How to be ready for A-levels: a teacher's view

It's all change! If you're just starting A-levels, you already know you're in for a big step up in workload. But how can you make the move up as seamless as possible? 

We asked TSR's resident teacher blogger, Mrs Kinetta, to share her advice on how students can best start their A-levels. She's been teaching A-levels for more than 30 years, so she knows what she's talking about. Here's her insight on making sure you're ready for A-levels.

Be prepared!

Don’t underestimate the jump up from GCSE. You will be expected to hit the ground running, because you really only have two-and-a-half terms to reach the level you will be judged on when applying for university. 

You need to be ready to move up a level from the outset. Be prepared for your first few pieces of work to be graded quite a lot below what you are used to. 

If you are used to having got As and A*s at GCSE, it can come as a great shock to be getting Ds and Es. Remember, these are AS grades, not GCSE, and you mustn’t expect to get the top marks right away. You’re only a few months older than when you were in Year 11!

Talk about A-levels on TSR:
Things A-level students wish they'd known
Chat thread for current year 12s
Chat thread for current year 13s

Stay ahead

Don’t let your work get behind. Write everything down. It’s easy to forget something and it can be very hard to catch up when the next thing comes along if you didn't know you had to do it in the first place. 

Adopt the attitude of 'do it now'. Tomorrow, you may feel ill, or your significant other might dump you or you might get a chance to go somewhere you really want to go at short notice. 

Get the work out of the way as soon as you get it or it will pile up and could eventually become an insurmountable burden. Do it now.

Be independent

If your teachers aren't harassing you, don’t assume you are doing everything right and start to sit back and slack off. 

AS and A2 are about independent learning. You have to take responsibility for your own work, notes, and progress. 

If you expect to be treated as an adult in the sixth form, you have to behave like one and that means doing things without having been told to. Do that extra reading. Practise that extra question. It’s for your benefit.

Get help if you need it

If you are struggling, tell someone, and tell them early. Some fundamental basics have to be learned at the start of most courses and then built upon after that. 

If you haven’t got the fundamentals in place, you’re never going to get the rest of the course quite right. Most issues can be ironed out easily at the start, so ask your teacher to help you if you know you are struggling. 

Putting things right later on takes much more work and often can’t be done in time.

Focus on AS

Remember how important AS exams actually are. They are the only concrete evidence universities have of how academic you really are, and they are what your teachers base your estimated grades on. 

Inflated estimated grades are viewed with great suspicion by admissions tutors. If you get Ds and Es at AS, it isn't credible that you are going to get A* at A2. 

You need to do the very best you can at AS to maximise your choice of course. It’s no use saying you will pull out all the stops in Year 13. It’s too late by then.

No skiving!

Turn up to lessons! Don’t let the greater freedom of the sixth form go to your head. You don’t absorb learning through your pores by sitting playing pool in the common room. You need to attend lessons and do the work. Don’t learn the hard way! 

Talk about A-levels on TSR:
Rank your A-levels in order of difficulty
Advice for A2 students: should you drop your fourth subject?
Turning bad AS results into great A-level results

Mrs Kinetta is a secondary school English teacher who writes for The Student Room under a pseudonym.