The jump between GCSE and A Levels is a big one. I remember it was a bit of a shock when I moved up myself. But there are definitely ways you can get ready and feel confident going into the new school term. To help make the change as smooth as possible, I’ve put together 5 tried and tested tips based on my own experiences (and those of my students). Let’s go!
How will A-levels be different, I hear you asking? Well, one way to find out is by hearing what other students have to say about their own jump on YouTube. There are hundreds of videos out there with teens sharing stories about the change, and even showing a day in their life as an A-level student. Watching these clips can be a fun and pretty stress-free way of warming up to the idea. But remember that everyone is different. Some teens study all day while others only need a couple of hours of revision- so don’t get too hung up on the details.
2. Get organised!
Being organised is a lifeline when you’re moving from GCSE and A-level. I’m a personal fan of colour-coded stationery. Have a folder for each subject- maybe even a few. You never know how many handouts you’ll get! If you’ve already got your timetable, have a good look at it so you know how many hours a week you’ll have with each subject. Look over the course syllabus before and even get the books ahead of school, so you can get a head start on reading.
3. Make good use of your study breaks.
At A-level, you get study or free periods (yay!). It can be tempting to use this time to hang out with friends, or to go home and watch TV or just to procrastinate until the time is gone— but resist the temptation! You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not faced with a mountain of reading and deadlines. Some of my students actually have a buddy system with their friends who hold them accountable for studying by checking how much they’ve done.
4. Keep on top of the reading.
A-level courses come with loads of reading and it can pile up pretty fast. Make a daily reading schedule so that it’s all broken down into bite-sized chunks. And if you’re studying English literature, listen to audiobooks on your way home from school.
5. Make time for self-care.
The transition from GCSE to A-level can be scary, exciting and overwhelming. And if you’re moving to a new school on top of that, it’s even more stressful. Make sure to take care of yourself at this time. Eat healthy and filling meals, exercise when you can, and get outdoors for fresh air. If you’ve moved to a new school, stay in touch with your old friends too.
It’s a big life milestone– moving up from GCSE to A-levels. And with any big change, there are mixed feelings. The thing to remember is that you got through your GCSEs– did all that hard work revising so you’ve got a strong foundation to build on. Good luck!
Going back to school can feel like a bit of a shock to your system! You have to get up early, pay attention in class and do homework too. It’s a huge change to your summer routine. So to help you through this tricky time, here are some tips on how to get yourself ready for school– mind, body and all!
How to get ready academically
If you’re feeling nervous about starting school, you’re not alone. It’s especially a nail-biting time when you move schools or step up from GCSE to A-level. And after the summer, maybe you think you’ve forgotten how to study altogether! But it’ll come back to you and in the meantime, here are some things you can try to get your head back into school.
1. Get your workspace ready
If you haven’t already, get your desk organised. Recycle any school notes from last year that you don’t need, or file them away– or look over them to see if they’ll help jog your memory! If you can get yourself new stationery– highlighters, folders, pens of different colours– which can help you keep your notes organised. You can add a corkboard above your desk to pin reminders like deadlines. A plant can give your desk a nice touch too!
2. Take it one step at a time.
Whether you’re feeling confident (or not) about schoolwork, start small and build up from there. Look through your course syllabus to get your brain back into gear. For a lot of students, reading feels like a slog after the holidays. So, try reading ahead as a warm up. Pencil in study time to review your notes every day after school. It’ll make the class lessons sink in better. It’s also a good idea to set extra time aside on the subjects you find the hardest.
3. Mark your calendar with key dates.
There are so many dates to keep track of! It’s easy to forget deadlines unless you’ve got them marked. Whether you go for a paper diary or an app– just make sure you use it every day so that you know what’s coming up. For bigger projects, you can break up the work into chunks and set yourself mini deadlines.
How to get emotionally ready
Back to school is a time of change and every change brings up mixed feelings. If you know that you’ll go through lots of emotions at this time (like all teens do!) then you can be easy on yourself. Soon, you’ll settle into the new routine.
1 . Expect some highs (and lows).
