We asked TSR users what essential piece of advice they’d give to someone starting their A-levels right now.
This is what they told us.
1. Have a goal
A-levels are hard work so you need to be motivated to knuckle down and get all the study and revision done. But it’s pretty difficult to motivate yourself if you can’t think of any reasons why you’re doing these courses. That’s why it’s worth having a bit of a think about your goals.
Find something to motivate you: a dream career? Uni? Making parents proud?
Try to motivate yourself with the thought of going to the uni you love and remember that you'll need to work hard to get the grades you need.
Keep your goals in mind so you can rationalise the hard work. Sometimes it seems pointless but just remember what you're working towards.
2. Believe in your potential
Everyone can get better at anything. You’re probably not going to do brilliantly in every test and homework but if you put the study hours in, act on the advice provided and practise lots of questions your marks will improve.
Try your hardest in everything but, as cliched as it sounds, make sure to believe in your own potential - you're probably more capable than you think you are, trust me. Don't be disheartened when you revise hard for a mock and get a D, revisit it and look at where you went wrong, then learn from it and move on.
Don't be put off by failures early on, keep at it. I managed to go from 3 D's and a U to an A, 2 B's and a C. If I can make that sort of improvement then so can anyone else. Good luck to all those starting out with their A-Levels.
3. Work hard but keep a balance
Yes, it’s important to attend lessons, get homework done and revise for tests. And if you take study a bit further by doing some extra reading or practise questions, your efforts will probably be rewarded with good grades. But remember that life is about more than studying. You need some downtime and you need a social life.
There's less pressure at sixth form to follow all the rules, and teachers are generally less angry with you for not doing homework, but often homework will be something like making notes, doing a little bit of extra research, or doing past exam questions. All of these things are incredibly helpful and a sustained work schedule throughout the year can really boost your summer grade.
Don't overwork yourself. Give yourself breaks and if you feel like it's all getting a bit too much, it's OK to take a breather.
Do the work. Don't kid yourself that you are when you aren't. Don't tell yourself you'll catch up later. Don't tell yourself you're smart enough to do it all at the end. Don't tell yourself that some of the stuff isn't important. Don't tell yourself that you can learn it all out of books by yourself when you feel a bit more motivated. Do the work.
4. Be organised and stay organised
You probably don’t have exercise books for A-levels so you need to keep track of all that paper. Get files for each subject and file your work away in date order. Keep hold of those teacher handouts and make sure you use some sort of calendar to make a note of deadlines, exams and anything else.
Make notes continually throughout the year. I would recommend using one folder for each of your subjects and keeping all your notes in one place. This will make everything so much easier when you come to revise.
Don't leave anything for last minute! (TRUST ME)
Create your own study planner
Try to keep on top of work throughout the year. You'll be glad of it when it comes to exam season, when all you need to do is revise rather than re-learn.
5. Review your work regularly
Something you learn in September might not be examined until 20 months afterwards so it’s inevitable that some work will be forgotten. Checking what you’ve learned regularly and testing yourself on it is the way to keep it fresh in your mind.
Revise little and often to keep your memory in check and so you don't stress out and get overloaded before exams! I wish I’d been reminded of this.
Start making your notes and revision cards from the end of the first half term and as you progress throughout the year so you don't leave things to the last minute! (Leaving things to the last minute is a big NO NO.)
6. Use your teachers
Most teachers know a lot about the courses they teach. They know how to score high marks and they know the common mistakes. Most teachers also like to help. They are probably the most important resource you have so make sure you use their expertise.
If a teacher goes too fast don’t be afraid to stop them. I spent all year writing half-finished sentences or unfinished diagrams. Even if you’re the last in the class, don’t let them move on.
Don’t forget to ask questions. The only silly question is the one that hasn't been asked.
Build up good relationships with teachers. They are more likely to be reasonable with you when you miss work and will be there to give you advice. Most of my teachers could tell if I was struggling, and were lenient with me when I needed it because I had earned their trust.
7. Avoid comparing yourself to other students
There will probably always be someone who does a bit better than you. Comparing yourself to them will only be de-motivating. The only person you need to compare yourself to is … yourself. Learn from the mistakes you make and your work will gradually improve.
Don't be held back by other's opinions on whether you'll succeed. If you want it, go for it!
The Lawful T.J
Remember, we all study and learn at a different pace so if someone understand biology better than you – it doesn’t matter. Work at your own pace and everything will make sense eventually, even if it feels hard at the beginning.
8. Don’t think ‘free’ periods are ‘free’
Most A-level students are not in lessons all day long. They have ‘study’ or ‘free’ periods. It’s very tempting to use all these for relaxation and socialising. But if you can use just some of them for study then you’ll buy yourself more free time at home.
Use your study/free periods wisely. It's very tempting to sit in the common room and tell yourself you'll do the work when you go home, but it's SO much easier to work really hard in your study periods and get lots done, so that when you go home you can relax.
Use your free periods to do homework and write notes. I had two or three frees a day and by the end of the year when I was writing notes late into the night I totally regretted not using them
9. Past papers are your friends
There are only a certain number of questions that can be asked on a specification. Inevitably the same old questions about the same old things keep popping up. The more you practise questions and check your answer against the markscheme, the more you’ll gear your work to what examiners really want.
As you do more and more, you start to recognise types of questions and find that there is a pattern/method to answering certain questions. Complete as many past papers as you can (especially for science and maths) and mark them using the mark scheme. Then go through the questions you got wrong (preferably with your teacher) and have another go.
Find past papers here
Past papers are your friend. As you do more and more, you start to recognise types of questions and find that there is a pattern/method to answering certain questions.
10. Look after your health
Studying A-levels can be stressful. There’s a lot to think about and a lot is expected of you. The pressure can build up quite quickly and feel very stressful. That’s why it’s important to look after your physical and mental wellbeing.
Many students become quite stressed during the first term of A-levels. It’s OK to stress but too much stress is not good for your health. If you feel the need to discuss how stressed you are or if there is something bothering you about your studies or even personal issues - make sure you discuss it with a friend, teacher or another adult.
If you're feeling overstressed consider talking to a school counsellor as they can be helpful. If you're feeling down, depressed or anxious about anything, take care of it and do not avoid the situation. Even though getting help may be time consuming, your health comes first and, if not dealt with, it can have an even worse impact on your education. In order to do well academically you need to be doing well mentally and physically too. Look after yourself.
And finally …
Most importantly, remember to enjoy it! These are all your choices. Even though it's tough at times, it's worth it in the end.
See the full advice here
The two years fly by really quickly. Yes, A-levels are tough but they’re also the years where you grow up to be an amazing adult with lots of opportunities so do make sure to make the most of your memories. Good luck to everyone starting A levels.
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