The Student Room Group

Taking a gap year to retake a levels, tips for getting A/A*?

Hi. This year I got my a level results and they were BBC for Chemistry, Maths, and Physics respectively. I am taking a gap year to retake maths and physics and i really want to improve my grades because i want to study mechanical engineering at a good Russell Group university.
Last year my main methods of revision were taking notes from the textbook and answerings questions from physics and maths tutor and past papers. For maths, I felt pretty confident but the grade boundaries were not in my favour and for physics...the questions can get challenging and I could have definitely done more. I also had some extenuating circumstances that also hindered my learning and my mental health, but thankfully it's all resolved now.

I really want some tips from people who have acheived A/A*.
1) how did you study?
2) what resources did you use (can be specific to physics/maths or in general)?
3) how many hours did you roughly study per day?
4) how can i change my mentality to that of an A/A* student from a currently B-grade student?
5) do you have any other tips?

p.s. i have been note-taking on paper, despite having a tablet, because i just don't find it that comfortable. do you think it's worth writing digital notes and if so what are the advantages in your opinion?
Just write down the correct answers. It's not hard 🤦*♂️
Reply 2
This might get a bit chaotic but here goes:

1)
- You have to study little and often.
- Try not to spend too long on individual topics at a time, and try not to put off revising / re-revising topics for too long.
- You will only gain proficiency in a certain topic through practice.
- Don't put off revising / re-revising topics you particuarly don't like, since these are probably the parts of the course you are least confident in.
- Start revising early, at least three months before the exams. You certainly don't need to be revising intensively early on, but recapping content you struggle with early will save you pain in the long run.
- As the exams approach, try to slowly increase the amount of time you are revising (but take breaks, because it is easy to burn out).
- Finally, contrary to what many people say, cram before the exam. A-Level exams do require a certain amount of knowledge regurgitation, so trying to briefly recap as much of the course in the few days before the exam can help shift superficial or reference knowledge into your short-term memory.

2)
- Maths primarily requires practice. Doing as many of the practice questions from the textbook and revision guide(s) will help you gain an understanding of the content. Save past papers to nearer the end of your revision to test and measure your proficiency and identify holes in your knowledge.
- Physics also requires practice, but it addition, there is an element of knowledge retention and memory involved. I found making flashcards really helped with this, and I created a little spreadsheet that paired with the flashcards, so I could track which flashcards I was consistently struggling with, this allows you to focus your revision to the areas that need attention. (I didn't take chemistry A-Level but I would imagine the revision style should be similar to physics).

3)
It varied. Some days I managed very little whereas other days I managed 8-10 hours. You can only do what you can do, and overworking yourself will cause burn-out. The best thing to do is to try to work productively and efficiently, rather than sitting there procrastinating. Making to-do lists and using a pomodoro timer can help with this.

4)
This is going to sound cynical but my mentality was to treat A-Level exams as a sort of game or set of hoops you need to jump through. They don't really test knowledge or intelligence particuarly effectively (nor do GCSEs) and can definitely be gamed. I know plenty of people who are more intelligent than me who scored lower in their A-Levels, the trick to doing well is to get good at taking exams, and to learn what the examiner is looking for. For maths, this would be showing clear workings, and walking the examiner through how the correct answer can be obtained. For physics, this would be writing clear and concise answers that precisely answer the question without waffle. Bear in mind though that this mentality does not transfer to university though, where having a genuine and deep knowledge of the subject matter is critical.

5)
- Just do your best. Seriously, exams are never the be-all-and-end-all. Don't be too hard on yourself.

I hope some of this is helpful.

[Context: I took Maths (A*), Further Maths (A*), Physics (A*), Geography (A), EPQ (A*)].
Original post by SherAFG
Hi. This year I got my a level results and they were BBC for Chemistry, Maths, and Physics respectively. I am taking a gap year to retake maths and physics and i really want to improve my grades because i want to study mechanical engineering at a good Russell Group university.
Last year my main methods of revision were taking notes from the textbook and answerings questions from physics and maths tutor and past papers. For maths, I felt pretty confident but the grade boundaries were not in my favour and for physics...the questions can get challenging and I could have definitely done more. I also had some extenuating circumstances that also hindered my learning and my mental health, but thankfully it's all resolved now.

I really want some tips from people who have acheived A/A*.
1) how did you study?
2) what resources did you use (can be specific to physics/maths or in general)?
3) how many hours did you roughly study per day?
4) how can i change my mentality to that of an A/A* student from a currently B-grade student?
5) do you have any other tips?

p.s. i have been note-taking on paper, despite having a tablet, because i just don't find it that comfortable. do you think it's worth writing digital notes and if so what are the advantages in your opinion?

