7 Tips for New A Level Students

by Fizz

This post is taken from the old version of the blog hosted on wordpress.com. Originally published 07/09/19

This time two years ago I had a mixture of excitement and nerves to start a new school and my new A level subjects. Those two years were crazy, filled with ups and downs and lots of learning. If you’re like I was at the beginning of this journey, nothing I say can really affect your decision making process – I was certain that I had it all planned out and knew exactly how things would go – but now I’ve been there and done that I feel I need to share what I learned!

1. Pick subjects you really like

This sounds obvious, but I can’t stress enough how important it is! The courses you will do are demanding, and without a certain amount of passion for the subject you might struggle to find the motivation to stay! Don’t study maths and physics just because they seem like employable subjects. Also, remember that, for the first term at least, it’s not too late to drop or change subjects. Sixth form or college is all about getting the best experience possible, and your institution 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 continuing with four subjects and smashing out four As, but as time progressed I realised 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’s not the same as failure! I ended up dropping my fourth subject (maths) and didn’t get 3 As, 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. A levels are about getting the grades to continue onto the next step, not about the “prestige” of taking an extra subject.

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. I think 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! This is something I struggled with, but in the end I realised it’s not actually that daunting, and makes things so much better if you clear up any concerns ASAP. Throughout year twelve, I spent many a lunchtime or after school in a maths classroom getting help from the only person who really could help – the teacher.

4. Revise early

This is a study-specific tip. 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, meaning that when end of unit tests came round I didn’t feel like I had a mountain of content to go over.


This!! I spent most of first year revising, and looking back all I did really was mindlessly copy out notes. I was initially swept up with creating perfect notes, memorising them, and writing out lovely neat flashcards. That will only get you so far. Unfortunately, studying involves hard work, whether that’s testing yourself or getting someone else to do the same. 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.

Bonus – past papers are your best friend! School exams in the UK are a bit different in that they can be very prescriptive – i.e. the mark scheme often looks for a certain key word or set of answers, unlike university exams, for example. The best way to get on board with this is to do all the past papers you can find and mark them. This way you will come to understand the mark schemes a bit better, and maybe even recognise similar questions that have been recycled from previous years.

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.

It might also help to keep a conversation going with your friends about their A level experience. You might find that everyone is facing similar or different challenges, but if you don’t talk about it, it’s easy to think that everyone is coping better than you.

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, but I found that it helped to remind myself why I was doing it! For lots of people, the qualifications are vital for the university course they want, so keep that in mind when you don’t want to revise. Even if you’re unsure of what you want to do, A levels are great to have on your CV and open so many doors! Be clear about what you want and why you want it and suddenly you might find yourself more motivated to study.

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!

Bonus advice!

September 2022: three years on from my A levels

I’m sitting in a flat in Sweden editing this post and migrating it across to my new blog. The blog which I lost interest in, forgot about, and returned to in the three years since this post has been written. I did a gap year, travelled to Ecuador, had a bunch of part time jobs, survived a global pandemic, started university, got interested in a subject I never cared for before, and moved to Sweden to study for a year. No matter how many people give you advice, there are some things you just can’t rationalise while you’re doing A levels. They seem like the end of the world at the time, and I don’t think the people who try to tell you otherwise are helping: yes, they survived, and yes, A levels aren’t the be all and end all, but at the time, they really feel that way. Ultimately, they will pass, and you’ll look back on them in a few years time with a completely different mindset. And if you’re anything like me, who burned out completely in year thirteen, you’ll regret not taking care of yourself far more than your grades. So do yourself a favour; talk to your teachers, take their advice, work hard but also take breaks.

Are you currently studying for A levels, or about to? Let me know what you’re studying in the comments!


Carole 25/09/2022 - 18:54

wish I had had your wisdom when I was studying for exams at school, my life might have taken a whole different trajectory

Fizz 26/09/2022 - 15:38

I think it’s fair to say I didn’t think like this at the time! I think I wrote the post after leaving school once the stress had died down xx


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