It is a common misconception that you need an A or A* to study Mathematical Sciences at University. If you are enjoying your Maths A-level but don’t think you’ll achieve a top grade then there are plenty of excellent Mathematical Sciences Degrees which don’t ask for an A/A* in A-level Maths.

## Mathematicians are Highly Employable

**“Skilled mathematicians of a high calibre are needed and they are in short supply.”**

*Quote from the Bond Report*

Across the economy there is a high demand for Mathematical Sciences Graduates. The country needs more people with mathematical training, not only to fill roles in growing sectors such as data science, but also to address the shortage of maths teachers. A recent report compared the rates of employment among graduates who had different pre-university entry qualifications. The conclusion was clear – there are excellent employment prospects for maths graduates, regardless of your A-level Grades.

“it is clear that mathematical sciences graduates have high rates of employment, **irrespective of their pre-university entry qualification**.”

*CMS Report, 2023*

## What Makes a Successful Maths Graduate?

There is often little correlation between a student’s A-level mathematics grade and their success on their degree course.

Enjoyment of mathematics is a much better predictor of undergraduate success than A-level grades, and those students who choose to study mathematics because they love the subject, despite disappointing results in school exams, are likely to do well.

### Reasons for not achieving top A-level grades

There are many specific reasons why excellent mathematicians may not get top A-level grades.

#### Teaching

The quality of teaching experienced by A-level students can vary widely. One maths graduate who obtained an excellent degree explained that his D Grade at A-level was due to his maths teacher having left the school at the end of his Year 12. The result was that he and his classmates had to teach themselves all the Year 13 A-level material, since the school had no teacher to support them. The shortage of maths teachers means that many students have less than ideal support for A-level mathematics.

#### A Level Curriculum

The A-level curriculum does not suit all students. Many undergraduates find that their strengths lie in areas of university mathematics which were not part of the A-level curriculum.

With the growth of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, there are many important areas of mathematics not met in school mathematics.

#### Performance in Examinations

Performance in examinations can vary from day to day – anybody can have a bad day in a maths exam! The timing of exams can make a big difference – time of day, time of year (for example hay fever or the effects of its medication), and time of month (for half the cohort) can have a significant effect on exam performance. As Hannah Fry recently wrote, “All that work. And it comes down to your performance across one single week. Find me a system more obviously designed without women in mind.”

#### Personal or Family Problems

Personal or family problems affect students. Some students have their A-levels impacted by bereavement or by family stress such as divorce.

Many students may have work commitments which affect their revision time or their exam preparation. There are examples of students who have been working in the family business until the early hours the night before a big exam. For many students and their families, earning money has to take priority over study.

#### Successful Mathematicians who did not get an A/A* in A Level Maths

There is a tendency to assume that successful professionals achieved high grades at A-level. This is not necessarily true. There are even professors of mathematics whose A-level mathematics results were D or worse!

If you don’t think you are on track for an A/A* in A Level Maths, then there are many inspiring examples of people who have gone on to have highly successful careers.

#### Professor Noel-Ann Bradshaw CMath FIMA

Noel-Ann is Professor of Operational Research and Mathematics Education and a Senior Manager at the University of Greenwich. She is also Deputy Chair of the Joint Mathematical Council (JMC). Noel-Ann did not achieve an A/A* in A Level Maths due to being told by her school teachers that she wasn’t good enough to do maths at university.

“As a result of being told I wasn’t good enough to take mathematics at university, I lost motivation and did not do well in my A-levels. Eventually I gained enough confidence to apply to university as a mature student and I now have a successful career as a mathematician. I have since taught many students in a similar position, who have gone on into excellent jobs or progressed on to masters courses. I would like all A-level maths candidates to know that they can study mathematics at university without an A/A* and have the potential of a fruitful mathematical career.”

*Professor Noel-Ann Bradshaw*

Apparently even the famous Nobel Prize winner Sir Roger Penrose, was very slow in exam conditions and was given extra time by a sympathetic teacher. Exam conditions don’t always show the full potential of a mathematician.

## Conclusion – Choose Mathematical Sciences!

If you end up with disappointing A-level grades then don’t let it put you off from choosing a Mathematical Sciences degree. Employment data shows excellent outcomes for Mathematical Sciences students who have lower A-level grades, and we know countless examples of people who have gone on to enjoy highly successful careers.

Given the importance of mathematics in today’s world, choosing a Mathematical Sciences Degree is a great career choice, even if you don’t get an A or A* in your maths A-level.

**Further Information **

- Choosing a Mathematical Sciences Degree is an important decision. Make sure you attend a wide range of university open days, and that you speak with staff and students. Do as much research as you can before you visit.
- The WhatUni website has a Course Finder where you can do an initial search for Mathematical Sciences Degrees.

**Image Credits**

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