Second year of A-level: what to expect

Celebrating student

Right, your first year is done, now it’s time to strap on your seat belt and get ready for the next stage.

You’ve got a few weeks before they begin so what can you do right now to get a head start on the final year of your A levels?

A step up

Yes, your second year will be harder than the first year you’ve just taken, just like sixth form is harder than school. In the second year the concepts will be trickier, the analysis deeper and the exams more demanding (and probably longer).

You’ll be expected to link different parts of the specification together so you can show your understanding of the ‘big picture’ of the subject. Your teachers will expect you to work independently and assume that you’re super-motivated and willing to exchange ideas in class.

But you can do all of that – it’s just the next step.

Getting prepared

Why not read some popular books that relate to the subjects you study? Maths students might enjoy Alexanders’ Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos; Biology students could try Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and Sociology and Psychology students How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

Don’t bother with textbooks (useful but they’re not really meant to be read all the way through) or anything directly related to the course. Choose something that looks really interesting and off you go.

Another great way to prepare is to search newspapers and magazines for articles and features that relate to the topics you’re going to learn in the coming year.

Go in deep

There’s more in-depth learning and revision required for your second year, which often means being proactive in your approach to work –– a bit like this:

“I asked my teachers to make up questions and went through them, made plans and learned key ideas. For English it's all about truly understanding –– shallow knowledge won't do. Make sure you truly know the concepts and aspects of literature. Make notes that are useful and insightful; don't just copy from the textbook or teacher or whatever. Avoid vague. Vague is a waste of your time. And stop highlighting things! Write notes in the margins, scribble useful reminders.” - Gohohom

Review your work

Most A-level courses now are linear with all the exams at the end of the second year. That means you'll be examined on the whole course including the material you studied way back in your first few weeks of A-level study.

To help get to grips with all this material it's helpful to regularly review your work - not just what you've learned recently but all of it, including work from the first year. Regularly testing yourself - maybe with quizzes or flashcards - helps retain the information in your long-term memory so the final revision period is much easier.

Everything comes together

As your second year progresses you should start seeing the 'big picture' of the course: how the different elements link together and how the key skills and concepts can be applied to a variety of topics. This is the moment when it should all begin to make sense ... hopefully!

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