Back to school can set off a rollercoaster of emotions. You might’ve been in denial a week ago (maybe you still are!) about school starting up again. Maybe the night before, you had that feeling of dread– especially if you’re starting at a new school. You might be wondering if you’ll make friends, or if your mates will still be the same or if you’ve drifted apart over the summer…. Everyone goes through ‘back to school’ in their own way. And just knowing that it can be a bumpy ride for a few weeks can help you feel better about it.
2. Jot it down.
Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal is a great way to let go of your worries. You can use this space to be completely open. Just let it all out in a great rush of words on the page. And don’t edit your spelling or grammar. If you’re worried about going back to school, draw a line down the middle of your page. Write down your worrying thoughts on the left side, and on the right, try and think of advice you’d give to a friend. This exercise can help you see your worries in a more detached way.
3. Talk to someone you trust.
If you’re not sleeping because you’re dreading school, or are just feeling anxious all the time– it might be a good idea to chat to a friend or family member. Just talking to someone else can help you feel better– especially when you hear they’re going through the same thing. And if you want someone to talk to that’s an expert with these issues, you can reach out to YoungMinds.
How to get physically ready
You’ll know by now that how you feel in your body can have a knock on effect on your academics. And it goes the other way around too. If you’re struggling in a subject, or you’re feeling down because it’s hard to find new mates at school– it can make you feel lousy in yourself. Here are some simple, time tested tips to get your body feeling its best.
1. Eat food that fuels your brain.
It sounds pretty basic, but there’s a reason why the advice is given out time and time again. Start off the day well with a balanced breakfast. It’s best to avoid a huge sugar rush in the morning (because you’ll crash pretty quickly), so go for a breakfast cereal that’s low in sugar. It’s all about keeping your diet balanced (with plenty of leafy greens, and fruits) so get advice from an expert before making any big changes to your diet.
2. Move your body!
It’s easy to get into a routine of sitting at your desk for homework, and then moving to the couch to watch something before bed. But getting your body moving is key to boosting your energy and just feeling good. Build walks into your day, and if you can, walk out in nature. You can do yoga and stretches in your room too by watching YouTube videos. It doesn’t have to be a big workout– just getting up every hour is a good start if you’re not someone who’s very active.
3. Get your Zzs.
You’ve probably had a few sleepless nights before. So you know how hard it can be the next day just to do simple things! It’s tough to be at your sharpest when you’re low on sleep. And being sleep deprived can have a knock on effect on your mood too. To get a good night’s sleep, try to stay off your phone at least an hour before bed. At the very least, switch off the white lights on your devices. Really use the hour before to wind down. That might mean listening to relaxing music, reading in bed, or meditating.
Back to school can take a toll on your mind and body. It’s normal to feel tense about going back. But you can make it easier on yourself by being patient and taking steps to give your body and mind what it needs. Soon, you’ll get back into the swing of it!
Learning isn’t one-size fits all. But it can feel that way– especially when you’re in a big classroom. You might think, ‘I should be able to keep up with my classmates.’ But the truth is that we all learn in our own way and at our own pace.
Here, we’ll help you work out what your study habits are, and how you can tap into your strengths so that you’re feeling your best at school and beyond. And for some extra inspiration, our tutors share their own learning journeys and study tips to boost your motivation.
We don’t have to tell you that you’ve got your own likes and dislikes about everything– from school subjects, to films and music. The same goes for the way you learn. There are some techniques you go back to over and over again out of habit. Maybe you like to watch videos or listen for key information in a recording or you’re a big fan of mind maps.
To help you work out what your study habits are, answer these questions:
How do I usually study? (for example, by reading over notes? Watching videos? Drawing? Partnered work?)
Which kind of study activities do I like the most? (debating? Making diagrams? Quizzing a friend?)
What kind of study activities do I usually dread? (drafting essays? Reading from a textbook? Group work?)
While it’s useful for you to know about your go-to study habits, try not to give yourself a label, like, ‘I’m a visual learner’. There’s more than one way they take in information, and using lots of different study techniques and activities can help you go deeper when you’re learning a subject.
