How to keep up with your A-level and GCSE studies while schools are closed

teenage boy studying at desk

Tips from the community to help you study from home effectively

That’s it, school has been cancelled “until further notice” because of coronavirus – which could well mean not setting foot in a classroom again until at least September.

But what if you’re meant to be taking GCSE or A-level exams next year? You won’t want to fall too far behind and have to spend the start of your first term frantically playing catch-up.

Your school will probably be providing you with resources and stuff to work on.  Pete Langley, a former teacher with more than 30 years of experience, says, "Don’t forget that most of your teachers are still around, even if they may not be in school or college. You should contact them for advice and suggestions for activities, online resources and material to learn. They might even mark some work for you."

And once you've got the material, now all you have to do is nail your studying-from-home techniques.

Here’s how other TSR members are planning to keep on top of their A-levels and GCSEs.

student working on laptop

Be mindful of your study space

Your study space can have a real impact on your ability to knuckle down and concentrate. Being somewhere noisy, uncomfortable or full of distractions will make it so much harder to get work done.

Of course, being on lockdown is going to limit your options and not everyone is going to have an ideal study space, but there’s lots of stuff you can do to make things easier on yourself.

Naoza._. advises “creating a separate study space, and gathering everything you need into one place. This will help reduce the initial resistance to do revision or study and make it easier to avoid having to get up again and again.”

If you can, bluemuffin recommends trying to “study in a different room to the one in which you sleep (and associate with down-time), as you’ll be able to work more effectively.”

TSR member theartsycat suggests that you could “keep changing your study space so you don’t get fed up of being cooped up in your room (eg try the garden/dining room/living toom if it’s quiet”.

If you’re stuck in the house with loud family members, DEVINA.SHAH adds that you might want to “lock your door, so siblings don’t harass you.”

And if even a locked door can’t keep the annoying noises out, TSR member Hbrush recommends This a website which “provides a variety of background sounds – there are 16 in the free version. You can combine the noises and toggle their individual volumes.”

They find it useful for making “other noises in my house less noticeable so I can concentrate better.”

teenager studying in bedroom

Keep in touch with other students

One big downside of no school, of course, is that you won’t get to see your friends everyday. And while social distancing might mean that you can’t study together in real life, there’s nothing stopping you from hanging out online.   

“My best tip is to FaceTime your mates from your lessons so you can work together and pool your information,” comments Tamski2303.

Naoza._. reckons you could add a competitive edge to your studying by “setting a bet with a friend to do a certain amount of time everyday” – with the caveat that “this doesn't work for everyone – it's important to choose a reliable friend!”

Ditch the online distractions

We’re living through a pretty historic moment of upheaval, so it’s only natural that you’ll probably want to be checking your phone or refreshing your web browser every few minutes.

TSR member Naoza._. says “you can remove distractions by keeping them out of sight or, if you have trouble, use the 20 second rule. This is when you put an item far away or in a place that takes 20 seconds to get out – this delay is effective for deterring distractions like your phone.”

And if that doesn’t work, you could try using an app that stops you from doing too much non-study-related browsing.

TSR member Hbrush recommends StayFocusd, which is a Google extension that “can completely block all websites, block sites except those you've allowed and block websites for a set period of time.”

Mindful Browsing is another Google extension, which Hbrush describes as “a much gentler option than StayFocusd.” With this app, “you can pick websites that you want to spend less time on and if you go on them it comes up with a notification saying ‘Do you want to spend time on ___? You said you'd usually rather ___.’ “

Naoza._. says that it might help to think of these browser-blocking apps as “like stabilisers for riding your bike. They are just there to get you started and eventually you develop the skill to ride on your own.”

teenager on laptop in bedroom

Structure your day

“Definitely make yourself a timetable,” says Tamski2303. “It gives you something to stick to so you know what you are doing and when.”

A timetable can also be really helpful to stop your family from distracting you while you’re trying to get work done, as Tamski2303 says “you could give your family a copy so they know not to disturb you in your ‘lesson time’”.

You could use your school’s timetable as a base for your schedule, but “those are just guidelines,” comments Naoza._., so it might make sense to adapt your study plan as you discover what’s working best for you.

Naoza._. says you could “spend the first few days testing it out – write out what worked and what didn’t. It’s going to take time to get it right but everyone is in a similar position.”

Stay on top of your tech

Working from home might mean that you don’t have access to speedy computers and the latest software.

TSR member CoolCavy has a tip for anyone struggling with a slow PC: “You can help speed it up a bit doing control>shift>esc at the same time. This brings up the task menu and you can stop a lot of background tasks running.”

And if you’re using a Mac, you can either open the activity monitor from launchpad or, if you want to force quit a task, press command>option>escape.

“Adobe are also offering students free creative cloud access during this crisis,” CoolCavy adds. If this is something that you need for your studies, and your school hasn’t already give you access, you might want to drop an email to your school and ask them to fill out this form.

Keep track of what you’ve done

Your teachers may not be around to mark your work, so keep yourself motivated by staying on top of how much amazing stuff you’ve done.

You might want to “make a checklist of things you would like to complete by the end of the day. Start off small and then slowly increase the amount of tasks you complete in a day,” comments 5hyl33n.

Ndxhafa says that you could use “your syllabuses as a checklist to make sure you are equipped with everything you need to know for a particular topic.”

But don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind every now and again, either. “Even when you miss a day, ‘once is a mistake, twice is a start of a pattern’. Remember the two day rule. If you miss one day, you have to do the next (within reason of course – we can only plan ahead as much as we can),” says Naoza._..

teenager reading notes

Choose your study technique

Everyone’s different, so we’re all going to have different ideas about which study techniques work best. It’s just a case of trying different stuff out until you hit on your favourite method, whether that’s flashcards, mindmaps, personalised quizzes or past papers.

“Colour coding notes, drafting essay outlines in bullet points and memorising important definitions all work well for me,” comments Londonmyst.

“I first make all my notes and pick out all the key words to analyse or write the definitions for them on revision cards. Then I have them stuck around my room or anywhere I frequently go around my house,” says NimNim1395.

DEVINA.SHAH recommends using past papers as they “help you understand what you do know and what you need to work on.”

Take a look at our revision resources here.

Some TSR members plan on using the Pomodoro method, which involves working in chunks of 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break.

Theartsycat finds that using this technique helps them to “spend a long time being focused and getting some quality work done but also taking a break to re-energise myself so I don’t get burnt out quickly.”

Speaking of which…

teenager on mobile phone

Take plenty of breaks

“Don’t forget to take breaks!!!!!,” says Ndxhafa. You don’t want to burn yourself out, and “taking mini breaks will keep you energised so you can effectively get your work done.”

Make sure your break is a true break though – doing something that stresses you out won’t give your brain any much-needed downtime.

It’s better to “do something beneficial during your break, and avoid going on social media,” Ndxhafa adds. They suggest a “10-minute power yoga session, reading a chapter of your favourite book or cleaning” as a few ideas.

You could take the TSR lockdown challenge if you’re looking for inspiration to do something you love but don’t usually have time for.

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