Is Psychology A Level Hard?

Samantha Dubra



Read time

16 minutes

What is A-Level Psychology?

Studying psychology is to study the mind and behaviour of humans. Whilst a lot of early psychology research will have been done on animals (ethically dubious we know!), psychologists have only ever sought to understand what makes humans so special. Why do we act the way we do? Why do we think the way we do? What makes us tick? What makes us react and what fuels our emotions?

Contrary to popular belief, psychologists cannot read people's minds or do the cool tricks that Derren Brown can do - he’s a mentalist and illusionist amongst many other talents - but we can read and analyse behaviour to understand and maybe even predict what people might do or say next. Not quite a psychic, but the closest you’ll ever be to one! At A-Level, you will learn the basics of psychology and foundational, famous research that will set you up well for further studies and a future career in this field.

If someone asks if you can read their mind, just say yes. You can then wow them with your people reading skills and it’s a good conversation starter!

With that, you will study a variety of Psychology topics that cover how individuals behave alone and in groups, the necessity of attachments, how our memory works, mental health disorders and parts of the brain that are in charge of different functions. There is definitely something for everyone.

Where could A-Level Psychology take me?

This depends on where you want to go! Psychology can open the doors to many different careers, some of which you might not realise have so much overlap. The power of understanding the roots of human behaviour can drive forward advancements in most areas of everyday life:

Psychology related areas

Areas/roles overlapping with psychology

What skills will this give me?

Academic, teaching & research
Research psychologist/nurse/assistant
Assistant psychologist

Sports & Exercise

Wellbeing & Mental Health
Play therapist
Art therapist
Drama therapist
Mental health practitioner/nurse
Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner

Teacher (Primary & Secondary)
SEND Teacher
Social Worker
Life coach
Careers Advisor
Police Officer
Border Control
Social Researcher
IT Consultant

Law/legal firms & providing advice
Career services
Commercial & industrial companies (e.g. a trade)
Human Resources
The media
Police forces, Armed forces, Detective work, prison
Criminal and Forensic investigation
Social services
Marketing and Advertising companies

Written communication
Verbal communication
Report writing
Presenting (including public speaking)
Recording information
Handling & manipulating data and statistics
Analytical thinking (from analysing research)
Problem solving
Working in a team and independently
Project management
Formulating considered responses
Understanding emotions
Generating new ideas
Critical thinking

This isn’t an extensive list, but hopefully you can see that a qualification in psychology can be useful no matter what career you pursue. This is super important right now especially if you have no idea what you want to do, but you want to choose a qualification that will give you something useful to rely on in the future.

What topics does A Level Psychology cover?

Now you know how beneficial this qualification is, we should look at the sorts of topics you’ll cover. Topics vary between exam boards, so bear this in mind when looking at what your chosen school, college or sixth form offers. Some exam boards are more popular than others but this doesn’t make any difference in their value. Most of the time, the course on offer is reflective of the teachers’ specialisms and the resources/training available.

AQA A Level Psychology

OCR A Level Psychology

IB Psychology

Social Influence




Research Methods






Forensic Psychology

Cognition & Development

Issues & Debates




Eating Behaviour

Research Methods

Approaches & Themes

Social Approaches



Moral Developmental

Brain Plasticity

Understanding disorders

Child Psychology

Criminal Psychology

Sports & Exercise Psychology

Environmental Psychology

Biological Approach

Cognitive Approach

Sociocultural Approach

Researching Behaviour

Abnormal Psychology

Developmental Psychology

Health Psychology

Psychology of Human Relationships

Conducting an Experimental Study

This is just a broad overview and doesn’t break down the course structure into what you will study per year, or which topics you won’t cover, as some courses have a choice of options in the second year of study. 

Do universities recognise A-Level Psychology if I want to study it at university? How many UCAS points is it worth?

Yes! A-Level Psychology is worth as many UCAS points as any other GCE A-Level (as opposed to BTEC Level 3 or other vocational qualifications). The amount of UCAS points you gain are dependent on your grade, just like any other GCE A-Level. Pop over to Nick’s article to get some more info on how the UCAS points system works.

Some universities recognise A-Level Psychology as a social science or a humanities subject, and so can require at least one other A-Level that is considered a pure/natural science, that is, physics, biology or chemistry if you want to study psychology at degree level. The A-Level in psychology is not necessarily a prerequisite for studying psychology at university, either. It can be desirable, but not always essential. Below are two examples of the entry requirements for the psychology degree at two different universities:


This university doesn’t explicitly state that you need a psychology or science A-Level to study this course. However, they do state on the far right that you will need a C/4 grade or above in GCSE Mathematics. As it’s not clear, I would double-check before applying

Source: University of Kent (2023)


This university stated very clearly that the offer shown is on the condition that the points include a science subject. The information underneath this then lists what subjects are considered a science subject, and psychology is one of them! Yay!

