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Hardest A Levels 2024

Published 26th April 2024

Hardest A Levels 2024

Choosing the right A Level subjects to study in the sixth form can play a key role in determining the options open to you after school - whether university choices or specific subject study.

What makes an A Level hard may depend on individual factors such as a natural aptitude, a preference for certain subjects or the quality of the teaching you receive. Nevertheless, some comparisons can be made, taking into account the amount of content to be learned and the difficulty of the concepts to be learned.

Although these factors are about students’ and teachers’ perceptions as much as objective measures, we will highlight some subjects that repeatedly come up in lists of the hardest A levels.

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Top 10 Hardest A Level Subjects

There is no objective measure of which A Levels are the hardest, but the following list features the subjects that come up most often in student and teacher surveys. All the subjects on the list are academically demanding. One student’s hardest subject might sit within another’s comfort zone.


Further Maths

Often seen at the top of the list, requiring an understanding of difficult mathematical concepts, as well as problem-solving and reasoning skills. A love of maths may be a prerequisite here because you are going to have to study very hard.



The most popular A Level subject, overtaking English Literature in 2014. A big step up from GCSE maths, you need to be able to think logically and problem-solve. Some elements of Mechanics will require knowledge of Physics concepts as well.



Chemistry A Level is known for its huge content, with a wide range of topics. You will need a solid grasp of theoretical and abstract concepts as well as an understanding of their application to experimental situations. A degree of maths ability will also help you.



Another challenging subject with hard concepts to grapple with, and a degree of mathematical knowledge and confidence a must. As with Chemistry, you must be able to apply theoretical ideas to a range of practical contexts.


English Literature

The first humanities subject on our list requires a very different set of skills. The ability to think critically and analyse a wide range of texts, as well as an in-depth knowledge of literary techniques, combine to make this subject a real challenge. You will have to come up with your own ideas, and not rely on easily available summaries. A love of reading will help, as there is a lot to get through, but you will need so much more.



History requires not only the learning and memorising of a huge amount of content, but you also need to be able to analyse information critically and have a deep understanding of historical events and causes.



Back to sciences, and Biology is another subject where you will see a big jump from GCSE. There is a lot of content to cover and you will need to understand difficult concepts in detail and show your understanding by analysing information and applying your knowledge.


Computer Science

You will not only need to learn the theoretical knowledge of computer science, but you will also need to be able to program. There is a further non-exam element to the A Level which will assess your ability to solve or investigate a practical problem.


Modern Foreign Languages

You will need a high degree of fluency and comprehension to do well in Modern Foreign Languages A Levels. These include French, German and Spanish. You will also study literary texts and need to have an understanding of historical and cultural contexts.



Psychology has increased in popularity and is now second after maths as the most popular subject. That does not mean it is an easy one to study, with a considerable element of science and maths included. Students need to understand psychological theories and research methods to do well.

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Hardest A Level Exam Boards

There are three main exam boards offering A Levels: being Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCR. Which exam board is the hardest is often a matter of perception. In terms of university choices, universities do not specify which exam board they expect students to study. Unless you are looking to move at sixth form to a school or college offering a particular board, you will take the exams offered by your school. The teachers will be familiar with the specifications for whichever board they are following.

It is important to remember that if you are studying A Levels in the UK, then the boards are broadly comparable as standards are monitored by the UK Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). Schools may choose different boards for different subjects, sometimes due to teacher preference, or a perception that a particular exam board will suit their student cohort.

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Grade Distributions For A Level Subjects

One possible method of measuring a subject's 'difficulty' is to observe the average grade distributions by A Level subject, provided by Ofqual.

While this may not be the most accurate way to determine difficulty, since several variables affect the distribution of grades, it can still provide a general understanding of students' performance in each subject.

Using the most recent 2023 data, here is a table that examines the 20 most common A Level subjects taken and their average grade distribution:

Subject No. of Students Average Grade Most to Least Common
Mathematics 89,720 A A, B, A*, C, D, E, U
Psychology 76,970 B B, C, D, A, E, A*, U
Biology 67,965 B B, C, A, D, E, A*, U
Chemistry 56,730 A A, B, C, D, E, A*, U
Sociology 45,060 B B, C, D, A, F, A*, U
History 44,155 B B, C, A, D, A*, E, U
Business Studies 40,700 B B, C, D, A, E, A*, U
Economics 38,020 B B, C, A, D, A*, E, U
Physics 35,375 A A, B, C, D, E, A*, U
Geography 34,625 B B, C, A, D, A*, E, U
English Lit. 33,610 B B, C, A, D, A*, E, U
Political Studies 20,425 B B, C, A, D, A*, E, U
Computing 17,230 B B, C, D, A, E, A*, U
Religious Studies 14,685 B B, C, A, D, A*, E, U
Media Studies 14,300 C C, D, A, A, E, A*, U
Further Maths 14,265 A A, A*, B, C, D, E, U
Law 13,945 C C, B, D, E, A, A*, U
Fine Art 13,580 B B, C, A, A*, D, E, U
English Lang. 13,050 C C, B, D, A, A*, E, U
P.E. 11,970 C C, B, D, A, E, A*, U

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All A Levels are challenging and academically rigorous exams. When choosing A Level subjects, it is important to be looking beyond the exams to your next steps. Which universities do you want to apply for? Which subjects do you want to study? These questions may have the greatest influence on your choices.

A 2017 Report by Ofqual found that “subject choices appear to be primarily driven by a triad of perceptions: enjoyment, usefulness, and difficulty (with perceptions being mostly person-specific). Although perceptions of difficulty did have an influence on subject choices, they are perhaps the lesser of these three concerns.”

Whilst Maths and Further Maths consistently come near the top of any list of hardest A Level subjects, Maths remains the most popular A Level subject, closely followed by Psychology, which has seen a surge in applicants in recent years. The FFT education data lab has produced independent statistics on the popularity of different A Levels.

Whatever your aspirations and choices, Ivy Education has expert A Level consultants and tutors who can help you make the best choices, and support and guide you through the curriculum to maximise your academic performance.

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A range of factors may make an A Level hard – or seem hard. These include a student’s natural aptitude, their personal preference, and the quality of teaching they receive.

Overall, the perceived difficulty of A Level subjects is subjective and can vary depending on individual factors such as personal interests, academic background, teaching quality, and assessment methods. However, some subjects are designed to be objectively more difficult than others.

For instance, Further Maths is an extension of Maths A Level and is, therefore, a more challenging subject to undertake.

It's also important to note that some subjects, like Fine Art, P.E., or English Literature, feature more subjective assessments, such as essays or coursework. This subjectivity can challenge students, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Recognising this can help students prepare for the varying assessment styles they may encounter.

Your A Level choices must be led by the course you want to take in the future. The Russell Group, representing 24 leading UK universities, used to publish a list of so-called facilitating subjects, which were seen as the most academically rigorous and the most likely to open doors. They no longer use this list and instead encourage students to make informed choices and consider a broader range of subjects. Their Informed Choices website can help students research the subjects they might need.

As previously stated, the 'difficulty' of A Level Subjects is highly subjective. However, looking at the grade distribution table in the section above, there are some notable outliers of subjects that students appear to struggle with overall.

A noteworthy example is A Level Law, which shows that fewer students are obtaining A* and A in this subject, with the most common grades (in order) being C, B, D, then E, with A and A* being the most 'rare' grades, not counting U.

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