What is this subject about?
Computer Science is the science of how computers work and therefore the course covers both the theoretical and practical sides of computing. Problem solving and innovation are at the heart of the Computer Science A-level and forms the basis of how we learn to create programs and develop algorithms. The theoretical side of the course looks at the inner workings of a computer and you will study data representation as well as looking at components such as the CPU, RAM and the internal registers. 50% of the final examination covers the theory element of the course; you will find it helpful if you are already familiar with a programming language for the other 50%.
What will I study over the two years?
A large portion of the course is programming based. A key part of the A Level is object-oriented programming, a common approach to programming in business and commercial situations. The course promotes good programming practices such as modularisation, sensible naming conventions, proper commenting and much more. As you learn how to program you will learn the relevant computer architecture, such as how computers store and represent different data types, including images, videos and sounds. You will also learn about networking protocols, and study the moral, ethical, legal and cultural issues and opportunities surrounding computers.
How is the course assessed?
The course is assessed through two exams worth 40% each and a coursework project worth 20%. The first exam is sat on a computer and will test both practical programming skills and your knowledge of theory. The second paper is a traditional exam testing your theoretical knowledge of computer systems, how they are formed, communicate and so on. This paper includes extended writing in the form of full essay responses. The coursework is a programming project, requiring a full write up which must include analysis of a problem and documentation of the design, testing and evaluation processes. The project is started part way through the first year, after students have had a chance to gain the necessary programming skills.
What skills will I need and develop on this course?
There is a strong emphasis on problem solving skills. Problem solving is the key skill required for programming. A computer will carry out the exact instructions you tell it to, so therefore you must be able to solve the problems yourself. You need to start by knowing what you want the computer to do, but only when you have figured out how best to do it will you be able to write a program that carries out the operations required. You will also learn how to communicate clearly as you produce a full written documentation of your project.
What can the course lead to in terms of higher education and future careers?
A Level Computer Science can naturally lead to studying it at degree level. However, while the only academic requirement for most university courses is A Level Maths, programming, logic and problem-solving skills are fundamental to further study of Computer Science. The skills gained from the A Level are not easily obtained through independent study. As such, we recommend A Level Computer Science to all students thinking of a future in any computing-related field.
Beyond computer science itself, there are a huge variety of courses, from game design and animation to software engineering and artificial intelligence. There are a wide range of new courses emerging particularly in the fields of cyber security, quantum computing and ethical hacking.
What are the formal entry requirements for this course?
In addition to the College's general entry criteria, you will need to achieve a minimum of:
• Grade 6 in GCSE Maths
• Grade 4 in GCSE English Language
GCSE Computer Science is not a requirement to study the A Level. However, if GCSE Computer Science has been sat, a minimum of grade 4 must have been achieved. We would envisage that if you take A Level Computer Science you are likely to be taking A level Mathematics as well. We would also ideally expect you to have averaged at least a grade 6 in your GCSEs overall. Familiarity with a programming language is advantageous but it is not a requirement.
Subject combination advice
Subject combination advice:
Mathematics and Physics are natural pairings for Computer Science. All three subjects place a heavy emphasis on problem solving skills, and Mathematics is generally required to study Computer Science at University, with some universities accepting Physics. It is important to note that A Level Computer Science is not required to study Computer Science at University, whereas Mathematics is. Some leading Universities require (or strongly encourage) students to have studied A Level Further Mathematics in addition to A Level Mathematics.
How does A level Computer Science differ from BTEC Information Technology?
Overall approach: A Level Computer Science deals with the “behind the scenes" work of developing and implementing various sets of instructions to enable a computer to do a particular task. BTEC Information Technology focuses on the “user side" of computers and on understanding how to operate a range of software to get tasks completed, often in the context of a particular organisation or business. Content of the course: A Level Computer Science focuses on computer theory and programming, consisting of the fundamentals of programming, data structures, algorithms, and object-orientated programme design. You learn about the detail of the internal workings of a computer, right down to the basics of how all data is stored using binary, covering aspects of computer architecture, showing the specifics of the fetch-execute cycle and exactly how data is accessed from main memory using assembly language instructions. BTEC Information Technology has a broader variety of content which enables students to focus on particular computing interests and plans they have for next steps into further study, an apprenticeship, or employment. It works through units to understand user theory and how to produce documents, files, presentations, spreadsheets, databases etc to perform day to day tasks. Assessment: In A Level Computer Science 80% of the marks go on two formal exams and 20% of the marks on a coursework project. In BTEC Information Technology 1/3 of the marks go on a formal exam and the other 2/3 of the marks are for coursework and a task done in the classroom under controlled conditions over a period of a week.