Our tutors’ top study tips
Our tutors – who are students themselves at top UK unis – know that every person learns differently. When they’re revising, they even change up how they study depending on the subject.
Here, they take you through different ways they study, and how they guide their own students to tap into their strengths.
“Using songs, movies and radio can be really helpful when students are learning a language. Copying a phrase from a board 10 times and hoping it will sink in might feel like a drain. Hearing the way real people talk in French can be really motivating and it gives you something to shoot for. I use songs and chants to learn tenses and other important grammar points, even though it might seem cringy. Usually, the cringier the song, the more it sticks!”
– Eddie, French and Spanish tutor
“As someone who has learning difficulties, I can say that it’s super important to give yourself plenty of breaks. And make sure that you use your break time to do something relaxing or something you love.”
–Katie, English Literature and English Language tutor
“Mind maps with unique pictures to go with the info can help make the information stick. Watching films or TV adaptations of texts to see what themes are conveyed in different performances are so helpful (especially for Shakespeare!). Doing as much prep ahead of the exams as possible is key going into the exam season feeling relaxed.”
–Simon, English tutor
“It can be really hard sometimes to revise when you’ve got a learning challenge. I struggled with organisation and time management and I found it difficult to concentrate too. My best advice is to work in short chunks and to have lots of little breaks between to recharge. If you can find tech (like a screen reader or something that converts speech to text) that can be a really useful aid! Also breaking information into small chunks can make the work seem less overwhelming.”
–Beth, Maths tutor
“I used different techniques depending on what subject I’m studying– and even what I’m trying to learn. Flashcards are perfect for remembering key words! Brain dumps are a great study hack for active recall – I mostly use them to link concepts across a topic.
For A-level Physics, I mostly used exam questions and spaced repetition to understand key words. But brain dumps were most useful for connecting concepts and equations.”
-Déna, Biology and Physics tutor
“For Business at A-level, I mainly used mind maps. But to help me answer 20 markers for Maths, I practise doing past papers. They help with getting your head into exam-mode.”
–Abbie, Mathematics tutor
“In A-Level History I often used the blurting technique. This is when you write down facts about a topic on paper from memory and then correct what you missed. For History, you need to remember lots of information about a topic to write an essay, so that technique really worked for me. I used flashcards and topic questions for A-Level Chemistry and Biology. With those subjects, it’s not just about remembering and writing down information, it’s about being able to apply that knowledge.”
–Orla, Chemistry and Biology tutor
Did you recognise any of your own study techniques? Of course, what works for one person might not work for another. But trying out different strategies can help make the information sink in better.
Mixing things up
Studying in the same way over and over again can get boring fast and it’s actually not the best use of your time. Our expert tutor Matt suggests mixing up study activities. By doing this, you’re giving yourself more chances to go deeper into learning.
Study menu to match your mood
To get a variety of study activities in (like a well-balanced diet!), you can put together a menu, made up of high, medium and low intensity activities. So that it’s easily on hand, pin the menu up to a corkboard above your desk or have it on your phone.
Here’s how the study menu works:
When you’re revising, pick activities from the study menu that best suits your mood. So if you’re tired after a long day at school, choose an activity from the low energy list. You’ll still be learning, but it doesn’t have to feel like torture. And that’s a key part of learning– enjoying the process!
Here are a few examples of high, medium and low energy activities you can add to your menu, from our tutor Matt:
Tapping into your strengths
Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, there are lots of things you’re good at. Whether it’s skateboarding, playing football, public speaking or looking after your cat– there are things you do well. And it all comes down to feeling passionate about what you’re doing.
If you’re thinking, ‘I can’t be passionate about GCSE Maths!’- we get it. But you can be curious and feel a buzz when you solve a problem on your own. A lot of the time, students dislike subjects that they’re struggling in.
Here are some ways you can tap into your strengths:
Be OK with making mistakes. If you think of mistakes as a normal part of learning, then you’ll feel less overwhelmed when challenges come up. So many famous people have faced setbacks and failures, and have gone on to do amazing things.
