3 Top Tips For New Year 12s to Start the Sixth Form Right

The step up from GCSE to A-Level study is a tricky one, and something that's under-estimated by students and their parents alike. This means that every year we see students coming to us in the latter part of year 12, over the summer holiday and the beginning of year 13 who have got themselves into a bit of a pickle with their A-Level studies and need help straightening it out before it's too late.

But, wouldn't it be great if they didn't get themselves into a pickle in the first place?

This post is designed to help new year 12s start the sixth form right, so that they don't find themselves in a tricky situation later in their A-Level courses.

Read on to find out more.

3 Top Tips For New Year 12s to Start the Sixth Form Right

1. Revise from the beginning

You may be thinking to yourself, ‘But my GCSEs are only just over, I don't want to go back to revision straight away!'

I understand this thinking, and also the idea that A-Level exams are a long way away (it's actually only 21 months until they're over).

However, you're making your life more difficult in the long-run if you don't revise from the beginning.

Build a strong foundation

The very beginning of most A-Level courses usually consists of:

  • A whistle-stop tour of the GCSE content. This is to make sure you're up to speed, but if you're not already up to speed it can be way too fast to really make a difference to you. This happens in A-Level Chemistry (see the post on A-Level Chemistry for more on this). It's also why most sixth forms require you to have at least a grade 6, and often a grade 7 at GCSE in the subjects you take at A-Level.
  • Foundational content. This is knowledge and understanding that the rest of the course is built upon. A-Level biology is a good example where they nearly always start with cell biology – and you simply can't access the rest of the course properly if you don't have a thorough understanding of this foundational content.

Of course, at the beginning of your course your revision is going to look very different to what it will look like at the end. At this stage, you'll want to be spending time after every lesson to make sure you've:

  • Really understood the key concepts
  • You've assimilated all new subject-specific words into your vocabulary so that you can use them fluently in the future
  • You can talk about your new knowledge and understanding with confidence

You can't afford to wait long to do this consolidation work. This is because A-Level courses move a lot faster and have a lot more content than your GCSE courses.

Use some of the mini-study habits I suggest to do this revision/consolidation work from day 1 of your A-Level courses.

2. Use your frees wisely

Starting the sixth form comes with a sudden surge in the amount of freedom you have. This is seen particularly in the number of free periods you have each week.

But, as spiderman says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility'.

Basically, you need to use the freedom you have in a responsible way. You're not given frees to fritter away chatting with your mates in the common room. Instead, the frees are designed to give you the time you need to do the quantity of independent work required of you in the sixth form.

If you don't use your frees wisely you'll end up:

  • Very stressed because you're so behind
  • With much lower grades than you could have got
  • Or, both of the above

So, before the sixth form starts make a promise to yourself about how you're going to make wise use of your frees. And, stick to that promise.

3. Do the things no-one tells you to do

It's a bit naughty really, but quite a lot of assumptions are made about what sixth formers will do to support their studies outside lesson time – but often these things aren't make clear to the students themselves.

We've already talked about revising from day 1 – all your teachers will be expecting you to do this, even if they never actually tell you to do it. They expect you to do it on top of the homework that is set.

Other things that are expected and not said include:

Be mature and responsible

Basically, when you start the sixth form your teachers are expecting you to be mature and responsible about your studies. They really expect you to take ownership of what you're learning and make an attempt to problem-solve any issues you face with your learning on your own.

However, if your studies are taking up an unreasonable amount of time and you can barely keep up, or your teachers aren't catering for your learning differences then you need to speak up, ask for help and ask for a different approach.

Start the Sixth Form Right

This blog post gives you three key things you should bear in mind as you start the sixth form. However, if you want to take a systematic approach to starting the sixth form you should do the Start the Sixth Form Right Masterclass in The Extraordinaries Club. It's a helpful, practical and optimistic look at how to get yourself into the swing of sixth form studies quickly so that you don't find yourself floundering months down the road when it's hard to catch up.

One student who's done the Start the Sixth Form Right Masterclass over the summer wrote to me to say:

“Your videos have just made me so excited for sixth form and I can’t wait to get started. So thank you very much for making the Extraordinaires Club!”

Click here to join The Extraordinaries Club.

Other podcast episodes and blogs you'll find useful:

Successfully stepping up to the sixth form with Martin Griffin

What it takes to succeed in year 12, and what Spider-Man has to do with it!

Year 12 exams: The Challenges and Opportunities

A-Level History: Strategies for Success

A-Level Physics: How to Succeed

A-Level Chemistry: what it's like and how you can succeed

A-Level Economics: what is it and what's it like 

A-Level Biology: 5 common mistakes students make when studying 

A-Level English Literature: 5 common myths & misconceptions

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