U In AS Physics To Studying Theoretical Physics At Durham UniversityWatch
Educational Background: Poor GCSE's and A-level Results
My educational background is hardly something to boast about, if anything it is borderline poor/average and terrible for TSR's standards. At GCSE I have only 1 A grade, the rest are a mixture of mainly B and C grades or D and E grades in the subjects I am weaker at, such as English. I decided to do A-level Physics, Mathematics, Geography and Business.
A-levels did not go well for me, reflecting back, I failed to understand many concepts in mathematics and physics early on and quickly became overwhelmed with the content resulting in my grades being poor and losing a lot of interest in the subject. I was advised to not take mathematics at A-level as my teachers through I would struggle to cope. I often did not learn topics I really struggled with as I was in the mind-set that I was not aiming for an A grade, hence I can skip these questions, this certainly did not help.
My first set of AS results were expected. I did fairly poorly across the board and I achieved U in mathematics, U in physics, D in business and C in geography. I immediately decided to drop physics, advised by my teachers that I had no real future in physics so it would be best to drop the subject now before it gets even harder. I would most definitely not cope if I couldn't do the simple fundamentals.
My poor results were partly due to poor understanding at GCSE, and lack of learning technique. I went into A-level mathematics not knowing what a quadratic was, not knowing how to solve equations, among many other basic mathematical operations. I had no idea how to solve most of the problems. I decided to stick with mathematics.
My final AS exam results were equally as bad. I received An E in mathematics, U in business and C in geography. My final AS results on first sitting were as follows.
Business E or U
Educational Background: Doing a Third Year Of A-levels
At this point, with only poor results to my name I was very demotivated and no longer wanted to continue education. I constantly thought about dropping out however, my parents forced me to stay in education and reluctantly resat my AS year.
I certainly worked harder this time, and to an extent knew what to expect. I still found it hard but my A-levels had improved slightly and I decided to swap business for psychology. After my AS exams I received something along the line of these grades.
Geography (A2) C
Psychology (AS) C
In my A2 year I worked immensely hard in physics, I did every question in the book and spent hours a day working on problems. At this point I had only mathematics and physics to focus on. My mathematics had improved and my physics understanding was at its pinnacle. With renewed motivation I felt ready for my first set of exams. This was short-lived as I crumbed in the physics exam, which really demotivated me as I worked so hard and did so well in mock tests. I ended up walking out with an E in the physics exam. To ease the blow I found out I got a C in core 3 mathematics which I thought I had completely bottled.
I entered my final set of A2 exams knowing that I only needed ~25% for a C in mathematics but a lot more in physics. I worked my absolute backside off in the final months and managed to raise my working grade and mock results to an A grade. Thats right, an A grade in the final hardest module in physics. In the final exam I got a B grade, and resat the first unit and got an A.
my results were high enough for me to leave college after 3 years with
Geography (A2) C
Psychology (AS) C
So poor/average results depending on whose standards you go by. With limited options I decided to apply for a 'Science Foundation Year' At Liverpool, Sussex and Loughborough universities. I felt this would be a good choice if I could match or exceed the motivation I had in my final months of physics.
Education At University: Studying A Foundation Year
For those who do not know what a foundation year is I will briefly explain. A foundation year is an additional year taken prior to the main degree. It is often taught at university, by lecturers and you have access to all the university facilities. People take foundation years for numerous reasons which include poor results like mine, taking the wrong subject combinations or holding no formal qualifications. On satisfactory completion of the foundation year progression into the main degree at the designated university.
In a last minute risky decision I opted to study physics with a foundation year at Loughborough. I got a lot of stick for choosing a foundation year. My friends were studying main degrees and often held negative inferior views about a foundation year but I hardly had many options. I put up with the negativity towards foundation years and persevered.
