Starting A-Levels

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Our top tips!

  • Think about how you work best
    Think about how you felt when taking exams in high school. Did you feel extremely anxious? If you think your mental health was negatively impacted, you may work better completing a BTEC course or an apprenticeship. Make sure you choose the option that is best for you.
  • Take your time when choosing A Level subjects
    Choosing your A Levels is a big decision. Make sure you take the time to think carefully. It is better to pick a subject you enjoy and are good at than a subject you don’t enjoy but are very good at. If you don’t enjoy a subject, you might lose interest and not do as well.
  • Speak to a careers adviser
    It’s alright not to know what options you want to take for A Levels, or even beyond. However, taking time to consider what you might want do afterwards can help you choose the right subjects. Speak to your school careers adviser – they will help you weigh up your options.

So, you're thinking about A Levels...

You may already know that you are going to do A Levels, or you may be considering BTEC qualifications, an apprenticeship or employment instead. For help deciding which of these paths is right for you, check out our page on thinking ahead.

If you do choose to do A Levels, this will usually involve studying three or more subjects over two years. They are usually assessed by examination, but sometimes there is also coursework involved too.

Since you can choose any combination of subjects, there is an opportunity to tailor your studies to suit your strengths and interests. You will have much more freedom in this respect than you will have had during high school.

While having this much choice is often a very good thing – allowing you to concentrate on the subjects that you enjoy the most and that relate to what you hope to do afterwards – it is often not a straightforward decision.

Choosing which A Levels to take can be difficult, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do afterwards. However, if you choose subjects you are interested in, you will undoubtedly enjoy your studies a lot more than if you are studying subjects that you don’t like.

There are steps you can take to make sure you select subjects that will help you reach your potential, and that you are prepared for the challenges that come with doing A Levels.

How can I decide which A Levels to choose?

Look at possible career options – Certain career options require you to do certain apprenticeships, A Levels or degrees. You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do but trying to get a general idea will enable you to commit to a path or keep your options open.

Know your strengths and weaknesses – Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important when choosing your A Levels. You will improve a lot during the two years, especially with enough time and practice; however, you may already know that you find humanities easier than sciences, or maths easier than languages, for example.

Think about which A Levels interest you – Most A Levels are studied for at least two years, so it is important to choose subjects you are interested in. As a result, you will engage more in the lessons, be more motivated to study and generally enjoy school a lot more.

Speak with your teachers – Your teachers may have known you for several years and will have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, and which subjects might be best for you.

If you’re looking to stay at your current school, you should speak to the teachers and ask them questions. If you’re changing schools, going to open evenings will help you to make decisions.

Look at prospectuses or syllabuses – Course prospectuses detail information about the exams, coursework and hours you need to put in, while syllabuses provide a breakdown of the topics that you will learn about. Wherever you’re applying, make sure you know what your A Level courses will involve before you start.

Coping with starting A Levels

Look into different colleges available

For some people there is only one local college, so they will have to attend that one. However, if you have more than one college available, be sure to check them out to see which you think will suit you best. Open days are a good chance to see what studying there will be like, and their websites will also have useful information.

Do you want to study in a college or sixth form?

You should make sure that you do A Levels in the environment that is best for you. Some people thrive in a sixth form rather than a college. If you think this is may be the case for you, it may be a good idea to investigate your local sixth forms. Consider the differences between both and choose the best option for you.

If you decide a subject isn't for you, don't worry!

Lots of people change their subjects around in the first year. It can sometimes be best to have a go at something so you know whether you like it or not. If you decide to change subjects, speak to a college tutor ASAP so they can enable you to move onto another course and help you catch up on anything you’ve missed.

The most important thing to do is enjoy yourself!

Getting onto your chosen A Level course is a huge achievement. Although A Levels are tough, remember that you are also there to make friends and enjoy yourself! Join a club or society that relates to your interests or hobbies – this will help you make the most of your free time and meet lots of like-minded people.

How can I do my best in my A Levels?

Get organised – It is important to have the right equipment, such as paper, pens, pencils and textbooks. You might also want to have one folder for each subject, or another way of separating all your notes.

Make sure you know where to find the course syllabus and information about the exam material on the exam board’s website. They may also publish sample questions and essays. All of these will help you prepare for mock exams and finals.

Prepare for your lessons – This isn’t always possible; it depends on your teacher’s lesson plans and the order they choose to teach the course in. In any case, make sure you have the right equipment and resources for your lessons and, if you have time, try to read the relevant section of the course textbook in advance. Making a study timetable might also help.

Take good notes – ‘Good’ notes are hard to define because everyone studies differently. Some people use flashcards, while others draw mind maps; some handwrite notes, while others type them. You need to figure out which methods work best for you, but the most important thing is that your notes are personal to you. Printing off notes that someone else has made won’t help you to remember the content as well as if you make the notes yourself.

Make notes from the beginning – Studying as you go along will ensure you are well-prepared for mocks and exams since your notes will already be finished. This means you can concentrate on learning the material and completing past papers as the exams get closer.

Listen to feedback – Use your feedback on homework and exam papers to improve your answers. This is active learning, which will help you to improve your grades.