For all my American readers, Sixth form college is like the sixth and seventh years of Hogwarts.
This blog post will mostly be of help to people who are going to Sixth Form and are going to study at least one of the following A Levels: Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Psychology, English Literature and History.
I've learnt quite a lot during the last three years (I had to repeat my first year) and I am going to share with you everything I've learnt. And trust me when I say this: I've learnt a lot. If there is one thing I could wish for, it is to go back to the beginning of my first year with all this knowledge.
This is going to be long so grab a cup of tea and some biscuits. It's over 4000 words for anyone who wants to know.
The following topics will be addressed in the post:
Structure of your day
The social side of things
First, organisation will save your life. I don't think this was stressed much by teachers when I first started. In fact I was tricked. Teachers told me they would make the transition easy before I even went to college and that they would go easy on us in the first few weeks. What really happened? BAM! They threw us into a pool with sharks on our first day.
Keep a lever arch file at home for each of your subjects and take one ring binder with you to college for all subjects with subject dividers. Use that ring binder to collect handouts and important pieces of information such as revision timetables and lesson plans. Then have a notebook or a pad of paper to write on.
And always make sure you have paper. People get sick of you quickly if you are constantly asking for paper. A lot of us are broke and won't be happy if we're having to buy notepads every few days because you can't be bothered to get yourself the stuff you need. And number each page and add the date. It'll pay off if your folder explodes and mine did that every week when I dropped it accidentally.
Always have more than 2 pens with you. They break. Especially when you need them. And have a non-black and non-blue pen to annotate notes if you need to.
Take a small chunk of post-it notes with you to college and put it in your diary and write the most important stuff on their such as appointments, exam dates and homework. And make at least 2 notes of your homework just so you can never forget. Teachers aren't as forgiving as they were in school.
Next, always have a pencil. And if you do Maths/Chemistry/Physics/any subject requiring a calculator, BRING ONE IN! There was always one student in classes who never had one and always complained about not having one. They're not even that expensive.
Have a strong bag. You'll need it when you're always lugging around 10000kg of stuff every day. And get some heat packs for the back ache.
I've mentioned this already but teachers in sixth form are not usually like teachers from school. In school, teachers would be forgiving with you, especially if they liked you but in college, they expect you to have matured. You are in college because you are choosing to be there. Unless you have a valid excuse, missing homework will not go down with the maths teacher who can burn holes into you by just looking at you.
They will often treat you as adults. This can be good and bad.
Good: they will respect you and ask for respect back. they won't shout as much. they won't give you detentions.
Bad: they will not want to know every aspect of your personal life unless it's affecting your studying. they can still send you to the principal and will call your parents if they need to. they will not deal with your crap. they will expect you to ask for help rather than constantly following up on you.
The bit on teachers not dealing with your crap refers to rowdy and disruptive students. My new college was relaxed with students like this but my old college would take you out of lessons and simply ask to hand in your ID and leave.
At the beginning of your course, evaluate your teacher. Are they effective? Do they ramble? If you find the teacher is incompetent, see if you can switch into another class. And if that isn't possible, consider dropping. This is drastic but I've spend the entire year with a feckless teacher who handed back our mock exams 7 weeks later on our last lesson and always complained about me being ill (I actually have a serious illness), was always ill himself, never gave us adequate help in catching up and would always spend the majority of the lesson talking about his life. And he was the head of department.
STRUCTURE OF YOUR DAY
This part was completely shocking. I never knew what to do with all that unstructured time.
You will often have morning lessons, a break, more lessons, lunch and then afternoon lessons. You will probably start around 8:45 and finish around 4. My old college finished at 4:15.
Lessons will follow a similar structure.
Come into lesson. Teacher takes register. Do a starter. Do main stuff. Get homework. Leave.
But it is outside of lessons that everything changes because you will start to get something potentially dangerous. Free periods.
While I used free periods to study and catch up with my homework or go home and study if I had at least 90 minutes, many used them to relax or go to the canteen. Bad idea. This is time that you can use to your advantage. Think about it. Getting your work done in college means you can go home and do whatever you want!
When people tell you A Levels are hard, they aren't joking. They seriously are hard and this needs to reflect in your habits. Just spend 2 hours a week in the library doing your homework and you'll have more spare time after college to sleep or meet up with old friends from school.
Note that a lot of students may travel to get to college. I used to get home after 5 in my first year and I was so tired I would watch TV, eat dinner and go to sleep. In fact, I had no choice but to work during free periods when my brain was still working.
