Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Level Survival Guide - How to endure two awful years!

It is common knowledge that A Levels are hard. It is also common knowledge that the jump from GCSEs to A Levels is more like a leap of faith. However, what isn't common knowledge is how to land on both feet, after you jump into the abyss.

The Choice
Your choice of A Levels itself will be a huge determining factor to how easily you manage. During these two years, you will see your strengths more explicitly than ever before as well as your weaknesses. By choosing subjects that you love, rather than ones you think you should choose you'll drastically reduce your chance of failure. For example, I always knew that no matter what I would choose English Literature for A Level. Despite the hell that this subject has put me through, it is still a firm favourite of mine. My biggest regret is that I didn't choose my other subjects with the same passion. Selecting a subject you're already not the biggest fan of, is the sure way of ruining your own studies because the chance of you liking it over the next two years is little to none.

Hit the ground running and keep running
The first term of studying A Levels (September - December) is arguably the trickiest in that it may shock you. I found that for me, personally, the GCSE to A Level jump was more of an issue of workload rather than difficulty. The amount of work you're expected to do and retain information from is intense, particularly coming off one of the longest summer breaks you'll have had to this point. Having said this, I would argue that the hardest term in both years is the second. It is easy to start the year with a high level of organisation, motivation and energy, however, it is immensely difficult to keep that work ethic consistent after Christmas. Be prepared to give yourself that kick to ensure you stay on the right path, the second term of your second year will be a killer.

The Balance
One of the trickiest parts of these two years is the balance between your social life, your school life and any extra activities you may do. Although this won't be what you want to hear, I'll say it anyway - prioritise school! I juggled a part time job (12 hours/week), 7 or so hours of volunteering per week and sixth form. The balance is possible but it may be at the sacrifice of your grades. I always wonder if I hadn't tried to do all three in the second year, would the outcomes be any different. But, the truth is I gained valuable experience that I wouldn't change for the world. You have to decide for yourself whether going out every weekend is something you desperately have to do, or can it be more of an occasional treat. You will see people who go out every weekend and still get AAA at the end, but be realistic about your own abilities and be willing to sacrifice the social life every now and again.

When in class, ensure that you write down everything. Don't bother fooling yourself into believing that you'll remember, you won't. Make sure the way in which you are note-taking is clear and that you'd understand it regardless of your attendance to that class, e.g. would a classmate asking you for your notes to catch up on understand? If the answer is no, change it. Every subject requires a slightly different form of note-taking, you'll quickly recognise which technique works best so my biggest advice for organisation would be not to go in with preconceived notions. If you go in with an idea of how you'll organise your work, you'll end up buying 50 folders trying to change the system in October half term.

Have Fun
It is not a sin to enjoy the pleasures of life once in a while. Organise something with your friends when you feel the stress is getting too intense. Any sort of break from A Levels will be a holiday for your mental health. School is important but place your mental health at the foremost of all your actions. Don't let yourself break for the sake of grades.

There is no easy way to say that the next two years of your life will be a struggle. I'd go as far as saying that they were the worst two years of my life. But just remember, that it will pass. This time isn't forever so give it your all so you leave with fewer regrets.

If you've read this far and you still have any concerns give me a shout in the comments and I'd be more than happy to answer any questions regarding the new A Level syllabus, University Applications, University Entrance Exams or even applying for part time work.

Aida x


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

GCSE Results Day - My Death at 16

When you're asked to think of your most memorable days, the ones where no matter how many           weeks, or even years pass, you never truly forget, who out of us says "Results Day"?  

Maybe I'm just being a pessimist. Or perhaps my mind has a hard time trying to forget the crippling anxiety this dreaded day has scarred me with. But when at 16, you see your peers around you crumbling under stress; having panic attacks and breaking down into floods of tears during exams - you can't tell me this is a day we can simply 'move on' from and 'forget'.  Under normal circumstances it would be me consoling others, telling them that it's simply not worth it; that it doesn't matter; that no matter how many tears you shed, what's done is done. That's just not something I can do anymore.  

The harsh reality of the world we live in, and the education system that is dictating our lives means that the exams we take at 14, 15 and 16 DO matter. Yet, I for one have spent the past few weeks convincing myself that they don’t. That the grades slapped on (for lack of better terms) next to my name and candidate number won't determine where I end up in 5, 10, or ever 30 years from now on! That there's more to the 'real world' we're constantly warned about than a grade.  

Of course the 20th of August may not literally mark my death, but when the pressure from teachers, peers and parents pile on and on and's difficult to see it any other way. When you've spent the last 5 years of your secondary education hearing nothing but "She'll do fine", "Oh, Aida, you have NOTHING to worry about" and the worst one yet "You don't even have to revise". Yes, these may seem perfectly harmless to others, compliments even, however when you're constantly being told this you're left with the need of these people's approval.  

To not let them down. 

To be the way they see you.  

To reach their expectations of you.  

To not be a failure.  

It's sad that my most memorable memories include: the lead up of results day, bursting into controllable tears after a Maths exam - knowing I won't forgive myself for getting anything less than an A*,and the constant state of nausea throughout exam period. It's even sadder to think that a system, put in place to educate young minds has made me feel this way. Now of course, everyone has had a different experience with exams and  people's grades are very personal (what they hope to achieve, what they would be disappointed in etc...). This has meant that sharing results of mock exams or even previously completely GCSEs has always been an issue. Many would see my previously need to get an A* in Maths as ridiculous, that settling for an A is perfectly ok; what needs to be a universal understanding within students is that grades are different for everyone. I repeat. Grades are different for everyone.  

What I dread most about tomorrow is being disappointed in one of my grades, then being told by a classmate that I have no reason to be - simply because in their eyes that's a good grade. Or worse, being told I should be happy with my grade, because said person has gotten a lower mark.  Grades are a sensitive issue and we should all respect what one another gets; for example, if someone is ecstatic with a grade that would have you in a flood of tears, rolling around on the floor (maybe that’s a little drastic), we should all have the courtesy to congratulate them, rather than giving a backhanded compliment; informing them that you could never be that happy with said grade. Or vice versa, exam jealousy is never healthy.  

Our generation, our year group in particular, has had so much shit thrown our way (excuse the language). We've been through so many changes by the government, screwing up our exams, removing our coursework. Leading me to do 10 pieces of English coursework in total - as the ones completed in year 9 "didn't count" (thanks Mr Gove!).  All linear courses now, no retakes unless you're willing to retake the entire course and basically repeat a year. Changes in A levels that start with our year group and toughening up the exams overall. May I remind everyone the Edexcel Maths paper got on national news and an online petition to lower the grade boundaries, received well over 25k signatures - our year unites so beautifully when we've been wronged.   

To all the 16 year olds (or soon to be 16 year olds) in the country, in the words of High School Musical: We're all in this together. I believe in you, the stress and the worrying WILL NOT have been for nothing. Let's give a huge 'f*ck you' to the exam boards for screwing with us.  

Let's go 90s babies, we got this. 

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