Hire a tutor
Student studying hard

Top 10 Hardest A-Levels

8 min Read|May 02 2024
|Written by:

Megan Isaac


If you’re thinking about choosing your A-Levels in 2024, you’ll most likely be considering which A-Levels are the most challenging and the most respected. When it comes to A-Level subjects, it can be difficult to determine which one is the ‘hardest’ – after all, what may be a breeze for one student could be a nightmare for another. Nevertheless, there are some A-Levels that are notoriously difficult, and which require a lot of hard work, dedication, the best A-Level resources and potentially the help of an A-Level tutor to succeed in.

In this article, we will take a look at the top 10 hardest A-Levels, as judged by surveying two hundred teacher and university lecturers, as well as looking at statistics such as the pass rates and assessing difficult of each subject.

Survey of hardest A-Level subjects answered by teachers and lecturers

Results from a survey of 200 teachers and university lecturers about what they believe to be the hardest A-Level subjects

Here are the results, starting from 1, the most difficult A-Level:

1 - Further Maths

2 - Physics

3 - Chemistry

4 - Biology

5 - Maths

6 - English Literature

7 - History

8 - Economics

9 - Modern Languages

10 - Geography

Now let’s look at each of these subjects in more detail, explaining why they are so challenging.

#1. Further Mathematics

A-Level Further Maths is widely regarded as the most difficult A-Level subject, and for good reason. This subject is a step up from regular Mathematics, and covers a range of complex topics, including advanced calculus, differential equations, and abstract algebra. The number of students taking Further Mathematics is relatively low, with just 13,700 students sitting the exam in 2019. Of these, quite a high proportion – about 24% – received an A* grade. The percentage of students receiving an A* in Further Maths increased to 39.7% in 2022. There are also about 30% of students consistently achieving an A grade – so overall in 2021 over 70% of students received an A or A* grade.

However, don’t choose Further Maths on the basis of these statistics alone. Firstly, 2021 saw inflated grades due to Covid-19 cancelling exams, and more importantly, the vast majority of students taking Further Maths are already studying Maths and usually are on track to achieve an A or A* in it. These students are particularly good at mathematics and do not represent the mathematical skills of the general population. So whilst Further Maths is very challenging, you may be in a position to achieve top grades if you consider an A-Level Further Maths tutor!

Here’s what one A-Level examiner had to say about the subject:

”Having been an examiner and teacher for over a decade, I can say confidently that Further Maths is the most challenging A-level. It's not just about mastering complex mathematical concepts, but also about developing problem-solving skills and logical reasoning abilities. The syllabus covers a wide range of topics, including abstract algebra, differential equations, and complex numbers, which require a deep understanding of mathematical principles that prepare students for further study at university. For those who are up for the challenge and wanting to use mathematics at higher education, it can be a rewarding subject.”

Graph of A-Level Further Maths scores

A Graph of Further Mathematics A-Level grades over time

#2. Physics

A-Level Physics is another notoriously difficult subject, and is often seen as a prerequisite for students who wish to go on to study engineering or the sciences at university. The subject covers a wide range of topics, including classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. In 2019, 36,000 students sat the Physics exam, with just 8.5% of these receiving an A* grade. This increased to 16.4% in 2022, and about 20-25% of students achieve an A in Physics. Nevertheless, this is a very challenging subject, and the low A* rate may put some students off.

Explore these A-Level Physics resources to deepen your understanding and enhance your exam performance:

Get expert help with your A-Levels

The world's leading online A-Level tutoring provider trusted by students, parents, and schools globally.

4.92/5 based on480 reviews

#3. Chemistry

A-Level Chemistry is a challenging subject that requires a lot of memorisation and mathematical ability. The subject covers a wide range of topics, including organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and inorganic chemistry. In 2019, over 54,000 students sat the Chemistry exam, making it the fifth most popular A Level subject. However, with just 7.2% of these receiving an A* grade in 2019, it is one of the most difficult A Level subjects. There are, however, about 25% of students receiving A grades in Chemistry. Just over 20% of students received either a D or E grade in 2022. Chemistry is therefore a particularly challenging A Level subject. Because of the difficulty of the subject, a large proportion of students choose to hire A-Level Chemistry tutors to help them prepare for their exams.

