Sometimes, it doesn’t go as smoothly as you imagine at A Level.

The step-up from GCSE to A Level is difficult, and a problem that I’ve born the brunt off in the past.  It was something that I was ill-prepared for, I must admit – at the end of the day, it cost me a lot of time and UCAS Points and had an effect on my university application.

For those who start A Levels in Year 12, you’ll be constantly reminded how important it is to make a fast start and ‘hit the ground with your feet running’ – there’ll be so many clichés you can actually play a game of bingo with them.

Sadly, they’re there for a reason – regardless of which ones are said, they all carry some meaning.  If you don’t heed the warnings and the advice, you could well fall behind.

Some students fall behind for other reasons, so I apologise if I’m generalising.  However, ultimately you all want to make solid progress and not to be worried about other bits and pieces in the background.  I, for instance, was continuing through modules worrying about things I learned in other modules, even other subjects.  I’d be learning Statistics and my mind would wander to a piece of Physics that I wish I had concentrated better on last term.  Yikes.

If you fall behind, you’ll hear about it.  For me, it was at a parents evening – the first time that my parents had heard about my troubles too.  There was some lack of effort on my part, and a lack of mental preparation for the things I needed to do to get ready for the world of A Levels.  Where was my independent learning? Had I spent extra time looking at older bits of work to solidify my knowledge?  Not even close, it transpired.

Fortunately, experience dictates that, for every problem there is also a solution, so all is not lost.  There are things you can do to catch up and bring yourself up to speed.

  • Talk to someone – This was probably my greatest downfall and something I always tell people if they feel like they’re struggling.  Really, talk to your tutor or your parents – don’t try and cover it up and ‘deal with it yourself’ because the chances are that you won’t be able to.  At the very least, talk to the tutors of the subjects you’re having a hard time with – they’ll be more inclined to help you now rather than further down the road when exams and modular assessments are on the horizon.
  • Check your priorities – I’ve got to admit, when I was in Year 12, I had taken on an awful lot.  I played Rugby for the school, I was a radio show host on the school network, I still spent my Fridays at my Explorer Scout unit.  All of that adds up.  I’m not saying that it’s going to isolate you for longer with your educational demons, but it gives you time to sit down and try and get to grips with what you’ve been trying to learn.  You’ll have more time to consider where your weaknesses are and how you might go about fixing them.
  • Take the feedback – whatever it might be – Personally, I used to hate hearing someone criticising my methods of working.  It just seemed like they were interfering with how I wanted to do things.  Indeed, that didn’t get me very far – eventually it left me giving out no real confidence.  You really need to be open to other methods and ways of working.  For example, if your teacher complains about the delays in handing in work, then take that as a potential learning point.  Keeping favour with people and being accepting of change is something that will do you more favours than purely sticking to your guns.
  • There is no end to improvement – Remember, nothing is ever completely perfect – use that as a motivation to find other little things that you could improve on.  Don’t take it as a reason to sit back and accept anything less, but don’t be disheartened either.  Every step is a positive one and remember that if you make good steps towards catching up, you’ll hear good news from people in return.
  • Find others around to help you – Even if you feel like your teachers aren’t the most sympathetic people in the world, you’ll know people who are.  If you’re behind and you feel like picking their brains is acceptable, ask to read notes to see how they’ve done it.  Understand their process and thinking and it may lead you to answer.
  • Don’t take people for granted, however.  Make sure that you can offer something back in return to help them one day.  For example, don’t assume that your teachers will always be on hand to help you out – make time to see them and accept that feedback, but make sure you’re there as agreed and understand that they likely have lots of other students to help out too.
  • Consider a tutor – Getting help outside of class in your own time is a big step… but it can seriously pay off.  Whether it be help with a particular topic or long-term support, there’ll be people out there to help you.  A Level tutors are available nearly everywhere and online, so no matter the problem or time, you’ll be able to get the help you need.

Really, the biggest problem you might face is not a lack of knowledge or understanding, but the wrong mindset if you find yourself behind.  OK, so not getting behind in the first place is one solution but that model is a) very presumptuous in that everyone is perfect and b) assumes that no-one ever gets into that spot anyway.

If you find yourself behind then don’t be afraid – be determined to put it right.


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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.