At Loughborough I completely revamped my academic technique and worked harder, far harder than I had ever done before. I will not go into much detail, but I took every piece of work seriously and anything I was weak at I worked on until it was my strength. All the hundreds of hours of effort I put into my work really paid off. My results were far higher than everyone else’s, even the people who had A/B grades and decided to do a foundation year for Various reasons.
My first semester results were as follows
Mathematics 95% (98% in the exam)
Other modules 75%/86%/91%
These results were some of the highest ever recorded and the highest on the course of 140 people. Which is very impressive considering I joined the foundation year on the bare minimum requirements. With this academic potential I spoke to my course director, who was impressed with my results. I at this point expressed my intentions that I wanted to move university. I applied to some of the top physics courses still available through UCAS, but this was after the deadline so many places were no longer accepting applications.
I continued my work ethic through to my second semester. In this semester my results further improved. my physics laboratory grades improved and I got 100% in my experiments and formal report. This is an absolutely massive improvement on the E grade I got for my physics laboratory experiments at A-level. Overall I turned by weakness of laboratory experiments into my strength, I got 95% overall across 14 experiments, some physics and some chemistry which I had not done before.
My second semester results were as follows
Mathematics 95% (96% in the exam)
Other modules 83%/88%/90%
Once again, these results were the highest and I was awarded the prestigious award for the highest foundation year results. Ecstatic with these results after being told I could not achieve this.
This leaves me in our current position, just after I have received my results.
Education At University: Applying Through UCAS With Foundation Year Results
I submitted applications to 2 of the best universities for physics which had far higher A-level requirements however, they do accept a foundation year as a recognised access route.
Manchester (A*AA) said they would accept me if I received 80% in Mathematics 1&2 and Physics 1&2 and 75% overall. I really wanted to go to Durham, however they closed applications some time ago but wouldn't accept any new ones. Just as a stroke of luck one day while checking UCAS Durham had vacancies for both physics and theoretical physics.
Optimistic at even thinking to apply with my 'poor' GCSE and A-levels I knew that Durham has a reputation for being strict on grades in GCSE, reinforced by the horror stories i've read on TSR. I submitted an application expecting a straight out rejection due to me having only done 'well' in one year of my academic life and poorly in the rest.
Durham took some time to reply, around 1-1.5 months. When I saw UCAS had changed I was expecting the worst in all honesty. No, Offer! I had received an offer from Durham university for both physics and Theoretical physics. This offer I had already met the requirements for so I effectively had an unconditional offer to study at Durham.
The Key To My Success: My Academic Reference And Foundation Year Results
Often I am asked 'How did you do it?'. To put it quite simply I felt that the reason that I got offers from both Durham and Manchester was almost entirely down to my academic reference being exceptionally strong (given my situation) and the results I had attained in my first Semester Results. To emphasise how good my academic profile was when I studied a foundation year I have included them. I decided to include them to give other students an indication as to how strong my academic profile was.
Semester 1 Module Results (Average Results)
Applicable Mathematics 1 - 95%
Basic Physics and Materials - 92%
Foundations of Physical Chemistry 1 -75%
Introduction Into Engineering Science: Applied Mechanics - 91%
Learning and Communications - 86%
Semester 2 Module Results (Average Results)
Applicable Mathematics 2 - 95%
Physics B - 92%
Introduction Into Engineering Science: Energy and Power - 88%
Materials and Materials Processing - 83%
Project B - 90%
Foundation Year Average Result - 89.5%
As you can see my results were both strong and consistent. Oddly, I did better in my second semester which personally was much harder than the first. The only explanation I have for this is the fact I spent a considerable amount of time analysing my strengths and weaknesses from the first semester to build an even stronger approach to academia.
An Adaptation of My Academic Reference Written By The SEFS Program Director
SEFS is very much graded as we would grade our undergraduates on programmes, hence you may expect roughly 10-15% to attain the equivalent of a first class grade (over 70). SEFS is therefore not like a number of the A levels subjects where 45% of students achieve A or A* Although I know a number of foundation programmes deliberately grade that way, a conscious decision to prepare students for undergraduate programmes has been taken so equivalent profiles are presented to those expected for UG study. The physics modules on SEFS are taken for ‘enhancement’ by students who are training to teach physics from the teaching unit (i.e. people with a physics degree). It is very rare that one of these students will score over 80% on these modules.
