Oh dear. Michael Gove is planning to make A levels more difficult.
Not the news many students starting these challenging exams would want to hear. What it does mean however is that doing well at these exams will soon require more preparation and dedication than in the past.
You will need to sharpen your academic skills in areas like researching, writing, references, problem solving, analytics and critical thinking.
What follows are our tips to help you choose the right subjects and prepare properly for your AS and A level exams.
Select the right subjects
Take time to talk to your sixth form or college tutor; they will help you select the subjects you will need to pursue your degree of interest at university. If you do not have a chosen career in mind, go with the subjects that most interest you; this will make it easier to select a career that truly fulfils you in the long run.
It’s also a good idea to research into the syllabi of any new subjects that were not available while you were studying for your GCSEs. See whether the skills the subjects demand and your own strengths coincide. If you are set on a particular university, try to elicit which subjects are most likely to get you accepted in that particular institution.
Check out websites of these universities; Cambridge University, for instance, has published a list of subjects they deem less effective preparation for their courses. These subjects should best be avoided if they interfere with your chances of entering the university of your dreams.
Be aware, there are difficult subjects with high workloads and easier subjects. Be careful about taking too many difficult subjects, if you have any doubt in your ability to pass them. You will get to hear who people rate as the best and the worst A level teachers, so bear this in mind when making your selection.
Revision should be a regular task; at the end of every week, all your notes should be revised and digested into a format that is easier to memorise. If you allow week after week to pass without looking at your notes, it will only make the task more daunting. Revising regularly does not mean allowing yourself to ‘burn out’. It is up to you to determine how many hours daily or weekly you need to efficiently summarise, memorise and conduct the necessary research.
You may work best by studying for two or three days steadily then giving yourself a two-day break. When you do allow yourself some leisure time, use it wisely. Make sure that you truly disconnect by doing something you love. Social interaction is likewise vital if you don’t want to feel like A levels revision is costing you your personal life.
Use effective study tools
One of the most effective ways of reducing a large bulk of information into a more manageable format is through the use of mind maps. These break a subject up into headings/main ideas, subsidiary ideas or sub-headings and more specific details, using visual imagery to increase memory retention and help students relate parts of a subject or idea to the whole. A good mind map will use colour, images and text to boost memory and concentration.
Practice past exam papers
One of the best ways to learn to manage your time during the exams, and to ensure you are familiar with the format and nature of the questions you are likely to encounter is by doing past exams; the more you do, the more comfortable you will be on exam day.
There are many past exams available on the Internet, though if you run out of material, ask your teacher if they can help you access more tests. Remember that the questions you will encounter are not likely to be the same, but that is not the point of completing practice exams – rather, it is the nature of the questions, the structure of the exam and the time you will be allowed for each section, which are of interest.
Acknowledge the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet
Keeping up your energy levels for two entire years is quite a challenge; it helps to feel vital, healthy and fit while you are revising, so make sure to include brain boosting foods (like fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and foods, which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids).
Create a study group
Some of you will be self-starters. You will prefer to study alone and do not need others to set and work towards goals. Others, however, work best in a social setting. You may find the company of others motivating. If you find that working in a study group works for you, create one. Establish rules with your group mates from the outset, including the length and number of breaks, etc. Share vital resources and tips gleaned and test each other regularly to identify possible neglected areas in your respective study plans.
No stress allowed the night before the exam
If you have been consistently preparing for two years, do you really need that last night to cram information into your brain? Have confidence in what your discipline and hard work has achieved; get an early night to ensure your memory and concentration are in tip-top shape on your big day.
You don’t need to unload all of your knowledge on exam day
Think about the question you are being asked and answer it: One of the most annoying aspects of correcting an A level exam is finding a long-winded answer intended to show how much the student knows about a given subject, that does not actually answer the question posed. This is why doing past exams is so useful; they train you to divide your ideas into clearly defined paragraphs, and to connect your ideas in a logical and comprehensible manner.
A levels are a hard slog. Make sure to reward yourself along the way, and to plan one special reward for doing so well on your A level exams, a nice meal or camping trip maybe. Having something to look forward to can be useful when you motivation flags.
I hope that you have found this blog post informative and useful. All that’s left is to wish you the best of luck with your A levels.
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