Making the best of the autumn term for GCSE and A-level 

Making the best of the autumn term for GCSE and A-level 

I can’t believe there are roughly just six teaching weeks left before the Christmas break. This is the longest term of the academic year and many young people are just getting into the nitty-gritty of the year group they are in. It is particularly more important for those who are sitting major exams in the summer – such as Y11 and students in the final year of A-level. These two groups are called fifth form and upper sixth in old money! I’m speaking about the days of the O-levels and the time when less than 20% of young people took A-level.

For these two exam groups, 60% or more of the subject content was covered in the previous year, as both GCSE and A-level are two-year courses. The other factor to bear in mind is that there is a big jump between GCSE and the first year of A-level and, slightly less so, but still a challenge, is the graduation from the first to the second year of A-level.

For younger teenagers at KS3 and Y10 who are only facing internal school exams, they can afford to be slightly more relaxed; however, 60% of the GCSE content is covered in Y10. Also, in most high-performing schools, GCSEs start much earlier than Y10. The issue of Higher and Foundation tiers at GCSE must also be borne in mind. A bright student who is put in the lower set and ends up with Foundation tier is not only unstimulated, but is also severely disadvantaged in the following critical years.

I know some of you parents may think that the pressure and these two exam years are just too overbearing for young people; you are quite right. However, like all things in life, everything ought to be put into perspective and the fact is that many students succeed and, in fact, thrive, despite the challenge of being a teenager and having the demand of exams and all the accompanying expectations… It is helpful to try and calm down a little and to seek to develop a strategy for coping or helping your child to manage themselves, so life can be less stressful for them. After all, we parents are just a catalyst – although an important one!

Failure to plan is planning to fail

It is well-known that we are a product of our habits and, no matter how much we plan or strategise, success very much depends on the execution of what we plan. The starting point for the teenager is thinking about things and trying to figure out what they need to do so they will emerge from this crucial stage of their life with flying colours. All we, as parents, can do is to try and initiate the conversation and to get them to think about things; asking questions, making suggestions and, where necessary, taking steps that we believe will help boost our teenager’s chances of success.

Time to relax and reflex…

The Christmas break provides an opportunity for the young person to reflect, relax a little, refresh and re-energise. After a period of reflection on what has happened in the autumn term, the next thing that needs to be done in order that the spring term not prove too stressful is to spend time consolidating on what they have learnt so far. Reinforcement of knowledge, followed by a diagnosis of understanding – which can be done with the use of exam-standard questions for practising, will help to identify areas where they need to strengthen their knowledge, clear misconceptions and to find out how much they actually understand and if they are able to apply their knowledge in tackling exam questions.

Many students will be able to do all the revision and reassurance on their own, but some may find it more beneficial to seek the support of an expert teacher or attend some sort of revision course over the festive period. Whatever the teenager does, what I’d advise is to start early, as there is not much time before the summer examinations. Leaving things until the Easter break will be far too late for many students. Revision should really start now and should be built into day-to-day and week-to-week studying, as this is the only way to avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety. There is no silver bullet for doing well in exams, but there are three little tips I have to offer you or your teenager:

  1. Having clarity on the areas on which they need to focus;
  2. Early planning ahead; and
  3. Getting into good habits and routines – mainly studying habits, but also thinking about other aspects of everyday life that may prevent them from implementing their study plan


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