Transitioning from GCSE to A level

I apologise for my silence over the past few weeks… I’ve been busy and going back to school after half term is always hectic, right? I’ve also had a few technical issues, but I’m now up and running again. I thought I’d give you a little bit of my viewpoint on the transistion from GCSE to A level. It’s a crucial time in your life, one you have to get right, and one I’ve just been through. I haven’t found the transition hard, in fact A level suits me far better than GCSEs ever did. But I know for some people the change in work load and responsibility can come as a bit of a shock! As ever if you have anything further you’d like me to talk about or any comments you’d like to add, tweet me (@christiangirluk), comment down below, or contact me using the page in the main header. Thanks once again for all your support.

So it’s the summer (I mean it’s not, it’s winter, and I’m writing this looking out onto a garden full of bare trees and frosted grass, but let’s just imagine, hypothetically, that it’s summer), you’ve taken your last GCSE, and you hop skip and jump back home, ready to look forward to a whole summer full of NOTHING to do! Right?

Perhaps you remember the day that you took your last GCSE or O level, or perhaps that day is still to come. For me, that day was the Friday, 17th June 2016. Yes I remember, and yes that probably is a little sad. Physics iGCSE paper 2. If anything, the one I had been dreading the most. If the first paper was anything to go by, with the polar bear question that had everyone vexed, it was not going to go well. But, maybe foolishly, I didn’t really care. It had got to the stage where I had done all the revision I could have possibly done without my brain exploding, and I was just ready to have GCSEs over with.

It took me a while after the exam to fully process what had just happened. I had just taken my last GCSE. *Pauses, rethinks* Yahoooooo! I tried to put the worrying (oh no, there’s nothing I can do now (except frantically rethink everything that could possibly have gone wrong), just have to wait 8 weeks for the results) to the back of my mind. That evening we went out to the pub, and I had fish and chips (I don’t know why I remember that either).

But then the realisation started to kick in that, whatever happened, I was going to take A levels in September. I had 9 weeks to prepare. So what should I do? The subjects I chose were History, French, English, Latin and Greek. (Yes I know I’m weird. Actually, you probably knew that already…) I had a whole list of things that I knew I had to do for French, as I was taking it a year early, and had to catch up on all the things that the year above had done already. But in terms of the other subjects I didn’t really know what to do. So I sent an email to the heads of department of History, English and Classics to find out if they had anything that they would recommend to be reading. And sure enough they did. So I spent my summer reading.

I wrote a list of all the days in the summer, and what I was doing on each one. I blanked out all the days that I was on holiday, or visiting family, or just generally doing something. And I was surprised at how few days I actually had completely clear. And I wrote a list of all the work I had to/wanted to do over the summer, and resolved to read at least one ‘work’ book and one ‘leisure’ book a week, as well as doing 1 hour’s work/revision a day. And as much as this helped me to know a bit about the course that I was studying, and to think more broadly in terms of the subject, I didn’t really know what to expect. Going from GCSE to A level is a big step up. You get a lot more responsibility and the work load, obviously, increases. So now that I’ve been a big scary sixth former for 8 weeks (eeek time slips away…), I thought I’d let you know what to expect.

  1. Get organised over the summer. Buy folders and paper and pens and everything you think you’ll need, and label them. This means that you’ll be prepared when you go to your first lesson of the term, because work starts on day 1. There’s no faffing about paper and folders at A level, you are expected to sort yourself out. For more of my tips on preparing to go back to school click here.
  2. If you can, print your timetable to have above your desk or in your room, so you know what’s coming at the beginning of the day. If you don’t turn up to a lesson, you will get punished immediately, no excuses, even if it is the first week.
  3. Make sure you choose subjects that are the best for you. You’ll be doing these for at least 2 years if not longer at University. You can always change your subjects in the first two weeks. Give it a try, and if you really don’t like it, change. Don’t be afraid to voice concerns, one of my friends changed her options 11 times, and she’s so thankful now she did because now she loves them.
  4. Most lessons, the teacher won’t dictate to you what to write, or give you a worksheet. You will have a seminar-style discussion, from which it is up to you to take notes, or a lecture-style lesson where you need to take down the important points.
  5. Get an organiser/prep diary. I get so much prep that if I didn’t write it down when I get it, and when it’s in for, I would lose myself and forget everything.
  6. You will get a lot of prep. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. For example, this weekend alone I have 7 essays to write (two English, History, Latin, Greek and two French). Make sure to prioritise the preps that have to be in first, but don’t ignore the others until the last minute. I find that if I get a spare five minutes at break, planning my essays is really helpful, so that when I have to write them, I can just sit down and write, rather than having to think on the spot. If you have free periods, make use of them, work rather than chatting in the Common Room. You will be thankful for it later on. Even if you don’t have prep to do, make revision notes, read or watch a relevant documentary. All time is precious, and all information is valuable.
  7. Set yourself a time limit of how long you want to work each night. If I get home at 18:30, I take a break until 19:00 and then I will try and work no later than maximum 22:00, though usually I try and stop at 21:00. 2 or 3 hours is about as much I can concentrate each night.
  8. Teachers expect you to be on top of things. What they hate more than anything is lack of communication. Tell them before the lesson if you haven’t done your prep. Email them to ask for an extension. If you don’t understand, they will expect you to go and find them rather than to hand in a blank or under-effort prep.
  9. You will never get full marks in an essay, until maybe the end of your course. Don’t set your hopes high, but be willing to take advice, rewrite essays and gradually improve. Perhaps offer times to go through your essays individually with a teacher to work out where to go next.
  10. You have to read around your subjects. You’ll be amazed by how an essay which just has a comparison to another text improves. Reading around can also help you to form different viewpoints, and find your own stance. Reading radicalist arguments is also helpful, because then you can disagree with them in your writing! If you don’t know where to start, ask your teachers or a librarian. They are full of knowledge that they are usually over keen to share!
  11. Rest at the weekends and get a full night’s sleep. This week I tried to get up at 5 on Monday to write a debate before school. What I wrote was poor, I was grumpy the whole day and I had to redo everything. It’s not worth it. If your struggling with your workload, talk to someone. Getting sleep cannot be sacrificed, because it just leads to poorer results.
  12. You won’t be able to keep up with all the clubs you’ve been doing inside and out of school. You’ll have to let something go. For me, this was drama. But get involved with everything you do have time for. It’s good to have a break from work, whether that’s drama, music or sport.
  13. Teachers expect that you start to show leadership, and be a good example to the younger students.
  14. Take all the opportunities that come your way. Be keen. If your teacher has organised a trip to a lecture day, go. If you get the opportunity to go to a museum that supports your subject, go. If someone asks you to take an assembly, do it. Even if it may seem pointless, it will enrich your learning or build your confidence.
  15. Give yourself time out, but don’t prioritise a social life. My social life has become reduced, but not non-existant! I still see my friends, I go to Church on a Sunday, I still go shopping, I still go and support my brother in his marching band. But if there’s a time when I know it would be more beneficial for me to work, I work. It’s a fine balance, but one you have to get right. I have friends who turn up to school on Monday with a hangover from the night before, and 3 essays they haven’t written. It’s really not worth it!

I hope that helps a little bit. The main change is that teacher’s won’t babysit you anymore. It’s up to you to take control, and be in charge. If you want to improve, make the effort. Because if you don’t act like you care, you’ll just get left behind.


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