Welcome to another first! Our new, monthly feature offering advice to fellow students on study techniques & tips. Student Life’s roving reporter, Rosie will be heading up this new section, but if you have any tips or tricks that you want to share, simply let Rosie know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Going into sixth form from GCSE feels scary. You over-hear the conversations of sixth-formers discussing the dramatic, crazy changes that go on regarding work load, and how the step up is just “too much to handle”. Well, believe me, it’s not. The step up, as expected, is large, otherwise a GCSE would have the same prestige as an A Level. However, it’s likely that these studying horror stories you hear are a result of being unprepared. As a second-year sixth former, I have several helpful tips that I often give to people before they start sixth form that I wish I had known, because they really would have impacted my first year of A Level studies for the better.
Tip Number One: Get out of that GCSE Examination Board mindset.
Most A-Level courses will run on the same examination board as their GCSE equivalent, as a lot of the GCSE content can be considered the foundation to the A Level, and therefore to use two separate exam board would be ridiculous. However, what is ridiculous is that the exam board uses different mark scheme approaches. What I mean by this is that the question formatting is very different, and the expected answering formatting is very different. Don’t be fooled into thinking the content will just be harder, as the style of the content will also be altered. When answering questions and completing work, try not to write in good old GCSE style; really take on board the new examination style. I advise reading the examiner’s report before each module begins!
Tip Number Two: Get yourself some fancy-pants pens
Now, I don’t mean come into sixth form, Hogwarts style with your quill and ink pot, but what I do advise is getting some good quality coloured pens, alongside your black-ink pens. When taking notes in class, don’t do what I did at first, which was write page upon page of notes in black ink like we had to do at GCSE, because none of the key information stands out. Of course, you may be thinking “What’s wrong with highlighters?” Well, the issue is it’s very tempting just to highlight everything! Its fun, its pretty, we all love some highlighting action. Whereas if you are constantly swapping into coloured pens, you will probably only have the patience to swap when you really need to. This means you only make the key points stand out….instead of the key points, the secondary key points, the sub-secondary key points and so on, which makes revision easier.
Tip Number Three: Wider Reading
*Ugh, I sound like all my teachers*, and that’s because my teachers were right! Wider reading will be your saving grace. Now, at GCSE you show up to class, learn some stuff (hopefully!) then leave & revise what you learnt. Boom. Well unfortunately, at A-Level there is a little more to it. You need to do your wider reading. Please note the use of the word ‘need’ there. It will benefit you massively, in three key ways;
1. It will generally expand your understanding of the subject, and over time will improve your interpretation and analytical skills.
2. If there is something in the class course; for example a study in psychology you do not understand, you may be able to replace it with one you discovered yourself and do understand. (always ask your teacher first before substituting studies in case the specification requires you to know that one exactly)
3. It will make your work a lot better. Having extra insights, another perspective, and information that isn’t what every other pupil up and down the country is writing, will make yours stand out and is likely to secure you a few extra marks in the exam for showing a wider range of knowledge.
This may not work for all subjects, however for subjects that are essay-based, this is the key to your success.
Tip Number Four: Don’t set expectations
The worst thing you can do, is mentally set-up how you think the course will run. Instead, ask other people who were on your chosen courses how it went, and prepare for that. There is no point creating some mental fantasy based off countless American movies, or expecting your life to be like an episode of ‘Skins’ – because the likelihood is that it won’t. Go in with an open mind because by doing so, you are more likely to enjoy the course and more importantly, succeed in it!