With all the sacrifices, is A-level worth its weight in gold? 

For young people who are taking A-level in the summer, the importance of the next four or so months cannot be overemphasised. The discipline and the focus that has to be assigned to cope with rigour and the academic demand of the A-level, though, is worth its weight in gold.

It is common knowledge that not all universities are the same, as employers in particular and the wider society, value academic qualifications from certain universities more than some others. The currency for gaining admission to the top elite universities is good A-level grades in certain subjects – depending on the degree course and the specific university.

Unlike GCSE, success at A-level together with its equivalent academic qualifications such as the IB – The International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U, require a real mastery of the subject content and in addition articulacy in answering examination questions.

Considering that there are just four months remaining before eighteen-year olds get right into the thick of the summer examinations, there is not much time. However, much can still be achieved in the remaining time, enough to make a difference to the exam grades.

One thing I’ll say to young people out there is that it does matter which university you go to as they are not all the same – or to be more precise – do not all have equal perceived value to institutions that matter – i.e. employers. There is also the issue of which degree course one studies but that matters less, except for specialised courses such as medicine, law, architecture and a few others. One other point that I’ll make is that in my view, a university education is worth the cost, including the student loan and so on. However, there has to be absolute clarity in terms of what is likely to happen in terms of employability after studying a particular degree from a particular university.

I see too many young people who are graduates and who are doing the so-called McJobs – such as flipping burgers at McDonald’s. There nothing at all wrong with that sort of job and in fact, McDonald’s is a very successful company, with good career prospects. However, it very important to know that if you study a degree in Film Studies, Sociology or Sports and Beauty Therapy from Southbank University or something similar, your prospect of securing a graduate level job at the end of that degree course is very slim.

Timeless advice – no matter the age of your child

Your child’s school should always be the first point of contact and it is only after you have exhausted that avenue that you should look for additional support from an external source. I guess that the level of support provided varies from one subject to another, even within the same school. Also, your child’s strength, motivation, interest and work ethic, vary from subject to subject. He or she may, in the end, only need additional support in just a few core subjects and it is useful to identify those as early as you can so he or she can start receiving the additional support that may be required.

Dialogue with your child is important

I know that for many families, trying to have a constructive dialogue with a teenager is not always the easiest thing. However, there is no alternative to speaking to your child regularly about the progress he or she is making in core subject areas. What is at stake is huge and has very wide ramifications so it has to be done. It may be difficult to start with, but if you persist and make him or her understand the importance of doing well in the examinations and the potential consequences of poor exam grade, he or she will come on board with you in the end.

You need not worry at all that the subject that your child requires help in, is not the one that you are familiar or good at yourself. For most parents at this level, it’s not about teaching your son or daughter but trying to explore where issues and concern lie and talking to them to both offer moral support and try to encourage them along and identify the sort of additional help they may require.

One key point that I’ll like to remind you once again is that in achieving high exam grades or in fact any successful endeavour in life, nurture matters more than nature. It is not just how bright your child is, it’s how much they apply themselves and the specific actions they actually take. I’m not just going to say it’s all about hard work. Surely, hard work comes into it but is mainly what they actually do with the time they put into their work.

Some perhaps not-so-cool words come to my mind: discipline, habits, perseverance, focus and working smartly to get more out of the study time.

I’m not going to go too much into specifics here but what I’ll say first is that reparation for examinations is not in isolation to other aspects of life. I have written extensively and offered suggestions and advice on how parents can support their children to ensure they get the most out of the education system in general and also specifically about achieving high exam grades.

Two key things I’ll mention, which if not done carefully will lead to poor results are how the young person thinks and how they use their time. The two concepts are related really. The young person must be very clear in their mind, which subjects they need to do well in including their desired grade and what they will do to achieve those grades. They should be ambitious but at the same time realistic and ensure that they adopt behaviours that are congruent to the assertion. The second is how they use their time.

The blessing and curse of electronics

Electronic gadgets have revolutionised our world as they help us to gain access to useful and valuable information and also to entertain ourselves. However, they are also a huge distraction and an enemy of productivity. Too many of us are enslaved to them and we have allowed them to control us, instead of using them to improve productivity and for entertainment at the appropriate time. We adults are perhaps just as guilty as the young people! With regards to students, who are studying for their GCSEs and A-level, which are academic qualifications and require a good degree of concentration. There is too much distraction about and too many young people are not able to focus for any given length of time without being distracted by text messages, Facebook, Instagram, TV, e-mail, phone calls and all sorts of electronic blips and messages.

The smartphone and tablets must be turned off whilst studying or at the very least put on aircraft mode so no distractions. In addition to when they are studying, there are other two key times of the day when all these devices must be off and those are before they go to sleep in the night and upon waking up in the morning. Too many people, including children and adults, use electronic devices in a way that takes away value, instead of adding value to their lives and it is something so seriously think about. Do you really need to respond to that text message now or to update your Facebook now or can it be left till later?

The final point on the issue of revision for young people is to do less online or revision by computers. It can be useful at times, as finding a good website to use for revision or download study material can be a smart move. However, a limited amount of online revision using a computer should be done. Printing out real-life question papers, attempting those questions by writing on the scripts and getting a teacher to mark, if only a selected few of those papers, is very powerful. It means that the student has done a lot of practice in actually writing and articulating their answers and with some of the work marked and meaningful feedback provided, it really helps to improve. Many young people do not bother to print out questions and write on it, they just look at the question on the screen, think about what they think is the answer and check the mark scheme to see if their thoughts are correct. That is an awful practice and should constitute, if at all 10% of the questions-practice. Most of it should be done by writing on the printed scripts as this is more of a reflection of the real exams.

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