8 tips for A-Level Philosophy
Check out James's top tips for Philosophy.
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So without doubt starting your A Levels can be a strange and stressful time. You’ve spent the last two years building up to your GCSEs only to find that actually a bigger, more important, nastier set of exams has sprung up on the horizon.
To cope with the change, most schools around the country therefore run sixth form induction days primarily to give students a taste of what is in store for them. These days are often filled with ice breaker sessions for new students, the odd ‘fun activity’ and essentially hours of teachers conveying the same messages you all will have heard before – that A Levels are hard work and you need to get yourself prepared and organized. The bad news is they’re right. A Levels are indisputably a lot harder than your GCSEs, and those students who have cruised through until this point are likely to get a little bit of a shock come exam time.
But DO NOT be fooled into thinking it will all come down to hard work. The big message Elevate promotes is that there is no point working hard if you’re not working effectively! There are certain things that top students across the country do, that you can also do, that will make your sixth form a whole lot easier and as a result a whole lot more fun…
Where so many students come unstuck in their GCSEs is they end up learning and revising material that is not useful or applicable to their exam. How many of us have got feedback before that says we did well on one topic but not on another? How many of us have revised a certain topic loads for an exam, only to find that it doesn’t come up at all?
For nearly all A Level subjects and BTECs (just as there was for your GCSEs) there is a specification that outlines exactly what you need to know for every exam and assessment you will sit. If it is not in the specification it cannot be in the exam.
This is the document that the teachers use to know what to teach – it is widely available and often provides tips for how to do well. If teachers are using it, why aren’t students? What the top students will do is use this document consistently throughout the next few years. Rather than base their notes on a text book or an online source, they will use their specification as their first port of call.
This may seem like a small point but the benefits of having an organized folder in sixth form are huge! There are two main reasons for this:
Firstly, an organized folder will save a student hours of revision in the long run. Typically, students who don’t have folders spend the weeks before their A Levels re-writing or making notes on topics they studied earlier in the year. Crucially this means they don’t leave enough time to do the necessary number of practice papers that is essential to succeed.
Secondly, an organized folder will increase your potential to memorize information. Why? Well the brain remembers information via a process called chunking – by taking similar bits of information and filling them into different sections (much like an organized folder!). By creating different sections of information and revisiting them often, you are reinforcing that information in your memory making it easier to recall at any given time.
Up until your GCSEs it was generally fine to keep an exercise book for each of your subjects – however when the content doubles in size and you’re expected to remember so much more information a folder is therefore going to be essential.
One of the phrases you are likely to hear repeated over the next few years is this notion of ‘independent work’. In order to do well at your A Levels it is no longer enough to just learn a textbook backwards - you’ll need to be doing the extra reading in order to ensure you get top marks.
Now – with the obvious time constraints of sixth form, finding time to do any extra reading can seem like an impossibility. But remember it’s that extra reading, not your notes or even your homework assignments, that are going to get you the most marks.
My advice therefore would be to prioritize your extra reading above your homework. The way to do this is to structure it into your day. Before you start your next piece of homework, spend 15 minutes doing a bit of extra reading or independent work: This could be in the shape of a practice paper question, a practice essay or even reading an extra article provided by a teacher.
Working like this will ensure you get the most important work done (i.e. practice papers, revision notes, mind maps) – and still leave you plenty of time to get those homework assignments handed in!
Talk to most students about group study and the majority would agree it is a waste of time. Whilst initially successful, after 30 minutes or so of effective work you descend into hours and hours of procrastinations and chat. However, using study groups effectively can be one of the easiest ways to reduce the huge workload of the next two years.
The way to use study groups effectively is to ensure that you do the majority of the work individually. Once you have split up the work (perhaps in class, in a tutor period or online over Facebook) do the work by yourself at home.
Once you have done the work, arrange a time to meet as a group. In this meeting you each teach the information you have learnt to the others and share the notes you have made. By teaching the information you are not only benefitting the others but also testing yourself to see whether you have actually understood the information. This is why teaching is often said to be the best form of learning.
Say each member of the group does this, and you each share the resources you have made, you can end up saving hours of work in the long run! In a study group of 4 people, one hour’s work should equate to four hours in return. Five hour’s work equates to twenty hours in return! Study groups are therefore the easiest way to reduce your workload in sixth form.
As soon as students hear any mention of goal setting in sixth form, it is usually regarded as an obvious cue to switch off. For most students the general goal of sixth form is pretty obvious – do the work and get good grades. However, having a specific goal throughout the course of sixth form is essential to high performance. A common trend we have found from interviewing and working with the top performing students around the world is that they are all motivated and driven by something very specific or personal to them. Not to their parents, not to their teachers, but to them.
A top student doesn’t just aim for straight A’s across the board, or to try harder at a certain subject but for a personal goal beyond sixth form – whether it be to study a specific course at university or enter a certain profession.
The importance of this all comes down to understanding how motivation works. The prospect of getting good grades isn’t all that much of a motivator – it’s what those grades can get you that will really inspire you to do the work.
Therefore, over the course of your sixth form it is worth taking the time out to try out new things or to look at courses and jobs you may be interested in doing the future. Whether it be shadowing a lawyer, interviewing a successful entrepreneur or visiting a desired university – it is these things that will get you motivated, not the prospect of handing in yet another coursework assignment.