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Any tips on how to study for the last year of a-levels?

As the title says, can someone give me some advice on how to approach my a-level revision and studies? I'm finding it harder to be organised and to decide on what to revise.
Helloo!

I've just got results (A*A*A*A* - Further Maths/Maths/Chem/Physics) which is why I feel qualified to answer this, but feel free to discard any advice if you find it's not working. The first term imo is finding what works for you and optimising your process to be as efficient as possible - if not you will burn out and exams will suck even more than usual so keep that in mind!

Can I ask what subjects you are doing?
Original post by K-pop013
As the title says, can someone give me some advice on how to approach my a-level revision and studies? I'm finding it harder to be organised and to decide on what to revise.

Sorry this is a big essay lol, but as a note in favour of these tips, I lost a family member in second term and basically didn't revise for that half term or the holiday before the summer term. If I hadn't been such an astute student and already had really efficient methods, I wouldn't have done nearly as well with that huge of an interuption. Also, I promise you will enjoy exams if you commit to this. It got to the point where I felt like I was just conversing with the examiner because I knew exactly what they wanted from me and what the pit falls they where expecting me to stumble at.

Bear in mind I did subjects with less 'memorisable' content and a lot more problem solving and 'understanding' content.

Imo the revision process is summarised in three stages, you are in stage 1:

1. Memorising/writing notes for content.
- Notes should be efficient. Your teachers should give you long and in depth notes/you'll have those in class/you can find those online. If it helps, in class separate them from worksheets to the front of files. Condensed notes that you write are the real core of what you need to know, the stuff necessary to understand the topic, the stuff you always forget - they are for reference.
- I had fourtypes of notes at any one time: In depth notes from teachers/online; condensed notes; flashcards for stuff I had to memorise where I or a friend would test me; scrap notes where I would write and rewrite and rewrite and re-explain the topic then discard - this is to memorise the content, get it in your head.
- As you revise and do stage 2, add to these condensed notes with the stuff that's in markschemes that's useful/you forgot about.

2. Practise questions - learning how to apply and think about the content.
- if it helps look at practise questions for other exam specifications and (for stem at least) problems beyond a level as it helps your problem solving.
- if your school offers problem solving clubs - go to them! Question clinics - go to them!! Even if you are not struggling, it's a studious place to do hard questions and get help.

3. Exam technique refinement - pacing and planning, problem solving techniques, multiple choice techniques, knowing your exams inside out, essentially, and turning them into a game.
- this is much later so don't worry about it now.


I started by scheduling out four whole afternoons, one for each subject, to plan my revision:

- I mapped out their entire content list in a way that made sense for me. So mindmaps/node diagrams or lists with sublists - whatever works. This gave me an overview of the course that I could reference back to as I revised and studied, and made it easier to know how topics connected to other parts of the course (therefore how different parts where likely to be linked together, particularly useful in physics). It also helped me be aware of subjects I had yet to learn that I may struggle with based on what they were connected to
Eg: In physics year 1, I struggled with electricity - it was a fundamental understanding issue. After doing a node diagram, however, I saw it was connected to Magnetic and Electric fields in year 2 so I knew that looking into those early/trying to sort out my issues with electricity early would be useful instead of leaving it to whenever the teachers went through the topic. In that case I went on Khan Academy and youtube and tried to find a bunch of ways to think about the topics so that, collectively, I had a good understanding of it - fields and electricity ended up being my favourite topics lol.

- Then I did another list (on excell) with a checkmark system. A page for each subject then:
One collumn for topic/subtopic names (with a note if I needed it as a reminder for what they entailed)
collumn for how hard I found the topic
collumn for how confident I felt in it (so whether a lot or just a little more revision was needed)
collumn for whether I had/needed neat notes/flashcards for the topic
the next however many collumns where all for a record of when and how I had revised it.

