It’s nearing the time of year again where current year 11 students are putting in their applications to sixth form, so I thought I’d make this post to help you make the right decisions! If you can make the right choices at the start you’ll set yourself up better for success which equals better grades!
When I started year 12, I chose Biology, Maths, French and Psychology. Now, mid way through year 13, I study Biology, Maths and Chemistry. These changes were made early on in year 12 – something I could have avoided had I known more about what I was getting in to.
Don’t get me wrong – I did really enjoy French and Psychology. There was nothing wrong with them, but it soon became apparent that I really needed to study Chemistry for what I wanted to go into. So, out went Psychology, in came Chemistry. Then, due to a faltering mental health and the pressure of such a large workload, I knew I couldn’t carry on with 4 subjects. I loved French as a language and I had even previously considered taking it to degree level, but now my course had changed – my future was focusing in on Biology which would eventually relate to the degree I’m choosing – and I had to drop it.
Sat where I am now, having done my AS levels and gotten mediocre but passable results, I know that the decision was right for me – I couldn’t have done 4. But admittedly, I do really miss learning French, even as something to break up the intensity of studying Biology, Chemistry and Maths. By reflecting on my experience, I’ve come up with a list of 10 things I wish I knew when I started sixth form for students entering their first year of sixth form or considering their A-Level options now that will help you make the right decisions for your studies as well as your health.
If you have ANY idea of what you want to do in the future, consider what subjects you will need for that
For the path I want to go down, some universities are asking specifically for Biology, Chemistry and Maths for the three grades. This means, had I stuck out my initial subjects, I would have closed off this avenue I have discovered a real passion for following. If you’re considering prestigious degrees such as Medicine or Law, it is so important to check out not only the subjects you need, but if any extra tests such as the UKCAT is required – keep these in mind for year 12 so you don’t miss the opportunity to apply and close off more options for yourself.
Additionally it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do
Just take the A-Levels that interest you most because this is most likely what you’ll end up doing. In the meantime, year 12 will be your opportunity to start trying to work out where you want to go – do short courses online, get work experience to help you decide.
Keep up on your knowledge during the holidays in preparation for your subjects
Whatever subjects you choose, particularly sciences, it is so important to solidify your knowledge before throwing yourself into A-Levels. You will be extremely grateful for the refreshed knowledge when you start learning new content as you won’t be trying to build new knowledge on shaky foundations. Otherwise, you might struggle more than you anticipated and end up with a mound of work that overwhelms you and sets you behind from the start.
You will benefit so much more if you actually study in your free periods
Going into sixth form, you go from full time, extreme structure to more freedom and time in school where you are unsupervised. The temptation is to mess around with your mates and for the start of the year, everyone does. However, this time can be so valuable if used correctly – make use of your school’s facilities such as the library for some quiet, focused study. The environment is conducive to learning and, seeing as you can’t generally leave the site during your frees, there’s less distractions than if you were revising at home. Additionally, you have access not only to an abundance of books but also to the teachers who will be a more than valuable resource.
Being naturally smart may have worked at GCSE, but it won’t work at A-Level
I personally fell foul of this. My natural aptitude for learning got me good grades at GCSE, so when I was getting C/D at A-Level, I was unhappily surprised. As it turns out, to be successful at A-Level, you need to really put in the work; make your notes after lesson, learn your content and, please, do your homework. It’s a chore, I know, but the exam-style question practice is invaluable.
You need to get organised
Sixth form is synonymous with lots of work. If you get behind you’re making life 10 times harder for yourself than it needs to be! Create a to do list when you get home from school and set your phone aside u til you have completed it. Pack your bag the night before to make sure you have all the necessary text books and homework with you!
Make your study notes throughout the year
This is something I didn’t do, and now hugely regret. When exam season comes around, you want to already have good notes prepared so you can jump straight into the revision that counts – past paper questions, flash cards etc. If you make your notes throughout the year you put yourself at a massive advantage by the time exams come along!
Extra-curriculars are important to break up your workload
Like I said, sixth form is hard work and revision will take up a lot of your time. However, it’s important you have healthy, productive activities to break up your work load (no, Netflix doesn’t count!). This will make you feel much less stressed while giving you something else to fulfil you!
This is your time to do things to build your personal statement
Start now! I know you won’t be writing your applications until next year but by that time you will have already needed to do the necessary work experience to put on your personal statement. Even if you just start volunteering once a week, start something so you know your personal statement will have something unique and interesting on it!
Your mental health comes first
Like I mentioned earlier, I almost immediately dropped from 4 to 3 A-Levels because the pressure was having a big negative effect on my mental health. And that’s perfectly okay, because I don’t think I could have coped with 4 A-Levels. Of course, you still need to try and do as much work as you can, but if you are feeling overwhelmed and low, it’s more important that you take care of yourself first. If this becomes a persistent problem, tell someone! That way you can get more consistent support that will make the whole sixth form process a lot more manageable for you.
I really hope these tips will be useful to you! I wish I had read a post like this when I started sixth form so I felt compelled to share what I knew in order to help others in the same position. If you have any other tips please comment them for more people to see!
See you soon!