Joshua has been an exemplary student this year. He has been proactive in filling any gaps in his knowledge by a mixture of hard work and being tenacious in pinning down academic staff to ask for help. It is questionable what more Joshua could have done to improve his marks. As well as learning from past mistakes in not working to his full potential, Joshua has ably represented his colleagues ably at Staff Student Committee in order to improve the programme by effectively liaising with his colleagues on the programme. In this venue, Joshua presented his issues in a constructively critical way and has enabled staff to engage with his thought processes for a positive outcome for him and his colleagues
I believe Joshua has the ability to succeed in Higher Education and I have no hesitation in recommending him for a place to study Physics.
Educational Future: Self Reflection and Thoughts
I really cannot describe how happy I feel, I still do not quite comprehend that I'll be studying physics at Durham University this September. Finally, I have something to be truly proud of after being told I had no hope with physics at high education by both teachers and students, after being told how foundation years are inferior and I should not do one, too look back at all those who ever put me down and say I have received an offer from such a prestigious university for a subject I was told I had no hope at studying, it feels amazing. I can now answer those critics and say 'who goes to a better university now?'.
I do not want this feat to come across easy, or a foundation year a guaranteed access into a prestigious university. To achieve what I did on my course was exceptionally rare, only possible with intense amounts of time dedicated to study. I entered the foundation year with the minimum requirements and left with not only the highest results in the year, I also had the highest ever recorded results. Many students who entered with high grades underachieved on the foundation year but did enough to progress. To achieve the grades I did I worked consistently hard and dedicated many hours a week to my studies. Every academic weakness I had I put hours into study until said topic I not only understood, but it was also my strength.
Thank you for the time reading this, I hope this post inspires others that you can go to a top university from a poor academic background with the right amounts of motivation and work.
For anyone who is interested, I have taken a picture of some of my results and my UCAS track. The results are my first set of maths results before I resat the year and my physics results after I dropped physics and decided to try it again.
It also just goes to show that A-levels are not the be-all and end-all, and your story really does put into perspective how little (in most cases) GCSE's matter, especially after further study. It's also good to see that top Universities are considering individuals on their latest merits in spite of a poor academic background.
Best of luck at Durham!
Well done, I hope Durham is all you hope.
Thanks guys, I this TSR has helped me take my education in the right direction. Given that I originally had very little, I have produced a lot with it.
Where do you want to go from Durham?
Good luck in the future, you should be proud
I'm not doing Maths A Level alongside Physics and I've been struggling like crazy with it. I managed to get a C in my January Physics AS exam but I know I've stuffed this Summer one.
I love Physics however it's clear to me that it's my weakest subject so I know I'm going to have to drop it and not carry it on to A2.
I didn't take Maths at A Level because I know I'm not brilliant at it, however I knew that no matter how well I did in Physics I could never do a degree in it due to the lack of Maths... but in all honesty I never was expecting to be able to complete a full A Level in Physics.
I babble on about how I love Art and that I'm passionate about it and whatnot, and even though I'm going to apply for Universities to do an Art degree, I would give it up any day to do an Astrophysics degree.
Maybe in the future, I guess.
This was posted from The Student Room's iPhone/iPad App
- Study Helper
Great post to read, keep us updated - I go to a university ranked similarly for physics (just finished year 1) and am really interested in how someone from a route siginificantly different to my own gets on. I must be honest, my initial knee-jerk reaction was one of intellectual snobberu, almost sneering, which I'm not proud of. However, on reflection I feel you show great motivation and dedication to get what you really want - some of the key tools for university life. I would be very interested to know how you get on.