- Revision plan time:
When do you start? Now! Why not! You might as well get in a study mindset early with an hour or two of revision done per week initially and slowly increasing the amount of time.
How do you revise in each session? Use the 'Pomodoro' Method! Very good, highly recommend, you can find timers and videos all over the internet! Again, start with 20-25 minute sessions and work your way to longer periods - you are training your brain, over the course of the next year, to stay focused for longer periods and this is very useful exercise for the actual exams, you don't want to lose concentration in an actual A-level. In breaks, don't just sit on your phone, do something physical - pushups, dancing, whatever.
What do you revise? Easily the hardest question! I took a blank calendar with lots of space each day and Marked which days I wanted to revise (leave gaps for chillout days, like you would do with a fitness plan - again, start with 2 days then 4 then 5 etc) and then:
Set an arbritrary date as a deadline to have finished a topic/set of topics: So you could do: 'I want all the flashcards/condensed notes done by First half term for Year one topics of this A level'.
Subdivide further. Pick the hardest topics and schedule them first, set similar deadlines for them to do the notes/flashcards/have the understanding done and mark on the calendar when you are doing them - focus now on really trying to understand the content and don't be afraid to look at other exam boards/learning platforms if they teach the same stuff in a different way. I found Khan Academy's India Maths and Physics modules really useful just to understand stuff.
Use 'Optimal Spacing' - revise it, then two days later, then a week, then two weeks and so on. Also, as you learn new stuff, you can do a similar thing from when you learnt it. It almost makes the second year revision not feel like revision
Use 'Interleaving' - where you don't do four 20 min sessions of straight chem (eg) instead do: chem - maths - physics - chem. Forces your brain to find commonality and links between subjects and encorages more flexibility.

If you get to the point where all subjects seem the same level of hard/easy or all subjects that need condensed notes have condensed notes, just use a random number generator/pinwheel online to choose what to revise.

btw, I have a bullet journal which I used to keep track of what new stuff I had learnt in classes that day in each subject to add to a master todo list of all the notes I had left to write. I've also (post Alevels) started using the app 'Habitica' which I'm enjoying so you may find useful to get you motivated to revise. Other motivation tips:
- Making revision aesthetic. NOT THE NOTES, but the environment. Candles, good classical music (music with no words, lyrics will distract you), specific socks/nice outfits, snacks, tidy work area etc.
- Having nerd friends and meeting up on study dates! I'm the 'intense' one so my friends would find this very productive while I would be much less productive than on my own. But I still did them, because it was motivativing to have a study hour/day where it was more chilled and fun inbetween my individual session days.
- Also, as it gets closer to exam time, take care of yourself and know your limits. You should be getting sleep, fresh air, exercise, social time, and doing relaxing hobbies.
(- Also, also I found that 'cafe chatting noise' or whale song or just intense bass electro music was good for really focused sessions where you are just pounding question after question. This is not for now but much later in late stage 2 or 3 of the revision process)

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough: fall in love with your subjects!!!

If you find them interesting, if you enjoy all the stuff that makes other people's eyes glaze over YOU WILL DO WELL!
Watch documentaries and youtube videos and read books and articles - A levels are not the end of the world and certainly not the end of the subject, Look Beyond! Find an interest in the stuff you are doing now or that you will do after A levels and they become a helluva lot easier.

Hope this smogarsbord helps!
Reply 3
Original post by KookieCrumble
Helloo!

I've just got results (A*A*A*A* - Further Maths/Maths/Chem/Physics) which is why I feel qualified to answer this, but feel free to discard any advice if you find it's not working. The first term imo is finding what works for you and optimising your process to be as efficient as possible - if not you will burn out and exams will suck even more than usual so keep that in mind!

Can I ask what subjects you are doing?


I'm doing german, business and film studies!
Reply 4
Original post by KookieCrumble
Sorry this is a big essay lol, but as a note in favour of these tips, I lost a family member in second term and basically didn't revise for that half term or the holiday before the summer term. If I hadn't been such an astute student and already had really efficient methods, I wouldn't have done nearly as well with that huge of an interuption. Also, I promise you will enjoy exams if you commit to this. It got to the point where I felt like I was just conversing with the examiner because I knew exactly what they wanted from me and what the pit falls they where expecting me to stumble at.

Bear in mind I did subjects with less 'memorisable' content and a lot more problem solving and 'understanding' content.

