Over the years, the A-level syllabuses have expanded and require a lot of hard work from students to master the contents and perform well in the exams. Although the workload for A levels is immense, many students have overcome its challenges by studying smarter, not harder. I recently had an opportunity to speak with representatives from Ashbourne College, one of the best A-level colleges in London, on the study techniques that their students apply to achieve A*/A in their exams. Here are the 13 tips that help the students build an effective study and revision system.
1. Know your learning style and create a system of study schedule and tools around it. Scientists identify the four most common learning styles among learners:
a) Visual learners learn best by seeing. They respond well to diagrams, colour-coding, video, and patterns.
b) Auditory learners learn best by listening. They respond well to audio cues like speech, music, rhymes, and other sounds.
c) Reading / Writing learners learn best by reading and writing the material they need to study.
d) Kinaesthetic learners retain information best by doing. They enjoy role-playing, building models, drawing diagrams, and making flashcards. They need to put concepts into practice in the real world.
Once you know your learning style, make a conscious effort to adapt your methods of studying to what suits you best and you’ll exponentially speed up your learning curve.
a) If you respond well to visual cues, draw up mind maps, use colour extensively in your note-taking, and watch relevant YouTube videos.
b) If you’re an auditory learner, try creating rhymes to remember facts, or listen to podcasts about your topics.
c) A reading / writing learner will find traditional study a lot easier than other learners – spend extra time just reading the relevant textbooks and making study notes.
d) Again, kinesthetic learners find traditional study the most difficult and are likely to excel at more practical subjects with the opportunity to put learning directly into practice.
2. Avoid passive revision such as reading notes. Although it seems the most logical place to start, this passive revision technique won’t fully engage your brain and prove ineffective for retaining information. You should embrace active revision techniques which involve rephrasing information, structuring contents in tree diagrams or mind maps as well as putting the knowledge to the test.
3. Practice past papers under timed conditions, with minimal distractions, mimicking the actual examinations. You are never thoroughly done with an exam paper until you can consistently achieve full marks in that paper.
4. Ensure that you make personal revision notes, which take into account your class notes, mark schemes, and broader reading – these should be clear, concise and based on the specification for each subject. Do not leave your revision till the last minute.
5. Create study groups with your peers and exchange ideas, suggestions and questions amongst yourselves.
6. You could mirror the traffic light system, by highlighting your strongest points within the specification in green, intermediate ones in yellow, and weakest points in red; you can then prioritise your revision, starting with the areas that you most struggle with.
7. For essay-based subjects, ensure that you expand your reading outside of the A-Level syllabus; look at critical essays, read around literary theory, and keep abreast with articles around the subject.
8. In light of the pandemic, there is a tendency that you may spend a lot of time in front of a screen, especially if you have your lessons online. It is essential to take frequent screen breaks and occasionally walk outside of your study space. This will also have a positive effect on your mental health.
9. To manage your time effectively, you should keep distractions to the barest minimum. Set a dedicated screen time where you can access social media if necessary, but make sure this is but a mere fragment compared to the time you set aside for revision. Find a study routine, and stick with it, to build resilience. To help with this, you can download the app ‘Forest’, which prevents you from accessing your phone for specific blocks of time.
10. When you begin your university application, ensure that your personal statement is an actual reflection of your abilities and interests – make it holistic, factual, concise and well-researched.
11. Prepare ahead of time if your application process includes an interview, by taking advantage of the resources available at your college, through your UCAS tutors. Remember to approach the interview with a relaxed and confident mindset.
12. Make a study plan for your exams. You shouldn’t have to spend hours and hours studying the night before your exams. Study small quantities every day, but make sure you start early so you have plenty of time to revise. Study as if this was the real thing! Make flash-cards and annotations, write out your study plan, use all the resources the college has to offer to help you and, most importantly… organise yourself!
13. Finally, your teachers are always willing to assist you if you have any academic concerns within a subject area. Please ask them for help where necessary, and do not be afraid to seek further understanding.