Source: University of Birmingham (2023)

What’s also really cool to know is that each university will offer a plethora of courses centred on psychology but with different specialisms that you can study as a joint honours (e.g. Psychology with… Counselling, Forensics, Zoology, Mathematics, Journalism, Sports Science, Philosophy, Law, Drama, Human Resources… etc.). If you don’t fancy this, then your third year will usually give you opportunities to specialise in an area that drives you the most, where you can pick your modules, and some offer a year out before your final year to put it all into practice with work experience (these are sometimes called ‘Sandwich’ degrees). 

Regardless of the psychology course you choose, you’ll want to make sure it’s been accredited by the BPS (British Psychological Society) for the qualification to be worth anything when you graduate. This simply means that the content and level of difficulty has been checked by professionals who champion, support and advocate all people working in the field of psychology. It’s very rare that you will see a university course that isn’t accredited by the BPS, as most will make this apparent on their course information page, but if you are ever unsure then it’s definitely worth contacting them to double check - it would be like accepting medical treatment from a non-registered GP otherwise!

What other courses go well with A-Level Psychology?

There are a few ways to answer this, depending on what your priorities or concerns are, so let’s break it down:

"I’m thinking about what is best for going on to study psychology at university"

Part of this was answered in the question above. Some universities won’t accept A-Level Psychology as a pure or natural science, and so you will have to also study either maths, chemistry, biology or physics alongside psychology if you want to go further with it. Some universities, however, will count this as a ‘scientific’ A-Level, so you may not need to study any other science. This is best checked with the specific university you are looking at, as it will be different between universities but will usually be outlined on their entry requirements page for the psychology course you are interested in.

"I want to know what else to study that won’t overwhelm me”

This really depends on how you like to study and what interests you, because feeling overwhelmed will look different for everyone. What we can look at though is the demands of psychology and where they overlap with other subjects.

  • If you study other essay-based subjects, you may find this adds to the list of essays you need to write on a weekly basis. Psychology essays are different, however (more on that later), and because they are science essays, they are much shorter, concise and less comprehensive than essays in say, history, sociology or english literature. In fact, 16 marks the largest amount of marks available for an essay in a psychology paper, and also serves as the largest question given on a paper. This equates to approximately 20 minutes for the essay (nothing compared to the 40-markers I used to have for a sociology essay!).

  • If you study other science or maths-based subjects, then the content and skills you learn will overlap and will be really helpful for you. Science and maths are an integral part of psychology or any social science subject that you study, so it’s worth getting to grips with the transferable skills early on, before you head off to study it for a further three years. However, the science and maths content at A-Level Psychology isn’t the same as the content in A-Level Science or Maths and can be much easier to digest. Because it’s applied to understanding human behaviour and you have a frame of reference, most students really fear this at the start of the course but come to realise that it’s not that difficult!

  • If you study courses with internal assessments (coursework) or lots of essential reading, then you will want to be smart with how you manage your time. There is a lot of research that you need to know about for the A-Level Psychology course and so you will spend a lot of time reading about theories, and reading (or watching documentaries if you have a cool teacher) about specific pieces of research or case studies. Some students find this tough when it comes to battling between revision and coursework deadlines for english literature, or rehearsal hours for drama, or time needed to build the portfolio for art and DT. This isn’t an impossible task, but getting a well organised schedule or timetable early in your studies is imperative to stay calm throughout the two years.

  • The big one: if you study sociology as well as psychology, then you are in the best position to understand both perspectives of human behaviour! These subjects complement each other very well, and not a huge amount of content overlaps, so you won’t get bored or find it repetitive. Most students that choose to study both find that the different perspectives helped them get their heads around some very abstract theories. You will learn a lot of theories in sociology, however, so this could add to the research list that we mentioned earlier.

“I don’t want to make my life harder, but I want to study subjects that will also be fun”

Then go ahead and choose to study what you love, friend! Psychology is fascinating and whilst there is so much overlap with other subjects, it can also be something you really enjoy learning about whilst you’re studying it and nothing more than that. Lots of students find a balanced and engaging timetable studying psychology alongside politics, DT, engineering, philosophy or economics, art, accounting, media, drama and computer science.

Something to note though, is that some places have specific entry requirements for psychology because of the specialism or difficulty of the A-Level. Most schools, colleges, or sixth forms will require a minimum of five GCSE grades at 4 or 5 and above, but then specify that this must include a 6 in English, maths or science to better prepare you for those elements of psychology. Always speak with the person in charge if you want clarification.

You talk a lot about pure and natural sciences, is psychology a science or not?

