Hard and soft choices? Subject selection by schools and students

Peter Davies, Marco Ercolani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
264 Downloads (Pure)


We present an analysis of A-level subject choices at around age 16 for a cohort of students in English schools who completed their studies in 2014. We examined both the National Pupil Database and a unique rich dataset on the subject preferences and subsequent choices between the ages of 16 and 18 (i.e. GCSE and A-level). We found substantive differences between students’ preferences and actual choices of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ post-16 subjects (i.e. A-level). These differences were strongly associated with falsification of students’ expectations of examination grades taken at age 16 (i.e. GCSE) in the core subjects of English and Mathematics. The sizes of these falsification effects were much larger than other significant associations such as gender, ethnicity and social class. This suggests that subject choices are not rigidly framed by stable individual preferences and they are therefore open to influence from new information, persuasion and opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOxford Review of Education
Early online date3 Aug 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Aug 2018


  • business education
  • economics education
  • economics of education
  • Field of study
  • grade expectations
  • subject choice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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