The prospect of A Level study can be daunting, especially when it comes to Maths. So it’s understandable that lots of students wonder how hard Maths A Level really is.
You don’t want to commit to a subject, then find it’s not for you. And we know A Level Maths comes with a challenging reputation!
To help with your A Level choices, we’re exploring the ins and outs of A Level Maths. Read on for expert insights into content, grades, pass rates and how it compares to other A Level subjects.
Ready? Here are your A Level Maths questions, answered.
A Level Maths: Difficulty and Content
Is Maths A Level very hard?
We won’t sugarcoat it. A Level Maths is challenging. It’s not just number crunching; A Level Maths requires a deep understanding of abstract concepts and the ability to solve complex problems. Topics like calculus, algebra and trigonometry form the backbone of the syllabus, demanding strong analytical skills and logical thinking.
For many students, the transition from GCSE to A Level Maths can feel difficult due to the increased depth and complexity of the material.
But don’t worry. A Level Maths builds on GCSE concepts. The difficulty will increase as you move through your studies, so you’re not suddenly thrown in at the mathematical deep end.
What is the hardest A Level Maths subject?
A Level Maths courses cover a large array of topics. AQA Maths (for instance) includes:
- Proofs
- Algebra and functions
- Coordinate geometry
- Sequences and series
- Trigonometry
- Exponentials and logarithms
- Differentiation and integration
- Numerical methods
- Vectors
- Statistical sampling
- Data presentation and interpretation
- Probability
- Statistical distributions and hypothesis testing
- Quantities and units in mechanics
- Kinematics
- Forces and Newton’s Laws
- Moments
Of course, the most difficult Maths subjects will be different for everyone. But within this varied curriculum, students often report topics like statistics are particularly challenging.
Indeed, grasping probability, statistical distributions, hypothesis testing and data interpretation can be difficult – requiring an understanding of abstract concepts and applying mathematical principles to real-world scenarios.
Equally, students sometimes struggle with proofs (due to the abstract nature of logical reasoning) and calculus topics (like differentiation and integration) which introduce the concept of rates of change, as well as interpreting derivatives and integrals.
Which A Level is the hardest?
While opinions naturally vary (depending on your strengths and interests), A Level Further Maths is often regarded as one of the hardest A Level subjects. Its advanced nature (featuring algorithms, statistics, discrete and pure maths) makes it a formidable challenge for many students, regardless of their mathematical aptitude.
But does this play out in reduced pass rates?
Interestingly, no.
In 2023, 75.4% of students achieved a grade C or above at A Level. But when it comes to Further Maths, around 88% of students achieved a C or above.
AQA has the lowest pass rate (at 84.1%) while OCR’s Further Maths A course has the highest, at 91.49%.
If you’re aiming for the highest grades, just 7.7% of students achieve an A* at A Level (across all subjects). But again, this number jumps dramatically to 29% for Further Mathematics.
Percentage of students achieving an A* | Percentage of students achieving a C or above | |
OCR Further Mathematics A | 35.87% | 91.49% |
OCR Further Mathematics B* | 29.56% | 89.05% |
Edexcel Further Mathematics | 27.6% | 88.6% |
AQA Further Mathematics | 25.3% | 84.1% |
Total | 29.58% | 88.31% |
*OCR offers two different Further Maths and Maths A Level courses. Generally speaking, the (B) courses are more challenging than their (A) counterparts.
A Level Maths: Grades and Pass Rates
How hard is it to get an A in A Level Maths?
Achieving an A in A Level Maths requires more than just memorisation. It demands a deep understanding of your subject matter and the ability to apply mathematical principles to solve complex problems.
Students aiming for an A grade must consistently demonstrate proficiency across all assessed areas, including algebra, calculus and statistics (to name just a few).
While it’s certainly achievable with dedication and hard work, an A in A Level Maths is undoubtedly a challenging feat.
In terms of the numbers, about 44% of students secure an A or higher in A Level Maths. This compares with 25% across all A Level subjects – so more students achieve the top grades in Maths than other A Level courses.
Here’s the percentage of students achieving an A grade or above, for each of the main exam boards.
