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When you are passionate about a topic or a subject, do you find that it that much easier to go more in depth, or get a wider understanding of it, or both?  While this is definitely encouraged, remember though that the top most priority for your university application (and interviews thereafter) is to be on top of what you’re studying right now, to be able to answer and have a conversation about anything that you have studied so far.   There is no substitute for this, and at the very least, you need to know you subject at A level inside out.

Laboratory Microscope.Back to basics –

Make sure you are clear on the basics and can build your way up the problem, step by step.

And I do mean, anything you have studied so far.  The nature of studying subjects like Maths, Physics or Chemistry at school is to start by learning the very basics, and then you build on those basics, making them more complicated (or more realistic) as you go up year by year.  This means that sometimes you may be asked a question where the basics may take you back to a GCSE topic, or even earlier (e.g. Archimedes’ Principle, or Dispersion). So, my advice is that, as you study, make sure that you understand the whole concept or principle right down to the root, the starting point.

Support subjects

Really get to know your main subject and its support subjects at A levels.

Any Physical Sciences subject is far-reaching in its breadth of topics and its applications – and it must be – for it helps us understand and describe principles in nature, and also utilise the same for various needs.   As such, it has links into many disciplines of study, from Philosophy, Chemistry, Maths, Material science, Metallurgy, Engineering, Geology, Climate Physics and even social sciences, to give you a few examples.

At school level, knowing which other subjects can serve well as support subjects to your main can help you gain a broader base of knowledge – e.g. for Physics, I’d say that Maths is vital.  The likes of Chemistry, Engineering or Philosophy can be advantageous and give you a much richer understanding and context for topics in Physics.  For example, Chemistry can help you understand, in greater detail, topics like heat convection, states of matter, atomic structure, Radioactivity and Stability.

test tubes with colorful liquids

Maths is vital for any physics sciences subject, and universities will give equal importance to your ability in Maths, as the subject you are applying for (if it isn’t directly Maths).  For Engineering, key support subjects could be Maths, Physics and Economics.  For Chemistry, aside from Maths, Physics and Biology are useful.  If you are applying for a cross-discipline subject like Material Science or Biochemistry, Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and even Biology or Economics can be useful to read up on.  So, I hope you can see that it is vital that you are on top of your own subject, plus Maths, plus, ideally, any other support subjects.

Building your toolbox

I hope I’ve given you some ideas here about the importance of being strong in your own subject, but also the advantage in reading a little around your subject.  You need to revise and practice your subject; this cannot be avoided. Once you have a solid foundation of the basics, you can use these as tools to help you start to see how and where your subject come into use in everyday life and move beyond what you have studied (my next blog).  You can start applying your subject in everyday tasks and challenge yourself: e.g. I might be making tea.  I have 1 pint of milk. Can I approximate how many cups of tea I could make from that pint of milk? What would be the process for thinking that through? What are my assumptions?  How could I best structure my answer?

I hope you have enough ideas here to make a start on your revision.  We’ll start looking at ways of strengthening and challenging your knowledge in my next blog.



Hard Sciences Reading List


Choosing your course


Mathangi graduated in Physics from Christ Church College, Oxford. She began writing blogs for us in 2013 but has also been tutoring and running courses for us for years now, since she graduated in 2009. Watch out for Mathangi’s blogs to read about a myriad of fantastic tips for maximising effective preparation for an Oxbridge application. 


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