Keep doing activities you love. Doing what you love puts you in a flow state– and that’s a great way to build up your confidence. When you feel good about yourself, it affects everything– even how you get on at school.
Reach out for help if you feel lost. Sometimes, you just need an extra hand in a subject. Our tutors are pros at revising and are curriculum experts who can help you get back on track. You can also join our free group tutorials this autumn term by signing up to MyTutor Squads.
If you’ve ever left a class lesson feeling confused about what’s going on– you’re not alone. And it doesn’t mean that you’ll never understand the material. It’s just a matter of going over it in different ways until it clicks into place for you. And 1-1 support with someone who understands where you’re at can be just what you need to catch up. Go with how you feel– and know that there is support there for you, when you’re ready.
Mock exams are just around the corner. If you’re feeling stressed about them, you’re not alone. Most teens we polled in a webinar survey said they weren’t sure what to revise and how to get started.
To help kickstart your revision, our expert exam tutor Matt is here to give you some top tips. Below, you can read his helpful advice on how to ace revision so that you feel confident and ready, going into exams.
To help kickstart your revision, our expert exam tutor Matt is here to give you some top tips. Below, you can read his helpful advice on how to ace revision so that you feel confident and ready, going into exams.
Make a revision timetable.
Use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time.
Mix up high, medium and low revision energy activities
Reach out for help.
Tap into some helpful resources
On exam day, be kind to yourself
1. Start early.
The earlier you start, the more in control you’ll feel in the lead-up to mocks. When you’re cramming, the mountain of work from months of lessons can make you feel overwhelmed and stressed. But when you’re anxious, your brain doesn’t focus, process or recall info as well as it normally would. So that you don’t get into a panic, and really give yourself the best chance possible, start revising early. If you haven’t started yet– don’t worry. Just start now.
2. Make a mocks revision timetable.
The first thing Matt recommends is to make a revision timetable. Break up the week into chunks of study time for different subjects. It’s a good idea to give more time to subjects you find the hardest. Or if you know there’s a big project coming up, set extra time aside for that course.
A good way to keep the day’s lessons fresh in your mind is to look over notes and homework when you get in from school. If you make a habit of it, you’ll feel more in touch with what’s going on in class–which can give a huge boost to your self-confidence.
3. Use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time.
You know you need to start revising–but how do you actually do it? Do you study for hours on end for just one subject, or cover a few subjects on a Saturday afternoon? What’s the best way? Matt recommends using the Pomodoro Technique. With Pomodoro, it’s all about breaking up study time into manageable chunks and giving yourself short breaks in between. Here’s how it works:
Choose a subject to revise in. For example, GCSE English.
Set the Pomodoro timer (or pomodoro APP) for 25 minutes.
Revise the subject by choosing one study activity. For example, you can highlight key words in your notes and homework, or read texts from the English course list, or work with flashcards, or create a mind-map, or plan out how you’d answer an exam question from a past paper…
End your work when the timer rings and take a short break (about 5 mins). Stretch, move, get a drink of water, have a snack.
Repeat steps 2-4 for your second Pomodoro round. Matt recommends you set aside at least an hour (so 2 Pomodoros) and to stick to the same subject in that time. By revising the same subject you can go deeper into the course specifications.
Tip: Do a different study activity in each Pomodoro round. So if you read 2 poems for your first Pomodoro round, for the second, create mind maps about the themes, characters and settings of those poems.
It’s important to take breaks when you study. Your brain can only focus for 90 minutes (max) at a time. Even when you’re taking a break, your brain is still working out problems (which is handy!) and those questions which might’ve had you stumped before, can feel more doable when you get back to them.
4. Mix up high, medium and low revision energy activities.
Studying the same way every time can feel boring and it’s actually not the best use of your time. People learn in different ways–and mixing up how you study means you’re giving yourself more chances to go deeper into learning a subject.
Matt suggests having a mix of high, medium and low energy activities. If you’re tired after a long day at school, it makes sense to choose an activity from the low energy list. You’re still learning, but it doesn’t feel like a slog. You can put together a menu of high, medium and low energy activities and pin it to a cork-board next to your desk to take some of the guesswork out.