- OCR Maths (A): 52.56%
- OCR Maths (B): 47.22%
- Edexcel Maths: 40.9%
- AQA Maths: 35.5%
If you’re wondering how hard it is to get AAA at A Level, read our in-depth guide. We’ve also got expert tips and insights for acing your exams and achieving that coveted triple-A* at A Level.
What grade is 70% in Maths A Level?
In A Level Maths, a score of 70% or above usually corresponds to an A grade.
However, grade boundaries vary from year to year, depending on how difficult exams are. As such, achieving a specific percentage doesn’t guarantee a corresponding grade.
But to give you a rough idea, here are the 2023 grade boundaries for the three main exam boards – to achieve an A in A Level Maths.
- AQA: 201 out of 300 marks (67%)
- Edexcel: 196 out of 300 marks (65%)
- OCR (A): 161 out of 209 marks (77%)
- OCR (B): 186 out of 275 marks (67%)
How many people fail A Level Maths?
The failure rate for A Level Maths fluctuates from year to year – influenced by factors like teaching quality and disruption to lessons, student preparation and exam difficulty.
At A Level, you’ll normally receive a grade ranging from an A* to an E. Anything lower is marked “unclassified” (or a “U”).
For 2023, here’s the percentage of students who received a U in A Level Maths.
- OCR (A): 2.97%
- OCR (B): 2.38%
- Edexcel: 3.6%
- AQA: 4.2%
So while specific statistics vary from year to year, failing A Level Maths is not uncommon. Around 2-4% of students fail to achieve a grade.
A Level Maths is undoubtedly a challenging subject, so it’s important to remember that “failure” doesn’t mean the end of the road. You can always resit your A Level exams, which normally take place in November or May/June.
If you’re facing a lower grade, it’s important to seek out additional support as early as possible. At Academic Coaching, we provide specialised 1-1 support with study and exam strategies – to build your skills and confidence.
A Level Maths: Subject Comparisons
Are A Levels a lot harder than GCSE?
Yes, A Levels represent a significant step up from GCSEs in terms of depth, complexity and academic rigour.
While GCSEs provide a broad foundation in various subjects, A Levels delve deeper into specific areas of study, demanding higher-level thinking skills and greater analytical abilities.
There’s no doubt, the transition from GCSE to A Level can be challenging – as you adjust to an increased workload, academic expectations and more independent study. But it’s certainly nothing to worry about. Your teachers will help you transition from GCSE studies, explaining the new skills you’ll need to demonstrate and increasing your workload gradually.
Which is harder, A Level Maths or Chemistry?
It’s a specific question, but one that crops up a lot given how well Maths and Chemistry pair as A Level choices.
A Level Maths is often considered more abstract and demanding in terms of problem-solving and reasoning. On the other hand, Chemistry involves a combination of theoretical knowledge, practical skills and analytical thinking.
So it really depends on your skill sets, interests and study habits.
Interestingly, however, more students achieve an A grade in A Level Maths than Chemistry. Across the main exam boards, 44% of students secure an A in Maths. This compares with 31.5% in Chemistry.
Percentage of students achieving an A or above in Maths | Percentage of students achieving an A or above in Chemistry | |
OCR (A) | 52.56% | 29.88% |
OCR (B) | 47.22% | 27.91% |
Edexcel | 40.9% | 37.3% |
AQA | 35.5% | 31% |
Total | 44.05% | 31.52% |
Is A Level harder than university?
Just like A Levels ramp up from GCSEs, the transition to university offers another jump in terms of in-depth study and difficulty.
While the comparative difficulty will depend on factors like your chosen degree program and university, as well as your learning style – students generally find university study harder than A Level.
Whether you’re studying for a BA Hons, a BSc Hons or any other degree, universities require much more specialisation and independent research. You’ll also find your workload increases, with multiple essays, assignments or research topics across various topics.
That said, A Levels provide an excellent foundation for higher education. The gradual increase in difficulty and independent study (while still supported in a school environment) means students are well-prepared for their next academic steps.
If you’re approaching A Level study or turning your mind to university applications, get in touch with our expert team at Academic Coaching. From study skills and exam strategies to academic life coaching and guidance on university applications and personal statements, we’ll help you reach your goals.