Updated: Jul 25
I wrote this last year after the first round of exams were cancelled but the advice still holds true. If you or your child is about to go into sixth form, here are a few things they can do to help prepare themselves.
This year, I think we can all agree, is weird. It’s always a bit odd for Year 11s when they finish their exams and are often utterly overwhelmed by the freedom allowed between GCSEs and A Levels. This time around, with no actual exams having been sat and having been out of education for ten weeks longer than they would usually have been, most teenagers are probably feeling more than a little bit lost. It may be that your school has provided you with lots of advice and guidance to prepare you for Year 12 but it would be quite understandable if they haven’t. Let’s face it, none of us are quite sure what next year will look like.
If you are planning to study English or History (or indeed any other humanities or arts subjects), this extra time could be an incredible boon for your preparation for further study. A Level teachers don’t want to teach you content: they want to work with the content with you. Your chances of achieving the highest levels will be much improved if you use this summer for the following:
1. Read. For English Literature, this means reading your set texts in the first instance. But this is your opportunity to read them as they were meant to be read – for fun, for relaxation and for enlightenment. You can read them without making notes or analysing every note and get a general sense of plot and character before you go into the detailed analysis of the text that you will do in class. But once you’ve read them, you can widen your reading list to include other writers of the same period; other books by the same writers; other books that consider the same topic but in a different way.
2. Write. Start a blog or a journal. Each time there is a topic in the news that interests you, write about it. If you read a particularly good book, watch a great film or hear a great tune, write a review of it. You don’t have to publish it anywhere (although you can if you want), but make sure you are writing at least a few words regularly so it doesn’t come as a shock to the system when you return to education.
3. Research. For History, check what topics you will be covering but don’t attempt to read the textbooks just yet. Instead, check the dates and use the internet to find or create a basic timeline of major events (you can use the exam boards specification to help you). Start from websites that are designed for kids. These will feel immensely patronising but they will give you the big picture which you can start to fill in with more detail in September.
4. Discuss. Find some other like minded souls who are studying the same subjects as you and build yourself an online forum. Pick a topic: it could be a book group looking at a particular text if you are Literature students or it could be an historical controversy for historians. Have a healthy debate online – it’s more effective than a verbal discussion as no-one can be shouted down – and make sure you really listen to opposing views.
5. Create. Find something that you’re particularly interested in: the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy? The history of Africa before colonialism? Whatever it is, create something to show off your knowledge and research. Make a video that you can upload to youtube. Create a fan website. Paint a picture. Write a poem in the style of your favourite poet. Whatever you do, set a target before you begin so that the project doesn’t spiral out of control and make sure that you have fun doing it.
The most important thing to remember with all of the above is that you should be doing these things for the joy of it. They will not in themselves get you grades or university offers but they will allow you to enter sixth form with knowledge and confidence. By making learning a part of your daily routine you can be sure that you will make fast progress once you start your courses.