What content is covered in A Level Computer Science?

A Level Computer Science is all about using technology to solve complex problems. It explores the potential of computers in providing faster and more effective solutions.

The curriculum covers the foundations of computer science, including:

  • Data storage and representation
  • Development and use of algorithms
  • Communication technology
  • Hardware and software

Computer science is as much about computational methods as it is about the technology itself. You’ll be introduced to new ways of thinking and approaching problems.

Subject content is split between programming and theory.

You will learn a programming language (such as C#, Java, Python, or VB.Net) and use it to examine data structures, algorithms, and programme design. The programming language you will learn is chosen by your school or college.

The theory focuses on the internal workings of computers, from binary code (two-symbol system used to represent data) to RAM (fast electronic form of computer memory).

Male Computer Science teacher teaching coding to an A Level class.

How is A Level Computer Science assessed?

The assessment for A Level Computer Science consists of:

  • 2× formal exam papers, each worth 40% of your final grade
    • 1× exam testing programming skills and theoretical knowledge
    • 1× exam paper testing theoretical knowledge
  • 1× non-exam assessment, worth 20% of your final grade
    • You will select a computing problem from a set list and document your approach to developing a solution

Is A Level Computer Science hard?

A Level Computer Science is challenging. To excel, you will need to develop a thorough understanding of programming concepts, algorithms, and data structures, and learn how to practically apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios.

The difficulty of A Level Computer Science will vary from student to student, based on individual ability, prior experience in programming, and the capacity to grasp abstract concepts.

Many students find the coursework component of the course particularly challenging. The project demands a lot of planning, and the best results are typically achieved through a trial-and-error process. Although this approach is essential for learning, it can be stressful and time-consuming. Coding exercises require patience and a determined mindset.

Despite its challenges, students who find joy in logical reasoning, problem-solving, and have a genuine interest in computing often thrive in A Level Computer Science. Success in this field is closely tied to a commitment to learning, practice, and the ability to adapt to new and evolving technologies.

Group of A Level Computer Science students coding.

Do you need GCSE Computer Science to take it at A Level?

No, it is not mandatory to take GCSE Computer Science to pursue A Level Computer Science. However, the basic knowledge acquired during the GCSE can provide valuable groundwork and offer a head start for students embarking on the A Level.

If you plan to study A Level Computer Science despite not taking it at GCSE, it would be beneficial to learn basic programming skills before starting the course. You can inquire with the sixth form or college you will be attending about the programming language you will be taught. After that, you can either self-study or take an online course to acquaint yourself with the fundamentals and establish a strong foundation for the more complex aspects of A Level coursework.

What grades do you need to do A Level Computer Science?

To study A Level Computer Science, most sixth forms and colleges typically require students to have achieved at least a grade 4 in GCSE English and Maths. Some may ask for grade 5 or 6 in GCSE Maths.

Check the specific entry requirements of your chosen institution to ensure you meet the necessary academic criteria.

Like maths, computer science is based on logic and problem-solving. If you lack confidence in maths or simply don’t enjoy it, A Level Computer Science may not be the best fit.

Young female reading a book about coding for her EPQ project.

What skills will you develop when studying A Level Computer Science?

Studying A Level Computer Science will help you to develop numerous transferable skills, including:

  • Problem-solving
  • Creative thinking
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Computational thinking
  • Reasoning
  • Communication
  • Data analysis
  • Numeracy
  • Time management

Problem-solving is a key focus in many A Level courses, but A Level Computer Science takes a distinct approach. In this course, you’ll confront challenges that frequently lack clear-cut solutions and can’t be solved through conventional analytical methods. Finding an exact solution won’t always be feasible, and you’ll have to think creatively and adaptively.

Top tips for studying A Level Computer Science

  • Take a coding course – There are lots of free online courses available that teach coding at a variety of skill levels. Take a look at the courses on offer at Codeacademy, freeCodeCamp, and Coursera! Learning programming languages is similar to learning any other language – the most effective approach is to practise using them. Online courses provide a helpful platform that guides you through a series of assignments or projects, allowing you to gain hands-on experience with coding and explore the different ways computers can solve problems.
  • Engage in practical projects – One effective way to improve your coding skills is to engage in practical projects. This involves not only studying the theoretical concepts but also applying them to real-world scenarios. Build your own projects or participate in open-source initiatives to enhance your practical skills and gain valuable problem-solving experience. Platforms like GitHub offer opportunities to share your own work or contribute to existing projects. By gaining hands-on experience, you will reinforce your learning and become more confident in tackling the challenges presented in A Level Computer Science.
  • Strategise – As you prepare for exams, you will encounter questions that require you to apply your knowledge to solve problems. These questions are harder to prepare for because you can’t memorise the answers. However, you can still memorise the methods! Algorithms play a crucial role in the course, so why not develop your own algorithms for approaching different question types?

Where can A Level Computer Science lead you?

Although most university computer-based degrees don’t require A Level Computer Science, taking it can provide a significant advantage since you’ll be more familiar with the content covered in the first year.

As our lives become increasingly dependent on technology, the ability to program and design software is seen as a highly desirable skill. As such, having A Level Computer Science opens up a burgeoning job market.

The STEM computer science link

Computer science is a great subject to consider if you’re thinking of pursuing a career in a STEM field. Computer science combines various disciplines that fall under the STEM umbrella. To be an innovator and problem solver within computer science, you need to have a scientific understanding of how computer technology works, which requires a strong grasp of both engineering and mathematics.

Possible STEM computer science careers include:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Software development
  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Information security
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Web development
  • Data management
  • Statistics
  • Business analysis
Studying A Level Computer Science could lead to a career in web development.

What subjects go well with A Level Computer Science?

A Level Computer Science is most commonly taken alongside A Level Maths, Further Maths, and Physics.

Mathematics aligns closely with computer science, providing a solid foundation for understanding algorithms and problem-solving. Further maths, especially with its optional modules like decision mechanics, offers additional insights that complement the analytical thinking required in computer science. Physics shares elements of logical reasoning and problem-solving. Together, these subjects enhance skills in critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and application of concepts, which are invaluable for success in A Level Computer Science.