Imo the revision process is summarised in three stages, you are in stage 1:

1. Memorising/writing notes for content.
- Notes should be efficient. Your teachers should give you long and in depth notes/you'll have those in class/you can find those online. If it helps, in class separate them from worksheets to the front of files. Condensed notes that you write are the real core of what you need to know, the stuff necessary to understand the topic, the stuff you always forget - they are for reference.
- I had fourtypes of notes at any one time: In depth notes from teachers/online; condensed notes; flashcards for stuff I had to memorise where I or a friend would test me; scrap notes where I would write and rewrite and rewrite and re-explain the topic then discard - this is to memorise the content, get it in your head.
- As you revise and do stage 2, add to these condensed notes with the stuff that's in markschemes that's useful/you forgot about.

2. Practise questions - learning how to apply and think about the content.
- if it helps look at practise questions for other exam specifications and (for stem at least) problems beyond a level as it helps your problem solving.
- if your school offers problem solving clubs - go to them! Question clinics - go to them!! Even if you are not struggling, it's a studious place to do hard questions and get help.

3. Exam technique refinement - pacing and planning, problem solving techniques, multiple choice techniques, knowing your exams inside out, essentially, and turning them into a game.
- this is much later so don't worry about it now.


I started by scheduling out four whole afternoons, one for each subject, to plan my revision:

- I mapped out their entire content list in a way that made sense for me. So mindmaps/node diagrams or lists with sublists - whatever works. This gave me an overview of the course that I could reference back to as I revised and studied, and made it easier to know how topics connected to other parts of the course (therefore how different parts where likely to be linked together, particularly useful in physics). It also helped me be aware of subjects I had yet to learn that I may struggle with based on what they were connected to
Eg: In physics year 1, I struggled with electricity - it was a fundamental understanding issue. After doing a node diagram, however, I saw it was connected to Magnetic and Electric fields in year 2 so I knew that looking into those early/trying to sort out my issues with electricity early would be useful instead of leaving it to whenever the teachers went through the topic. In that case I went on Khan Academy and youtube and tried to find a bunch of ways to think about the topics so that, collectively, I had a good understanding of it - fields and electricity ended up being my favourite topics lol.

- Then I did another list (on excell) with a checkmark system. A page for each subject then:
One collumn for topic/subtopic names (with a note if I needed it as a reminder for what they entailed)
collumn for how hard I found the topic
collumn for how confident I felt in it (so whether a lot or just a little more revision was needed)
collumn for whether I had/needed neat notes/flashcards for the topic
the next however many collumns where all for a record of when and how I had revised it.

- Revision plan time:
When do you start? Now! Why not! You might as well get in a study mindset early with an hour or two of revision done per week initially and slowly increasing the amount of time.
How do you revise in each session? Use the 'Pomodoro' Method! Very good, highly recommend, you can find timers and videos all over the internet! Again, start with 20-25 minute sessions and work your way to longer periods - you are training your brain, over the course of the next year, to stay focused for longer periods and this is very useful exercise for the actual exams, you don't want to lose concentration in an actual A-level. In breaks, don't just sit on your phone, do something physical - pushups, dancing, whatever.
What do you revise? Easily the hardest question! I took a blank calendar with lots of space each day and Marked which days I wanted to revise (leave gaps for chillout days, like you would do with a fitness plan - again, start with 2 days then 4 then 5 etc) and then:
Set an arbritrary date as a deadline to have finished a topic/set of topics: So you could do: 'I want all the flashcards/condensed notes done by First half term for Year one topics of this A level'.
Subdivide further. Pick the hardest topics and schedule them first, set similar deadlines for them to do the notes/flashcards/have the understanding done and mark on the calendar when you are doing them - focus now on really trying to understand the content and don't be afraid to look at other exam boards/learning platforms if they teach the same stuff in a different way. I found Khan Academy's India Maths and Physics modules really useful just to understand stuff.
Use 'Optimal Spacing' - revise it, then two days later, then a week, then two weeks and so on. Also, as you learn new stuff, you can do a similar thing from when you learnt it. It almost makes the second year revision not feel like revision
Use 'Interleaving' - where you don't do four 20 min sessions of straight chem (eg) instead do: chem - maths - physics - chem. Forces your brain to find commonality and links between subjects and encorages more flexibility.