Hi. I know nothing about physics but i did manage to get A* in my A Level maths exam this year ( i got 90+ % in my paper 1 and paper 3)

1) i think with pure maths i genuinely enjoyed the concept so i never really neglected it since i'd done well in it. I know i hated statistics initially because i was convinced i didn't understand what it was about and as a result i used to do really bad in it. But i think its so so so important to focus on changing your mindset if you don't like a topic. Once i kept telling myself that stats was easy marks and everything was "repetitive" the more i actually found it easy AND repetitive. me personally, mechanics is my personal hell so i just tried my best in it and tried to compensate marks lost in mechanics with pure and stats but i'm sure you'll be fine since you do physics. I really suggest getting a savemyexams subscriptions and doing *at least* all the questions for your exam board.

2) savemyexams was a staple in my revision. i really liked how it builds up in difficulty so you can get comfortable with a topic before you're thrust into hard exam style questions. The madas maths practice papers are really good too ( and they're free so that's a plus). There are so many youtubers for maths but i think examsolutions is so underrated.

3) in the 2 ish months leading up to my A Level exams and during my exams, i spent around 4 hours per day revising (but this is including bio and chem not just maths.) Any longer than this for me could have caused burnout and i think it just goes to show the reflections when revising are much important than the number of questions you do

4) i think i touched up on it initially but it's just about learning to like the topics as you go..and if you don't genuinely enjoy certain topics, idc gaslight yourself into liking them. Tell yourself that it's going to be easy. Make sure to get lots of breaks. Especially with maths, sometimes i would sit and stare at questions for a while and not understand how to even start. But i'd get away from my study desk, go chat to people or go outside and when i come back, quite a lot of the time, the questions become more doable.

5) i know you said you take notes on paper and if that's going well for you, then don't change it on my account but i really did find making notes on maths quite useless to say the least. there's already so many pre made notes online with examples attached to them ( savemyexams were my favourite because it was more detailed but pmt is a close second). I say just read over the notes, making sure you understand why certain methods are used. Then find a practice question and work out the answer using the pre-made notes and examples on those notes. Then cover the notes and try to do another practice question.

ps. grade boundaries this year were horrendous to say the least but i hope it goes well for you in your resits. if you have anymore questions just pm me.
(edited 5 months ago)
Original post by SherAFG
Hi. This year I got my a level results and they were BBC for Chemistry, Maths, and Physics respectively. I am taking a gap year to retake maths and physics and i really want to improve my grades because i want to study mechanical engineering at a good Russell Group university.
Last year my main methods of revision were taking notes from the textbook and answerings questions from physics and maths tutor and past papers. For maths, I felt pretty confident but the grade boundaries were not in my favour and for physics...the questions can get challenging and I could have definitely done more. I also had some extenuating circumstances that also hindered my learning and my mental health, but thankfully it's all resolved now.

I really want some tips from people who have acheived A/A*.
1) how did you study?
2) what resources did you use (can be specific to physics/maths or in general)?
3) how many hours did you roughly study per day?
4) how can i change my mentality to that of an A/A* student from a currently B-grade student?
5) do you have any other tips?

p.s. i have been note-taking on paper, despite having a tablet, because i just don't find it that comfortable. do you think it's worth writing digital notes and if so what are the advantages in your opinion?


i just did my exams and got A* in both maths and physics and passed comfortably on both.

for maths you need to be doing every question in the textbooks but being smart with it. for example each day pick a topic like first year differentiation. do each exercise in the textbook but start with the hardest question in that exericse if you can do the three hardest questions you know this topic. Skim through the rest of the questions and make sure you know how to answer them as they somtimes chuck in some trick questions which are important to learn. I did this for topic tests and ended up getting most of the time 100% if not a few off. For final exams you may want to recap these hard questions so its smart to make notes of question you really struggled with and come back to them at the time of the A-levels however you dont really have time to do everything again so you need to be smashing through past papers every single one has to be done before you sit an exam i think i must of ended up doing sevral papers twice. With these papers any topics you consistently mess up revisit them doing the above method of the hardest questions. Also use the examples given in the textbook and answer the question and compare your working to the textbook as that may be an answer to an issue your having. I swear by this method as theres nothing you can come up against you havent seen before in some form and it helped me alot and i ended up getting 99 in my paper 2 doing this.

