How to choose A-Level Subjects in Pakistan? Should I go for Intermediate?

You have successfully pulled through your O-Level/IGCSE and are eager to embark on your roller coaster ride of college but, you are unsure of what courses you’ll be taking. This article aims to help you in making the right decision about your further studies.

Before we dive into choosing A-Level subjects, let’s discuss whether you should opt for A-Levels or the local board Intermediate(HSSC)?

If you plan to stay in Pakistan for your undergraduate education, the biggest downside of choosing A-Levels is that you need equivalence (which is issued by IBCC, a federal organization) of your O and A Level grades to be considered for admission in almost all universities of Pakistan alongside with students from local boards. Unfortunately, this equivalence process means that the maximum attainable marks for you are 90% because individual component marks are not disclosed for students appearing in O and A level examinations. Due to this, IBCC has set up a specific conversion formula for grades awarded.

Conversion is done as follows:

A* = 90 marks | A = 85 marks | B = 75 marks | C = 65 marks | D = 55 marks | E = 45 marks

Currently, for HSSC equivalence 8 subjects from O Level and 3 subjects from A-Level are considered meaning you need to have 8 A*s in OL and 3 A*s in AL for 990/1100 in HSSC.

In short, this means that you stand at a greater disadvantage as compared to other local board students who score as much as more than 97% marks and when it comes to university admissions, even a 0.1% matters.

If you’re planning to become a doctor and that too from a public medical college from Punjab, you may not want to opt for A-Levels at all. Last year, closing merit for public institutions in Punjab was more than 91%. This merit rate is calculated taking into consideration your HSSC marks and performance in MDCAT (entrance test) and is subject to change according to government policies.

So, it would be a lot wiser to shift to the local board Intermediate. The transition isn’t easy but a lot of students do and score excellent marks.

As for students aiming for other careers, sticking with A-Levels may be a good decision as the merit isn’t as high as it is for Medical Universities and a good performance in entrance tests will get you into a good university. Keep in mind that entrance tests of various engineering universities require great conceptual learning along with knowledge of various topics which are a part of only intermediate subjects. It isn’t a tedious task but will require you to put in extra work.

And one more thing, if you found O Levels harder because it requires you to apply your concepts into theory and you’re more comfortable with rote learning, then you should definitely check out local board HSSC as I found it less conceptual learning and more rote knowledge.

How to choose your A-Level Subjects?

Now you know, you’d be pursuing AL and don’t know what subjects to opt for. Unfortunately, there isn’t much flexibility in choosing your subjects if you plan to stay in Pakistan because you have to fulfil specific subject requirements for different programs.

Some of you might have an idea about what you’ll be pursuing in future but many of you don’t have a single clue what you’re going to do.

If you’re staying in Pakistan, subject choices are pretty simple. At least three subjects are required by all the universities in Pakistan. Usually, required subject combinations are as follows:

For all Engineering programs: Physics, Chemistry* and Mathematics with O levels in Science Group

For MBBS/BDS: Physics, Chemistry and Biology with O levels in Science Group

* = (Computer science instead of chemistry will work for software/computer engineering programs)

For other Bachelor Programs: Usually, there aren’t any specific requirements for humanities and arts programs but you should check out your desired university’s requirements because they will vary with the university. For e.g for BS in Computer Science, NUST requires a science group, whereas IBA only requires Math with 2 other A-level subjects.

It is always wiser and you must check university entrance requirements for your desired programs in your desired universities and then, select and finalize your subject combinations.

To put it simply, these factors should be taken into account while choosing subjects:

  • First and foremost, university and program requirements.

Shortlist some of your target universities and desired programs. Briefly go through their programs’ requirements and eligibility criteria.

  • Your interest in those subjects.

You don’t want to study some subject just because your guardians want you to. Trust me, you need to be on the same page as your guardians because if you take a subject in which you have 0 interest, you’re going to fail miserably in the long run.

  • Relevance of your subject choices to your future career paths.

I know I want to be a software engineer but my friend told me that it was easier to score in A-Level Urdu so I would take it up as well. This may be acceptable if you were interested in Urdu. If you take it just because an extra A looks good on your transcript, you’re far better off investing that time taking up relevant courses.

Additional Subjects

You can have any additional subject as per your liking but don’t pick too many because the workload will crush you. A lot is going along with your studies in the 2 years of A-Levels. By a lot, I mean all the extra and co-curricular activities, researching about your career prospects, preparing for universities’ entrance tests, planning your admission applications and whatnot. Usually, students aiming for a career in medicine will pick Mathematics alongside Biology, Physics and Chemistry to have a backup and more options.

Planning to go Abroad

Now if you’re planning to go abroad. Fortunately, there isn’t any equivalence by IBCC involved but a few countries may require their own equivalences such as Turkey. Mostly, foreign universities will require 5 subjects from your O-Levels and 3 subjects from your A-Levels but this doesn’t apply to all universities. Requirements vary from country to country and from university to university. Some of the universities may require a language subject in addition to 2/3 A-Levels subjects. This is where you require extensive research about which country you’re planning to go to and what are some of your targeted universities and their requirements.

I had science subjects in O-Levels, can I transition to Commerce Subjects?

Yes, of course. This is very doable and in fact, a lot of students do this. You will require a bit of hard work as you need to go through O-level books of your new subjects and build up your basic concepts. You can easily get equivalence in Pakistan (of course for Humanities/Arts group) and apply to foreign universities.

Importance of A level Maths

Mathematics is the most valuable subject whether you’re a science or a commerce student. If you are aiming for a career in medicine, opting for Maths alongside the regular combination would open up numerous opportunities. A commerce student would find A-Level Maths very helpful for every university admission test, be it SAT or any other and, of course, very beneficial in university.

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