After the last two challenging school years due to Covid-19, we know that many students will be a little daunted by stepping up for A Levels in September.
To help students and parents, we would like to share Emma’s perspective and experience of studying for A Levels. As well as outlining the challenges she faced, Emma is very open about what she might have done differently.
Thankfully, A levels now feel like a distant memory as I start a new chapter in my life at the University of Birmingham. After achieving the unexpected results of A*A*B for my three A levels of English lit, RS and Biology, I am now studying English lit and film studies at Birmingham, my first-choice university, and am loving every minute – apart from the washing of course!
Approach to A Levels
Looking back, I am still amazed at how much work, focus and exam practice it took to prepare for my A levels and still remember not feeling ready when the exams started, despite the countless months of revision. As well as independent revision at home, I revised with friends and went on two Justin Craig revision courses for biology. I chose to go on courses over the Easter holidays, one in year 12 and one in year 13. This was right in the middle of my revision; in year 12, for internal end of year exams which were important for my predicted grades and then, in year 13, for my A Levels.
Biggest Challenge – Biology
Biology was definitely my weakest subject and it was always going to be a push to get the B needed to get into Birmingham. Despite having no external exams in year 12, I found lower sixth much harder than upper sixth in many ways. The jump from GCSE to A level biology was extremely challenging in year 12. Although I had felt fairly confident at biology in year 11, I found myself struggling from the word go at A level. In addition to the content volume and complexity increasing, the workload also stepped up and there was less teacher support as we were expected to become more independent learners. Fairly early on in Yr 12, school indicated that I was tracking more towards a C and I was started to feel less confident about achieving the B I needed. As a result, Mum persuaded me to try Justin Craig revision course, primarily to boost my confidence and understanding of the key concepts.
Year 12 Course
For me, the year 12 biology course was critical. I had been struggling all year with the volume and difficulty of work. I also lacked confidence and had little understanding of how to revise and what needed to be prioritised and focused on. The Justin Craig biology revision course showed me how best to revise for biology and really cemented in the core concepts which then gave me a firm grounding to build on when revising the more complex topics. This was crucial to developing a strong understanding and to becoming much more familiar with the extensive content.
What really stood to me in the Year 12 revision course was the excellent quality of teaching from our tutor. I felt confident in his teaching, party because he was so well prepared each day, bringing different sets of revision packs, practice questions and past papers. It was also clear that has look at our individual requests eg particular topics we wanted help with, which we had submitted on the portal a few week before. This allowed us to make the best use of our time and focus on what we needed. In addition to being prepared, our tutor was also very friendly, approachable and flexible in his approach. I found getting a new perspective from a different teacher really helped my understanding as it gave me an alternative way to think about things, which really helped clarify them.
Early Revision Courses
Looking back, if I could have changed anything about how I approached my A Level revision, it would possibly be doing some of the earlier revision courses with Justin Craig to get ahead from the start. Although it did all work out in the end, doing revision courses earlier in the year would have taken the pressure off a little bit in year 13 to get my biology grade up. I also think it would have been a good way of keeping the year 12 work fresh during year 13, enabling me to consolidate topics and keep a good grip on the key subject skills.
Individual Study Needs = More Confident
My overall experience of Justin Craig has been really good and my courses didn’t feel like too much work, despite getting tons done. I have many friends who also went on Justin Craig revision courses to help with A level work and had a similar experience to me – finding it helpful, well organised, a good use of revision time. Most importantly, we all felt more confident coming out of the course, enabling us to excel when it came to the exams. I would strongly recommend doing the revision courses as it is a great way to break up independent studying at home. I also feel they have the right balance between group work and having things personalised to your individual needs to get the most out of the course. As well as this, an additional advantage is the opportunity to socialise in the breaks and meet new people, which is a great change of scene and opportunity to break up the monotonous routine of revising at home.