11 things A-level students wish they'd known


Hindsight is a wonderful thing...

Lots of people get to the end of A-levels and think: "If I'd really known how big a step-up this would be from GCSE, I would have done a lot better."

We're guessing you don't want that to be you. We're presuming you'd rather reach A-level results day and think: "Yep, I did really well, and I deserve it."

Which is why we asked the former A-level students in the TSR community to share their advice on getting through sixth form. What do they wish they'd been told when they were studying their A-levels? Here's what they told us.

Use the past papers

Utilise all the past papers, answer schemes and examiners reports available. They're an incredibly useful resource that you don't get anywhere near when you're at university.

I know my little sister didn't even know about them until I told her. They're especially useful for written subjects where you get an essay question, but aren't sure what the examiner is looking for – really helps you plan out model answers.


Make lots of notes

Make revision notes as you go through topics – although you may think it's a lot of work it will help immensely as you will make your notes with the work fresh in your head and then when it comes to exam time you'll be really well prepared and won't have to panic.


Get into the habit of going over your notes from the start and start revising early, that way you have more opportunities to fill gaps in understanding/perfect essay writing and you won't feel as overwhelmed around exam season.


Be prepared to work at home

Do not assume your class work will be enough. Your teachers will tell you this and I urge you to listen to them, if you plan on getting anything above an E/D you need, need, NEED to be doing work at home, take notes from your textbooks or even just look over your class notes just do something right from September.

I didn't at first and the highest I got in my January exams was a C. I did this after and in the summer I got AAC results so it's worth doing, especially as you don't have early exams to learn from.


Get organised

Take notes in class, put these notes into poly pockets and file them in a lever arch file. Use dividers to separate each unit. Have a lever arch file for each of your subjects. If you have trouble remembering content rewrite your notes into little notebooks. If you have trouble connecting topics, create mind maps for each of your units using bright colours.


Use folders, file dividers, punched pockets, whatever works for you. You don't want to get to revising at Easter and find a huge pile of loose paper in the corner of your bedroom/under your bed which you then have to sort through to find the relevant notes, only to find that half of it has been swallowed up into the black hole that is your bedroom/eaten by the dog or whatever.


Treat it like a job

Treat college like a job. You wouldn't call in sick everyday and not turn up for fear of losing your job. Well although colleges are lenient you pay the price ultimately, you will miss important content and while you're catching up with the work you missed more work will be piled on top and you start an endless spiral of catching up leading to stress and possibly dropping out.


Respect your deadlines

If you have to do coursework, make damn sure to do it early. Pretend to yourself that the deadline is a month ahead of where it actually is. If you don't have coursework, start doing past papers in dribs and drabs very early on.

You should aim to have finished all the past papers by the time of the exam. There aren't actually very many different questions they can ask, so it's good to get them all done.


Stay on top of your work deadlines and always try to finish essays or larger pieces of work as early as possible because it is so easy for everything to build up and become a mountain by the weekend!


Make sure you understand each topic

Start making a conscious effort to understand concepts. The quicker you do this the better off you will be. You know that you actually understand a concept if you can explain it in simple terms to another person, preferably younger than you.


Don't panic!

This is a big step up from GCSE, so don't panic! Everybody finds it a struggle at first, and if anyone says that they don't, then they're lying. Within a matter of weeks you will have settled in and working at a higher level will be much more routine.

Some subjects take longer to accustom to than others, so don't panic if there is one subject that you take longer to get to grips with.

Remember though, hard work = good grades at A-level. While you may have been able to blag your way through your GCSEs, it is not that easy at A-level, so you must be prepared to put in the work in order to reap the rewards.


Don't forget to have some fun

These are the years from 16 to 18 years old and of course fun, friendship and having a good time must be a part of life. I'd advise setting aside one full day at the weekend and one evening in the week which you should have completely free of school work.

Go out with your friends, go to parties, just have fun; but when it comes time to buckle down make sure you do that and get your work done!


Work hard, stay organised but make sure you give yourself a break from revising from time to time. Also enjoy making new friends if you start at a new college to take your A-levels.


Don't waste your free periods

Your frees should be 'study periods'. They were labelled this at my school and admittedly many (including myself) ignored the new name for 'frees' and continued to spend this time playing Flappy Bird, watching YouTube videos and just chatting with mates.

This doesn't help your studies and when exam time approaches you will suddenly realise how important study periods were - so use them properly from the start.


Find a good balance with everything. It's great to join clubs and do extra curriculars, but make sure they don't overwhelm you and impact your work. You can't do everything after all.

Equally, do work and use your frees, but don't work every free, every breaktime, every lunchtime and every hour after school. Find a good balance that works.

Venus fly trap

Get some sleep

Make sure you get enough sleep each night! It's no use staying up really late to finish homework if you are going to be so tired that you don't understand anything in lessons the next day.

If you get to the stage where you have to do homework late at night because you have too much on or too much due in on one day, speak to your teachers!

Apologise, tell them that you just didn't have time to do it because you were so busy! Usually they will understand and cut you a bit of slack, provided you don't do it often! 


More useful liks

Find the past papers for your subject here
10 most important pieces of advice for starting A levels
A-level forum

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