Sixth Form Survival Guide
THE JUMP FROM GCSEs TO A LEVELS IS A CHALLENGE – BUT WE'RE HAPPY TO SUPPORT YOU
There’s no doubt about it: work shifts up a gear at A level. Raw talent and brainpower is no longer enough to guarantee good results, and the students who shine at A level are not always the same as those that sparkled at GCSE. Dedication, organisation and hard work are the keys to success in Sixth Form. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out. And if you’re struggling, ask for help – we’re here to support you.
STICKING TO YOUR DEADLINES IS A NECESSITY, NOT A CHOICE
It's important to be organised when it comes to your studies. It doesn't take long to realise just how quickly work can pile up. You need to learn to get everything done in time. By writing everything down in a diary or your phone and setting up a timetable to meet deadlines, you can feel much more at ease and in control.
CHOOSE SUBJECTS YOU ENJOY THAT INTEREST YOU
This should go without saying, but it’s surprising how often students choose subjects because they have been told they should be a doctor, or an accountant, or because those were simply the subjects they got the highest grades in at GCSE. Remember: you are going to be studying these subjects for many hours a week, for the next two years of your life.
Your subject choices may well determine what direction or career you pursue after school. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you want to be doing at the age of 25 or 35 or 50. What matters is that you choose subjects you enjoy and have a genuine interest in. If you start on that basis, you stand a far better chance of choosing subjects you will find rewarding and enriching, and ultimately find success in.
EVERYONE IS TOO CAUGHT UP IN THEIR OWN APPEARANCE TO WORRY ABOUT YOURS
Despite being required to wear a suit, some students spend the first few weeks of Sixth Form worrying more about their appearance than their education. Bad grades can seem more appealing than social exile for bad hair. However, it doesn't take long to discover that people are too wrapped up in their own appearance to focus on anyone else’s.
GETTING WORK DONE IS DOWN TO YOU, AND ONLY YOU
At A level, teachers expect you to show enthusiasm and commitment to your studies. After all, you chose the subjects you’re studying, so you must have an interest in them. Getting work done, completing tasks and meeting deadlines are all basic expectations of Sixth Form study
MAINTAINING FRIENDSHIPS IS IMPORTANT
Studying A Levels can be stressful. So you’re going to need your friends now more than ever. However, when you first start Sixth Form, it’s easy to become so caught up in your studies that you begin to neglect friendships. While this is unintentional most of the time, it can lead to problems down the line. Try to find a healthy balance between friends and school work from the start.
GET INVOLVED IN EVERYTHING YOU CAN
If, like many of us, your strongest achievement is getting through an entire Netflix series in two days, don’t panic. It’s never too late to get involved in a sport or activity, and you’ll be surprised how good it feels to have something to focus on other than your next deadline.
YOU’RE ALLOWED TO HAVE FUN
In the months leading up to September, you're told that the next two years will be some of the toughest of your life. What you were not told, was that you are entitled to have a day off and time to yourself.
It’s important to reward your efforts and know your limits, because after all your mental and physical health should always be the priority. This is something that isn’t emphasised enough to students. It can definitely be something that can make or break your success.
KNOW WHAT YOU'RE GETTING INTO
You should've already researched the A Levels you've chosen, but if in the first lessons you realise you’ve made a mistake and think there's absolutely no chance you'll be able to cope with it getting progressively harder, talk to your Form Tutor. There's a chance you could change subjects in the first couple of weeks rather than six months down the line.
Don't forget you study four A Levels in Year 12 to help you decide which three you would like to ultimately study, so don't panic!
HAVE (REALISTIC) EXPECTATIONS OF YOURSELF
After GCSEs it's easy to think you can just waltz into Sixth Form, debating on whether you should go to Oxbridge or one of the other high tariff universities, including Russell Group – and by all means, you should aim high, but also think realistically; the gap between GCSEs and A Levels is big.
Setting a realistically ambitious target for your A Level grades will help you keep on track to achieve them.
DON'T LOSE YOURSELF IN NOTE MOUNTAIN
Already bewildered at the ‘bring your own paper’ aspect of Sixth Form, you begin compiling all your class notes in a big pad or folder and you tell yourself you’ll file them away into their respective subject folders every night.
This is a lie. But the longer you leave it, the more you'll have to save up to hire a PA to file notes for you, which is a real drain on your bank balance.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR PRIVATE STUDY PERIODS
In Sixth Form, not every period is a lesson. When you get your first timetable, you’ll notice a number of ‘private study’ periods alongside your regular A level lessons. We’ll help you make the most of them by providing a quiet working environment. Get into good habits early and make the best use of your private study time by getting on with set assignments and doing wider reading.
DO SOME FURTHER READING AROUND YOUR SUBJECTS
No seriously – it saves having to trawl Wikipedia at 3am for information on how a Welsh coup was Thatcher's downfall 25 years ago (exactly) when the essay is due in at 9am.
START YOUR UNIVERSITY RESEARCH IMMEDIATELY
Plan some ideas of what course you might be interested in from the outset, talk to the Careers Office, make use of the RGS Lecture Series and chat to your Form Tutors – this saves you from having an existential crisis come Year 13 when UCAS forms have to be filled in.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
It's easy to be disheartened when you get a D on a test or essay, but it's not your final grade – it's simply a learning curve that will improve with determination. There's a big jump from GCSE to A Level; don't let it intimidate you, let the challenge spur you on.
FIND SOMETHING THAT KEEPS YOU GROUNDED AND HOLD ON TO IT
For some this may be playing a team sport, for others it might be drama, reading or photography, but whatever it is, make sure you maintain your hobby even when you're tired. Simple things you enjoy doing, like going for a walk, or listening to music can melt away the stress of A Levels and improve your mood.
With the pressure of deadlines and the tiring nature of strenuous mental exercise all day, sometimes all you want to do is sleep. And then sleep. And then sleep. But don't forget to go out and enjoy yourself, even if you're weary – don't miss out on experiences because you've devised a rigid pre-revision timetable for yourself!
DON’T FORGET YOUR TEACHERS AND FORM TUTORS ARE HUMAN
If you've been ill or buried under essays for other teachers and have been unable to complete work on time, or you're struggling to understand something, just go and talk to them. Chances are, they'll be more than happy to go over things with you rather than see you lag behind, It is better to talk to your teachers in advance about deadlines rather than make excuses on the day.
Once you've settled into Sixth Form life, the weather starts getting colder and the nights start drawing in; it's so tempting to binge watch box sets.
Stay motivated – finishing reading over the textbook chapter questions may seem pointless now, but they'll help your understanding in the long term.
TRY AND MAINTAIN A (SOMEWHAT) HEALTHY DIET
You wander out of your first lesson dazed, confused and starving, so you reason that pizza will give you enough strength to travel to the library. While we all have our days when we need to visit the café for a bacon sandwich, eating nonstop fast food at Sixth Form isn't good for your mind or body.
Make lunches for yourself and bring snacks to keep you going – just don't venture out too far and subscribe to Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website, that's just unnecessary for everyone.
LEARN AS A COMMUNITY
Establish a group chat or study group for your classes, so you can all share resources or discuss work, it's enormously handy when someone forwards helpful websites or handouts and lets you know you're not alone in the struggle to do well.
Don’t treat your classmates as ‘the competition’ – in the final exams your work will be assessed against standardised criteria, rather than ranked against the work of your peers. Besides, you’re all trying to get through the same course, and you can learn a huge amount from sharing ideas with those around you.