Category Archives: A LEVEL

A MONTH OF SUMMER LEFT TO BUILD YOUR UCAS APPLICATION

If you are a year 12 student about to move into year 13 you will probably be making a UCAS application to universities in the Autumn once you get back to your school or college. You will therefore soon be nailing down your final choice of five universities and familiarizing yourself with the UCAS online ‘apply system’ (https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/apply-and-track).

 

Now we are at the end of July, of next year’s university applicants will have had at least a week and possibly as much as a month or more since the end of the last school term. With a month or so to go before the start of their final academic year before university, it is time to start thinking about how to productively spend the rest of the summer in order to have the best possible chance of making a strong university application.

 

Time to think: what can I do to help support my application and to add to my personal statement. Think about:

 

  1. Work Experience – are you intending to apply for a degree that will lead you to a specific career? If so, have you ever had any experience of that career? If you want to be a lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, physiotherapist, architect or accountant – can you get some experience in this field during August and throughout the academic year? I bet you can!
  2. Go and visit – the university or department you want to go to may have an open day in the next month or so (find out at http://www.opendays.com/) but even if they don’t this is a great time to go and visit the university or even just the town or city where you will be living.
  3. Read and research – whatever you want to study at university, you need to be able to convince an admissions tutor that you are able to study that subject at undergraduate level. You will need more than just your A level/IB/Higher (or whatever) knowledge to do this convincingly. Start reading a broadsheet newspaper everyday, subscribe to a popular journal such as The Economist, The New Scientist or The Student BMJ and pick up some back issues from your local library or online. What about a book or two in the field you want to study? Use google to recommend some popular literature and read for an hour or so a day. You’ll learn a huge amount about your subject to write about or discuss at interview and it will give you a real confidence boost before you make your application.

 

The final deadlines may feel a long way off, but they will be upon us very soon:

15 October 2015 – Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Dentistry

15 January 2016 – All other applications

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A NEW YEAR!

On Monday, as in many schools and colleges thought the uk, a new academic year begins. For us at Ashbourne this means registration days,  induction meetings and ‘getting-to-know-you’ for students followed by a full-day ‘welcome back’ meeting for the staff. 

As a senior manager this is arguably the most important week of the college year. For the students coming to us for the first time it is essential that the college presents itself as the modern, inclusive, successful institution we believe ourselves to be. The focus is three fold:

1. Efficiency – we have a lot of students to process in a short space of time. We need to reduce ‘hanging around time’ to a minimum, ensure there is plenty for the students to be doing and that we take their details and diseminate materials and information swiftly. 
2.  Professionalism – a slick, professional first impression is crucial.  there should be no hint that anything is going wrong (even if it is) and all staff should be well drilled and know exactly what is required of them that day. 
3.  Welcoming and friendliness – sixth firm colleges are curious places. Students join in our case from all over London and the world. Despite some bravado and some brave faces, most of them are nervous and frightened. “Will this be the same as my old school?” “I don’t know anybody here!” “Everyone seems to know someone except me!” “Everyone seems so clever/smart/good looking/popular (or whatever…)” the college staff have a very important job to do to settle nerves and make everyone feel welcome. 

If any if these don’t happen or are not delivered at 100% it is very easy to “lose a life” with the students. It is so important for them to leave with the impression that they have made a good choice, that they will be successful and welcome and that they are looking forward to getting started. 

Good luck to anyone starting a new school or college next week and good luck to the staff involved in making their first few days run smoothly.

ADVICE ON CHOOSING YOUR A LEVEL SUBJECTS

If you are about to receive your GCSE results. Good luck! If you had worked hard for them, you will no doubt be feeling about collecting them.  I hope it goes well for you and you manage to get the results you need to help you move in with your life.
If you plan to stay in education you may also be considering your A level choices. Advice on A level choices is varied and can depend on who you speak to and their own educational background.
Here is some advice that I think is impartial and also puts the some of the many points to consider in one place.
Do something you like and do something you are good at 
This is always my number-one piece of advice. There are various other factors to consider when choosing A level subjects of course, but after you’ve considered these, please always come back to these two questions:
– Am I good /going to be good at this subject?
– Do I/will I enjoy this subject?
If you do this, it is difficult to go far wrong with your choices. You have to remember that A levels are difficult qualifications to get. Whatever the press may tell you, whatever you hear about ‘grade inflation’ or that A levels are no longer the ‘gold standard’ in British education, the fact remains that they are tough. There is an old cliche about the gap between gcse and A level and that many are unable to bridge this gap, but it is more that a cliche. It is true.  If you have no real interest in the subject or if you struggled at GCSE level, no matter how good (or bad) your teachers or how hard you worked (or didn’t), you will have a difficult time over the next two years.
Do you want to go to university?  What do you want to study when you get there?
 