This might depend on who you talk to, but don’t let them fool you - psychology IS a science! Whilst it’s a constant debate in psychology and one you will undoubtedly study, psychology has roots in philosophy, hence why some scientists of the natural sciences have a hard time considering psychology a science. However, we’ve worked hard over the centuries to make psychology a science and do all the things that keep it scientific (for more on this, see: Objectivity & The Empirical Method: Features of Science, AQA A Level Psychology). 

Some argue that human behaviour and mental processes are too complex to study using traditional scientific methods, and due to the subjective nature of the inference needed to fully understand certain phenomena, it makes it very difficult to objectively analyse and measure.

Conversely, psychologists then point to the methods we do use to keep theories and research scientific:

  • Objectivity in analysing behaviour and keeping it measurable (using the experimental method wherever possible with control over variables)

  • Theory and hypothesis testing

  • Collecting and analysing data (including statistically)

  • Advancements in theory through paradigm shifts and following the evidence

Having said that, psychology is more commonly referred to as a social science, a pseudoscience (although we try not to call it this) or an art. It would be fair to say then that psychology is a mix of science and art, although I wouldn’t be calling myself the next Van Gogh anytime soon...

When it comes to applying to University and whether psychology is classed as a science or not, it still isn't always... So just be careful. Make sure to check the requirements for the University, and for the course you want to study, thoroughly! 

Are psychology essays hard?

We touched on this when we spoke about what other subjects would go well alongside studying psychology, so we’ll keep this brief.

Essays are always ‘hard’ in the sense that a lot more time goes into planning for an essay than actually writing it. Do you have enough knowledge? Enough research or quotes or sources to cite? Do you know what structure to use? How will it flow? What arguments are you putting forward? Put simply, if you know what you’re writing about then the essay is easy peasy! But, if you don’t, then you need to do the groundwork (i.e., the studying) to be confident in your understanding of whatever topic you are writing about.

We also mentioned that psychology essays aren’t like other essays; because they are science essays, it’s very cut-and-dry, and you don’t need introductions, conclusions or summaries in your essays, like you might need in say, an english or history essay. Most psychology essays are very formulaic in the structure as what’s required of you will always be the same. Whilst you will never know or be able to predict the question on the paper, you can do a lot of prep work to take out the guesswork and unknowing panic when you do get to the essay questions.

Most students find the essays are fine once they get comfortable with what the questions are actually asking, but your teacher will be expecting this and be well versed in how to guide you through to writing the best essay. And if you’re still curious, we have plenty of model answers per section with AQA Psychology A Level Revision Notes and tips on how to write a good psychology essay.

Is there maths involved?

As with any science, yes there will be maths involved but don’t let this put you off. The math content and skills required for the A-Level Psychology course is much more focused on logical and sequential thinking skills, rather than working out the area of a triangle with five spikes. There is some formula reading when working out how to read a stats test, and you’ll need to know how to calculate averages (mean, median, mode). The great thing about this is that because the maths knowledge is applied to real research, it’s much easier to understand and you won’t even realise you’re doing it when it’s so embedded in the rest of the course!

Again, your teacher will guide you every step of the way; even if some skills overlap with GCSE level content, there isn’t an expectation for you to be confident with or even know any of the research methods/maths parts when you start the course. Keep an eye out for SME revision notes that focus purely on math skills for psychology!

Are Psychology exams hard? Is it easy to get an A* in Psychology?

It’s not easy to get an A* in any A-Level, as good grades require lots of dedication and commitment to your studies, especially at this level. The good news is that if you can crack your study habits now, you’ll find university a bit easier as the jump from A-Level > Undergraduate isn’t as challenging as GCSE > A-Level.

The papers will also differ between exam boards so you should check the website of the board you are studying from to see past exam papers. Some will be locked and only be accessible by teachers, but some will be open to the public. As with anything in education, listen to the guidance given and you will be just fine.

Why you shouldn’t choose A-Level Psychology

I hesitated to write this answer because I think everyone should study psychology in some way, but if you are looking for an easy course, to learn how to read people’s minds, have very unwavering views and opinions and aren’t open to the possibility of multiple answers, then this course may not be right for you. 

However, if you want to know about the psychology of evil, challenge your mindset, open your minds to the magical complexities of human behaviour, then get applying

Further Reading

Sign up for articles sent directly to your inbox

Receive news, articles and guides directly from our team of experts.

Written by Samantha Dubra

Psychology1 article

Sam has been teaching psychology in the UK for just over 8 years with a few years of examining experience, so she knows exactly how to test her students' knowledge (and maybe even throw in a curveball or two).

Share this article

The examiner written revision resources that improve your grades 2x.

Join now