A-level Zone

Tips for A levels/ Sixth Form Adjustment Blog

Written by Alisha Kassam, 17/10/2020

A levels can be quite a daunting point in your life. Having just gotten off the back of your first school exams, it can be tricky to motivate yourself for another two years of work. Yet, despite how pessimistic older years can be when speaking about A levels, they truly are nothing to stress too much over.

In fact, given that you have finally narrowed your subjects down to only the select few that you genuinely enjoy, A levels can be seen as a lot more fun than school so far as you finally get to learn things in more depth.

One thing a teacher said to me that was quite inspiring is that during your A levels, in-spite of only being 17 or 18, you might know a subject better than the average person you meet-how cool is that!

So onto my top tips!

1. Organisation is key!

A levels can lead to you having a lot more free time for independent study. Create a timetable for what you want to revise in your study sessions-maybe even a checklist of topics you might want to get through. In addition, try to have folders for each subject which you regularly update.

2. Work smarter not harder

It is okay to experiment with revision techniques! A levels can be incredibly content heavy and so what worked for you at GCSE may no longer apply to A levels. I encourage you to try to delve into evidence-based study techniques such as flashcards and answering questions on a regular basis.

3. Try to review as you go along

You should try and review your revision and notes as much as possible because this is what is going to drill it into your long term memory and make it easier to recall for mocks and ultimately the final exam.

4. Don’t be a sheep!

As much as it is appealing to just do exactly what everyone else is doing, revision techniques and what works for a person varies depending on how you learn. Just because everyone is making notes doesn’t mean you have to and visa versa- I urge you to experiment so that you can find the best technique that works for YOU.

5. Make your mental health a priority

It is understandable to get stressed but you should not be constantly feeling overwhelmed. Be sure to keep time for yourself, family and friends and wind down in the evenings as you do not want to burn out. Also, try not to neglect eating healthy and doing exercise.

6. Sleep is important

Getting enough sleep can not only have a positive impact on your mental and physical wellbeing but also aid you in your learning. A good rule to follow is the 8x8x8 rule where an individual does 8 hours of work, 8 hours of fun and 8 hours of sleep per day. Having limited time to work will also put pressure on you to be more focused and work smarter

7. Use your mentor!

Getting older years tips and tricks can prove to be incredibly reassuring and helpful. Be sure to ask your mentor about their top tips for A levels.

Adjusting to A Level Sciences - How to Revise A Level Biology: Aiming for an A/A*

Written by Rehaan Khokar, 17/10/2020
Y2 Medical Student and Regional Head (Newcastle) & In2MedSchool Teaching/Education Officer

A Level Biology can seem incredibly daunting due to not only the sheer volume of content you have to retain but the seemingly impossible exam papers with mark schemes that seem like they’ve been written after spinning a wheel of random words! My A Level biology teacher said that you could take the textbook into the exam with you and it still wouldn’t guarantee you a Grade B and she was not wrong!

However, despite the challenges it is still doable! The ridiculously low-grade boundaries does not mean you need to become complacent – rather it should serve as a reminder that there must be a reason an A is around 50 to 55% and an A* is 60-65% in most exam boards.

  1. Take good quality, concise but detailed notes and present these well. I am a “visual” learner (I know these things have been refuted but I do learn through images). I found it useful to draw my own (really bad) diagrams to summarise processes. For example, I created a double sided A4 page in my notebook on the mechanisms of Respiration, linking all of the different metabolic reactions together and showing how they all feed into the Krebs cycle and then eventually the Electron Transport Chain. It’s important to have good quality notes but not spend all your time on this.

  1. Understand the content, not just memorise. Personally, I can’t recall something from memory unless I actually understand WHAT it is I’m recalling. Some exam questions are pure recall and thus relay on you being able to retrieve these rather quickly from your mind. Retention of information can best be done through flashcards but also things like mind maps, posters etc. In order to ensure that you can correctly recall information, you need to be able to form good links and connections in your mind between the information you have and exactly what it means. For example, it’s all great knowing that the glomerulus allows for ultrafiltration of the kidneys. However, if you don’t understand that this is only because of the high hydrostatic pressure created it will be harder to firstly recall and then ultimately apply.

  1. Know the holistic picture so that you can apply your knowledge – the ‘HOW’ and the ‘WHY’. As I said before, understanding makes it easier to memorise. Understanding also makes it easier to apply your knowledge. You can recall all the finite details of the electron transport chain, but if you can’t suggest an explanation for how, for example, proton pump inhibitors can lead to the production of an alkaline gradient in the thylakoid space then you won’t gain any marks in the exam! The second ‘question’ is a typical application question which tests whether you understand HOW AND WHY a proton gradient is produced. Note that the context is shifted to ‘alkaline’ gradient, thus, testing whether you understand that a proton gradient refers to acidity and thus an alkaline gradient would be the lack of protons. Many application questions draw on different parts of the specification and thus a holistic understanding is needed!

