Computer Science

Exam Board

Additional Entry Requirements

Grade 7 in GCSE mathematics and grade 7 in GCSE computer science (if taken) or grade 6 in a GCSE science subject. Grade 5 in GCSE English language.

Course Content

Why computer science?
The only constant in computer science is change – new devices and apps appear daily. Computer programs control the internet of things – your washing machine, your heating and electricity, your location on Google, your car… A good programmer will never be out of a job! We’ll challenge you to think computationally and to approach problems methodically. You’ll program and design systems using an algorithmic approach, and develop an understanding of the powers and limitations of humans and machines by learning their principles of operation.
Students progress to Russell Group universities or take up apprenticeships with leading companies to become programmers, computer engineers, big data analysts, computer game designers or specialists in the telecommunications industry.
You’ll use gadgets such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Lego Mindstorm, and attend coding workshops and university taster days. Students are encouraged to run hackathons, lead masterclasses and set up study groups to share their expertise and knowledge.
Course content
You will gain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how computers work, including microprocessors, memory, storage, operating systems and network architectures. You’ll build your programming skills through problem-solving scenarios. You’ll gain an understanding of machine code, functional, procedural, object-oriented, declarative and low-level programming. You will also be able to normalise numbers, perform binary arithmetic operations and conversions between different number systems, and develop an understanding of the principles of operation of hardware.
Mark scheme
On-screen exam - 2 hours 30 mins - 40%
  • Fundamentals of programming
  • Fundamentals of data structures
  • Fundamentals of algorithms
  • Theory of computation
Written exam - 2 hours 30 mins - 40%
  • Fundamentals of data representation, computer systems organisation and architecture
  • Consequences of uses of computing
  • Fundamentals of communication, networking and databases, and functional programming
  • Big data
Coursework - 20%
  • Solve or investigate a practical problem

Frequently Asked Questions

Please click on the headings below.

What is the difference between IT and computer science?

The emphasis in IT is how to use given software to perform certain office-based tasks. Computer science is more about how stuff works, it's creative, technical and more mathematical.There is a lot of emphasis on programming. None of this is covered in IT.

What is computer science like?

The content of the A level is similar to the 1st year of most university computer science degrees. You will cover fundamentals of programming in 2 languages, data structures, algorithms, data representation, computer systems, organisation and architecture, ethics, communication and networking, databases and SQL, assembly code, and functional programming.It's ok that you are not sure what these terms mean - it will become second nature to you as you progress through the course.It is essentially about how to get the computer to do what you ask it to do, and how to solve problems. The subject will involve 2 x 2.5 hour exams each comprising 40% of the A level.Paper 1 is the practical element sat in front of a computer and would involve programming.Paper 2 is purely theory and sat in a classic examination hall with pen to paper.The final 20% of the A level is based on coursework of your own choosing.You will be required to investigate or produce a solution; documenting the process through an analysis, design, implementation, testing and evaluation of it. The result is a unique, creative project and a write-up of roughly 120-200 pages.

Do I need to have programmed before or taken it at GCSE?

It can be a challenging subject.It isn't mandatory to have previous experience coding, or to do GCSE computer science as we start from the very basics. By the end of the course all students would progress to have a strong familiarity with computer science.

How much mathematics is involved in the subject?

There is not much math required as part of the A level. Binary multiplication, some number theory, a grasp of simple mathematics.
So, a valid question may be: why are we asking for a 7 at GCSE Mathematics? The reason is that there is evidence of a direct correlation between your performance in mathematics and your performance in computer science, likely to correspond to strong skills in logical reasoning.

Which language do you code in?

We will introduce our students to both Python and C#, though we aim to teach in a language agnostic manner as it is not an "A level in Python Programming". The choice of Python is because many of our students have experience with it beforehand, so it forms a good basis on which to start discussions.It is also a very syntactically forgiving language.
Our choice of C# is because it represents a classic, strongly typed curly-bracket language; the type of language that most would go on to learn at University. (Do not worry about terminology like "strongly typed" - this will all become relevant when you start the A level.)
In addition to this, students will learn SQL. They will code in an ARM-based assembly language, and will use code in Haskell for the functional programming module.
The coursework can be carried out in any language the student wishes.

I want to do Computer Science at University - is it important that I do it at A level?

Surprisingly the answer is no - you don't need to do the A level to go on to do it at University. The common requirement for Computer Science at most Universities is Mathematics. So, though it seems self-deprecating to mention that is isn't a requirement - we do ask that you read the next FAQ...

If I don't need to do a computer science A level for a degree in the subject, then what's the point?

We believe the reason why A level computer science is not a prerequisite; is that it is not taught at all examination centres around the country. The A level gives you a solid grounding in computer science - and in fact - most have told us that their first year was a lot easier as a result of having this knowledge beforehand.
The A level also enables you to understand how to code and solve problems.This vital engineering skill can prove exceptionally useful in ANY future subject; the ability to see the big picture, to break down complex structures into simple parts and then combine those pieces to form the complex whole is essential in all walks of life.
An ability to code proves particularly useful in STEM based subjects even if you do not decide to take the subject at degree level.

What other subjects should I consider?

Traditionally - computer science combines well with mathematics, further mathematics and physics. These are not the only options, some students choose business and economics, or sociology and politics, or art and physics.

What do students do after studying A level computer science?

About 80% will go on to study some sort of computer science, software engineering or games design related degree. Many also go on to mathematics or physics degrees. Some may seek apprenticeships or go straight into the workplace.

How do I prepare for it?

We set summer transition work that's appropriate for the subject. This may involve study skills, a bit of programming, and a bit of theory.
Woodside High School
“I’m interested in how computers work exactly, down to their base components. I want to know how source code is made and what mathematical techniques and tricks programmers use.
A level is more focused on programming and you build on the theory you’ve learned previously. Currently, I’m learning Python in class and, outside class, Haskell - to see how functional programming works.
I enjoy the independence at Woodhouse, the time to work things out on your own. But there’s also a lot of guidance whenever you need it.”

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