Dive into these A-Level Chemistry resources to get ready for the tough topics and improve your scores:

#4. Biology

A-Level Biology is another science subject that is widely regarded as being difficult, due to the large amount of content that needs to be memorised, and the complex concepts that need to be understood. The subject covers a wide range of topics, including genetics, ecology, and physiology. In 2019, over 63,600 students sat the Biology exam, with just 6.6% of these receiving an A* grade. Whilst this increased to 12.8% in 2022, it still remains a particularly challenging subject to get the top grade in. However, about 20% of students received an A, B or C respectively, thus around two thirds of candidates fall in the A-C category. In light of these challenges, enlisting the help of an A-Level Biology tutor can be a strategic move to improve understanding and performance.

Discover these A-Level Biology resources available to boost your knowledge and excel in your exams:

#5. Mathematics

The A-Level Maths covers a range of topics, including algebra, calculus, and trigonometry. How hard is A-Level Mathematics? It requires a lot of logical thinking and problem-solving ability. In 2021, 85,000 students sat the Mathematics exam making it the most popular A-Level. 16.3% of students achieved an A* grade in 2019, which increased to 22.8% in 2022. A similar number of students achieved an A grade. In our survey of 1000 students, over 20% hired an A-Level Maths tutor to help them with their studies.

Check out these resources for A-Level Maths to strengthen your mathematical skills for higher grades:

A study proposing relative subject difficulty

A study proposing relative subject difficulty

#6. English Literature

A-Level English Literature poses a very different challenge to the other A-Levels covered so far, and how difficult writing English essays is will vary between students. Regardless of your reading and writing ability, English Literature will require a lot of critical thinking and analytical ability. The subject covers a wide range of texts, including novels, plays, and poetry, and requires students to have a deep understanding of literary techniques and themes. In 2019, 37,000 students sat the English Literature exam, with only 8.6% of these receiving an A* grade. Since 2017, most students have achieved a B grade, with around 30% of students achieving this grade each year.

Use these valuable A-Level English Literature resources to enhance your analytical skills and achieve top marks:

#7. History

A-Level History is another essay and coursework-based subject that requires a lot of research, critical thinking, and analytical ability. The subject covers a wide range of topics, including political, social, and economic history, and requires students to have a deep understanding of both breadth and depth of historical events. In 2019, over 47,000 students sat the History exam, putting it in the top 5 in terms of popularity. Only 4.9% of students received an A* grade in 2019, the lowest percentage since at least 2008. This increased to around 12% in 2022, but still remains relatively love compared to other subjects. The majority of History students receive a B grade, with over 30% of students receiving this mark in 2022.

Access these A-Level History resources for a deeper understanding and securing excellent grades:

#8. Economics

A-Level Economics is a difficult subject that requires a lot of mathematical ability and critical thinking. The subject covers a range of topics, including microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. In 2019, 29,800 students sat the Economics exam, making it less popular than Art and Design, Sociology, Geography and Business Studies. In 2019, only 6.5% of students received an A* grade, this increased to 13.5% in 2022. More students get A and B grades however, around 25% on average for each.

Here are the resources for A-Level Economics, aiding in mastering the subject for better academic results:

#9. Modern Foreign Languages

Modern Foreign Languages, such as French, Spanish, and German, are difficult A-Level subjects that require a lot of memorisation and language skills. Each subject covers a range of topics, including grammar, vocabulary, and culture. In 2019, Spanish was the most popular language, with 7,900 candidates, followed by French at 7,600 and 2,900 for German. German tends to have the highest proportion of A*s, followed by Spanish and then French.

#10. Geography

A-level Geography is a challenging subject which covers both human, physical and environmental topics. It is a broad and interdisciplinary subject which can be challenging for some students, it requires connecting complex concepts and drawing on a number of theoretical approaches. In 2019, 31,800 students took Geography A-Level, with only 5.2% receiving an A* grade. This increased to 11.0% in 2022. The majority of Geography students receive a B grade, followed by around 22% of students receiving A and C grades.