  1. Don’t ‘fear’ the application questions. A very good majority of the questions you’ll be asked in the exam will be ‘novel’ concepts that you haven’t heard before. However, the point is you should draw on you have learnt and think laterally in order to apply it. Make sure you answer every question in the exam and try to draw a coherent answer for each question. Not every question is aimed at all students and some will be harder than others

  1. Practice, practice, practiceand study mark schemes well! Exam practice is the single most important thing for the majority of subjects – especially A Level sciences! By practicing questions you get used to the style of writing the examiners require and see the patterns that commonly occur in the mark scheme.

A Level Biology is hard – perhaps not in terms of understanding the content, but the exams are indeed a mental challenge! Focus on understanding information and applying it to unfamiliar contexts and you’ll be guaranteed an A/A*!

Adjusting to A Level Sciences - Revising A Level Chemistry

Written by Rehaan Khokar, 17/10/2020
Y2 Medical Student and Regional Head (Newcastle) & In2MedSchool Teaching/Education Officer

A Level Chemistry can be a difficult subject to fully grasp especially as a Year 12 student. The jump from GCSE to A Level Chemistry is one of the stronger transitions as there is a definitive shift from knowledge and facts to understanding and deeper thinking.

Thankfully, once you understand the principles applying them in exams isn’t all too difficult – the hard part is the content in itself (which is where this differs from Biology at times).

  1. Don’t over-use the textbook when making notes. There isn’t actually that much (in terms of volume) to retain for chemistry. There are some definitions which need to be memorised specifically but the majority of is deeper understanding. You need to be able to recall the reactants and equations for organic synthesis but the point is those specific molecules and reactions will NOT come up! Rather, *forms* of those reactions will. E.g. you need to be able to appreciate the electrophilic addition reactions and draw these out. However, in an exam, you can be given any compound (often different to the basic example in the textbook) and then you are expected to apply your knowledge of ‘Curly Arrows’ and electron movement to this.

  1. Take the time to understand the concepts – it is useful to either record videos explaining the topic, teach the topic to your family / friends or just talk to yourself about it out loud! This is probably the best way to truly understand something – taking a concept and explaining it in your own words so that you can understand it. Often, when explaining it to others, people will ask questions on parts that are unclear (or you may even confuse yourself a times). This is so so useful as it challenges your brain to think about the concept in another way.

  1. Invest in a whiteboard! It is so useful to have a whiteboard where you can draw out different organic structures, reaction pathways and even for maths calculations!

  1. Practice lots and lots of exam questions. This is the best way to get better at Chemistry – do literally every single exam paper you can find from both the new and old specifications. This will help monumentally.

  1. Memorise equations (and units) but also UNDERSTAND what these equations mean to help you with maths. There are lots of different equations and a majority of them need to be memorised. In calculations, you often need to use several equations to work out an answer. For example, if a question wanted you to find out identify of a metal (eg XSO4), you would need to work out the relative molecular mass using the moles = mass / molecular mass equation. However, you may not have the moles of the element and you made need to work this out from by using the concentration and volume of the metal complex being dissolved in a solution of acid. Questions like these are very common and do take regular practice and understanding to get better at!

A Level Chemistry, at times, can seem impossible. It is challenging and just remember everyone is in the same boat. The more time you take to understand the concepts and the more practice questions you do the better you will get at it!

Adjusting to Online Learning

Written by Rehaan Khokar, 07/11/2020
Y2 Medical Student and Regional Head (Newcastle) & In2MedSchool Teaching/Education Officer

With the wake of the pandemic there was a drastic shift around the country into predominantly online learning and teaching. While this is where ‘modern’ education is (probably) heading, I don’t think there was a sudden expectation or realisation it would be as soon as this!

As a result, there has had to be a shift in the delivery of learning material. With every change, there is difficulty and often changes are met with lots of negativity! I am also guilty of this – however, the important thing to remember is that every idea was “new” or “modern” once until it became the norm: and here we are. It has been a challenge adjusting to online learning so I wanted to share my tips on how I’ve overcome this as a medical student.

1. Ensure you have a good and “clean” study space to work in – either your bedroom living room or another spare room.

2. Complete all the prep work beforehand for lectures/webinars that will be delivered live - this makes sure you can engage with the material being taught well.

3. Have a study routine and stick to a schedule – wake up in time, have breakfast and get everything ready.

4. Avoid distractions – it is very easy to be distracted when working from home! Socially distancing doesn’t have to end outside – social distance from your phone and the people you live with!

5. Have a positive attitude! This is probably the hardest part as this will influence your motivation to work.

6. Take dedicated breaks where you *leave* the house (where and if you can). This has never been more important than now.

7. A scene change often helps – try another room or book a table at the library (if possible).

This can seem like a daunting (and annoying) time. However, it is important to try and make the best of a situation and adjust your learning style!