Shortly after the exam results are released in August my inbox fills up with messages from students who’s grades are much lower than they had hoped for or even expected. The majority of these got amazing GCSE results so, quite rightly, they are aiming high. The problem is that they just have absolutely no clue how to study for A level exams and they haven’t developed the correct exam technique.
Forget what you did for GCSE
At GCSE, some students manage to get decent grades by kind of paying attention in lessons, memorising the CGP books and a few hours on bitesize (these are not my GCSE students and I do not recommend this by the way). But A level is a completely different game. And you have to learn to play it. It’s not about being smart. It’s about learning how to recognise what the examiner wants and learning how to give it to them.
This is how to study for Biology and Chemistry A level
There is no foolproof guaranteed way to get an A this iss what I did to get my A’s and it’s what my students have done to get their grades up – even as far as going from a U to an A. If you are aiming for the A*/A/B grades or you have messed up and you need to turn things around sharpish this is how to study for Biology and Chemistry A level. It works.
Take responsibility for your own learning
Start studying on your own from day 1. Don’t rely on school to teach you everything you need to know because it won’t happen. And don’t think that just because you have been over a topic in class then that’s enough, it’s not. So get into a routine and try recap on what you have studied at school in the same evening or at least set aside one day of the weekend to catch up.
Get the right text books
Get the exam board endorsed text books and use these for your private study. For AQA these are the Nelson Thornes (Oxford) ones, OCR it’s the Heinemann books, the Edexcel ones are the Edexcel published books. The reason I recommend these is that they contain the content that appears in the exams written in the way you need to learn it and they include pretty much everything you need to know – except of course for the material which appears in the exam papers that requires you to apply your knowledge. The summary and end of chapter questions that are in these books also often appear in the exams in some shape or form. You are missing all of this if you don’t have the text books and you will be at a massive disadvantage.
Don’t bother with the CGP books
They contain nowhere near enough info and are only suitable for last-minute desperate revision. Which is not what you are going to be doing since you will be starting studying from day one. I know they provide really clear explanations but they often do more harm than good because, given the choice of reading a whole chapter in the exam board text book or a 2 page spread in the GCP book, most people go for the latter. Then they look at the text book and see all this extra stuff that isn’t in the CGP book and they think ‘well, none of that is in the CGP book and the CGP book says it’s for [insert exam board here] Biology so I mustn’t need to know it’ when you really, really do need to know it. If it’s in exam board text book, you need to know it. So all CGP books do is give you a false sense of security that you’ve covered everything when you’ve only just scratched the surface. Of course, if you really are struggling to understand something then use the CGP book as a last resort, but always make sure you go back over it in your main text book as soon as it starts to become a little clearer.
Learn how to use your text book effectively
Working with the exam board text books can be quite hard going – I think the AQA ones in particular are quite intimidating. But in my experience the reasons that students struggle with and try and avoid using them is because they are using them in the wrong way. When I was doing my A levels I used to open the book to the chapter I wanted and then just start writing notes as I read along. And pretty much without exception I would end up copying the whole chapter out. Worst of all, by the time I had done all that I couldn’t have told you what I’d just written. I was just passively copying and learning nothing. I know that some of you are nodding in agreement
The reason the exam board text book seems so scary is because students use it in the wrong way. When I was going my A levels I made notes from the text books but ended up copying the whole book out. I know some of you will be nodding in agreement at this! I have written a detailed post on how to take notes so please take a look at that and put it into practice.
In Part 2
I will tell you how to use past papers as a learning too rather than just something to test yourself with. Learning how to use past papers effectively can make a massive difference to your achievement.