Here are a few of Matt’s suggestions:
High energy activities: timed exam questions, full exam papers
Medium energy activities: Making flashcards, drawing mind-maps, creating a topic poster, highlighting key words in notes
Low energy activities: watching revision videos, playing online flashcard games (like on Quizlet), revision charades with a friend
5. Reach out for help.
There are times when you’re just feeling lost and don’t know the answers. It’s a completely normal part of learning– getting stuck. There are lots of different ways to work through a problem. You can ask your teacher after class for help, or see them in their office hours. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are homework clubs where subject teachers are there specifically to answer your questions. Other teens in the room will be in the same boat so you’ll know you’re not alone. This autumn term, our expert tutors are giving free group tutorials, so you can ask our MyTutor Squads your burning study questions.
If you’re looking for 1-1 attention, with someone who’s closer in age and gets what it’s like to go through exams, you can get a tutor. Our tutors are students at top UK unis, and experts in GCSE and A level exam prep. Because they were in school just a few years ago, they’re really good with study hacks and know their subjects well.
6. Tap into some helpful resources.
If you’re stuck and need help ASAP, there are a lot of helpful step-by-step explainer videos online. These can help you solve tricky problems in all your GCSE subjects– like our explainer videos on our Tik-Tok account or on our Youtube channel. And on our MyTutor study notes page, you can search through over 10,000 study notes. There you’ll find the trickiest GCSE and A-level topics answered by our curriculum expert tutors.
You’ve done all you can to prepare for your mocks. There’s nothing more to do now but to give yourself a break. On exam day, focus on making yourself feel relaxed and comfortable. Eat a healthy breakfast, and wear comfortable clothes. Matt recommends bringing a bottle of water into the exam hall to stay hydrated. Taking sips is a way to take mini breaks as you move through exam questions. If you begin to feel anxious at any point, use the box breathing technique. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5, and breathe out for 5. This easy breathing exercise helps get more oxygen into your brain, and it also helps you focus on your breath instead of on exam stress.
Take spare pens (black to fit exam rules)– you can never have too many pens. Take time to plan out your answers, in the same way you practiced in revision. If you run into a question that’s tricky or that you don’t know the answer to straight away, Matt recommends skipping it and answering the ones you do know. Answering a few questions can help give you the confidence to go back and tackle the trickier questions you skipped.
When the exam is over, your friends might want to chat about how it went. If you don’t feel like reliving it, make an excuse to leave the conversation. You can go to the library or just take a breather outside where there’s fresh air. You deserve a break.
Exams (even when they’re just mocks) can take up a huge chunk of your time and headspace. Starting early by putting together a revision schedule and mixing up study activities are just some of the ways you can get yourself ready. When you’re prepared, you’ll feel more confident going in. Whatever happens, be proud of yourself for all the hours you’ve put into revision and for giving it your best go.
We all make mistakes. It might not seem like it at the time, but mistakes and setbacks can actually help you out. But let’s be honest- we still feel pretty crummy about them. We might think, ‘Oh, I’m stupid,’ or, ‘I should’ve known better,’ when we stumble.
The real danger of mistakes and setbacks is letting them stop you from trying new things. So before you throw in the towel, let’s look at why mistakes are actually good for you.
1. You can learn more deeply when you make mistakes.
When things are going smoothly, your brain usually coasts on auto-pilot. But mistakes make us pause and ask questions. When you ask yourself, ‘Why didn’t this work out?’ and, ‘What else can I try?’ you’re thinking about the problem more deeply. Anytime you look at a challenge from a different angle, you’re giving the creative thinking part of your brain a workout. Some of the best inventions and discoveries (like life saving medicine penicillin) have come from ‘mistakes’. Out-of-the box thinking usually happens when we’re backed into a corner. So the next time you think you’ve really messed up, just think– you might have accidentally stumbled on some great new idea.
