Those of you in the UK will probably (hopefully/unfortunately??) know that from 2016 (a.k.a. last September), the government started to roll out its new linear A levels. Which means,
unlucky for me and all the other year 12’s out there, we’re the “guinea pig” year – meaning we’re the first ones to go through the stress of having the new system trialled out on us.
The new linear system means that instead of taking AS exams at the end of year 12, and A2 exams at the end of year 13 – which each comprised 50% of the qualification – the majority of us will be taking all of our exams at the end of year 13. Which will mean, trying to juggle learning all the second year content, as well as revising all of the first year AND second year. So basically, STRESS. But don’t worry, as I’ve been
suffering working under the new system for about 8 months now, I come bearing tips and tricks which I have tried and tested, or make a note of things which I can do during year 13 (so I can look back at this when I’m stressed and buried under a huge workload and find a solution) and just general things that I have learnt throughout my experience of A Levels so far.
1. The “jump”
I’m sure most teenagers in the UK will know someone who is doing, or has done or has some knowledge of A Levels, and it’s more than likely that they’ve also told you about the “jump” from GCSE to A Level and how big it is. Now if you’re like me, then you won’t really believe them or have any idea what they’re on about, until about week 3 of A Levels when the teachers have stopped recapping GCSE knowledge to get you all up to the same level, and suddenly you have seven assignments to do, ten chapters of text books to read and five test to prepare for (that might be a slight exaggeration,but honestly sometimes the workload can feel like this!). But don’t let it put you off, because although A Levels are notoriously hard and the workload is huge, if you’re passionate about the subjects you choose, you will love to learn them in such detail!
2. Trial and error
My whole revision and learning process this year as been a game of trial and error. With GCSEs, I found that as there wasn’t much content, I could get away with revising by making mindmaps or flashcards for most of my subjects, and it would be effective, but at A Level, because of the sheer diversity in content between and within each subject, you may find that not one sole revision technique works for you, or that the methods you used at GCSE don’t work with trying to revise such a vast and varied subject content. But that’s ok – I’ve experienced that many times this year and to tell the truth it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, but you just have to go with it: some things will work and others won’t, it’s about finding out what works best for you.
With the linear A Levels, you’ll either take first year external exams at the end of the Year 12 – but these don’t count towards your overall grade and a sort of a way to gauge your progress, or your sixth form or college will provide internal ‘mock’ exams for you to sit, which is what I’m doing. However, although I’m treating them as if they are real exams (as I need to get a D or above to continue to second year), I’m also using the mock exams as sort of an “experiment” for next year, so I can play around with different revision strategies now so by the time it comes to my real exams next year, I’ll know exactly which revision tactics worked best for what.
3. Organising your notes
Something I’ve done since September is rewriting my notes after each lesson onto index cards, like the ones below. My notes from class are generally very messy and unorganised, so I take about half an hour after each lesson (or whenever I have a free period or day off) to rewrite them, referring to my text book at the same time to make sure I haven’t missed anything out that we perhaps hadn’t had time to cover in class (which in my experience happens a lot, and it’s your responsibility to check through the text book and make sure you’re staying on track, even if your teacher isn’t).
I did this as a sort of experiment, to see if it would work for me and just because I needed to get my head round how A Levels work (which is something I’m still figuring out). In some ways it has as when I’ve come to revising for tests or the mocks, I can choose topics to revise in bitesize sections, giving me a clearer idea over what I’m supposed to know, as I find the text book can sometimes feel overwhelming because there is just SO. MUCH. But this way, I’ve broken it down so I’ve just written down the key notes that I need to know, not all the waffle.
However the index card strategy can sometimes still be too unorganised or illogical for me, as I rewrote my notes in accordance to the order of chapters within the text books, and the Geography text book especially seems to be written in a really illogical order, flicking from one topic to the next then back to the first, so as my revision for the mocks, I rewrote them into a notebook, and colour-coordinated them with diagrams in what I consider to be a more logical order. That works a lot better for me, as it’s more visual, so I think next year instead of spending all that time making index cards only to discover writing them up in a different way works better, I’ll instead write them up in the notebook-style that works for me from September, so when it comes to revision I can focus more on recall revision techniques, not making sure my notes are organised!
4. Revision strategies
Again it will take a lot of trial and error to find out what works for you, or what type of learner you are. I think I can be every time of learner to be honest: visual (through use of diagrams and colour-coding), auditory (through saying things out loud that I want to remember over and over again until it sticks), read-write (through rewriting notes or vocab to help me memorise them) and kinesthetic (through highlighting stuff as I read to stop my mind from wandering). Different strategies will work for different people but here are a few methods that I’ve found that really work for me, and may do for you too! (I haven’t found an effective way of revising for history yet which is a BIT WORRYING considering the mock is in 5 weeks eeek!)
