From GCSEs to A Levels: A Giant Leap or a Tiny Shuffle?

apple on text book

Whether you’re just starting out at sixth form or enrolling in an A Level distance learning course, the transition from GCSEs and their rigid paradigms to more liberated and learner-focused A Levels can be a rather daunting prospect.

But there’s no need to panic. With the right attitude from the start – positive, organised, motivated, determined – A Levels will develop into an exciting and rewarding experience which will make you look back on your GCSEs with an untold sense of relief.

What’s more, while work done at GCSE level may be easier to tackle, it often doesn’t stretch the imagination to its limits, and can be easily memorised in order to do well in exams. A Levels, in contrast, require students to take more initiative; to go beyond the basic reading and utilise the resources available to them, without teachers or parents breathing down their neck.

How do Learning and Teaching Methods Change?

Firstly, the number of subjects undertaken at A Level is significantly reduced, in order to allow more in-depth study and freeing up time to concentrate on the subjects that are of genuine interest to you. Thus, it is imperative that you carefully consider which subjects you’d like to do and why you want to do them, as you will be expected to engage with broad topics and themes covered in the course and produce work that inherently suggests this.

The chief principle at A Level is learner autonomy. GCSEs were compulsory, but you are studying A Levels because you want to, so naturally you are expected to be more autonomous.

That’s not to say ‘you’re on your own’, but there is a healthy chunk of dependence removed from the learning process so as to encourage you to think more independently, analyse your own work and express opinions that are more personal.

Your tutors are there as facilitators, and will be able to offer a guiding hand and more detailed, individual feedback on your work.

The Workload

Naturally the workload at A Level will increase and become more intense and demanding (this isn’t just our opinion – it’s also according to the National Union of Students), but in the same vein, your aptitude for learning new content and applying yourself to it will improve.

Some subjects are more difficult than others, such as A Level Physics and A Level Maths, which require a very methodical approach, or History and English, which involve a lot of lateral thinking, but the level of expectation is always the same no matter what subjects you choose to study.

Do remember though – while there is a greater focus on learner autonomy at A Level, your tutors will always be available to help, should you begin to struggle with the workload.

Importance of Self-discipline and Time-management

At GCSE level, homework is regularly set and there is quite a lot of it. At A Level there may not seem to be quite as much, but this is so there is more time for students to explore themes and consolidate material. If you don’t do this then you’ll quickly fall behind. If you attend sixth form, it’s a good idea to try to utilise your free periods for further reading and consolidation. Distance learners, studying from home, should consider whether it’s better to study before or after work or any other commitments. In any case, it’s always good practice to design a personal study timetable to help you manage your workload, and then stick to it as best you can.

 A Chance to Show Your Creativity

GCSE courses are very rigid in their structure and tend not to allow students the opportunity to express themselves through their work. At A Level, however, students are given the chance to let their creative sides flourish and show what they’re really about, particularly in arts subjects. You’ll be amazed how much more enjoyment you get out of learning when you’re encouraged to develop your own ideas, however strange they might be!

With such an increased level of independence, it can be very tempting to spend all your time chit-chatting with friends over a Coke and a Mars bar, or watching back-to-back series of Game of Thrones with friends – over a Coke and a Mars bar. However, if you get into the habit of managing your time effectively, organising your work and utilising the resources at your disposal, then the transition from GCSEs to A Levels will quickly begin to feel less like a giant leap and more like a tiny shuffle.

Need some help writing your first assignment? Check out our top tips for how to write a perfect essay.