Research and analysis

Students' subject choices at GCSE and A level

New research looks at whether perceptions of difficulty affect subject choices.


Perceptions of subject difficulty and subject choices: are the two linked, and if so, how?

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In April 2017 we announced our policy position (see paper 58/16) following our consideration of comparability of grading standards across different subject areas.

After evaluating a range of policy options, we announced that we would not try to take coordinated action to align grade standards across the full range of GCSE or A level subjects. However, we decided to look closely at six A level subjects to see whether there is an exceptional case to take action in: physics, chemistry and biology, and French, German and Spanish. To help us to do this, we announced we would be compiling a basket of evidence and set of criteria to determine whether there is a compelling case that standards in a particular subject are misaligned. This is in addition to work we have already completed looking at the impact of native speakers in A level modern foreign languages.

We are currently reviewing evidence and seeking input from stakeholders to help us examine the cases and define the criteria for any possible adjustments. This research study forms a part of that exercise. It investigates the primary drivers behind students’ subject choices at GCSE and A level.

Published 6 October 2017