• Kay Gibbons Page

Get Ready for A-levels

So, you have received your GCSE results and now you are ready to embark on a journey towards perhaps the most important two years of your life - your A-levels. You may or may not know yet what career you want to follow but a set of good A-levels will 'open many doors' and no one can take them away from you. Throughout your working career, your CV and job applications will be required to show your A-level results with your GCSE results being relatively inconsequential in most academic careers - they just allow you to be accepted onto your A-level courses of choice. A-levels are 'no mean feat' and remain well respected qualifications so you want to ensure that you make an effective start. You also want to make sure that you choose the most suitable A-levels. Some A-levels are a lot more difficult than others and some lead to a wider choice of career pathways. Make sure that if you have a career pathway planned that your A-levels will allow you to progress along that route e.g. at university.


Regardless of which A-level courses you have chosen, find out which exam board (e.g. OCR or AQA) and which specification (e.g. syllabus A or B) you are being taught. Do not assume they are all the same just because they are the same subject. You really do not want to start off learning irrelevant material or missing out on key information. Keep a critical eye on any information you look at too online or are given in class - stick strictly to your set specification.


Download the specification for FREE on your exam board website and keep a printed version of content required for each topic to annotate and use throughout your course as well as a checklist of understanding for tests and final examinations. This will be the definitive source of information you need to pass your exams and you will be very familiar with it by the end of your course if you follow my advice. Everything else is a dilution or interpretation to be treated with some scepticism in my opinion. What do I mean? Any other document, whether found on the internet, published textbook or teacher handout, will possibly contain errors and unfortunately I have seen this all too often including being for the wrong exam board! The only failsafe solution is to take complete responsibility for this yourself and do the above - there is nothing to be gained by blaming someone else later as it will be too late!


My next piece of advice does have an element of affordability attached to it unfortunately. Buy your own copy of your class textbook if you can (whether new or second hand). I do not mean a revision guide or similar as you again run the risk of missing out on information and context. Having just completed your GCSEs you are probably still finding out how you personally learn and revise effectively. There is no need to make notes and pretty revision cards when you have a textbook that can be highlighted and annotated and to do so would just be handwriting practice. Your text book has all of the information you need to learn if endorsed by the relevant exam board. Copying out information may have been something that gave you comfort revising for GCSE but you would be better off doing relevant exam questions and applying your knowledge. On the other hand, revision cards for key definitions can be effectively used by someone to test your recall and whittle down the amount of information you cannot yet remember.


Find out from the specification what prior knowledge is required e.g. from GCSE and make sure you know it. Some specifications say that they assume no prior knowledge and repeat GCSE content at the start of the topic so use that as a guide to prepare instead.


Find out what equipment you may need and get used to using it. It may be as simple as a calculator for say a science subject. That sounds straightforward but all too often I have seen students come to the end of their course and not know how to operate a particular calculator model which prevents them from answering subject specific questions e.g. in chemistry. Commit to the model you are going to use at the start of the course, e.g. the one recommended by the maths department who can later assist you if needed, and stick with it, buying the exact same one if it needs to be replaced. A lot of schools also sell recommended equipment at reduced price.


There is a lot of information out there on Youtube, websites etc. and it can be difficult to 'see the wood from the trees' leading to brain fatigue, frustration, poor time management and ineffective learning. I advise that you are selective and only use reliable sources of information such as your specification, exam board endorsed textbook and past exam questions. The feedback that you receive from exams and assignments from your teachers should be acted on and not just filed away even if you initially find it disappointing. It is all too easy to sit and watch Youtube videos and I absolutely promise you that for my subject, chemistry, the vast majority are awful and especially for A-level. I have spent many hours trying to compile a list of 'go to' videos for my students (which I managed for GCSE) but I have failed so far and so I plan to make my own.


I am not an expert on all A-level subjects but I believe the above advice is applicable to most students. I wish you all success and I am available for FREE help with A-level chemistry including resources and my newsletter. Simply sign up at https://kaygibbons.com/


While all a bit daunting, A-levels and associated exams can be enjoyable when you know you are prepared and can do everything required on the relevant specification. What else can they ask you? NOTHING!


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