Some people already know what they want to do post-A level which can be a big help in choosing A level subjects.  For example, if you want to be a doctor, you will almost certainly have to do at least two from biology, chemistry, maths and physics.  If you want to do a history degree it makes sense to study history A level, if you are keen on biochemistry it would make sense to do biology and chemistry and if you want to study French, it would be difficult to do this without French A level!
If you’re not sure about what you want to do post-A level, don’t panic and don’t feel like you have to decide now.  A levels are not “vocational” qualifications, in themselves they don’t prepare you you specifically for a career.  They are designed to be studied, learned and enjoyed and although some subjects may guide you towards particular careers, that is not necessarily the main reason to choose a subject.
I want to be a lawyer so I’ll do A level law, right?
This is a common misconception.  You don’t need to do law A level either to be a lawyer or to study law at university.  Similarly you don’t need an economics degree to study economics and you don’t need to take business studies A level to study business.  In fact a huge number of degree subjects do not have any specific A level requirements.  I therefore suggest you go back the the “do I enjoy this/am I good at it” rule when considering your A level choices.
Facilitating subjects
Having said that, in recent years, the Russell group http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/ (a group containing some of the UK’s leading universities) have recently stipulated that they prefer students to have a specified number of ‘facilitating subjects.”  This is a rather short list of A level subjects – just maths, english literature, biology, chemistry, physics, history, geography and any modern foreign language count as facilitating subjects.  So, if you are considering applying to a “top” university you would do well to do at least one and maybe two or three of these subjects.
However, I would advise not getting too hung-up on facilitating subjects, especially if they don’t meet the “do I like it/am I good at it” criteria.  There are many A level subjects which are very interesting and may be more likely to suit you.  I happen to think that, for example, media studies, psychology and film studies are unfairly derided as “soft” subjects.  Several of these allegedly “soft” subjects are academically demanding, interesting and provide unique opportunities to study material you may never otherwise get.
 
Do your homework
For this reason, it is extremely important that you do your homework and know what you are studying. What is the subject ACTUALLY about?  Will you enjoy this? Will you be good at it?  Film studies is not all about making films, in fact it is quite closely aligned to english literature.  Drama and theatre studies is only around 50% acting, psychology is not about analysing dreams and philosophy is not a big two year debate on the meaning life.  Perhaps the most misunderstood of these is psychology which, at A level, is a very scientific subject very similar to biology and so well suited to students taking sciences and maths.
How many?
To impress a university entrance panel, take three or four subjects and do well.  Taking five, six or even more subjects does little to improve your chances.  Three (plus an AS level) is definitely much better than two, but after that there is a law of very diminishing returns.  Focus on getting AAA not BBBBB!!
Don’t chose your best GCSE scores if your mind was set
A common mistake is for students to pick their A levels before GCSE results day, only to find that they do slightly better in another subject at GCSE and make a late switch to this subject.  For example you pick English, French and maths because you like them and are good at them, then on GCSE results day, you get an A* in history and an A in French so you decide to history instead of French.  Don’t switch!  You chose French for all the right reasons and those reasons are still valid!
Good luck on results day!

LABOUR OPPOSE TORY A LEVEL REFORMS

Having written previously about why I fear Michael Gove’s A level reforms will disadvantage our young people and lower standards rather than raise them, I read with interest in today’s Guardian that Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary has committed to putting Tory A level reforms “on hold” should Labour win the next election.  Although he states that some elements of the new A levels will be retained, crucially, the AS level component will be retained.  It remains to be seen which other elements they would chose to keep, but I do hope that coursework, controlled assessment and multiple opportunities to take papers form some part of any new A level introduced under a Labour government.
In the article http://gu.com/p/4vk8p reference is made to the unhappiness of universities and schools and of how the Tory proposals would benefit candidates at independent schools.  Retention of the AS system wold be extremely valuable to students from state schools who wish to apply to university.  At present these candidates make more progress from GCSE to A level and so often apply to university with GCSE grades that do not reflect their true ability.  The AS level allows them to demonstrate this progress to the universities before they apply and so allows them to compete better with their peers at private schools who may well also have good AS levels, but who are statistically more likely to have better GCSE grades.
I will not here disclose my political persuasion and would say that it appears that some current Labour party policy is designed to be reactionary and made for the purposes of political point scoring.  However, when Hunt in his speech claims that “The Tories are turning the clock back on social mobility. David Cameron’s regressive policy to end the current AS-level qualification will close the window of opportunity for many young people wanting to go to university,”  This is not simply electioneering or opposition for the sake of opposition, on this matter, Labour have a point, and a good one.  Gove’s reforms are likely to damage the opportunities of state-educated pupils.

