12 Helpful Tips All Sixth-Formers Need to Hear

Emma McElderryon 4 April 2019
12 Helpful Tips All Sixth-Formers Need to Hear

The jump from GCSEs to A-levels can be daunting for most of us, but following these tips can give you all the help you need to make it an easy transition. 

You’ve conquered GCSEs, and now you’re ready for the big guns: Sixth-Form. A-levels, applying to university and jobs, choosing your own subjects and access to a kettle in your free periods (not ranked in order of importance) – here’s everything you need to know to make the next two years that little bit easier!

1. Independence (but don’t let it be your downfall)

Good news: you’ll finally start to be treated like a semi-grown up! Bad news: you’ll finally start to be treated like a semi-grown up. You are responsible for your own education – for getting to class on time, for getting the work done (even when it's not mandatory) and for getting those grades. Don’t worry, though – you’ve got this! And even when you feel like you haven’t, there are still people around you willing to help you out.

2. Choose subjects you love...

…and change them quickly if you don’t. Sixth-Form is – I hate to break it to you – a lot of work. However, if you do it right, it can be amazing. You can finally drop the subjects you hate and spend your time studying the subjects that interest you. Sure, it’ll be difficult, but if you’re doing subjects that appeal to you, it won’t seem so bad.

If you think you’ve made the wrong choices, see if you can get them changed as soon as possible – as before, this is your education.

3. Use a planner

You’re probably used to throwing out the homework diary you get given at the start of term but investing in a simple planner will make your life a whole lot easier – it can be a Pinterest-worthy bullet journal or even a basic list in the Notes on your phone. Know your deadlines, know how much time you need to do work, and know how much free time you have, too. That’s right: Netflix can go in your schedule too – everyone needs a break. Without a plan, you may find yourself forgetting all the work you need to do or being buried underneath it.

4. Use your free periods wisely

With fewer subjects comes more “free” periods. These will probably be your favourite parts of the day. Use your new-fangled planning system to divide up your time and ensure you bring the right books to get work done, but it’s totally okay to use some of your free periods for a catch-up with your friends or to make yourself a well-earned cup of tea.

You’re in charge – make it count!

5. Do wider reading

Extra reading?! Don’t I have enough to do? Well, yes, but hear me out. You probably never thought about doing wider or pre-reading at GCSE, because you didn’t really need to. For A-Levels, wider reading can be really beneficial in helping you better understand the topic, expand your essays or fuel your knowledge for your personal statement or future interviews, and so it can play a big part in your studying.

What’s more, watching relevant programmes on TV totally counts too.

6. Befriend your teachers

Teachers no longer have to be your arch-nemesis – they can be your friends. These are the people who will be writing your reference for university or jobs, who will be your saviours in the pre-exam panic and who, despite what you may have previously thought, want the best for you.

Cut them some slack, and they should do the same for you.

7. Get planning your personal statement

Uh oh. I said the dreaded words: the personal statement. Except, the personal statement doesn’t have to be that scary. It doesn’t have to be your magnum opus – it’s just 4000 characters. Start planning early – even if that’s just making a few bullet points of what you want to say – and with a little help from your teachers (another reason why it’s a good idea to befriend them early) and reading past examples, you’ll get through it without a bother.

8. Clear out your emails

Once you’ve written that beautiful personal statement and made your application, the wait is on. At some point, you’ll be getting some very important emails, and you don’t want them getting mixed up in Facebook notifications and ads from clothing companies you don’t use anymore.

Take a moment to clear out your 1,786 unread emails, unsubscribe or mute the unimportant senders and you’ll actually be able to see when your offers come in.

9. Use podcasts and YouTube to convince yourself you’re having fun

Not all your studying has to be staring at pages and pages of notes and it doesn’t all have to be done at a desk. There are oodles of podcasts and YouTube videos teaching your subject that you can listen to on the bus, working out or doing some other mundane activity. Minimal effort is required, but it can be just as helpful as “actual” studying.

10. Condense your notes

Those pages and pages of notes I mentioned? Yeah, that was an understatement. Before the end of October, you’ll probably find yourself buried underneath a tree’s worth of paper – and that’s not including the online resources… Getting yourself a good organising system is one thing, but even that won’t save you come exam time.

As early in the term as possible, start condensing. Reduce textbooks to booklets, booklets to A4 pages, and A4 pages to flashcards. Suddenly everything will seem a lot more manageable.

11. You’ll get an E at least once… and this is good

You’ve worked hard, you’ve listened in class, you’ve done everything you were told to do… and you still get your worst mark yet. You may have been used to top marks at GCSE, but A-Levels are an entirely different story.

In many cases an E is a pass, which shows just how tough A-Levels can be, so, if you do get a disappointing mark in your first few tests, don’t worry – everyone’s in the same boat, and this does not mean you are going to fail in the long run.

12. Work hard, play hard

Yes, Sixth Form will be tough. But it can also be the best time of your life. You can learn to drive, you’ll turn 18, you’ll finally get a bit of independence, you can live your life to the full. Work hard, but play hard too – live while you’re young, and all that.

Emma McElderryon 4 April 2019