More students are opting to take GCSEs and A-levels in traditional subjects such as maths and science in order to improve their chances of getting accepted at a better university.
The information was revealed by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), England’s non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests.
"The subjects that are proving to be more popular this year are the traditional subjects,” said chief regulator Glenys Stacey. “We have seen modest increases in the sciences and, I suppose, what Russell Group universities would call 'facilitating subjects'.”
The Russell Group, a self-selected group comprising 24 of the most prestigious public research universities in Britain - including Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London - usually prefers applicants that have passed examinations in traditional subjects, including English literature, maths, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and languages.
Major government reforms to the exams system - such as the English Baccalaureate, which recognises students who gain at least a C at GCSE in english, maths, science, a language and history or geography - are also likely to be having an impact.
“If your aspirations are to study some subjects at universities where there is a great deal of competition for places, we know that maths is sometimes an absolute requirement for some places and also is extremely well regarded,” Stacey said.
“There will no doubt be a good number of students who are thinking of their futures and where they wish to go in terms of higher education and recognising what universities might be looking for as well. So it's an expected trend."
Entries for each of the three sciences - biology, chemistry and physics - have increased this year, while maths and further maths are also "noticeably more popular", the regulator said.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, commented: "It is unsurprising that young people are turning to traditional subjects given the importance of these qualifications in gaining university places and the emphasis the government is placing on them as English Baccalaureate subjects.
"It is very encouraging if there has been an increase in the take-up of A-level maths and science courses. This is key to securing a good supply of science and technology graduates in the future, which employers say they desperately need.”
The figures come just a week before the national A-level results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to be published.