There is no denying that GCSEs are hard. As are your A Levels. Both involve immense amounts of hard-work; countless hours spent stressing and often a pinch of sleep deprivation. For those of you doing their GCSEs, you may often come across others who have also gone through the process; some are sympathetic, some understanding, while others throw around their unwelcome opinions of how “GCSEs are easy compared to A Levels.”
To them I say: you’re wrong.
A student’s experience – whether it be at GCSE or A Level is subjective and it is unfair that many year 11s are made to hear such words. With one of the most rigorous education systems in the world, students in the UK as a whole are subject to an exceptional amount of stress. So it’s important to be kind and sympathetic, regardless of whether their current course seems easy in your own eyes.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can focus more on what both year 11s and 13s have in common. The course itself, in both cases is relatively new: GCSEs with the new 9-1 system and A Levels with reduced coursework and changes to the focus of exam questions on the ‘application’ of knowledge. Nevertheless, they both require students to know the content.
For A Level students wanting to practice their application skills, I direct you to the blessing that is past exam questions, their markschemes and examiner commentary. A word or warning with this however: depending on what subjects you are doing, the usefulness of examiner commentary will differ. As a general guideline, if your subject is essay-based, examiner commentary is the way to go.
Unfortunately, regardless of whether you are a GCSE or A Level student however, content cannot be avoided. The best – and least stressful – way to get through the content is through effective time management. Set yourself specific time-based goals as a means of doing this. What does this mean? Well, let’s take the example of GCSE Literature.
It involves knowing 4 texts: a Shakespearean text, a Modern Prose, a Novel and a set of 15 poems. In addition, you must learn skills for attacking an unseen poetry section too. In order for a student to effectively complete the whole course in time, it is important to set a time limit – assuming you are starting at the beginning of year 11 you could spend around 6 weeks for each text, with a few days spent on quotes, thematic analysis, character analysis and development and the context of the text. Of course it’s also important to sprinkle the odd revision session in between too – sounds hard to manage doesn’t it? Which is why it’s important to write it down!
And if you’re really struggling? Get help! Be it through your teacher or even a tutor, make sure to get help if you need it and make sure you get it as early as possible to ensure you get the best possible assistance.
Managing your time effectively is essential and goes hand in hand with the concept of organisation – not only because it helps learn content but it also highlights where there are holes in your knowledge and allows you to plan a method of overcoming this as early as possible. This will help to manage your stress and allow you to develop a more positive mind set – yet another key skill necessary for success.
Having tutored both GCSE and A Level students alike, I can guarantee that your mind set during your studies will be reflected in your work. I would even go as far as saying maintaining a positive mind set is half the battle so kids, be positive!
Now, having a positive or ‘growth mind set’ is something which many schools push their students towards and as a result this point is often seems overdone – and it kind of is.
But that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. Oh no, absolutely not.
Instead it should be acknowledged and embraced. When faced with a practice exam question you cannot do, instead of saying “I can’t do this”, remind yourself to add a “yet” at the end – tell yourself that although you “can’t do this yet”, you will in due time. This is an essential part of your reflections of your work and will help to enhance your productivity – even if it may not seem like it at first.