If you get to the point where all subjects seem the same level of hard/easy or all subjects that need condensed notes have condensed notes, just use a random number generator/pinwheel online to choose what to revise.

btw, I have a bullet journal which I used to keep track of what new stuff I had learnt in classes that day in each subject to add to a master todo list of all the notes I had left to write. I've also (post Alevels) started using the app 'Habitica' which I'm enjoying so you may find useful to get you motivated to revise. Other motivation tips:
- Making revision aesthetic. NOT THE NOTES, but the environment. Candles, good classical music (music with no words, lyrics will distract you), specific socks/nice outfits, snacks, tidy work area etc.
- Having nerd friends and meeting up on study dates! I'm the 'intense' one so my friends would find this very productive while I would be much less productive than on my own. But I still did them, because it was motivativing to have a study hour/day where it was more chilled and fun inbetween my individual session days.
- Also, as it gets closer to exam time, take care of yourself and know your limits. You should be getting sleep, fresh air, exercise, social time, and doing relaxing hobbies.
(- Also, also I found that 'cafe chatting noise' or whale song or just intense bass electro music was good for really focused sessions where you are just pounding question after question. This is not for now but much later in late stage 2 or 3 of the revision process)

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough: fall in love with your subjects!!!

If you find them interesting, if you enjoy all the stuff that makes other people's eyes glaze over YOU WILL DO WELL!
Watch documentaries and youtube videos and read books and articles - A levels are not the end of the world and certainly not the end of the subject, Look Beyond! Find an interest in the stuff you are doing now or that you will do after A levels and they become a helluva lot easier.

Hope this smogarsbord helps!

I loved reading this, thank you so much! I have been using Studysmarter (now Vaia) for my flashcards for business and completed every topic for the first year. I think I will keep that up. I have also used Pomodoro but recently stopped using it, but looking back, I will definitely keep using it as I realised it kept me more focused on my tasks. I will try all the methods you advised, and hopefully my motivation to study gets better!
Original post by KookieCrumble
Helloo!

I've just got results (A*A*A*A* - Further Maths/Maths/Chem/Physics) which is why I feel qualified to answer this, but feel free to discard any advice if you find it's not working. The first term imo is finding what works for you and optimising your process to be as efficient as possible - if not you will burn out and exams will suck even more than usual so keep that in mind!

Can I ask what subjects you are doing?


Hi, Ive just got my results (physics/chem/maths) came out way below what was predicted and therefore missed out on my place at uni. All my teachers say I have the knowledge but struggle to apply it in exam question. Can I ask what you did to study and what sites/techniques you used as thinking about resitting

thanks
Original post by janine henderson
Hi, Ive just got my results (physics/chem/maths) came out way below what was predicted and therefore missed out on my place at uni. All my teachers say I have the knowledge but struggle to apply it in exam question. Can I ask what you did to study and what sites/techniques you used as thinking about resitting

thanks


Heya, sorry about the late reply.

First, do you know your content? I know, sounds demeaning, but hear me out. Sometimes, knowing the content doesn't help, instead it's knowing a level beyond that, and having a diversified way of understanding it. My aim was always: could I dumb this down for a toddler, and explain it to my mum with a professor over my shoulder nodding? If you can explain it to your mum, you get it, you get how the stuff fits together, what's important and how it's beneficial to society, what it's applications are and you can do all of that thoroughly, correctly, and in different ways. A (smart) toddler needs the essentials, so what are they? What are the core fundamentals and what style of thinking do you need to imprint on a fresh mind so that they don't struggle with the later details.

Approach all the content this way and you won't just know it, but you will understand what the examiner wants to get out of you.

Practically doing this ^ entails basically making your life about maths/chem/phys researching in your spare time on many different websites, watching youtube videos and doing all of that cause it’s fun and interesting. I also read 1st year, 1st semester uni set lists/notes as they were all about addressing any simplifications in A level and going beyond it ps, all of Feynmans lectures and notes are free online, MIT has compute models and notes online, as do most university, just gotta google it with some key words from the topic you want.

Here are the youtubers I regularly watched that just generally help your brain:
ActionLab, 3Blue1Brown (all of his stuff is brilliant and you will find so many math youtubers in a similar vein), Veritassium, Organic chemistry tutor. NileRed is useful to try and spot when he uses what techniques
I also read, Feynman’s QED lectures and ‘50 physics/maths/chemistry ideas you really need to know’ as guidance for what else to research.