This won't apply to every college but I find canteens to be gross, smelly and noisy. Use the canteen to eat and that's it. I know someone who uses the canteen to study. Urgh. No. Just go to the library. It won't kill you to work in an environment where you aren't going through £10 of cookies every hour. Plus, your waistline will thank you for it.
Food tends to cost a bit more in college than school. Maybe because college food tastes a little bit nicer and you won't get it in shit plates anymore. So keep a bit more change on you for lunch. But note, the food isn't always a major improvement.
Fizzy drinks: the cans cost less than bottles so if you can, take the cans. In my second college we could take cans into most classes. Only get bottles if you aren't going to drink it immediately. And the drink stays colder longer in cans than bottles.
Always keep emergency money on you. There have been many times where I've left my wallet at home and have been hungry all day and too shy to ask friends for money. Emergency money is also good for train tickets, taxis, bus tickets and general annoyances that can arise during the college day.
Take a bottle of water with you at all times. In case you get thirsty. You will probably be able to fill it up from a sink/water dispenser in the canteen.
I've addressed this lightly somewhere but A Levels are hard.
When everyone tells you this, ask them for advice instead of laughing them off. Because they are not joking. I thought everyone was just trying to scare me but they know more than you do so ask them about how to make A Levels not as hard.
These are some simple tips:
Catch up if you miss a lesson. I get ill a lot and so was always falling behind. I never caught up and when you get to exams, you suddenly regret it.
Ask teachers for help. Teachers aren't there to make your life miserable and unfortunately, it took me a while to realise this. Most teachers will be happy to help you out and will give you their email address if you need to contact them outside of lessons. Don't ignore them. And don't be rude to them. Seriously, they will not appreciate it and will help you out a lot more if you do treat them with respect.
Don't do Chemistry unless you love this subject so much you'd marry it or need it for university. It's very hard. I got an E at AS Level even though it was always my best subject since Year 7. And only take it if you took Triple Science(EDIT: This won't apply to everyone. If you are a double science student, make sure to go over the triple science stuff before you start). And don't sniff the chemicals during experiments. I speak from experience. Migraines for 48 hours are NOT WORTH IT! Although we did this one experiment that always smelt of cooking apples!
If you're taking Maths, do a lot of past papers. Lots of them. Done all of them? Do them all again. It's the best way to improve and revise. And have a spare calculator in exams. And make sure BOTH work before you go into the exam hall.
For Biology students, summarise your notes. There is a lot of information in Biology and simplifying it all will help. And drawing diagrams will be your new hobby lol! And if you dissect in your college, prepare for gross stinky shit all over your lab coat and your shoes.
Psychology requires a lot of memorisation so be prepared for lots of headaches and repeating things like a spaz under your breath while revising. And have lots of revision cards next to you. Remember, one study for each revision card. Write the aim, summarise the method and write the findings. Then write down at least 3 evaluation points for each study.
English Literature. Read all the books before the course starts. Make sure you've read each book at least 3 times before the exam. Annotate these books. I was anal about this in the beginning but writing notes on paper will take longer and it's easy to lose loose sheets. And post-it notes help a lot with major points in the book. Plan all your essays and write them all out when you aren't playing Angry Birds and watching Waterloo Road at the same time.
History. Oh deary me. This A Level is nothing like GCSE. In fact, I got a B in my GCSE with no revision and 20 minutes to spare at the end of my exam. And I missed out one of the larger questions as GCSE. Anyone taking this, prepare for a heart attack. The essays are brutal. Make sure you have a good, solid argument and refer to your argument and the question at the end of each paragraph. And if you need to include historiography, find 2 pieces of historiography that argue differently so you can compare them and decide which is the most valid. And back up your argument with evidence. NOTE, this subject is not for the weak hearted. And build up a strong writing hand for the exam because you have lots to write in these exams and not enough time.
I had a breakdown in my first year and refused to get help for it. But if I had gone to a counsellor and gotten help then I would not have underachieved in my subjects and would not have had to take three years in college. I couldn't deal with the transition from school to college for anyone who's wondering what happened. And my first college wasn't terribly supportive.
Needing help does not make you a weak person and if you need help, get it quickly.
If you are feeling depressive, go see your GP and let people close to you know how you are feeling. My family were useless as most Asian families are when it comes to mental health problems but one of my friends was the best person I could tell even though she was also Asian. She was also struggling like me and was never judgmental. Always make sure you have a friend like this who you can rely on. They're also great when you need to complain about something lol!
