Staring Your AS Levels
Hello! Here are some tips I have about going from GCSEs to AS level:
- Keep your GCSE notes- please keep any relevant gcse notes because they can be useful for going over things that you’re doing in more depth at AS. You don’t have to keep them all (for example, if you’re doing art, history, english lit, and philosophy you won’t need your physics or french notes), just make sure you don’t throw away notes that you’ll regret not having later as you may want to look over them to recap basic ideas! Or maybe a friend or sibling in another year may find them useful- you never know so please don’t rush to burn them!
- Go over things after every lesson- at the beginning of year 12 all my teachers said this to me and I just ignored them because like seriously no thanks, but when it came to spring I deeply regretted not going over things as suddenly I had to recap everything in just a few weeks! So I’d suggest that maybe one night every week, go over everything you’ve learned, rewrite notes if needed, and do extra practice questions on things you’re not sure of- it’ll definitely be worth it in the long run, trust me! Also it’s good to make revision notes throughout the year; for example, if you have a test on one topic of a subject, make some good quality notes and keep them as during exam season you’ll be so happy that you already have some good notes. The night before one of my AS chemistry exams I was trying to cram my way through the whole syllabus (revise early!! I’ll talk about this next) and cried tears of joy when I found a set of notes I’d made previously as it’s much easier to revise from concise notes than it is a textbook or your school notes.
- REVISE EARLY!!!!!!- I’m currently in the middle of my AS exams and omg please please please start revising early! I kept saying ‘it’ll be fine, I’ll start next week’ from like January until mid-April and by then it was too late and I ended up not being able to revise everything I needed to and to a poorer enough level overall. Therefore please start revising definitely before March- this sounds a bit extreme as that leaves around 2.5 months before exams but ‘revise’ doesn’t just mean ‘write intense notes’: make mind maps, timelines for subjects like history, flashcards, do past papers, make notes based off mark schemes so you know what key words examiners like, etc. Make resources so that when it is April/May time you won’t be panicking (as much) as you already have concise notes to then make even more concise and specific notes off, and hopefully you’ll be much clearer on things from the start of the year that otherwise you’d have forgotten completely!
- Do your homework- teachers set it for your benefit so by not doing it you’re just setting yourself back! Try to do it as soon as possible after you get it and please do actually try when doing it- don’t just google the answers straight away (I am very guilty of this and it only made things worse in exams as I hadn’t built up technique).
- USE YOUR FREES- free periods are an absolute blessing and it’s easy to just see them as extra break times. However they are given to you for a reason and it’s soooooo important that you actually use them for what they’re for- working! It’s okay to be ‘free’ in your frees sometimes but more than not you should be working in them; catching up on homework, doing past exam questions, improving your notes, etc. Most sixth forms/colleges have quiet working areas/study centres so do try to take advantage of these areas in your frees- it means you have less work to do at home!
- Plan- buy a planner/diary (if your school doesn’t provide you with one) and use it! Make sure you write down all your homework and when its due as it is extremely easy to lose track of things, especially if you have multiple teachers for one subject! I’d also recommend having a whiteboard or something in your bedroom where you can write a clear and visible to-do list.
- Be organised- most sixth forms like you to use files and to write your notes on A4 lined paper, unlike in ‘books’ like you did in lower school. It’s extremely easy to end up with a messy file so please make sure that you organise it well (use dividers and maybe buy a mini hole punch and stapler to go in your bag- teachers are too good at not hole punching sheets…) as this will make revision a lot easier! It also makes a good impression on your teachers.
- Crappy teachers- there isn’t much worse than having a crappy teacher at A level. It’s seriously frustrating- especially if there’s another class for the subject you’re doing who have the good teacher! If you’re unfortunate enough to get a bad teacher, please don’t let it define your grades! Download your exam’s spec from their website, buy a textbook/revision guide, etc, Basically do as much as you can to make sure you’re learning everything that you should be and that you don’t fall behind. Maybe talk to another teacher if you really need help or straight up tell your teacher that you aren’t learning from them- most are happy to help and don’t realise that they’re so bad! Tell them how you learn best and maybe they can adapt to help you.
- Buy revision guides/wider reading- please try to get a hold of revision guides as they will save your life during exam season. If money is tight, speak to a teacher as most schools have bursary funds that can help you out if needed. It can also be good to do some wider reading, especially around subjects you may want to continue in the future- ask teachers or google for recommendations.
- Use online resources- if your school has access to revision websites, etc. please try to use them! Really take advantage of as many resources as you can since A-level resources are more scarce than GCSE ones.
- Make decent notes- this one is very important! Please make sure that your notes throughout the year are good quality- if you feel like they aren’t then make sure you add to them using a textbook/revision guide as otherwise you might end up revising from sub-par notes and therefore won’t get the top grades.
- Catch up- if you miss a lesson (even if a friend tells you that you didn’t miss anything important) always go and see your teacher as soon as possible! You must make sure you don’t miss a single thing and also it’ll make your teacher like you more since you’re actively trying to catch up!
- Give yourself a break- please make sure you have a life outside of school work! But also make sure you don’t get too wild; usually the people who flake out are the ones who party too hard or work too hard. So make sure you find a good balance. Sixth form/college is an awesome chance to make/maintain some amazing friendships so make the most of it! Also please don’t feel pressured to get a girl/boyfriend and if you do, do not let your relationship get in the way of your grades.
- Good habits- also try to make sure you stay healthy and make good diet/exercise habits. It’s vital that you have an outlet (running, tennis, walking you dog, whatever you like) outside of school. Also, exercise is good for your brain! A levels can be extremely stressful so you need to try to take care of yourself or else you might not make it- I know many people who dropped out because they couldn’t deal with the stress so you need to try to deal with this as best you can. If you do start to struggle, talk to a teacher as this is very common and there’s lots they can do to help you!
- It’s okay to fail- there is no way (unless you’re superhuman) that you can continue getting the same grades at GCSE and at AS; for example I got A’s and A*s in chemistry all through GCSE (an A at the end) and in AS I always got B’s (and a few D’s…). AS is such a huge step up in most subjects (some you may find are quite similar- I found this for geography but most are way more complex) so it’s totally fine to not get the top grades; at AS you can’t even get A*s (they don’t exist) and E’s are still a pass so it’s really not expected of you to get the same grades as gcse, especially at the beginning. It can be disappointing but please try not to get down about this! At the start of the year I was getting mostly D’s-B’s and towards the end it was more B’s and a few A’s so there’s plenty of time to improve. Also, if you feel that at the beginning of the year you want to swap subjects, do talk to your teachers as this may be possible within the first few weeks. Remember that you could retake year 12 if thins went terribly wrong so it’s not the end of the world if you fail everything! Also the new AS levels don’t count towards your final A level grade so you do get a second chance.
- Overall: so overall the jump can be pretty daunting but to be honest it’s really not that bad as long as you stay organised and ask for help if you need it. In sixth form, learning is more your own responsibility so you need to make sure that you are doing enough work outside of school and that you understand all topics being covered. Year 12 and 13 are seriously some of the best years of school (the best yet to be honest) so do also try to make the most of them!
I hope this is helpful and please do feel free to send me any questions you might have! :)