Moving from GCSE to A level - what should I know?

Friday 5 July 2024, Applicant

by Charlotte Stevenson

Moving from GCSE to A level - what should I know?

Charlotte Stevenson
Moving from a school where you have been for a considerable amount of time can be quite intimidating on it's own, but this can be made much easier by visiting and getting to know the new area and environment you are going to be studying in. This, of course, will be how you decide on your new school. But if you want to know more about what it is like in terms of the change in work load, in the long term, this post might provide a little more information. When moving from GCSE to A level, some of the things you should be aware of are...

1. Time
The amount of time you are going to have to put into your studies now is like revision for GCSE's on a regular basis, except on only three or four subjects. It might sound like a lot, but the reason you will have less subjects is because the content is so specialist and detailed that you need to have as much time to balance your life with your work and the work can be really hard at times. I have studied History, Music and Literature for my A levels (never did a fourth one) and found this so much to do. Although History and Literature were two subjects I found relatively easy at GCSE, the A level will challenge you to think beyond the text book and begin to create your own ideas and opinions as well as the ones you read. Time is important in order to do this to the best you can. And the amount of homework you can be set usually may seem not much, but you should aim to get a few extra hours of revision done a day, even away from exams, so that the information is secure in your mind and well understood by the time exams roll around in summer.

2. The detail (or subheadings)
The specialist thing means that you are going to have separate subheadings and things you need to remember which branch off several different things for each subject. This I found especially in a subject such as history - for example, remembering the period of 1945 - 49 in German history doesn't sound much, but then you had to know a specific event, what happened in that event and then be able to link it to another subheading or category in this time frame. When going into detail in class, you will go into small chunks each day before linking them up at the end of the week, so it is important to remember the matter of time and be present in as many classes, or catch up lessons if you can't attend, as possible so you can keep up with the content through valuable note taking.

3. Your ambition - what subjects do you want to do
Go into your new sixth form with a clear focus. Being prepared and being motivated are the best shot you can give yourself for making a good start. If you know what you are interested in and what you want to do, then you will be able to hopefully maintain this and make it through to the exams at the end of your second year. Your ambition is going to be one of your best friends at sixth form - it is what will you help you get up, keep doing your homework and not complaining (or complaining to the minimal amount until exam time) Clear focus and strong mind are the key elements of any education.

4. Less Variation
When choosing your A levels, also be aware that (whilst there is specialism and subheadings in your chosen subjects) there is a lot less variation in the knowledge you will be absorbing. The great thing about high school that you don't get at sixth form is a break from one subject by studying another and having variety in the things you are learning. If you are fine with less variation and this is something you are prepared for (like if you are use to having music rehearsals all the time anyway and want to study music) then just be cautious about overdoing the amount of work you are doing. Of course you will be fine, but I feel this is something you should be reminded a little of. If less variation is something you are worried about, my biggest piece of advice is to try and make your A levels as different as possible. When people didn't know what to choose, teachers at our college advised them to pick a science, a modern foreign language, an academic subject or a humanity, and the subject they actually wanted to do once they left. I wish that I had done this - if I had, my A levels would have been a bit different : French, Biology, History and Music - English literature might not have made the cut. Also don't be scared to try an A level for the first two weeks - if you don't like it you can always change or drop it. Originally I was going to do both French and German, something I changed my mind on due to the amount of work clashes that would occur with my main subjects, music and english.

5. More independent work
This is one aspect I really loved. In your time table, to make it more like a university time table to bridge the gap, you will have so many free hours a day and hence usually, not a lunch time (you have to figure out how to integrate this yourself) You are expected to use at least 5 of these hours a week on your work. But independent work is largely a part of it - the shell of the course, the skeleton if you will, is made up of the statistics and basics that will get you through the course. But unlike at GCSE, you really have to think for yourself, compose original work (whether musically speaking or not) and have a lot of dedication to thinking about things. You really need to work on being able to get things done efficiently and effectively in order to succeed. This include organisation!

6. How much of a leap it is
No matter how much information I provide you with or how much you read up on, going to sixth form and studying A level is a major leap from GCSE and a little like being put at the deep end of the swimming pool in those first swimming lessons. But if you work hard, and are dedicated and motivated, the work load becomes much more fun, especially when you have a happy environment and friends to share everything with. It will be an incredible experience and I wish you all the best of luck - and that you enjoy every moment, because it goes by so quickly.