This time two years ago, I had a mixture of excitement and nerves about starting a new school and my new A level subjects. Those two years were crazy, filled with ups and downs and lots of learning. Now, I’ve finished my exams and got my results, but it wasn’t without a lot of hard work and tweaking of study methods.
If you’re like I was at the beginning of this journey, nothing I say will really affect your decision making process. I was certain that I had it all planned out and knew exactly how things would go. Turns out, I had to make certain mistakes for myself. However, now that I’ve been there and done that I feel I need to share what I learned!
1. Pick subjects you like
This sounds obvious, but I can’t stress enough how important it is! The A Level courses are demanding, and without a certain amount of passion for the subject you might struggle to find the motivation to stay! Also remember that, for the first term at least, it’s not too late to drop or change subjects. Your school or college should be able to help you if you’re not enjoying as subject as much as expected.
2. Be realistic
This might be a controversial topic, but in my view it’s an important one. I myself was swept away with the idea of smashing out four As, but time showed this wasn’t realistic. My school particularly enjoyed speaking about high achievers and Oxbridge, pushing yourself to the limits etc, but the truth is that there’s nothing wrong with lowering your expectations slightly. That is not the same as failure! I ended up dropping maths, and it took me a long time to come to terms with that. For me, it was important that I was working for my own gain, and that the only validation I needed was from my friends and family. In the end, I stopped listening to what some teachers had to say as it was really quite toxic!
3. Ask. For. Help.
EVERYONE needs help during A levels. Even if you think you’re the only one struggling, I can guarantee you’re not. Admitting you don’t understand something is a really hard thing to do, but it’s best to ask for a hand straight away, as it only gets harder to ask the longer you wait! It’s definitely better to get on top of your subjects to avoid falling behind. Your tutors will be happy to help, and there are literally thousands of resources online! I found it helpful to talk to my friends and realise that I wasn’t alone in feeling stressed. It was so reassuring to hear that they were feeling stressed too, and after that I was happier to ask for help.
4. Revise early
I found that the best way to revise was to review the notes I made in lesson as soon as possible afterwards, either in a study period later that day or that evening. After I reviewed the notes I’d put them into practice with textbook or past paper questions. This was great because I revised each topic frequently and in little chunks. That way, when end of unit tests came around I didn’t have a mountain of content to go over. Research shows that “little and often” is the best way to study, as repetition of an item is what commits it to long term memory.
5. Revise E F F I C I E N T L Y
This!! Most of my first year of A Levels was spent meticulously copying notes, but I didn’t actually commit much to memory. Even worse, I never applied the concepts with test questions, so I was doing all this work and not actually learning. I could have saved myself a lot of stress by using the technique I mentioned in number 5 much sooner. Don’t give yourself a certain number of hours to tick off, because you might trick yourself into thinking you’ve done better revision than you actually have; instead choose a section of content and make sure you’ve memorised and understood it.
6. Be kind to yourself
It’s easy to feel like the A Levels own you and that every moment of your spare time must go towards studying. Not true! Don’t give up your hobbies and interests for this, but do try to strike a balance and prioritise your time. Of course I’m not suggesting you should go out with friends every lunch time and evening! But have a night off every now and then, and keep spending time with your family too. Remember that everyone is aiming for a different end goal, and what is successful to someone else might not be to you – this is something lots of schools fail to remind you. Take each positive and remember it, and learn from every setback.
7. Remember the long-term aims and gains!
You might have a very definite plan for your life after A Levels, or you may have no idea. Both are okay! I found that it helped to remind myself what I was studying for! For lots of people, the qualifications are vital for the university course they want; for others, they open doors to their dream career. Even if you’re unsure of what you want to do, A Levels are great to have on your CV and can lead to so many opportunities! Be clear about what you want and why you want it and suddenly, you might find yourself more motivated to study.
*a quick note about the final point: if you aren’t planning on attending university and are struggling to find a reason to continue with post-16 education, remember that A Levels are not the only option! There is nothing worse than working hard for a qualification you don’t enjoy or need, so I’d recommend looking at college courses, BTECs and apprenticeships!
There is so much more I could say about the last two years of my life, much of which I’d struggle to write coherently. I’ve experienced such a jumble of emotions and, although I really enjoyed the school I attended and I’m proud of my achievements, the truth is I’m super glad they’re over. If anyone would like advice regarding college/sixth form, university applications, subjects or anything else, please do get in touch!
Thank you for reading!