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How to keep calm and carry on (or shake things up) when you think you’ve picked the wrong exam subjects

I remember the moment I realised that I’d picked the wrong subjects for my AS levels really well.

I’ll paint you a beautiful, teary, snotty-nosed picture: I had just had an English Literature class that made me feel excited, creative and ready to become the next William (or, ok, Wendy?) Shakespeare. But suddenly I had one of those familiar I’m-gonna-be-sick-and-my-heart-is-in-my-tummy feelings and ran to hide in the toilets. The reason? I didn’t want to go to my Art and Design class for the second time in two days. Something was wrong.

Now I’m not saying English Literature is amazing and Art and Design is bad – far from it, I love art to this day. But for me, Art and Design just wasn’t working out. I was avoiding it. I wasn’t doing well. I was sacrificing other subjects to catch up. And I’d figured out a few weeks ago it wasn’t pushing me forward to my dream of studying English Language and Literature at university.

I’d mentioned my worries to a few friends and family and they were all really scared about me switching my subjects. “But you love art!,” they all said. “You’re so creative!”, “And anyway, it’s far too late now!” What they said changed my mind briefly, but I couldn’t keep doing something just to keep other people happy.

I felt angry at myself. Sad about what might happen. And really scared about telling anyone. But it was in that moment in the toilets, sat in a corner having a bloody good old cry that I thought it really was time to do something about it.

First up, I went to my English Literature teacher and asked her if she thought switching Art and Design for English Language might look better to the universities I wanted to get into. “Yes,” was her resounding response. “And you can make it happen, but you have to do something about it.”

Feeling all pumped up from her enthusiasm, I went to my Head of Year, explained everything and presented my alternative option, which was English Language. (Oh and I had a bloody good cry then too.) Luckily she was really supportive and told me that even though we were a few months into the AS level year, I could switch. I’d just have to:

1. Work really hard to catch up with everyone else
2. Explain to my Art and Design teacher why I was leaving the course
3. Stop bloody crying

It wasn’t easy. A lot of people disagreed with my choice – especially my Art and Design teacher, unsurprisingly – but it meant I was accepted onto (and got onto! And finished!) the English Language and Literature course at university I’d dreamed about.

And it turns out, I really wasn’t alone. So many teens feel like they’ve picked the wrong AS levels, A levels and GCSEs. And that oh-no-I’ve-made-a-mistake panic can set in minutes after you’ve handed in your option choices, or months after. Like me.

But you can get through those fears. Tackle the feelings. Change things, and make your situation work for you. We’ve highlighted some of our best ways to handle wrong subject-picking panic – and hopefully even make better choices to begin with – which will have you feeling calm and in control in no time.

1. Keep calm (you can do this!)

When you’re feeling confused and panicked, staying as calm as you can is really important. Chances are you might feel anything, from a bit of worry through to full-blown panic when you realise you might have made the wrong decision about school.

The first thing to remember is that these feelings are totally normal. You’re human. We all make mistakes, we all feel emotional, we all have a great opportunity to learn from them and take some good actions afterwards.

2. Take the time to think it through

When you start thinking you’ve chosen the wrong subject, normal reactions tend to be to hide away or try and resolve the problem straight away – and neither are good for you.

Instead, stop to think about why you feel you’ve made a mistake. Is it because you’re genuinely not enjoying the subject and know it won’t help with your career prospects? Or is it because you’ve had some bad grades and just want to try something easier?

3. Have a worry, then take some action

Once you’ve had a good think about why you believe you’re on the wrong course or chose the wrong subject (as well as a good rant or cry), then it’s time to do something about it.

This bit can feel scary, especially when you can’t guarantee how teachers, friends and family will react. But think of it like pulling off a plaster. Once it’s out in the open, it’ll get easier and everyone will appreciate your honesty.

4. Pick the brains of your friends and your school career advisor

Ask lots of people what they think you should do. Quiz your parents, older relatives, friends, and especially teachers and careers advisors. Soak up what they say and take all of their advice on board. But remember that at the end of the day it’s your decision. You’ll feel resentment if you just do what your mum wants you to do, but getting lots of advice and information will put you in the best position to make a choice that feels really well-informed.

5. Find people in the roles you want to do, then quiz them

Put some time into finding people who are doing the jobs you’re interested in and ask them questions. Using Twitter is a great place to start because it’s so informal. You can reach out to people working in your field and ask them about their job, what qualifications they needed to get it and what the day-to-day looks like. It may seem early, but finding out more about jobs now means you’ll make better decisions in the long run.

Plus, you might find you don’t even need to worry about the subjects you’re doing half as much as you think you do. Many jobs actually like you to have a mixture of subjects rather than the same obvious ones.

6. Use the internet – it really is your BFF

Beyond social media, the rest of the internet is jam-packed full of advice and resources that’ll help you. Google advice, jobs, read about universities, find communities and forums. It’s particularly interesting to find people discussing the subject you’re thinking of quitting. And then it’s worth asking yourself whether people have found it challenging and questioned switching it themselves.

7. Choose what makes you happy

As well as choosing subjects based on your future job choices, you also want to make sure you’re taking subjects you enjoy. Our betty editor Lauren remembers people reacting badly to her subject choices, and told me: “when I chose to take Dance and Drama GCSEs instead of History or Geography, it was this whole drama where my teacher told me I was ‘committing academic suicide’ by not having a humanities subject, and I cried in a corridor. But it hasn’t held me back in the slightest. I loved the performance courses, and I’ve never regretted them.”

You don’t have to love every second of a subject to find it fun. But you do need to feel positive about turning up to classes and motivated about getting your homework and assignments done, so bear that in mind.

8. Research the courses you’re thinking of taking or changing to

You’re only going to know which courses are right for you if you put some legwork in beforehand. After picking a course that Jacqueline felt would have been better with a different teacher, she told me: “Just because a subject sounds exciting, it doesn’t mean it will be. Always find out as much as you can about the subject you’re about to choose, whether that’s the topics you’ll do, the trips involved and also which teachers will teach them. Sure it all sounds a bit boring, but it’s better than being surprised and let down later on.”

9. Remember you can still do things you love later

It’s important to remember that decisions don’t last a lifetime. Jacqueline also told us, “You can always come back and do that subject later – you don’t necessarily have to do it right now, even if you love it. Because things might seem really important right now, but you can always do things in the future.”

And this attitude applies in all ways. Some of the most successful people didn’t start their crazy-successful career into their 20s, 30s, 40s, hell, even their 50s and 60s! It’s never been more acceptable to switch careers, pick up all kinds of skills from all kinds of places and keep shifting your goals.

10. Bag yourself some experience on weekends

Let’s say you can’t change a subject you really want to change. Maybe you don’t even want to change it, but you also know that it might look better for sixth form, university or a job if you have more experience in the field you want to work in.

Well, you can start getting experience and researching in your spare time. This might be formal work experience – say, at a vet’s practice – or just volunteering – maybe at a local dog shelter. This is also a really positive thing to do if you’re taking a subject you hate and feel demotivated – it’ll remind you that everything’s a journey. You’re not wasting your time.


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