When you do make an appointment with a counsellor, go to it and make sure you have a plan of what you are going to say so you can be sure you don't miss anything. And the first time you talk about these problems, it can be very difficult. I didn't go back to my counsellor after the first time and she couldn't bring it up with me outside of counselling so I continued to suffer in silence although admitting my problems to her and knowing that I still needed help. I guess I was just too scared to go back.
Remember, counsellors are not going to judge you on anything. They won't go to your parents and tell them everything. They won't send you off to a mental institution. Their job is to just give you advice.
If things are really bad for you, counselling is only going to be a step in the right direction and not the cure to everything. You may need to go to a GP and ask to be referred to therapy. They may also give you Anti-Depressants which will help you enough to get you through the therapy. The Anti-D's will not solve anything but will help, like the counselling. Therapy would be the best thing though if things don't improve.
This probably won't apply to everyone but when I got Anti-Depressants from my doctor, I made the mistake of telling my family who took them away from me because they were worried I'd get hooked. While not all families are like this, if you suspect your family aren't going to be supportive and helpful, it may not be the best idea to tell them all of your problems. But do let them know things aren't going great for you so they go a bit easy on you.
Things will get better but you have to really work with them. Don't ignore your problems and if it's seriously starting to affect your ability to study, I recommend talking to teachers you trust. They were once students too and you never know, they might have some valuable advice. They may also go easy on you with homework and lessons. And it never hurts to let them know that your decrease in grades is not due to laziness or something.
Although you're taking less subjects at A Level, there is an insane amount of work to get through.
The most important thing to do is to make sure it gets done as early as you can. Don't let the work build up. I swear it's like an aggressive cancer. Keep a diary to put down all the important homeworks you have to do and write down when they are due in. Try to get work done on the day that you get it.
Be serious and prioritise. Homework is more important than going to see that new movie that's just come out. Unless the movie is Harry Potter but now the movies have all come out, you won't have this problem.
You will also find yourself with a lot of freedom in college. Use this freedom wisely. Free periods should be used to catch up, revise, do homework or study to supplement knowledge gained from lessons. Extra information never harmed anyone.
THE SOCIAL SIDE OF THINGS
Be nice to people. I've found a lot of bitchy people in college and it can seriously dampen your day. Smile at classmates and say hi. Don't say rude things about them in any case unless there is absolutely no chance they will find out.
Identify the toxic people. Things haven't improved that much since school. You will still find jerks/bitches/idiots and the best thing to do is to ignore them, stay out of their way and make sure you don't cross paths with them. If they are in your class, then simply ask your teacher in private to make sure you never have to do group work with them. The worst thing ever in class is doing a large project with a group of people who will make you do all the work and will also not let you do it peacefully.
Devote some time during the week for social events. If you have nothing to look forward to, you'll get depressed. I know I said that homework is more important but this is unfortunately a case of trying to balance things effectively. A few hours with friends now and then will help you relax and give you a reason to not stab yourself or someone else during a dissection in Biology.
There may be a time during sixth form when you fail at something. It can be inevitable.
For me, it was soul crushing and made me really depressed.
What I realise now is that although failing was horrible at that time, I know realise that it's an opportunity to change. If you do fail, don't mope about it and learn why you failed and try to stop doing that. Don't let it get you down.
Remember, if you do fail, your life is not over. You can still get back up and continue to fight. Or you can run away from your problems. But seriously, you can still be successful in life, even if you do fail Unit 1 Biology and Unit 1 Chemistry.
I know what you're thinking. But people in college are mature!
No. They. Are. Not. All. Mature.
In fact, there will be some people you meet and you will honestly begin to wonder why they are even bothering when they have the mental capacity of a brain dead mammal.
While you find that bullies from school are suddenly nice, the real bullies will still be there and they will take advantage of 2 things.
1) Less fear of punishment. Because everyone assumes you've all grown up, there will no longer be the crap punishments that were used in high school. Bullies will know that they won't be getting a detention.
2) A weaker security net. This security net was a lot stronger in school and in college, your friends won't be in your class to back you up. Also, teachers may not take it as seriously as they did in school.
While bullying isn't as bad in college as it is in school, be prepared to have to deal with shit from other students. If you can, avoid them. If not, consider trying to find their weak points. If you're a girl and you're dealing with a guy, I think his weak point is pretty obvious. AHEM!
If someone is threatening you or you fear for yourself, please tell someone. Also, there must be a policy on bullying. If it gets bad, talk to the Vice-Principal or the Principal if you can get to him/her.
Okay so let's just admit it now. Revision is not going to be the most exciting part of your course.
You're going to need a lot of motivation and you're going to want to start early. Say your first exam is on 15th May, start your revision for this exam at least 30 days before the exam just so you have space in case something disastrous pops up to annoy you/create problems.
