The COVID-19 pandemic has affected students, parents and teachers, globally in the last couple of years. In both small and large ways, the virus has impacted young lives arguably the most by affecting their academic studies which go to the root of their daily routines and structure, and therefore, their emotional and mental health. This blog examines how problematic this period has been specifically for A-Level students, and the ways Alevels students can be successful without the important exam experience of GSCEs.
How has COVID affected A-Level students?
Back in the summer of 2020, most 16-year-olds across the UK may have celebrated the news that GSCE exams were cancelled. But as these students now enter their A-Level years, they may be feeling unprepared for what lies ahead… For example:
- It could seem more daunting to face A-Levels without previous pressurised exam experience at the GCSE level. GSCEs help young people practice dealing with the tensions of exams and learning revision skills under pressure. Of course, internal exams happen often in secondary school, but they don’t have the same importance or enforced structure as national examination board based public exams such as Edexcel, AQA, Cambridge and more.
- Here is a helpful analogy: Sports players often build up confidence by playing at youth level before joining the first team. The same principle applies to exams. The intensity of exam periods is impossible to fully replicate, at least not the UK education system. In other countries, particularly those with a heavy exam based teaching approach, such as China, France, Iran and others students are trained their entire academic lives for exams. Although, hard to imagine how exams can ever be useful, the GSCE exams are a useful steppingstone towards A-Levels exams, which are critical to university acceptance.
- For me personally, taking my A-Levels a few years ago, became less terrifying because I could remember and adapt the processes that I’d been through two years before. I knew the revision methods that suited me, and (crucially) those that didn’t.
How might A-Level students have benefitted from COVID-19 disruptions?
Despite the disruption and points above, students may have felt some advantages of not sitting their GSCEs over the last two years…
- The stress of GCSE/Alevels exam revision can be extremely tough for young people. Forcing students to take important exams that will impact the rest of their careers and lives at the age of 16, can potentially lead to mental health issues, specifically anxiety. So, while GSCEs could help prepare you for the examination demands of A-Levels, but equally it can feel like a relief. Instead students who received private tutoring and mentoring during the critical exam months + regular mock testing on past exam content, feel still caught up for Alevels and have better mental health. This is 100% true of our GCSE and Alevels students at Uber Tutors, anyway!
- Whilst A-Level students can sometimes use GSCE results to their advantage, poor results could be a reminder of past failure, and positive results could be a reason to slacken your effort. So mind the gap, young people!
- Having the time away from a school environment could have given a physical and mental break to students who needed it. Goodness knows, some students really benefitted from a quiet time away from all the buzz and anxiety of school, with online schooling at home, and being in the presence of supportive parents and family. Especially if they were privileged enough to not have COVID-19 impact their family and friends’ health, as so many in the UK did.
Seven Top-tips for A-Level students who didn’t sit the GSCE exams
- Challenge yourself mentally when not at school to catch up in exam writing practice and other activies that keep the brain nourished. The weekends are a perfect time to do Crosswords, jigsaw puzzles and even board games that build focus and stamina but nothing quite replaces taking active small steps in doing mock tests in your Alevels subjects.
- Don’t expect to instantly remember everything at the start of Alevels. Rustiness is natural after two years away from proper schooling! Everyone will be in the same fearful boat even if they don’t show it. Don’t be too shy to ask your teachers or family/friends to explain things you are struggling with. OR ask your parents to organise for a top private tutor to mentor you in your subjects and help you catch up in your studies. Alevels catch up tutoring at Uber Tutors is in full blast right now!
- Make an effort revising for your lessons regularly throughout the year! Try not to just do your homework and then leave everything to learn for the first time in exam season. There is simply not enough time in April/May months to go through everything in Alevels subjects in enough detail. It is called RE-vision for a reason!
- Remember to enjoy school too – with good time management! Mental well-being is always the most important thing. School might feel extremely boring, I empathise, but you get to be with your best friends every day and at A-Level you often receive more timetable freedom. Enjoying school means you you have a system in mind where you do all of your studies and revision work and still set (enough) time aside for socialising with friends (without overdoing it).
- Create exam-style circumstances for your practice papers – this is what I help my students do as a private tutor and recommend all students learn to do this on their own too. Replicate some of the pressure of important exams by rewarding yourself for doing well on timed past papers. Print a past paper, choose your questions, set the alarm, go! Every week. Mark yourself – don’t be shy. Show your practice papers to your teachers and friends to get help in areas you didn’t do well on.
- Set yourself specific and structured goals when revising. Allow yourself breaks when you reach a certain point, or fully understand a certain concept. Try not to overdo it.
- Don’t put too much pressure on your results. Stress is normal in Alevels and in exam season, but try and stay as calm as possible – if you don’t know how to stay more calm ask adults, teachers and private tutors/mentors for help. It is easier to remember things when you have a clear mind. Think back to other times you have dealt with pressure, and remember that you are always capable of doing more than you think.
It might feel extremely overwhelming to take on the task of your A-Levels without recent exam experience. You must remember that everyone is feeling similarly intimidated, and that there is a support system around you that can always help. A-Levels are important, but they are also doable! Let us know if we can help with our tutoring, mentoring, coaching support, tailored just for you….
For more top tips on the important GCSE and Alevels years and how to succeed on exams, see other articles here.