Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Building an Adult: Going from BDDE to AAB

I’ve always been a good student as I work hard and do every assignment on time and (normally) to the best of my ability. I used to not really focus in class (gossip was far more important to me) and use my free time to catch up on work. This lazy method still let me get very good GCSE grades (5 A*, 5 A and a Distinction star) so I assumed that it would be okay for me to do the same during my A Level years. I was wrong. 

I started a new school for my 6th Form and struggled to settle down. I found the atmosphere and demands very different from my previous comprehensive and this affected me greatly. I was very depressed and payed very little attention to any of my school work. I just didn’t care about it and assumed that I could get by with little work - just like I had during my GCSEs. Obviously this didn’t work and I failed my Year 12 finishing with a B in Geography, Ds in Maths and Biology and an E in Chemistry. Shocking.

So my final year started badly with very little confidence instilled in my ability from my teachers. Much to the disappointment of my biology teacher in particular, I dropped maths as I hated almost every aspect of it and as a result sat through endless meetings with my Chemistry and Biology teachers on why I had made the wrong choice and that I should have dropped their subject. I do not know if you have ever had a teacher that has no belief in you but it is so disheartening as you begin constantly doubting your ability.

It would only get worse when I got my predicted grades of an A in Geography, a B in Biology and a C in Chemistry which were not enough for me to apply to any of the universities that I wanted to attend - I had to convince my teachers to increase my grades otherwise I was facing a year out. My Chemistry teacher sighed and reluctantly put my grade up to a B but the challenge was my Biology teacher who sent me an abrupt, catty email stating that he would put my grade up to an A but there was little chance of me getting this so I should only apply to one University asking for the higher grade. He said that at the moment it would be a struggle for me to get a B let alone an A and he didn’t want to get my hopes up about it.

However disheartening this email was I had my A prediction and so I could apply to almost every University that I wanted to and I received an offer from every one. That email had upset me but also stirred something as it made me realise how low people’s expectations were for me and made me determined to prove everyone wrong. So I started to work my arse off and ended the year with AAB - not just getting into my first choice University but proving almost everyone wrong. 

I have a few tips for anyone who desperately wants to change their grades or just wants to do better than they think they are capable of.

Tip number one: Believe in your ability 

I ignored what everyone was saying about me. When my Biology teacher told me that under no circumstances should I continue with Biology I just tuned him out. Our relationship was always turbulent with other people pointing out to me how much he hated me so I was quite used to ignoring him but if I had listened to how useless he thought I was then I wouldn’t have got my grade. If you just accept expectations then you are unlikely to be working to a higher level. Had listened to his ‘I’d be lucky to get a B’ remark then I would have just been doing B grade questions or focusing on B level past essays; however as I knew that I was able to achieve higher I was reading A grade work and doing stretch questions. Master believing in yourself and then turn your attention to your work.

So if your teacher is telling you that you aren't going to get higher than a C but you know that you can then prove them wrong and get those books out and just block them out.

Tip number two: Plan, plan, plan

Start your work now - start your A level revision tonight! 

I know it is only September but you need to plan ahead - I started properly at Christmas and if I had had an extra 10 weeks I think that I would have been able to get three As or more. So start tonight and print out (or buy) a weekly planner with each day broken down hour by hour. Then chose a topic that you are going to revise but be SPECIFIC! It is no good writing Chemistry Topic 15 because it covers a huge amount. PRINT OFF THAT SPECIFICATION and chose some points - not loads, keep it concise so you can focus properly. For example, instead of writing Topic 15 write Chemistry Topic 15: Reasons for changes of colour of transition metal ions. And once you have revised this tick off that specification point and date that mofo so when you are revisiting it later you can see how long it has been since you properly revised it. 

Allow for flexibility, especially in these early days as you may have a test sprung on you that you need to revise for but you have no room for it. Leave spaces and name it ‘flexible’ because then if nothing comes up you can either use that for free time or do something more useful such as flashcards or essay planning.

Tip number three: Time management

Some people can literally spend four hours straight revising but when you get to study leave and you are revising every single day I wouldn't advise this as you are likely to just crash. What I think works quite well is to revise solidly for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break and make yourself a drink or something then get right back to work. I would time these sessions using my Forest app which is just brilliant - seriously download is as you are then unable use your phone which is a massive distraction. Also you can keep a record of how long you have been revising for each day. At this point in the school year (September) I would aim for 4-6 hours maximum a day as you probably have a lot of school work to do as well but as you get closer to exam season the aim should be 6-8 hours every single day. 