Investigate these A-Level Geography resources, intended to expand your knowledge and facilitate higher achievement in exams:


In conclusion, the hardest A-Level subjects present a unique set of challenges that require dedication, focus, and perseverance. While it's essential to consider the difficulty of a subject when making your A-Level choices, it's also crucial to recognise that there are many factors to take into account when deciding which combination of subjects to study. Your interests, passions, and future goals should all play a significant role in this decision-making process.

Oxbridge tutors conclude that undertaking difficult A-Level subjects can be rewarding and may be viewed favourably by universities, as it demonstrates your ability to tackle complex problems and rise to academic challenges. All the A-Levels on this list, including Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and English Literature, are respected by top universities. However, it's vital to ensure that you are prepared for the hard work and commitment required to excel in these subjects.

It's important to strike a balance between challenging yourself and being realistic about your capabilities. Remember, you'll be more likely to succeed in subjects that genuinely interest and engage you. So, consider your strengths and weaknesses, your learning preferences, and your long-term aspirations when making your decision. If you’re wondering what the easier A-Level subjects are, then have a read of our article on the Top 20 Easiest A-Levels.

Ultimately, the key to success in any A-Level subject, whether it's considered easy or difficult, lies in your dedication, effort, and passion for learning. So, when selecting your A-Level subjects, focus on those that will fuel your enthusiasm and provide you with the best foundation for your future academic and career pursuits. Good luck on your A-Level journey!


What are the most respected A-Levels?

The most respected A-Levels are similar to the hardest ones. According to Dr Zhen Shao of Oxford University, the most respected A-Levels include:

  • Maths
  • Further Maths
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • History
  • French

What are the most popular A-levels?

The most popular A-Levels in 2021 by student entries were:

  1. Mathematics - 90,290
  2. Psychology - 68,315
  3. Biology - 63,765
  4. Chemistry - 55,485
  5. Sociology - 39,825
  6. History - 41,585
  7. Art and design subjects - 39,370
  8. Business studies - 35,285
  9. Physics - 37,560
  10. Economics - 32,700

What is the hardest A-Level to get an A* in?

Here's what an expert, Dr James Morrill who received a PhD from Oxford University said: "The hardest A-Level to get an A* in is Further Maths. Although a smaller proportion of students get A*s in subjects such as Media Studies and Business, the difficulty of Further Maths means it is much more difficult to get an A* in than any other subject."

What are the hardest IB subjects?

The hardest IB subjects include Mathematics Analysis & Approaches, English Literature, and Chemistry. For more information read our comprehensive article on the hardest IB subjects.

How do I choose the right A-Levels for me?

Choosing the right A-Levels is a personal decision that should be influenced by your academic strengths, interests, and future aspirations. Start by considering the subjects you enjoy and excel at, as you'll be more motivated to study these in depth. If you have a specific career path or university course in mind, research the entry requirements to ensure your A-Level choices align with these. It's also worth considering the workload and difficulty level of the subjects, as well as how they're assessed (exams, coursework, or practical work). Lastly, seek advice from teachers, career advisors, and people who work in your fields of interest to make an informed decision.

What makes an A-Level subject hard?

The difficulty of an A-Level subject can be subjective and often depends on an individual's skills and interests. However, there are several factors that can make an A-Level subject challenging. These include the volume of content to learn, the complexity of the concepts, the need for critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and the type of assessment (e.g., exams, coursework, or practical work). Subjects that require a high level of abstract thinking or application of knowledge, such as Further Maths or Physics, are often perceived as hard. But remember, what's hard for one person might be enjoyable and manageable for another.

How many A-Levels should I take?

The number of A-Levels you should take depends on your future plans and capacity to manage the workload. Most students in the UK take three A-Levels, which is sufficient for entry to most university courses. Some students choose to take four A-Levels if they're particularly ambitious, or if they want to keep their options open. However, four A-Levels will increase your workload significantly, and universities typically make offers based on three A-Levels. Therefore, it's often better to focus on achieving high grades in three subjects rather than spreading yourself too thin across four.

How much study time is required for A-Levels?

