 3 A levels, so it is a hell of a lot more to handle. I was working upwards of a 45 hour week plus my blog work, as my subjects were all essay based and it added extra time because I was writing about 10-15 essays a week. That isn’t meant to scare you but I’m just being real… it was a lot! 

You need to get your priorities straight if you are doing 4 subjects and I would say that a part time job should probably go, as you wouldn’t be able to fit everything in without burning yourself out. Looking back now I can honestly say that managing my blog alongside 4 subjects was too demanding and I always felt like I had something on my to do list. I didn’t mind because my blog is what I love but if that was a ‘normal’ part time job then I would have definitely been on the go none stop… you need time to relax. Unless you are a superhero, you are going to have to let a few things go, for me it was spending as much time as I would have liked to with my friends and my driving lessons, there just wasn’t enough time in a day!

Don’t feel that doing 4 subjects will make your grades suffer though. My opinion is that if you have the potential to do 4 A levels then you are clearly hardworking and you won’t let your grades slip, because you are the kind of person that would put in the extra effort and push yourself to reach your goal. In order to get everything done I learnt the value of waking up early, I ended up starting work at 6am on a normal day and over exam season I woke up at 5am every day. I was shattered but it was worth it to get in a few extra hours and you got used to getting up so early after a few days… It really wasn’t that bad! 

I think that the biggest downside though in my opinion is the stamina that you need. Working throughout the year didn’t really effect me stress wise because you get used to the hectic timetable but then exam season hit me like a brick wall. I was sitting 3 more exams in comparison to my friends, which doesn’t sound like a lot but them exams were taking up my free days that everyone else had. I ended up doing 12 exams in 10 days and it was absolutely crazy. I was working 14 hour a day and once I had finished an exam I didn’t have time to rest because I had to start cramming for the next day. It was honestly ridiculous and a huge downside to taking 4 subjects in my opinion as I burnt myself out and I feel like I didn’t reach my full potential in some exams because of having 6 of them in one week! Definitely worth considering when you are thinking of taking 4 subjects, because you did need A LOT of stamina to keep going. 

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You are a boss lady (or guy!) if you can manage 4 subjects.. well done you!

I feel like I have just rambled in this post but I hope that it has been useful to someone if you are considering taking 4 subject next year. It is a lot of work but the feeling that you get on results day is seriously like no other, as you not only feel proud of yourself for getting through it but also for your inevitably fantastic results. Definitely talk to your teachers and parents before making a decision but ultimately it is your choice and what you can handle. I would definitely try it if you feel capable as you could always drop one a month in and go back down to three, its worth a try and I’m sure that if you do decide to carry on 4 then you will excel anyway! As always thank you so much for reading this and supporting my back to school posts that I have been uploading recently. 

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