Getting into A* study habits

Student working hard

One of the secrets to high achievement is getting into great study habits early on

But how do the best students do this? 

We’ve got tips from a teacher, all backed up with suggestions from top TSR members who’ve been there, done it and got the great grades to prove it. 

Lessons have begun, teachers are setting homework and maybe there’s even the odd test looming on the horizon. Yes, the new academic year is here. 

Suddenly there are demands on your time and on your brain – lots of them. It's a complex juggling act to keep track of homework, manage the balance between studying and the rest of your life, keep your focus in lessons, get all your homework done and hit those deadlines. But anyone can do it.

At the same time you want to create a really good impression with new teachers – after all they mark your work and predict your grades!

Teachers like nothing more than a well-organised and highly motivated student, so what are the insider tips on getting into A* study habits right from the start?

1. Get into a note-making routine that works for you

Yes, you do need notes. They’re your personal record of what you need to know, written in your own words just for you. 

Different styles of notes suit different people so experiment with different approaches and work out what works for you. Always remember their purpose – why are you making them? 

Most students use them for reviewing their knowledge and for revision. Make sure you set them out in a way that suits their purpose.

The best notes have clear headings and sub-headings so you can see how the information is organised. This makes them easier to understand and to act as the basis for flashcards and mind-maps for when it comes to revision.

Notes don’t have to be written in full sentences but they do need to be legible. Maybe shorten words to make them quicker to write – ‘phtsy’ instead of photosynthesis, for example.

Once you’ve made some notes don’t waste them – make sure they are dated and put in the right order in your file.

I didn't make notes last year and while I didn't do badly I didn't do amazingly either. 

This year I've been making diligent notes and I've found everything to be a lot easier. If you copy word for word from the textbook it doesn't really help but if you process the notes into your own words I find it really helps in getting you to remember them. 

It takes a bit of time but I find it's worth it come revision time when you have everything written in a way that makes sense to you.


I would make notes in class. Your teacher will pretty much tell you what you should note down, or you'll know because it’s obvious. 

Do it lesson by lesson and organise them per topic. Personally, I scribble down notes on a piece of paper, put it in my folder and save it for study periods. 

Sometimes I bring my voice recorder for debates or oral work. During revision/study periods, I go through my notes and add any extra details, do any extra reading and go over things that confuse me. 

Then store them away as revision material, or turn them into flashcards/mindmaps/quizzes so that they're ready for exam season.

iggy azalea
Study Habits

2. Get your work organised and keep it organised!

Just before an exam a student told me that they didn’t understand one topic. I asked them to bring their notes in and we went through them together. I found them all in the wrong order. 

Teachers try to teach in a logical order, building up students’ knowledge as their teaching progresses. Get notes out of order and they are virtually impossible to make sense of. We reordered his notes and suddenly it all made sense to him.

The message of this story is that notes need to be looked after. They need to be dated, put away in a folder or file in the right order and stored carefully with subjects and topics clearly separated.

What a great opportunity to buy some quality stationery!

Keep subjects separate – have work at home and current work to take in. Date everything. I found that the best way to organise my college work was to keep it in folders with dividers separating each subject. 

As part of my revision, I also spent time typing up my notes in Word documents, so that all my notes for each subject were all together instead of spread in various folders. 

I'm planning to get smaller folders to take into sixth form and keep all the work from the current module in that, then leave bigger folders for each subject at home. Then at the end of each module, I can file all of the work into place in the bigger folder. 

Means my day-to-day bag will be far lighter as I will only have to take smaller folders in.

NJiamh Gibson

At the start of Year 12 I had A4 lever-arch folders for each subject. I took these to school each day to make sure I had everything. This was useful but after a while it became tedious to carry them everywhere, and more often than not I didn't need previous work each lesson. 

So what I started to do (and continued to do until the end of sixth form), was take in plastic wallets for each subject with the necessary homework in as well as anything the teacher asked for (sometimes they'll remind you to bring something from a previous lesson if you're going over it again/revising). 

Then at the end of the lesson I put everything into the wallet and when I got home I'd sort things out into my huge folders, making sure that everything was arranged by topic. 

As long as you do this at the end of each day and don't let the work build up in plastic wallets in your bag, it can be quite useful, particularly if you also have loads of textbooks to bring each day (which aren't fun to carry around anyway, so with huge folders it's even worse and better to keep the folders at home!)

Dougie Owner

3. Review the material you learn regularly

Most students think of revision as something that happens in a panic over the last few weeks (or days!) before an exam. While this final committing to memory is really important it’s made much easier if you have reviewed the course content regularly. 

This technique of regular reviewing is known as ‘spaced repetition’ and is generally accepted as a really effective method of learning.

You can use the ‘spaced repetition’ approach by making up tests or quizzes, creating flashcards and/or making regular summaries of your notes. 

If you create revision resources while you’re reviewing what you know you get double value for your work. That’s got to be worth thinking about. You can make flashcards and quizzes right here on TSR.

Outside lessons, I usually just spent a bit of time reviewing material from that week's lessons to check I understood it, as well as doing homework etc. I didn't spend that much time reviewing the material, maybe an hour or two at the weekends, I took my time when doing homework though.

Leviathan 1741
Teenager doing homework with laptop

If you continuously revise the stuff you're learning now, it should remain pretty firm in your mind and you won't have to panic when it comes to May and you can't remember any of the first few things you learnt in your lessons.


4. Use free periods

If you’re studying A-levels it’s likely that you’ll have some ‘free periods’ during the week. These free periods might be a new experience for you after being told what to do pretty much all day long up until Year 11 – so what should you do with this 'free' time? 

It’s incredibly easy to watch time pass by as you chat, text and wander about. Of course you need a break but actually free periods are a great opportunity to get ahead in your courses and to buy yourself a bit more free time in the evenings and at the weekend.

Why not head for somewhere quiet and get homework and any extra work done? You could start reviewing the work you’ve completed in lessons – maybe writing summaries or creating flashcards or quizzes. This is the sort of study habit that will get you ahead of the game and closer to those high grades.

Outside lessons, I usually just spent a bit of time reviewing material from that week's lessons to check I understood it, as well as doing homework etc. I didn't spend that much time reviewing the material, maybe an hour or two at the weekends, I took my time when doing homework though.

Leviathan 1741

You don't need to be going crazy just yet, or you will burn out, make sure you keep decent and well-organised notes and do homework during your frees. It will leave your evenings free, but if you don't have loads of work don't create extra for the sake of it.


5. Take advantage of any help available

OK, some teachers may appear a bit scary but they do really want to help you. Most of them like to be asked questions and to give up a bit of time to help you improve your work – after all, their pay may depend on your grade! 

Many schools and colleges have time set aside where teachers can give extra help to individuals or small groups – take advantage of this. Asking for help is a strength and shows confidence, not weakness. 

If you do have a one-to-one with a teacher, make the most of it. Work out beforehand what you want from the meeting and make sure you get it. Try to avoid general requests like ‘I don’t understand any of this’. This makes it very difficult for the teacher to help. Instead, try to ask something specific: ‘Could you explain integration by parts again, please,’ for example.

One thing I wished I'd done was take more advantage of the subject workshops available. The only workshops I attended were in geography (the subject I found hardest), near the end of Year 13, and they were very helpful – I regret not starting attending them sooner! I'd highly recommend attending workshops if you're struggling with anything.

Leviathan 1741
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