The amount of study time required for A-Levels can vary depending on the subject and your individual learning pace. However, as a general rule, you should expect to spend around 15-20 hours per week studying outside of class for each A-Level. This includes time spent on homework, reading, revision, and independent study. Remember, it's not just about the quantity of study time, but also the quality. Effective study techniques, such as active recall and spaced repetition, can help you make the most of your study time.

What are the benefits of taking the "hardest" A-Levels?

Taking the "hardest" A-Levels can demonstrate to universities and employers that you're capable of tackling challenging subjects and have a strong work ethic. These subjects often develop valuable skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to handle complex information. However, it's important to balance challenge with enjoyment and aptitude. Excelling in a subject you enjoy can be just as impressive as taking a traditionally 'hard' subject.

How do universities view the "hardest" A-Levels?

Universities, particularly competitive ones, often respect students who take challenging A-Levels as it demonstrates academic rigour. However, most universities care more about the grades you achieve than the perceived difficulty of your subjects. They also look for subjects relevant to the course you're applying for. So, while taking a 'hard' A-Level might be impressive, it's more important to choose subjects you enjoy and are likely to do well in.

Can I change my A-Levels after I've started?

It's possible to change your A-Levels in the first few weeks of the course, but this depends on your school or college's policy. If you're considering a change, it's important to discuss this with your teachers or career advisor as soon as possible. Keep in mind that you'll need to catch up on any work you've missed in the new subject.

How do I balance studying for multiple A-Levels?

Balancing multiple A-Levels involves good time management and organisation. Create a study schedule that allocates time to each subject and includes breaks. Prioritise your workload based on upcoming deadlines and exams. Use effective study techniques, like active recall and spaced repetition, to study efficiently. Also, look after your wellbeing by eating healthily, getting regular exercise, and ensuring you have downtime.

What strategies can help me succeed in my A-Levels?

Success in A-Levels comes from consistent effort, effective study techniques, and a positive mindset. Start by organising your study materials and creating a realistic study schedule. Use active learning strategies, like self-quizzing and teaching others, to help information stick. Regularly review and revise what you've learned to improve long-term retention. Stay motivated by setting short-term and long-term goals, and reward yourself when you achieve them.

How can I manage stress while studying for A-Levels?

Managing stress involves taking care of your physical and mental health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can all help reduce stress. Take regular breaks during study sessions to avoid burnout. Mindfulness techniques, like meditation or deep breathing, can also help manage stress. If you're feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust about it, such as a teacher, parent, or friend.

What options do I have if I don't do well in my A-Levels?

If you don't do as well as expected in your A-Levels, there are still many options available. You could retake your exams, consider different university courses through Clearing, take a gap year, or look into alternative qualifications or apprenticeships. It's important to seek advice and explore all your options before making a decision.

How do "hard" A-Levels prepare me for university?

"Hard" A-Levels can prepare you for university by developing your ability to handle complex information, think critically, and work independently - all skills that are highly valued in higher education. They can also give you a deep understanding of a subject, which can be beneficial if you plan to study a related course at university. However, all A-Levels can provide valuable preparation for university, so choose subjects that you enjoy and are motivated to study.

Where can I find A-Level past papers?

At TutorChase, we offer a comprehensive collection of free A-Level past papers covering all subjects and exam boards, explore them here:

Need help from an expert?

4.92/5 based on480 reviews

The world’s top online tutoring provider trusted by students, parents, and schools globally.

Study and Practice for Free

Trusted by 100,000+ Students Worldwide

Achieve Top Grades in your Exams with our Free Resources.

Practice Questions, Study Notes, and Past Exam Papers for all Subjects!

Need Expert Help?

If you’re looking for assistance with your A-levels, get in touch with the TutorChase team and we’ll be able to provide you with an expert A-Level tutor. We’ll be there every step of the way!



Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Megan Isaac

Written by: Megan Isaac

Oxford University - BA Politics, Philosophy, and Economics

Megan recently graduated from Oxford University, achieving a first class degree in PPE. She has has six years of tutoring experience, teaching a range of subjects at GCSE and A-Level, as well as helping students with their applications to university including Oxbridge.

Get Expert Help
background image

Hire a tutor

Please fill out the form and we'll find a tutor for you

Phone number (with country code)

Still have questions? Let’s get in touch.