Identify the best way for you to revise. Standing up? Sitting down? Writing notes? Making posters? In silence? With music? In long chunks? In short bursts?
Keep yourself hydrated while revising with water. Coke will not help.
Caffeine is not your friend. You will get half an hour of an energy burst and then collapse. Eat fruit and drink water instead. If you need to refresh yourself, take a shower or go on a walk.
Next, nobody is going to do your revision for you. It's your responsibility. So sort out some k
ind of a revision timetable and stick to it.
And stay away from distractions. When you're in the middle of exams, you don't want to be writing blog posts such as this. Lol. Limit your TV time and social time. Inform your family of your impending doom and ask them to kindly be quiet so you can focus.
If you find it hard to revise in your house, go down to your local library. Not many people go to them so you are guaranteed to find a quiet area with no TV and no kitchen. When I'm revising, I go to the kitchen a lot to grab some food because I'm bored. This is why I gain 20 lbs during each exam season.
You want to make sure you have all your notes. And go through practice papers and actually do them. Learn the mark schemes, especially if you're studying AQA Biology because those examiners are incredibly fussy.
This is when everything you've been doing during the year will come back to haunt you.
Exams are going to be very stressful and you need to prepare for them. Make sure you have everything you need. Calculators. Pens. Pencils. Rulers. Do not go in unprepared. Plan everything to avoid anything coming up and stressing you out.
Wear comfortable clothes. Consider turning up in your pyjamas. While you'll look like a complete moron, everyone else will be too stressed out and anxious to give a crap about what you're wearing.
When you get out of the exam, avoid the urge to discuss things with friends or you'll be in a panic until you get your results and declare that you will live a life of claiming benefits while watching Emmerdale, reading the Daily Mail and complaining about the immigrants because your life is shit.
Oh and this might be important but avoid the urge to turn around in the exam and knock the shit out of the idiot who keeps tapping his or her pencil/pen. Instead, get one of the invigilators to ask them to kindly stop. Feel free to knock the shit out of this idiot once you have left the hall. And if you are the person who keeps tapping his/her pen, STOP IT!
Don't lock up your problems. Deal with them before everything explodes in your face and you're left with this huge nightmare of a mess that is your life.
Treat everyone around you with respect.
Don't piss about. These 2 years are not going to be easy.
Get a part time job. This is even more important with the fees increase. If you go to uni, you'll be preparing for three years of Pot Noodles and cold pizza from last week and a shitload of debt. Plus, there's nothing wrong with having some money. Although I understand it's hard to get a job in this climate. I've not been able to get a job in college and I regret it a lot.
Be happy. Smile at people. Say hi. Don't be rude. People will not like someone who frowns at them when they say hi.
Do your best to enjoy these 2 years. You want to be able to look back on your time in college and smile, not shudder and swear you'll never go near that place again. Even if things get tough, try to keep something with you that makes you happy. Stay close to friends. And join college clubs and groups. You'll make new friends and discover new things that you enjoy.
Use the library. It's cheaper than buying every textbook under the sun.
A Levels aren't for everyone. If you aren't enjoying lots of studying for exams, try thinking of doing a more practical and vocational course.
Always have a clean learning environment. No clutter. No food wrappers. Messy places stress me out and studying is a lot easier when you don't find food stuck to your study materials. This is one of the reasons studying in the canteen is stupid.
You do not need more than 3.5 A Levels.
General Studies is about as useful as an umbrella during a Category 5 hurricane. Don't do it!
Study a mix of subjects that you enjoy and subjects you are good at. If you're lucky, both will apply to your subject choices. Do not do a subject because you feel that you need to/it'll look good.
Last of all, don't let anyone put you down. Sometimes you may come across people who aren't very nice. Some people may call you dumb or stupid. Some people may not treat you nicely. Don't let these people walk all over you. Focus on being stronger and don't let anyone get in your way. If you want to go somewhere and someone is standing in your way,
I think this is all of it but if I ever come across something I haven't mentioned, I'll just update the article.
If you have anything else to add, please leave it in the comments section! I hope this helps anyone who is going to college and I hope you haven't gotten bored. College is a lot of work but remember to have fun along the way.
And please feel free to leave a comment if this article helped in any way!
I don't know if I mentioned this but talk to as many different students as you can about sixth form if you want to know what it's like. The experience will never be the exact same for everyone. It's best to speak to a range of people. And in no way am I going to pretend I am a genius on this topic. This blog post is simply what I've learnt in the last 3 years.