How to do well at A Levels

It’s that time of the year again when the all fresh-faced sixth formers of the country grudgingly return to face every students’ worse nightmare: A Levels. Two years of hard work before you’re finally set free at university can seem like a daunting ask but, with the right mentality and effective revision techniques, it needn’t be the nightmare we make it out to be. While there is no magic potion you can take that will guarantee A Level success, there are some simple steps you can take to make your A level experience that little bit less terrifying.

1). Hit the ground running

Forget how hard you think your A2 Further Maths paper is: staying organised from Day 1 is the hardest challenge you will face at A Level. Fact. It is a truth universally acknowledged you will spend hours searching for what feels like the most vital revision note to your educational career ever amongst mountains of loose paper and revision textbooks the week before your exam. Stay ahead of the game and ensure that you are organised from the outset. Ensure you have nicely organised folders from the beginning of the year with dividers for each unit to ensure you avoid drowning in the dreaded sea of scattered paper.

2). Stop complaining

This is targeted specifically at AS students here: when your teacher sets you a piece of homework, don’t start tweeting ‘can’t BELIEVE my teacher has set me TWO essays as homework this week URG’. We know. We’re in the same boat. Shuttup.

When it comes to the exam it’s likely you’ll only have 30 minutes to complete these questions depending on your subject, so when your teacher sets you ‘a whole essay’ as homework, they are in fact setting you a half an hour homework, which isn’t exactly taxing when you think about it like that. When you start jabbering on about how life is a total injustice, you’re just creating a negative mental attitude for yourself which means you’ll naturally find revising harder as you mentally associate work with struggle. That, and you’re giving everyone a bloody awful headache.

3). Revise for mocks


I hate to be that person but…..

Revise for mocks.

Just do it.

From personal experience I can honestly say that by actually putting effort into your mocks, it means that, by the time it comes to your real exams, you already have the bulk of the information stored away in your brain – it’s just a matter of fine tuning the details. Don’t roll your eyeballs when your teachers nags you to revise over Christmas and say ‘but, they’re only MOCKS’ – just and crack on with it. No one’s asking you to do 10 hours a day. Just consistent short bursts of revision means you become well acquainted with your course as well as getting you used to the discipline needed for the real exams in summer.

4). Delete your social media apps

Don’t start shaking with drug-like withdraw symptoms here – I’m not telling you to delete all your social media accounts for Christ’s sake.

Have you ever considered how much time you waste in exam period by just ‘occasionally’ checking your Twitter app, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat maybe even your Gmail if you’re that bored…? You get the point. Your Instagram addiction could be the difference between an A and that A* if you’re not careful and, when you think about it, do you really need to see those pictures of filtered house plants and over-priced bottled water? No. While having your phone near you can be useful so you have an accurate timer for timed exam-responses and is handy for the odd essential Google, apps like Facebook Messenger pigging at you ever other second are a 100% money-back guarantee revision killer. If you really need these websites, go on them on your laptop after you’ve finished revision for the day. The world won’t end because you missed some fire banter on your squad group chat.

5). Revision timetable

Yes, it might sound boring, but creating a revision time tables really is worth the painstaking time needed to create one. Some people benefit from having a thoroughly planned out timetable telling them which past paper they need to do on each day but, for others, simply knowing what part of the course you need to have revised by the end of each week is enough. It really is up to you. As long as you actually stick to your revision and are certain you will be able to cover the course by the time of your exam, then it’s plain sailing from there (well, apart from the exams at the end of it).

6). But then again… don’t revise too much

Every week you need to be making a point of doing organising at least one social activity. Whether it’s spending Saturday down the shops appeals to you or whether the 2-4-1 cocktails at your local pub on a Friday is more your thing (would 100% recommend) you need to have some kind of emotional outlook that is entirely work free. It’s inevitable that if you try and revise for 4 months straight prior to exams and refuse to partake in any social activities, then you will burn yourself out. I genuinely knew people who attempted this and not only were they unhealthily stressed by the end of it, but it was massively counterproductive they failed to perform as well as they had hoped. Revising this much is unhealthy and will have serious consequences on your mental wellbeing.

While, yes, exams are important, your mental health should always come first.

7). Effective revision

Short and sweet is the mentality to revision (along with monotonous repetition, of course). This is why flashcards are so widely pushed by academics. Struggling to remember the date the of Edward VI’s second Act of Uniformity? Put it on a flashcard. Struggling to remember the chemical formula for nitrogen dioxide? Put in on a flashcard. The benefit of revision like this is that you can do it anywhere; on the bus, walking to school, in bed – the list is endless.

However, it’s important to find revision techniques that work for you, and it’s ok to admit that you don’t like mind maps! It’s ok to say you hate revision posters! What’s not ok is to not attempt to revise because ‘nothing works’. As long as you consistently keep up this revision then you’re on the right track. You never know, sometimes the most of wacky revision techniques are the most effective. A selection of, urm, unqiue techniques employed by my Government teacher to help us with revision included Googling funny images that would remind us of a topic in our course as well as having us play with plastic play-pit balls….

8). Past papers, past papers more past papers

If you don’t plan to complete all the online past papers for your chosen subjects then, well, shame on you. The official online past paper pages which can be found on your exam board’s website are a BLESSING. Not only do they provide you with actual questions asked in actual exams, they provide you with the answer booklets and the examiner’s report too. The examiner’s report is especially useful as it is a direct insight into what examiners are happy with and what they’re damn well fed up of in student responses. While you should only look at the answer booklets after you’ve completed the past paper (in timed-conditions, may I add), the answer booklets can actually be a fact lover’s paradise. Print off the answer booklet and go through it with a highlighter, writing any facts and stats you didn’t know on one of those prettily-decorated flashcards we discussed (*cough*).

If you’re feeling especially motivated and complete all the past papers, sitting down and creating some exam questions of your own can be an incredibly enriching and often over-looked experience. This gets you thinking critically about your course and, ultimately, provides you with more questions to answer. YAYYYY!!!

9). Wider Reading

This is perhaps something more for those who are aiming for those higher grades, although it is something that can be beneficial to all. Your teachers aren’t lying when they stress the need for extra reading – if you’re serious about getting those As and A*s, then there’s no way round it: you need to read around your subject. Don’t just look at the 600 page library books on Elizabethan England and go ‘URG’, take it out and revise with it, using the index to look up the topics you need rather than aimlessly reading from front to back. By reading the work of professionals in your subjects, you get used to this style of academic writing while also deepening your own understanding

10). Listen to the advice that you’re told

I cannot stress this enough.

As I said earlier, there is no magic potion or magic spells you can take to do well. And, in fact, I think a lot of you will already have heard the advice I’ve given you countless of times. One of the reasons I did well was because rather than simply spending hours procrastinating reading online lists about how to do well at A Level, I then applied this knowledge. At the end of the day, you know that you need to revise, you know you need you need to do the past papers, you know you need to spend less time on YouTube watching funny videos of dancing cats. There is no secret to success at A Level success. If you put the work in you will get the grades you deserve. Don’t get embarrassed if you get a low mark in a practice paper; ask your teacher to specifically explain what it is that went wrong. Always look to improve and always look to listen.

Words by Juliette Rowsell


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