3 Ways to make the best start to A Levels

Learning at A Level is pretty different to GCSEs. You will probably have smaller class sizes, the content will move much faster and you won’t be given as much time to practice in class to practice new concepts. This post looks at three simple ways you can make a better start to A Levels and hit the ground running.

Note – this post is aimed a general skills and mindset to help with all your A Level subjects. To get some more specific advice on starting A Level Chemistry, read my guide here.

Be more involved

Were you one of the ‘quiet ones’ in your class at GCSE? Put your head down, got on with the work, did the practice papers and came out with a decent grade? What did you do if you didn’t understand something in the homework – did you wait until you got it marked to find out the answer?

While it’s possible that the same approach can work at A Level, you have a much higher chance of getting the grade you want by being proactive at the start. Being a passive student can work early on in the course, when you might be going back over GCSE basics, but if you don’t feel comfortable asking questions when you’re stuck you’ll quickly hit a wall.

Yeah, this might be a pretty unrealistic photo! But you can wait until your teacher is circulating, or ask at the beginning or end of a lesson.

If you are feeling shy, just set yourself an initial target to ask one question per week – you could always wait until the end of the class or email your teacher, but asking within the lesson is best and should be easier with a smaller class. By setting this target, it will also help you focus more in class – you can’t ask a question about something if you’re not listening!

What about if you were the one at GCSE asking questions constantly? If that’s you, then you should probably think about how useful the questions you ask are. Are you asking which page of the book you’re on, when the homework is due or perhaps asking how to do something when you’ve just written a step by step method in your notes? Now is the time to work on your independence. Before you ask, take a few seconds to decide whether you can find the information for yourself first – this will be a big help when you’re doing homework and independent study.

Upgrade your note-making

Did you rely on your revision guide to get you through GCSE? Although they are great resources, the best way to learn is from notes you made yourself. In lessons you might have to write more of your own notes than you did before – you could consider using the Cornell Method to make lesson summaries, or try reading this post on making your notes more effective for revision.

Make notes that space out the information into separate sections of the page so you can review them more quickly than a page of text.

When should you be making notes on a topic? Well, like pretty much everything else at A Level – the sooner you start the better. There is a LOT of information at A Level – you can’t leave this stuff until you’re about to have a test. Pre-test prep should be about doing practice questions – which means you should have been reviewing the material before then. Which of course leads to the final way you’re going to make a big difference to your A Levels…

Plan ahead for the week

At school we have a lot of people telling us where to be and when to be there, and students are also told what to do in terms of homework. However, at A Level you’re only concentrating on 3 or 4 subjects, which gives you more time that isn’t being ‘directed’.

As someone who has been partly self-employed for the last few years, it’s clear that undirected time can be a curse as well as a blessing. It’s so easy to get to the end of the day and realise you got nothing done in those four ‘free’ hours. The only way you can make sure you use the time effectively is by planning for it in advance.

Get into the habit of sitting down to plan before the start of a new week (I find late Sunday afternoon to be a good time). You don’t need a spreadsheet or anything fancy. You can use your phone or email calendar, or just a sheet of paper with each day written on.

For each day, look at any free periods you have at school, plus time you intend to study at home in the evenings. Don’t try to fill every spare minute, this is totally unsustainable. A good rule of thumb is 4 hours per A Level subject per week, but this includes set homework or assignments. Remember to block off time for relaxation and other activities. Divide your time equally between subjects.

A weekly planner doesn’t have to be anything fancy – just the act of sitting down to fill it in will make you more likely to reach your goals.

Now you know WHEN you’ll be focusing on each subject, decide what you might be doing in this time. Some of it will be for homework, some for making notes and some for reviewing material – it helps if you know in advance as you’re less likely to be distracted.

Feeling motivated?

Pick out one or two actions from this post that you’re going to do to change how you work at A Level. Write them down somewhere – maybe on a post it that you stick on your wall, or somewhere you’ll see it on your phone.

If you haven’t already done so, find out about my free revision club for A Level chemistry students – you’ll get regular emails which will help you stay on track with independent study.

Claire Costello-Kelly

Claire Costello-Kelly

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