A LEVEL RETAKES – YES OR NO?

If you receive your A level results next week and haven’t done as well as you would have liked or as well as you had expected, there are many options available to you.  One of these options is to re-take some or all of your A levels again.  Whether or not you do this will depend on many different factors but it could be a shrewd move.
Your own individual circumstances will dictate whether or not you decide to do this, but here are some things to consider before you do:
Retaking can close doors as well as open them
Some universities and some degree programmes have a strict policy on retakers that is very simple – “we don’t accept candidate who have retaken their A levels.”  Some medical schools operate this way for example and you may find other competitive degrees with similarly inflexible policies.  Call them and speak to the relevant admissions tutors before you waste your time.
Can you stay motivated?
As your friends and peers go off to university or off on their gap years, can you stay motivated to do another year of A level, perhaps still at home, perhaps with students a year younger than you, learning the same material you have been learning for the last two years?  This is a very important question, if the honest answer is no, then retaking could well be a huge waste of time and possibly money.  You might be better to spend a year doing something more constructive such as working, volunteering or traveling.
Where will I do it?
You could approach your school or college and see if they will take you back – they might, but they possibly won’t and so you will need to make other arrangements.  You could:
  1. Self-study – sounds like a nice idea as you picture yourself pouring over the books in a coffee shop with few other cares in the world, but self-study is really only for the super-motivated.  You have to be phenomenally committed to focus for a whole year.  That year suddenly seems like a very long year indeed once the hullabaloo of results day has calmed down
  2. Find another college – there are many colleges with specialist one-year A level retake courses.  Several of these are in London, but there are more throughout the UK.  Do your research and find the one that suits you best
It could be the best thing you ever did
A year seems like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it really is not.  If you know that you under-performed in your A levels and you believe you can do better, you have a great opportunity to go to a university that corresponds with your abilities and talents rather than one that corresponds with your results first time around.
For example if you achieve, let’s say BCC in your A levels, you’ve actually don’t quite well and you could, if you wanted to get into university either through clearing or some other means.  And this might well be what you want to do, if so – fantastic, go for it!  However, if you know for certain, deep-down in your heart-of-hearts that you didn’t work hard enough, that there was some external factor that affected your results and that those results are just not a reflection of your ability, then you should strongly consider re-takes.  If after a year those results are all one or even two grades higher, you are on to a good thing and that could change your life in a positive way forever.
On the other hand, if you know that BCC was the absolute best you could achieve and you put everything into it first time around, you need to consider whether another year is really going to make much difference.
Be realistic
If you have grades of DEU in your A levels, you will have to be exceptionally committed to your studies and extremely well taught to achieve AAA second time around.
Some universities welcome retake candidates because it shows a great commitment, that you are prepared to make sacrifices and that your education is important to you.  However, you need to be slightly more pragmatic and selective in your choices.
Have a focus and a reason for retaking
You are much more likely to be successful if you have a goal to work towards.  Do your research first, find a few universities that you want to go to, find out their entry requirements and consider whether or not you think you can achieve them.  Then focus on the grades you need to get in, this will be motivating as the year goes on and you hit a trough with your studies and revision.
Do your homework
If you have missed-out on university, or you have rejected a place at university because you believe you can get in somewhere else, you have another chance with retaking, but it will likely be your last chance.  For this reason, you need to do your research and be prepared.  Make sure you are not wasting your time.  Contact universities and departments in advance and have an open conversation with them.  Tell them why you under-performed, tell them why you think you can do better this time, ask them “will you consider my application?” Listen carefully to their response and only apply to universities you feel will consider you equally with first-time applicants and who have a positive response to your circumstances.
Exploit other avenues first
If you achieved results that are close to those you need for university, don’t rush to retake. For example, if you needed ABB and you got BBB.  Make sure you exploit all other avenues first.  Have you called the universities?  Have you looked at clearing?  Have you thought about taking a year out to get some more experience before applying again?  Only then should you decide to retake.
Retake everything or be selective?
Again, you need to chat to some university admissions departments before you make this decision.  It also depends on whether you missed out on all of your grades or just some of them.  You may also need only to retake odd units within the A level.  Whatever your personal circumstances here, you might want to consider not only retaking your A levels but also taking another A level or AS level entirely from scratch.  This will demonstrate a strong commitment to your education, it will be a strong statement of intent, the new material will keep you motivated and it may even give you other options when it comes to university applications.
A level results are not the be-all-and-end-all
It could be that gaining work-experience, or even just life-experience is more valuable than improving your A level grades.  Again, have a chat to some universities about your best options before you embark on a retake programme.
Good luck on results day!