Don’t forget you are allowed days off as you do not need to revise every day for 8 hours to achieve good grades. It is a waste of your time and will stress you out unnecessarily.

Tip number four: Revise effectively

I am going to go into more detail about this in another post but for now here are some good starting points. Make flashcards - Quizlet is my favourite revision site for GCSE and A Level as you can use it everywhere and you don’t have to carry around a box of flashcards - also you can see your progress which is so important. These flashcards shouldn’t have loads of text on - focus on key points and slowly cut them down over time until you just need some figures. Also if you are writing them out try and use some colour as it is scientifically proven to help you remember key points.

Do not waste time spending hours making notes of revision. You can get away with this initially but as you get closer to your exams it just becomes futile - copying out of a textbook is never a good idea and takes hours. Utilise your time to maximise your potential - although it looks pretty for those Instagram pictures it will not get you your A!

Past paper questions are your friend. I know that (in the UK at least) there have been massive changes to exams so you may think that it is pointless using old questions; however for a lot of subjects such as Chemistry or Biology the majority of the topics covered are similar so are completely useable. By the end of the year I was using Chemistry questions from 2003 and THEY WERE STILL RELEVANT. 

For more essay based subjects you may find it harder to find useable questions; however I would have a look at other exam boards as they probably don’t differ too much. Use specification questions and their revision guides (do them in pencil or on separate paper so you can retest yourself and maybe sell on later). 

I totally ran out of useful questions in my Geography so I asked for my teachers to write me some and mark them - they may make a fuss about this but you shouldn’t care too much. Both my parents are teachers and A Level students are their highest priority so milk that kindness. And if for some reason they aren’t helping you, find another fucking teacher and use them! Make them make you questions and mark these questions as this is literally what they are being paid for and they would much rather focus on you than Year 7s. Get them to print off past examples of work - schools tend to have years of recalled scripts that are marked with official grades on. Get these, study them and master the exam technique. For some parts of A Level courses it is almost like copy and paste so figure those sections out so you can master them before the exams are imminent. 

Tip number five: Stay focused

This can be hard, especially if you feel like you aren’t making progress. I understand this feeling so badly. We had Christmas mocks (joy) and I managed to scrape a D in my Chemistry exam even though I had revised so hard for it (spoiler: I cried a lot). It felt like my teachers were winning and that no matter what I did I wasn't doing to get into University. But I used this to push myself and work even harder. I used my mistakes in the papers to highlight areas of concern and I made sure that my poor grades weren't just going to be ignored. 

Still, sometimes you need something else to help you keep going and get over the bad grades. You may use this blog post but I, obviously, didn’t have access to this. Instead I found inspiration from the wonderful Ibz. I was an OG subscriber and have watched him grow from 400 odd subscribers to thousands and I am so proud. I have lost count of the number of times that I have rewatched his videos to remind me that success was possible and my hard work would eventually be rewarded. If you are ever feeling like it just isn’t possible you have to watch them - I used to watch them in between my revision sessions just so I could keep the motivation ticking over and he continues to inspire me to this day.

If (somehow) you still need inspiration to keep you motivated I advise to take a day off work. Do nothing. Sit on your arse and watch TV all day or see your friends or Netflix and Chill - I don't care just don’t think about work. This motivational lull is probably because you have over worked yourself and you are in the process of crashing. After your day off start again the following day but ease into it with a topic you like so you don’t instantly become overwhelmed. Try not to take more than a day or two off though as it will become harder to get back into the zone.

If you are losing focus whilst revising go outside and take a walk or go to the gym - just don’t stay in one place a you will just feel bad about being unable to work. If you take a half an hour walk and listen to a good podcast (I recomend My Dad Wrote a Porno but that is another blog post) or some good music (get that Beyoncé on) you will feel so much better. Trust me. 

The next year (or years) may seem so daunting to you but achieving good grades is possible for everyone. I had some of the worst grades in A2 this time last year but I finished with some of the best (not the best but within the top 20). Nothing will beat the relief I felt from getting my grades and proving all my crap teachers wrong - I believe in you and know that if I can do it then girl/boy, you can ace them. So now after reading this I want you to take out that homework you’ve ignored or find that chapter in Chemistry you hate and fucking revise it because otherwise you are going not be achieving the grades that you and I know you can.

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