2. Setbacks can make you more flexible.
There’s always going to be another challenge around the corner. So when you’re faced with a setback and come out the other side of it, celebrate this small win. When another challenge comes up, remind yourself that you were able to get through hard times before. Being OK with challenges makes you more comfortable with the idea of change too. You’re more likely to experiment and take risks when you’re not afraid of making mistakes. Universities and employers are looking for people who are flexible and who see challenges as opportunities.
3. You get to know yourself better through mistakes.
Mistakes and failures can be uncomfortable. They bring up some deep questions that you might otherwise not think about. Questions like, ‘Why is this thing important to me?’ and ‘What do I believe about myself?’ We can be really hard on ourselves when we think we’ve failed. That’s when you can challenge your negative thoughts through this simple writing exercise.
Draw a line down the middle of a page. On one side of the page, you can write down all your troubling thoughts. And on the other side, you can challenge them. Like this example:
This super simple exercise can help you question those negative thoughts and can help reassure yourself.
4. Mistakes can help you become more understanding.
No one is perfect. In fact, you probably feel the opposite when you’ve made a mistake. Stumbling can actually help you be more forgiving when others do the same. Maybe you left your sister’s favourite jumper on the bus. Or you were super late meeting your friend for lunch. The next time someone makes a mistake, remember how glad you were when others gave you a break. Being understanding like this helps make your relationships with friends and family a lot stronger. And it means you can be more forgiving to yourself.
You’ll probably make at least a hundred more mistakes in your life– so give yourself a break. You’re only human after all! If you face a setback and feel crummy about it, that’s OK. Let those feelings of disappointment come up. Just remember that you’ve come out the other side before– and you’ll do it again. Check back next week for advice on how to make mistakes feel normal.
We all like to learn and study in different ways. But, sometimes we’re held back by our own insecurities, procrastination and last-minute panics. Here, we debunk 5 of the biggest learning myths out there. Some of them may make you breathe a sigh of relief!
Myth 1: The more hours you study, the better you’ll do in your exams
Breaks are important for your wellbeing. Research shows that taking purposeful breaks (anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour) from studying helps to refresh your brain, increases your energy and ability to focus. Your brain also makes links between the info you studied while you rest.
Tip: To really switch off, leave your phone behind. Scrolling social media doesn’t allow your brain to properly rest, so try going for a walk, phoning a friend or listening to music instead.
Myth 2: You learn lots by cramming the night before
The info you take in when you’re cramming goes into your short-term memory and doesn’t necessarily stick. And if you’re stressed at the time, you won’t absorb the information as well. Plus, being up all night makes it harder to focus on the exam.
Tip: Start revising early and use a realistic revision plan you can stick to. That way, you can get ahead and feel more in control. And make sure you get a good night’s sleep before your exam.
Myth 3: Reading a text over and over is the best way to learn the info
Nope, the best way to remember information is by doing recall activities like quizzing yourself. This is called retrieval practice – the act of retrieving something from your memory actually strengthens its connection in your mind. So, you’re more likely to remember it in future.
Tip: If revising feels lonely, ask someone to test you or partner up with a friend so you can quiz each other.
Myth 4: You’re either good at Maths or good at English – you can’t be both
This comes from the idea that some people are right-brained (apparently more creative and artistic) while others are left-brained (more logical and analytical). While everyone has their favourite subjects and weaker topics, a study that analysed over 1,000 brains found no evidence for this!
Tip: Putting more time and effort into your weaker subjects can help to top you up, but don’t forget about the topics that you enjoy learning. If you’re having a tough day or feeling stressed, try ending with your favourite topic for a little lift.
Myth 5: Asking for help shows that you don’t know what you’re doing
Many of us struggle to ask for help when we need it, as we think it’s a sign of weakness. When really, it’s a strength! Asking questions and getting involved can help to make the info stick. Plus, people are more willing to help us than we think. We can limit ourselves when we don’t reach out.
Tip: To build confidence around asking for help, try asking one question every day – whether that’s to a teacher, friend or parent. It will pay off, trust.
While lots of these myths seem perfectly acceptable on the surface, this is your cue to no longer accept them! When it comes to studying and staying on top of revision, a little planning, breaktime and question-asking goes a long way.
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