View Full Version : What A level course?

October 15th, 2006, 03:42 AM
I send of applications for college in the next few months, and for the last 5/6 months I have decided that I definitely want to do something electronics/computing based at AS/A level, and maybe pursue as a career. The thing is, I don't know what courses to choose. I want to learn Electronics, to understand logic and ICs, how everything on a motherboard works, but not to rewire a whole house and change a lightbulb. I want to learn Computing, I definately want to be fluent in at least one programming language by the time I'm 18, but I don't want to learn how to use MS Access. As for IT, I have no idea what that involves. As you can see, the headers for the courses offered are very general.

I'm asking if anyone has any experience they would like to offer. What courses offer what. I've looked for myself and I cant get past the Educational Jargon. I meet my external mentor on Wednesday who said she would look into it, but then I though, why not ask the most compiuter literate people I know?

I'm off to an open afternoon at a local college in the next coupla hours anyway, but I've been meaning to ask all you peeps your opinion for a while.
So I am



October 15th, 2006, 05:55 AM
It sounds like you should choose a course on Electronic Engineering :) I had several EE modules at University,one of which was the development of an 8051-based microcontroller board. Great fun :D

October 15th, 2006, 07:14 AM
You have to be easy on yourself because electronics and programming
are subject matters that need time to master.

Electronics is all about those large and small components you see on
your computer motherboard or on the circuit board of any electrical
device. Electronics is the science of tiny particles we call electrons
and how we use them to do all those nice things for us. If you want to
know how electrons behave in the presence of resistors, capacitors,
vacuum tubes, transformers, transistors, etc, you should take courses in

Very generally speking, programming is either low level, or high level.
In low level programming, you learn assembly language that deals with the
inner workings of a programmable IC like a CPU. That way you learn to
program the cpu to do things like reading from memory and writing to a
device such as a floppy drive; reading from an input port such as a
serial port and writing to the monitor. Every CPU has its own assembly
language grammer.

In high level programming, you don't care so much for the inner workings
of a computer, and you deal mainly for what high level task you want to
accomplish; you may want to solve mathematical equations, write a
term paper for school, draw a graph for presentation, or review your
monthly expenses. There are several high level languages that traditionally
are: Basic, Pascal, Fortran, "C", and mamny more. There are other kind of
langauges as well that would make it exhaustive to talk about the use of all of
them here.

I am not familiar with the British educational system, but it should not be very
different from the US system. You may want to ask your Advisor/Mentor about
introductory electronics courses. As far as programming is concerned, you may
want to start with either Basic, or Pascal, and then move on to learn assembly
language for an 8-bit or 16-bit processor (depending on what the school offers).

My friend who is a circuit designer says that electronics and programming are
more like an art, and they require patience and practice to become good at them.
From experience I have learned that he is very right!

October 15th, 2006, 08:17 AM
On my return....

The college I went to offers Computing and Computing BTEC courses. The syllabus didn't sound thrilling. They did not offer an Electronics course. It's the best college in N/W England, in case you were interested.

The college on my road has an average reputation, but it's electronics and computing departments are very good. Here is some printscreens from their course guide PDF;


Ziloo, I know what electronics is, I just wasn't sure how the colleges differentiated between a course where you change a lightbulb, (Applied/Vocational electronics??!) or say, learning the principals of logic gates. Although, I can appreciate programming is an art, as my (simple) programs usually take the long messy way round. When there's a thousand ways to do somethig, I suppose you must know it inside out to get the most efficient path.

At the moment, my selection of courses looks like this;
Computing, Electronics, Biology, Music.

Music might be a problem as I didn't take it at GCSE, the course wan't offered at school. However, if I take my Grade 5 theory then maybe I can. This is probably the course I will chop and change if something better turns up.

October 15th, 2006, 09:13 AM
Based on the outline that you presented, both courses sound very nice with
great deal of material to learn. The course in programming teaches you
structured programming with Pascal. After learning that, you will have a
much easier time learning assembly language. The second course in
programming teaches about object-oriented programming that is fun and
challenging. They use it in a variety of applications including artificial
intelligence. The course in electronics deals with the kind of material that
interests you.

At this stage, you have enormous capacity for learning, and if electronics is
what interests you, take as many courses as you can. The same goes with
programming languages. As you learn more stuff, then you know better what
you would like to specialize in.

Best wishes :biggrin:

p.s.: By the way BBC, I actually smile like this green guy!

October 16th, 2006, 09:53 AM
Check out their web For CE/ Computer Engineering. Some software, but mostly electronic, two and four year degree programs..

October 16th, 2006, 10:34 AM
None of the colleges in my area do that, maybe that's more something I would find in University? Remember, I'm not that old (yet)
Incidentally, what is the education system in the US? I mean, what is the average system? I got fractured visions of it from 90's American telly programmes, but it seemed confusing.

For the UK, it goes something like this;

0-3 Nursery (Optional)

3-11 Primary School (Compulsory)
11-16 Secondary School (Compulsory)

16- 17/18 College (Optional)

18+ University

ribbets, that sounds like something I definately would enjoy at university!

Narrowed down the college to one choice, It's the only one that does Electronics in my area! Now all I have to do is get a C in my GCSE maths and I'll be fine.

p.s.: By the way BBC, I actually smile like this green guy!

