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A-Levels Like a Pro (ish): Discussion


Well, we made it! Yesterday was A-level results day, and so we joined the rest of the country in finding out our future-defining grades.

Nobody ever said that A-levels were easy, but this year, changes impacting the majority of A-level subjects came into effect. As you can imagine, this has meant total chaos for the first year to go through the process. We were “lucky” enough to be part of this group, adding an extra degree of pressure.

Regardless of what year you’re studying your A-Levels, we won’t lie; it’s tough. Not impossible, but tough. Never fear, though, for we are back once again with the best of our advice.
G’s Top Tips

  • Balance applications with studying

It’s easy for the first term of year 13 to become all about applying for uni, but then you just get to January and realise that you’re way behind where you need to be. Remember to keep trying hard with your studies while making decisions about your future.

Equally, once you’ve got your offers, it’s easy to treat A levels like nothing more than a university entrance exam and simply aim for whatever your offer is. This can lead to regret, especially if, like us, you have an unconditional offer. Aim as high as you can, regardless of what universities want from you.

If you’re writing your personal statement, though, we wrote a post earlier this year that could give you a hand.

  • Admit when you need help

I struggled to adjust to sixth form – I found that it was the uncomfortable middle where I had a lot of free time, but had to spend it in school, where all the study area options were uncomfortable. Combine this with personal problems, and I had a full-on meltdown before the first term was even up. Luckily, I wasn’t the first, and the school were used to dealing with this kind of thing. As well as giving me the space I needed to deal with these issues, many teachers were happy to listen to me rant, or let me out of lessons when needed. On top of all this, I was able to set up a modified timetable in which I went home during big blocks of free periods, which honestly is probably the only reason I made it to the end of sixth form. If you find yourself struggling, mention it sooner rather than later. The time frame is so tight that if you fall behind early on, you’ll have to fight to keep up, and so it’s definitely worth flagging it up if you’re having difficulty.

  • Study what you want to

This seems obvious. Sixteen year old me would have looked at that bullet point, rolled her eyes, and closed this post. However, this same sixteen-year-old started with five options, changed these around twice, attempted to study an A level without a teacher, dropped two, and then at the end of year 12 decided to drop a subject and study a different A-level in a year. It’s not easy to pick the right subjects, especially when you’ve not really decided what you want to do yet, but the best advice I can give you is to have uni in mind when making your choices. Also, don’t be afraid to at least ask to change – the worst that can happen is that they say no. While it took a bit of a fight to be able to do it, studying an A-Level in a year was the best thing that I could have done. Not only did I get an A, but without it, I couldn’t have got into my uni course, and I would have been stuck doing an A-Level that I was finding difficult and unenjoyable.

On a related note, one of the most difficult aspects for me was that in staying at the same school, all the teachers knew me, and wanted me to keep doing their subject, reassuring me that they knew I was capable. In reality, I knew my own limits, and I knew what subjects I was done with, but I let myself be swayed. Remember to take teacher recommendations with caution – while many are right, only you’ll know what’s best for yourself.
Lydia’s Top Tips

While I had a more typical experience with choosing my A-levels than G, I nonetheless had a collection of issues, mostly academic.

  • Finish your work early

I have such a bad habit of leaving something half done and seeing it as a monster to go back to. With G, I started my uni application early and still managed to send mine off in good time, but there was a solid couple of weeks I didn’t even look at it because I was too nervous about trying to make a good introduction. Then one day, I sat down for an hour and just finished it. It was so much better and I realised that it was not nearly as bad to fix as I’d made out.

  • Revise efficiently

In the last term of my courses I did hardly any essays and finished hardly any of the ones I’d restart three times by the deadlines my teachers set. Be honest with yourself and stubborn with how you best revise. For me, making courses on Memrise is pretty much the only way I get anything out of revising. I wasted so much time feeling like I should be doing an essay a week or gigantic mind maps like everyone else, before ignoring all my teachers and doing something useful. Yes, I got weird looks sitting on my phone for an hour in a revision class, but no one could complain when it was what worked best for me.

  • Pester your teachers

Annoy them with questions about how to write a good essay, get them to write an example, ask them to print off a cute little paper about the mark schemes. I did all that except the first and in one subject I had no idea what a good essay actually looked like until my last exam. I work best when I see essays like a formula, you can change the bulk if it doesn’t match your writing style, but you have to know what to include beforehand. Until you actively understand it, keep asking them. It will click eventually, but it will do so faster if you specifically ask where you’re going wrong and make sure you understand the answer.

  • Lastly, know your limits

This isn’t just when choosing your subjects, but when you’re studying them, too. Try to be aware of your energy levels. When I was revising, I gave myself a hard time for stopping the exercise I was doing but, really, I was asking too much of myself. By not exercising, I managed to put in more time for either revising or relaxing. The amount of ‘nothing’ I did in between revising was definitely needed.

Congratulations to everyone else who got their results yesterday! We hope that all went well, and that you’re on your way to wherever it is you want to go. We were both really happy with our results, although we both had unconditional offers anyway.

If you’re interested in other posts about school, check out G’s opinion post on why the rise in unconditional offers is a good thing or head over to the revision category.

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