A Student's Guide to Surviving A Levels


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We have all been there. Staring blankly into thin air, desperately trying to motivate ourselves to knuckle down and start revising for the dreadful exams that are to come.

Sadly, we live in a day and age where our future is largely dictated by our success or failure when it comes to A Levels. Although there is a divided opinion over whether 'you really need A Levels', there is no denying that getting the results that get you to a university and then get you a degree is of paramount importance if you are looking to get a job in future.

Sure, if you are going to go ahead with an apprenticeship scheme then maybe this guide isn't for you. However, for those amongst you who are looking to make it through this tough time and come out smiling then, I sincerely hope this guide is of help to you.

We will go through some of the key 'ingredients' that make up the clichéd 'recipe for success'. If you want, you can even write some notes as you read through and compile a list of things to keep in mind and stick it on your wall.

This guide is going to be structured chronologically, that is to say the tips I shall be giving towards the end of the guide will be the things you will need to consider closer to the actual day of your exam. I will also include a ‘tl;dr’ (too long ; didn’t read) paragraph at the end of each section for those amongst you who either don’t have the time to read an entire guide or are simply too lazy (bad trait to have, I might add).

Before heading forward though, I would just like to wish you the very best of luck with your exams and that remember, no matter the outcome, you will always find something to do in life and you just have to make sure that you enjoy it.


A bit about the author...

My name is Oliver McQuitty and I'm a student. I felt the need to write this guide after having finished the painful two-year process of getting my A Level qualifications. Currently residing in Southampton, or maybe elsewhere by the time this book goes out, I particularly enjoy making music and photography. If you have any suggestions for tips that could be added to this guide, feel free to contact me on Twitter - @OliverFrenchie

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Chapter 1 - Start Early


Now I know what you are thinking, “Really?! I’ve barely made it into sixth form and now you want me to start revising?!”. Seeing as you are asking so bluntly, yes.

Here’s a little story from my past. When I lived in France, my teachers used to give us surprise exams. Yup, you heard it. We would walk in on a Thursday morning and our teacher would plonk down a pile of exam papers for us all to do without any prior warning.

What we eventually figured out, was that the teachers were encouraging us to consolidate our notes at the end of the week and read through what we had done. They were trying to train up our memory and ensure that we fully understood the previous week of writing. Who wants to bring back a D- to their parents, we obviously wanted better results. So, we started revising on a regular basis just in case we got one of these surprise exams.

It is true, in fact, that most of us won’t even take in what we are writing. If your teacher is of the dictator type (no pun intended) then you will know that having to copy down what they are saying is a stressful job. If they are more of an illegible board-writer then again, you have to make sure you catch up with them before they erase it all.

If you allocate an hour or so every Friday evening to just read through the work you have done that week then I can guarantee you that you will remember at least 50% more of the work you completed that week than you would have without consolidating.

Not only this, you should start this process as early as possible. Think of it this way, the revision period is perhaps around a month long on average before your exams hit. Is it really possible to take in 100% of nearly 2 years worth of work in a single month, and socialise, and stay healthy, AND do the same for two or even three other A Level subjects?

It doesn’t even have to be an intense revision session. All you have to do is make yourself a cup of tea (other hot beverages are also available), sit down on the sofa and read through what you have been working on.

Heck, some of you may even write out notes about your notes (insert Inception-related banter here) to doubly ensure you have retained all the necessary information. If you want an organised way of going about doing this however, I would allocate a part of your folder to your ‘Friday Reading’. Then, when you have finished consolidating you can put the notes into their dedicated sections (if you don’t organise your folders into sections then frankly, you just suck), that way you make yourself read the notes and classify them rather than leaving them all in one big section.




Make sure you read through your notes at the end of the day or week to ensure that you really have taken in everything you have been taught. In starting this early on in the year, it will become a habit and will help you to retain information for longer. Realistically, your brain is a fleshy hard drive and it has a limit to how much stuff it can take in in one single go. It needs time to transfer all that information, time you can give it at the end of the week for one or two hours.

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Chapter 2 - Listen In Class


This guide may start to sound more like an angry parent than an informed guide written by a student, but every word of what your mum or dad may say is most likely going to be true.

Teachers are there for a reason, they either like sharing their passion for a subject and want to help kids succeed or they just want a lot of holidays. Either way, their advice will be invaluable to you.

Not only have they been through the education system at some point (maybe a long time ago), some of them may even know people who are part of the examination process or be a part of that process themselves.

If they tell you that learning a particularly boring part of the course is invaluable, then chances are it is essential that you learn it. If they give you advice on the way you should write or structure your essay then it’s probably best that you follow their structure.

Obviously, this may not be the case in every situation. I have had experiences in the past whereby one teacher has told me one structure to follow and another has told me something completely different. If this happens to you, then honestly you should just go with your gut feeling.

If you feel that a teacher’s method is incomprehensible or utterly ridiculous then don’t follow it. At the end of the day, it is YOUR exam to complete and so you should reflect YOUR knowledge and understanding of the subject in that very same exam.

That said, teachers usually drop hints and tips along the way of things they think will be in the exam, topics that won’t come up, ways of answering certain questions, etc. Remember, their job is to prepare students for their exams and widen their understanding of a subject, so they will be going through the same process each and every year.

This ultimately means that they have seen every exam paper of every year gone by and so know the structure and patterns that may or may not emerge from them. For younger teachers, chances are they sat those very same exams recently and know what to expect.

It’s equally important to note that these guys are experts in their fields, and they may even teach you an extra thing or two about those subjects. Now, whilst this extra information may not directly contribute towards your upcoming exam success, it will definitely enrich your personality and how you define yourself.

Similar to the concept of publicity, any information is good information. It just depends on how you use it.

Another thing to consider is that at A Level standard, the concept of synopticity is key to your exams. For those of you who are scratching your heads at that long word, all it means is to use wider information and form links from other areas you study to compliment your knowledge of the current area you are studying.

This idea is most prevalent in subjects such as Geography and Psychology, however the concept can be applied to language oral exams (knowing about current issues to discuss) or perhaps in the sciences.

Again, what your teacher says may fall into this category and ultimately help you to access some of those higher level marks through your wider understanding of the subjects at hand.



Your teachers know what they are talking about. They have spent years teaching A Levels and will most likely know the exam structure inside and out. Be sure to listen to the comments they have to say and the advice they give because they are the next best thing to the chief examiner when it comes to knowing about how exams work.


Don’t dismiss what they have to say as another ‘Advice Time with Mr. Smith”, instead look into what they are suggesting and see for yourself whether or not you would find it useful. Remember, these guys are employed to help you get the best results you possibly can.

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Chapter 3 - Keep A Healthy Lifestyle

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Chapter 4 - Create A Timetable

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Chapter 5 - Do Past Papers

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Chapter 6 - Collaborating And Testing

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Chapter 7 - The Day Of The Exam

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Chapter 8 - Surviving Results Day

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Chapter 9 - The Big Recap

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