1. Learn to Learn
It is going to sound like everyone says this but it is true. You need to learn how to learn over a long period of time not just cram revise. The best way is to make rough notes in class then re-read the notes that day and add/clarify anything that doesn’t make sense to you. Then a few days later write up those note in neat with all the added corrections and add them to a folder. This means that not only do you have a nice copy of your notes to revise from, it helps you to really take the information in and commit it to memory as you write it out again. The reason I suggest waiting a few days before writing up your notes for good is that this allows you to see if you need to add any more information to your notes from the lessons after. That way you only need to write up your notes once not three or four times. I didn’t do this in my AS year but I began to do it this year and it has made me feel so much more confident about the syllabus and definitely made it easier to revise in the long run as it decreased the amount I didn’t know and I didn’t waste revision time trying to organise my notes. This also meant I didn’t carry around as much with me during the college day apart from one rough note pad and any sheets I needed for my lessons whilst I kept my big neat folders at home unless I needed them.
2. Regular Clear Outs
At the end of every term during the week off go through all your notes and sheets from every subject and do a clear out. Bin anything you know you don’t need (though if you are unsure keep it but maybe move it to a separate folder). Plus, sometimes you get three or four sheets with almost the same information on them. Condense them down! Choose the best one and write the points that are missing on the back of it. This way it is really obvious for you to see if there is anything you are missing and helps reduce the amount of information you are carrying round. I also found this helped me get more motivated towards the end of college when it becomes all about revision. This is because it was almost a trick of the mind as although all the information was there, it appear so much smaller and so much less daunting.
3. Make Friends in ALL of Your Classes
Sometimes it is easy to make a group of friends and never really venture outside that group. However, it will benefit you in the long run if you make lots of little friend groups in all of your different classes. This way you can easily ask for help and always have someone to have study dates with no matter the class. Plus I feel like this definitely helped me to mature as a person as I began to rely more on myself but had so many people I could turn to rather than just a small group of friends. Now, I am not saying that you should cast aside your mates but definitely branch out but try not to cause conflict by doing this. For me, this was quite easy as I went to a college whilst most of my friends stayed at my school sixth form so I ended up with school friends, English friends, geography friends, sociology friends, tutor friends as well as a group of immediate friends at college.
4. Use Your Frees to the Best of Your Ability
At college or sixth form you suddenly gets so much free time and so much freedom as to how you use it compared to school. The key to success is using this time to the best of your ability. I used to use this time to re-read my notes and organise them as explained above or I would try to get homework and assignments done during this time to allow me more free time at home. This proved invaluable especially when it came to juggling college, friends, family, boyfriend, job, revision, sleeping etc! There is always something productive you could be doing even if there isn’t a specific assignment to complete such as revision, looking for resources, reading ahead and preparing for the next topic. All will help!
5. Don’t Over Use Your Frees
Sounds contradictory to the advice above but life is about striking a balance. Too much work will stress you out so find a way that works for you. I used to go through cycles especially in the first year of working really hard in every free for a few weeks, then doing nothing for a few and restarting the work again as I began to feel guilty about how little time I had devoted to my studies. This is not good! I had around six free sessions a week so eventually I found that a two four pattern worked. Two frees for fun, four frees for work. Just find what works for you.
At the start of the year you buy all the textbooks and course equipment for the entire year so use it! Before every lesson look through at the next topic or section in your text books. You don’t need to teach yourself but just glance through to see what is coming up. This helps as when you go to the lesson it isn’t the first time you have seen the material so it is already helping you to commit it to memory. I again starting doing this during my second year and I honestly wish I had begun doing it at the beginning as, just like reviewing the material at the end of every lesson, it is reducing the amount of revision you need to do at the end of the year as you learn things throughout. Plus, it makes you sound super smart if you already know the answers!
7. Don’t over learn
If you know that they can only ask you up to eight marks on a question why learn more than that? It isn’t about not learning topics because you do need to learn them all but it is being clever about the amount and what in each topic you learn. For example, in my geography exam I had to learn nearly thirty case studies. Nobody has got the time or memory space for that amount of information. Instead, knowing I would only be asked up to ten marks on any case study I only learnt ten main statistics on a flash card. I didn’t write down stuff I knew automatically but only ten statistics and facts I could learn. You do need to be clever about what you choose to learn so, for example, my first fact was that 25% of the Sicilian population lives on the flank of Mt Etna which, no matter the question, is a perfect statistic to put into the introduction. Similarly, there is no point learning all those case studies if one case study can cover two or three options. Trust me, this technique will reduce stress, reduce time and maximise marks.
I liked to at the end of each topic write out a small summary guide of the entire topic. Again, this is something I wish I had done from the get go throughout the entire year as it saves time revising and organising all the notes. Plus, the whole process of going through your notes again and writing the key points out helps further consolidate your knowledge helping you to learn the information rather than memorise it for the exam.
Overall though, I am happy with my time as an A-level student and feel I have grown and matured as a person the most in this period of my life. No matter my grades in August I am proud of what I have achieved and plan to go on to achieve more and take these tips and tricks I wish I had known on to university and beyond! I know all of the ideas can be overwhelming and sound like they will take up a lot of time but trust me they won’t. Spending two hours a week re-reading, preparing and writing out notes will save you so much time in the long run and will help you have a much smoother ride than I have. Hope this helped anybody who is going to start A-levels this year although this advice is just as valid for school and university students too!
So what do you wish you had known before starting school/college/university? Let me know in the comments!