October 16th, 2006, 11:05 AM
Students start at 5 years old or Kindergarden and then move up 1 grade each school year (1st grade 6 yrs old, to a senior in high school grade 12 usually around 17 or 18 years old and then to post secondary school , college or vocational tech schools.. Most Voc.schools are two year programs with an associate degree in major.. most colleges are 2,4 year degree programs..
The vocation schools are the least expensive and do not require a lot of pre requisets.. Which are a lot easier for a general student to get into. C.M.V T.I and E.M.V.T.I are just two of the Voc schools here in Maine that specialize in Computer Science and electronics on a 2 year program.. Most corporations here use them as trade schools for a specific area they need employees trained in..
I got my A+ from one of the VOC"s.. Biggest drawback is a lot of major colleges do not accept the college credits from these schools towards your BS or MS degrees if you plan on advancing to those degrees..Also check out Kennebec Valley Community College they can tell you exactlly what you need

October 16th, 2006, 11:27 AM
Besides my favorite vintage computer parts place is about 10 miles from the KVCC campus and just think of all the goodies you could send home.
P.C. Junkyard in South China,Maine

nige the hippy
October 17th, 2006, 02:34 AM
AARGH, BBC, how's your maths?

Story.... OK I'm talking 20+ years ago, and things are a little more enlightened now.... but I took physics, chemistry, biology, and maths at A level, and did alright in everything except Chemistry (because the teacher was a bit tedious, and the lessons were usually first thing in the morning, and I was usually half asleep in the morning, because I'd usually been awake half the night bonking with the French assistante) I also did Electronics at OA level (half way between GCSE & A level) which was great fun,

However all that was to change. I got into one of the top universities, doing electronics. On the first day, the maths lecturer said "Who's done double maths?" to which 3/4 of the room put their hands up, to which he replied "Ah most of you. We'll do a revision of the further maths course this week, and keep going from there" Which he promptly did, and covered an entire A level syllabus in about 6 hours of lectures. From that point on, I (and a quarter of the room) floundered. The electronics course itself was dry as dust, and because I didn't have the maths techniques in place to handle Semiconductor and electromagnetic physics, I flunked.

So advice... Have a look at what is out there university - course - wise, look at what you are interested in, and find out what you need to do - talk to admissions tutors, It's not too late to change your mind now, Don't be afraid of a less- prestigious university - Often the courses are better taught, more relevant, and more fun than the top uni's. Check out alternatives, such as robotics (mechatronics), animatronics, music technology, etc, where the electronics / computer science ( & therefore maths) is slightly less demanding ( you will be shocked by the difference of difficulty of the GCSE > A level > Degree courses, I promise).

I don't want to fill you with horror or dread, but... find something you can do, and do the things required to do the thing you can do, otherwise you'll end up like me, banging against a glass ceilling for 20 years, because of lack of degree.

Also don't let other people sway you too much, so ignore everything I've said! at the end of the day, it's your life.

also bear in mind that (job) markets will change in the course of your working life. In the mid 80s I got made redundant 3 times in 18 months, and saw advertised pay for component level computer repair chaps go from 15K to 6k per annum (times 2 for todays wages), I've earned 1500 for less than a weeks work, and lived on the same amount for a year, all down to fluctuations in the requirement for people with my skills... just a long way of saying... whatever you do, it will be in demand one day, and not the next, so you may as well do something you enjoy doing.

stop wobbling on nig!

October 17th, 2006, 07:06 AM
Nige makes some very good points .. The educational systems in the UK and Europe seem to be vastly different than here in the States.. My last course was rather expensive . The cost was $258.00 per credit hour X 62 credit hours. So you can do the math and this was just the bill for the program,not books and lab, or room and food. Plan your future a little better than we did. When I retired from my Elec. Eng. R & D job a few years ago ,the next part-time job to come along was repair and maint on electronic slot machines, because America seems to have found a passion for gambling.. Not much money in it for the Tech..But I learned enough about it to keep my money in my pockets and avoid the one armed bandits. Now I've got a great job, salaried ,no electronics and doing soil erosion control for landfills and recycling centers. Kind of went full circle .. From building CRT's to bury them in landfills..

October 17th, 2006, 10:51 AM
I dunno if I will enjoy electronics, I just really want to learn how things work, and be able to build intricate circuits using microcontrollers and whatnot to do exactly what I want. I find the whole world of it interesting beyond anything else I learn but I don't know whether i'll enjoy it or not purely because I'm interested (Although I would hope so!).
We covered basics in Systems at school, the basics being Soldering, board etching, simple micorcontroller circuits using 555s and PICs (but not in depth) and some basic components. I enjoy that, but I am never told what the components do, just where to put them and hope that everything lights up.

I'm in set 2 for Maths, thats the intermediate course which goes up to a B in the final GCSE. I have no intention of doing maths later on (Even though it would probably be useful, but I hate it so much!)
But I don't think I will take electronics on its own in Univeristy, I would like to do something that involves electonics, or computing, or both, but not purely one or the other. However, what I have no idea.

Thanks for you input,


March 26th, 2007, 09:49 AM
Yay! I have been accepted at the local college (So long as I get the grades in August)! taking;

Electronics, Computing, English Literature and Classical Civilisation

A slightly eclectic mix.

Presently looking forward to September! (And the end of these flipping GCSEs)