Physics is a bit harder. For physics i would have topic tests every month or so after i finshed a topic so we would have to use active recall. For this i fully wrote out the whole textbooks for alevel physics onto flashcards but obviously only taking the key information so instead of having your typical flashcards with a question one side and answe the other i would have these information cards which meant i had a condensed physics textbook which for each subject it would take an hour to read through which sounds long but its key to getting A*. Without doing thousands of questions youll get a B tops as you need to do so many questions that you know exactly what examiners want to know which was exemplified this year as it was very hard to find what the examiners wanted to hear for many questions especially AQA paper 3A. Once you get to this stage youll be fine but it does take alot of time but not strenuous i was abel to still go out drinking play football and have a job its just time management.

so that answer the first question
for resources maths it is literally just textbooks and physics and maths tutour for maths papers

Physics use physcis and maths tutours flashcards not there notes but still make your own flashcards from textbook. Also when doing topic practise questions dont use physics and maths tutour use exampro s al theyre questions are old spec. if you just use physcis and maths tutour then it means when you do past papers you will have already done the questions which means youll do better then you think and you dont want to trick yourself into thinking your doing better then you are as i had a mate make this mistake and fall from A* to a B so use exampro for topic questions.

my hours rnaged from about 5 - 11 when in examp periods but before that i would have rest days and just stidy hard for my topic tests etc even if its a 20 mark test aim for full marks as i had these in physics and it made me truly understand the whole subject. But dont set out to do 4 hours set out to complete say 2 topics in maths and go for as long as it takes alot of people set just times and end up having to cram as they didnt achieve enough in that time so dont set out with a set amount of time. This being said the silliest thing you can do is revise past midnight i got away with it in first year but it catches up in second year and is highly unsutainable. all the best students i knew were bed by 11.

And all i can say is for the mentatility is think about the difference it will have on ni choices then life choices by just putting time in through sixth form. if you know what you want to do work towards. Another thing i use to have was friencly competition with mates which helps them push you and you push them to do better.

and for the last few things take notes how it feels comfortable i did it paper and was fine it did not hinder me one bit for physcis and for maths i never took notes just did practise questions.
Also i have cornell notes for all of physics and for the engineering module which covers everything you need to know in about 2-6 pages of spaced out easy to read notes if you want them just lmk as otherwise theyre just going to waste. sorry for making this so long just offloading all the info i learnt for the last 2 years to try and help.
Original post by SherAFG
Hi. This year I got my a level results and they were BBC for Chemistry, Maths, and Physics respectively. I am taking a gap year to retake maths and physics and i really want to improve my grades because i want to study mechanical engineering at a good Russell Group university.
Last year my main methods of revision were taking notes from the textbook and answerings questions from physics and maths tutor and past papers. For maths, I felt pretty confident but the grade boundaries were not in my favour and for physics...the questions can get challenging and I could have definitely done more. I also had some extenuating circumstances that also hindered my learning and my mental health, but thankfully it's all resolved now.

I really want some tips from people who have acheived A/A*.
1) how did you study?
2) what resources did you use (can be specific to physics/maths or in general)?
3) how many hours did you roughly study per day?
4) how can i change my mentality to that of an A/A* student from a currently B-grade student?
5) do you have any other tips?

p.s. i have been note-taking on paper, despite having a tablet, because i just don't find it that comfortable. do you think it's worth writing digital notes and if so what are the advantages in your opinion?

i got BBC last yeaar like you, A in math and psychology. Narrowly missed A* and got some perfect marks for some papers but messed up others so overall A in math. I screwed up physics resit.

1) Originally just procrastinated and whenever i felt like it, but later, i used 1focus to block distracting apps, stayfocusd to block distracting websites, and that allowed me to put more effort in studying. I used Pomodoro Method although 17 minutes was often too long, but sometimes too short. You need to be ablle to do several hours a day every day to keep up.

2) Isaac physics for physics and math, PMT, examsolution for math, birmingham uni practical resources for physics practicals, some cambridge supercurriculars to expand my understanding of math and physics, a level physics online for physics, even bits of other stuff like openstax textbooks, mit open courseware, principles of physics by resnick Halliday (not too useful, except the mechanics and for further understanding), math methods book for physics and engineering by riley hobson bence (only some parts useful, just for the physical meaning etc.), byjus for math, drfrostmath seneca underground math madas math isaac physics books and so many things, even a bit of university analysis for proofs. A lot of stuff.

3) Depends. winter 2022 it was 1-2 hrs then increased 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, finally 6hrs and my best for 2022-23 was 9 hours. For 2022 i also did gcses as well and sometimes studied basically all day, even replaying past paper videos from my phone to remember the content (only partially worked). It was stressful to say the least.

4) i suppose the hodder education aim for A in physics works, as well as chemistry. more isaac physics, more exam questions for math, i suppose.

5) use exampro as someone suggest, don't do same past papers as it can trick you into thinking you're doing better. i dropped from A* predict in physics to B in 2022 because of that. And in Math to some extent. Psychology a little. Either way, keep practicing. For resits, better use a college to help you.

So if you resit Math and physics, get your scripts, see where you are quite weak at, and improve them. Hopefully you at least get AAB or even A*AB and A*A*B.

Quick Reply

Latest