- Flashcards with definitions/key concepts on – works well with subjects with lots of content, if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, break it down onto flashcards. I revised the whole of GCSE triple science in this way by getting my mum (thanks mum, forever my revision buddy!) to regularly test me on the flashcards – she’d read out the keyword, and I’d give the definition. I’m hoping to use the same strategies with Geography this year, as the key pillars of the specification are keywords and concepts and it’s these that you’ll need to use and explain in exams. Can also be used to learn the dates of key events in history, but I haven’t got round to trying that yet!
- Post-it notes for French vocab/keywords – learning vocabulary for a language can be one of the most tedious parts to language learning, and I’m not saying I enjoy it that much, but this is a revision tactic that I’ve recently tried out and has really worked for me. I think the key with learning vocab is to change the way you revise it so it doesn’t get boring, whether that be rewriting it, getting someone to read at the word and you give the translation, drawing pictures to help you remember tricky words or writing words on post-it notes, sticking them somewhere you visit regularly (i.e. your bedroom the fridge etc.) and testing yourself on them. I stuck mine on my bookcase, and each morning I’ll try to translate each word – I wrote the english on the back incase I forget – and once I’ve learnt them I’ll swap them over. This could also work with keywords and definitions, if you don’t have anyone wiling to test you on them at all hours of the day (sorry mum).
5. Exam questions
Now you may be worried, as I was, about the lack of past papers available for the new exam specifications. As you probably know, past papers are one of the best ways to check if a) your revision strategy is working and b) you understand the exam technique required to answer the questions. Something I’ve struggled with this year is the lack of past papers, because I just want a way to test my knowledge and see if how I’m revising is actually working. But after doing a bit of research (and actually reading the text books properly oops) can inform you that there is exam material out there and available!
Firstly, in the text books themselves, there are usually practice exam questions at the end of each page/topic. Secondly, the exam board may release workbooks – like for geography we’ve just received a workbook for units 1 and 2, which is basically a magazine which has around 60 questions in PER TOPIC (which is basically exam question heaven if you’re me and rely on doing exam questions as a major part of your revision). Finally, if you don’t have access to the afore-mentioned resources, look online at past papers for previous specifications, as with some subjects, at least part of the content will overlap and you’ll be able to find some relevant exam questions (especially for languages, as any practice is good practice, even if the topics aren’t entirely the same, and there will definitely be past history specifications that overlap with some of what you’re studying for the new spec).
Doing exam questions will be invaluable for your end of year 12 mocks or exams, and vital for the exams you’ll sit at the end of year 13, so it’s best you get your head round them as soon as possible. I started doing a few ast the end of each unit as we were learning them in geography, jut to consolidate the unit and with history we’ve been doing essays in class throughout the year anyway, but you can never get enough exam practice, especially with A Levels where the content is so vast and the questions can be so vague!
6. Using time effectively
This should probably be one of the first tips, but I only though of it just as I was about to hit the publish button. One advantage of doing the new linear A Levels, is that you have the summer holidays between year 12 and year 13 to sort yourself out. For the most part of year 12, you’ll just be getting used to A Levels and working out what works best, so it is sort of like an experiment as I mentioned earlier, and you may get to the end of the year and realise that you’ve missed things I out or haven’t learnt things properly, but it’s okay because you have the whole of summer to make sure you’ve got the first year’s content nailed. I know I’ll definitely be using some of my summer holidays to go over everything I learnt, check for any gaps in my knowledge and make sure I have some top notch revision resources ready for when it comes to revising for the end of year 13 exams, because you don’t want to get to March of year 13 and realise you’re not confident on all the stuff from year 1 and not have enough time to go over all of that and all of the second year content. So make sure you use your time effectively so you’re as prepared as possible for next year!
Okay, so I think that concludes my tips for the new A Level specification. If you want me to do subject-specific tips or revision ideas, let me know below and I’d be delighted to help. Also if you have any more tips to share, feel free to leave a comment.
I hoped this may have in some way helped with the rollercoaster that is the new A Level system and given you some new ideas about how to survive it. Just remember you’re not alone and that it’s okay if you’re not hitting your target grades now, because you still have another year before the exams that count, and you’ll make so much progress between now and then!
Best of luck to everyone embarking on the new A Level specification, and to anyone thinking about doing A Levels after college, despite the workload, I can honestly say I am loving studying the subjects I’m passionate about in more detail and taking more responsibility for your learning. Although the prospect of A Levels may seem daunting, they are definitely worth your consideration!