Here are some resources specifically for your subjects:
https://www.khanacademy.org/science/in-in-class-12th-physics-india - and going through their AP courses are useful too.
https://www.youtube.com/@ProfessorDerricotte
Crash course is also good and you will find that every topic has a lecture series on Youtube by a professor so just search [topic name] lectures’ or [specific sub topic] explanation’ and you will find something.
LibreTexts have brilliant open source textbooks that go into detail same with ChemRevise, https://www.docbrown.info/page07/ASA2ptable6a.htm (docbrown).
Stack exchanges, quora, reddit groups, etc are all good to browse through or ask/find specific questions because no matter what you read it will always help your ‘subtext’ knowledge the stuff floating in the backrooms of your brain that alters your approach subtly.

If you don’t feel like doing all of that, fair enough. Here’s what I’ll give on applying knowledge to questions:

- find good problem solving questions. Oxbridge have good interview questions and their application tests are always good for problem solving under time pressure (NSAA/BMAT/etc). Use other exam boards too, ISAAC physics, ask your teachers for any question banks they have that are focused on problem solving. There are many international competitions at senior school level and they usually publish their questions and answers. A good problem is valuable because flexes your brain and gets you used to struggling.

- Develop a good process! Figure out a formula. I realised I was struggling without highlighting key information and noting down what the questions had done/was asking for, and that I needed to write down my process and label my results relatively neatly maybe you already do that, but most physics students don’t and it never hurts to be more disciplined and neat.

- when you sit down and do a problem, do it properly!! No notes, no checking the internet, nothing. Just you, your allowed resources (data book, calculator) and the question. Mark it so harshly the devil would weep. If it’s wrong in what particular way? Is it the content you didn’t know? Is the question probing at something you aren’t fully firm on? Did you just not phrase it the right way? You failed, yes, but why exactly? If you succeeded, what did you miss? How does your answer differ from the markscheme? Why did you get it right, was it chance or did you know exactly what the examiner wanted? Take all of those answers and physically write out a corrected answer on the question. You wanna be eating the examiners brain with a spoon.

- frequently take the time to reassess how well you know some content. Ask yourself, if they phrased it in a different way or applied a different problem to the same situation would I get it? After a while of this you’ll be able to come up with many other problems stemming from the question, all of which you should be able to solve this is exactly what the exam is doing so solve those problems.

- Know the spec inside and out. They will never ask beyond it, but there are some niche things on there (stroboscope anyone?) so make sure you know exactly whats on it this is where my node-diagram was useful because I could see how the niche bits of content could apply.

- Practicals: chemistry memorise the formulaic answers and make sure you know the logic behind all good lab practises and experimental technique. Physics don’t memorise exact procedures, but be familiar with all the equipment you are supposed to know and what the different Required Practicals are trying to teach you.

- all of this also assumes that you have stellar maths skills… sorry, I haven’t really addressed maths. Maths is just drilling problem after problem and correcting all the processes, majority of the problems are formulaic and the unique ones just require a bit of flexibility in your thinking, get used to how maths isn’t just a bunch of things to memorise but processes to get you from a to b and make a pit stop at c.

I should also say, all of this had an ultimate goal of understanding the world. Don't try and understand your subjects, try and understand how, at a certain point, they are all the same and that's beautiful. Physics is the logic and investigative nature of chemistry on all levels of magnitude, and chemistry uses the primary principals of energy and equilibrium to describe the world. Mathematics is their language, and it is genuinely awe-inspiring, stunning, fearsome, and every adjective usually used to describe reglious devotion. It's disapointing, I know, to not do as well as you thought you would but it's not the end! And now you get to do hella more physics!!

I can’t think of anything more I did, it was just problem-solving again and again and researching my understanding pretty much always. If you have a specific part of each topic you’d like to talk about you can message me on discord if you want?
Open offer: anidiotoso

Edit: Aditional resource: ViaScience - the thermodynamics option is also good for the engineering physics option in the option modules.
(edited 9 months ago)

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