Options at 16

Choosing your options

If you have enjoyed studying chemistry at GCSE (or equivalent), there are various ways you can continue with the subject post-16. There are a range of school, college-based and work-based qualifications available at this age so it is important that you take time to think about what would suit you and your plans best. The option you choose might depend on:

  • how you prefer to learn
  • how you prefer to be assessed
  • what your future plans are

School-based qualifications

England, Wales and Northern Ireland 

  • AS chemistry
  • A-level chemistry
  • International baccalaureate (IB)
  • Pre-U chemistry (note last exams for this course will take place in June 2023)
  • Applied general courses in applied science, e.g. BTEC and other level 3 diplomas and certificates.

AS and A Levels in England

AS chemistry is a discrete qualification, assessed at the end of the course, which typically lasts one year. The marks don’t count towards A-level chemistry. A-level chemistry courses typically last two years and students are also assessed at the end of the course.

In AS and A-level chemistry courses, practical skills are assessed externally by written exams only. For students studying A-level chemistry, there is a practical endorsement component which involves assessing student’s competency in performing skills that are not assessable via a written exam. The practical endorsement is assessed internally. There is no practical endorsement in AS Level chemistry.

AS and A-levels in Wales and Northern Ireland

AS and A-level chemistry are slightly different in Wales and Northern Ireland. In both countries, the qualifications consist of AS and A2 units. AS Level is a standalone qualification but also contributes 40% of the marks to the full A-Level qualification. In both Wales and Northern Ireland, students complete a lab-based practical exam and a written paper to assess practical skills.

Applied general courses include level 3 certificates and diplomas, a common example is the BTEC in applied science. These courses are assessed by a combination of written exam, assignments and practical reports. These qualifications are well recognised by UK universities should you want to go onto a degree, or start a higher, technician or degree apprenticeship (or equivalent).

Scotland

There are several options to consider:

  • Highers are a one-year course with formal exams at the end. Students can progress onto university with highers, however it is becoming more common for students to take a mix of highers and advanced highers during a sixth year at secondary school.
  • Advanced highers are a one-year qualification assessed by examination. They are often required to attend university in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. There are some cases of students taking a mix of nationals, highers and advanced highers in a single year. Check with your local education provider if you want to explore this option.
  • National certificate in applied sciences or national progression award (NPA) in laboratory science are one-year courses delivered flexibly with a combination of assessed tests and practical assignments. The national certificate supports knowledge of laboratory work whilst the NPA prepares individuals for a career as a laboratory technician. Both courses are intended for adult learners, school leavers and individuals currently working in the science industry. It can lead onto the higher national certificate (HNC) applied science. 

Republic of Ireland

Students in the Senior Cycle have the following options: 

  • Leaving certificate chemistry qualification suits most students and works best for those who want to continue learning in the classroom. Your school will probably offer you the option of studying seven subjects and your best six grades will be used to calculate your point score for entry into college courses. This qualification would suit you if you are planning to continue with higher education.
  • Leaving certificate vocational programme is an alternative option, it involves studying at least five leaving certificate subjects and three compulsory link modules in enterprise education, preparation for work and work experience. This qualification would suit you if you are planning to continue with higher education.
  • Leaving certificate applied programme also offers science as a module option. It is the best for students who want to gain a vocational education or get work experience. It is not recognised for direct entry into uiversities or Institutes of Technology, but you can use it in  some cases to take science related post-leaving certificate courses.

Work-based qualifications

If you like the idea of working whilst you study science and are not sure about going to university then an apprenticeship might be for you.

Apprenticeships offer the combination of working as a professional alongside studying towards a recognised qualification. For the majority of roles you need to be 16+, you will not pay for your qualification and you will be paid the national minimum wage for apprentices. Although many science-related employers pay more than this. 

Apprenticeships are available at different levels and offer qualifications up to degree level. You might find chemistry apprentices working as laboratory technicians or analysts working in the food, petrochemicals or pharmaceuticals sectors. The level of qualification and how you apply for one depends where you live. Find out more about these options by visiting our earn while you learn page.

Alternative options

Alternative post-16 options include starting work, setting up a business or volunteering. In England, continuing in some form of education until the age of 18 will be compulsory for students currently in Year 11 and below. This means that if you live in England and you choose something other than full time education or an apprenticeship, you will have to take up part-time education or training alongside.

When it is time to choose your post-16 options, remember to think about what you would enjoy, what would suit you and what is most likely to fit in with any future plans you have.

If you are unsure about your next steps, try talking to someone at school: a careers adviser or teacher could be a good person to start with.

Subject choices

When it is time to choose your subjects, there are benefits to studying maths alongside chemistry. You will find that the two subjects complement one another, with a strong foundation in maths becoming even more important if you intend to study chemistry at university. In some cases, A-level maths is one of the entry requirements for a degree in chemistry.

  • If you haven’t decided which science is your favourite, you might like to choose a second or third science alongside chemistry. Chemistry works well alongside physics or biology, physics is important if you are interested in engineering, and biology is helpful for professions like medicine or dentistry.
  • If you are undecided about your future plans, there are ways to keep your options open. The Russell Group guide to post-16 choices recommends studying some of the subjects that appear most often in university entry requirements. Chemistry, biology, physics, maths and further maths are on this list of facilitating subjects.

GOING TO UNIVERSITY

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Thinking about going to university

Ideas to help you decide what and where you want to study including alternative routes and more

APPRENTICESHIPS

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Earn while you learn

Understand the benefits of work-based qualifications, what you could be doing as an apprentice and how to apply.