The jump from GCSEs to A Levels – how big is it really? What to expect and how to adjust

This is a classic, much talked about topic. There seems to be a lot of enigma surrounding the move up from GCSEs to A levels. I want to untangle this topic and clarify once and for all the misconceptions about A levels. I will also go through some tangible, step by step tips and advice on how to approach A levels in order to ensure a smooth and cushioned two years.

Primarily, A levels can seem somewhat daunting. If you have just finished Y11, you have just come out of school where you were at the top of the food chain and you have now been plonked in to what can seem like a sort of alien environment. Fret not, however. As your GCSE results have obviously demonstrated, you are evidently bright and brainy enough and you clearly have the ability to be here!
Useful tips and advice to help you make a positive start to A Levels:

• Learn to approach subjects differently. The infamous “hard” and “challenging” reputation of A Levels stems from the nature of what is expected of you. Therefore, it pays to take a more in depth, analytical and detailed approach to all of your subjects. This requires more rigour and diligence than did GCSEs. Whereas with GCSEs, where you can at times get away with a more surface or basic method, at A Level you really need to demonstrate that you have more than merely skim-read something. It can prove somewhat fruitless using, for example, vague or broad statements in an A Level exam which may have in the past got you through a GCSE exam. The aim is to now go the extra mile by ‘looking deeper’.
• Independent learning. This is essential. You will be delegated free periods in your new timetable, posing as the perfect opportunity to find something productive to do! Seizing this time and using it efficiently will prove beneficial in the long run. For example, making a habit of “quiet study time” or getting in to the library to complete homework for approximately two-thirds of your free periods suffices. This will be vital practice for university too.
• Work experience & extracurricular activities. These are invaluable to any A Level student. They will not only balance out your academic life with some free, fun time but the skills you will gain will stay with you for years to come. Participating in one to two extracurricular activities a week – be it sports, music or a language, will give you versatility and a personal edge. The same applies to a work experience placement. If are able to partake in one to two short placements throughout the duration of your A Levels, you will be augmenting your stand-out factor when it comes to writing university applications. In today’s competitive climate as well as the current economic hardship, these factors can be massively advantageous to you. It could mean the difference between gaining entrance to an excellent university as opposed to an average one. And with tuition fees at an all-time high, I’ve no doubt that this is in your best interest. A proactive, driven student will always get ahead. Just make sure you don’t forget to mention all of your credentials in your personal statement!
• If something is not going well or if you are struggling with adjusting to A Levels – TALK to somebody. Be it your class tutor, your parents or anybody at sixth form/college. Most sixth forms and colleges nowadays offer comprehensive pastoral support – people are paid to support you, so consult them. Make use of these resources and facilities. Like I said, you have made it this far for a reason – you are most definitely an able student. Everybody needs a little assistance now and then. This is perfectly normal.
Have you experienced difficulties adjusting to A Levels or are you about to begin your A Levels in September? Please feel free to leave a comment below and share your experience. We would love to hear from you.

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