On June 22nd 2018, I completed the last of my ten A Level exams for this year, bringing my two year enrolment at East Norfolk Sixth Form College to an end. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my experience of A Levels and Sixth Form in general as I found my experience to differ hugely from what I expected both academically and socially.
My sixth form journey began in October of 2015 after visiting two local Sixth Form colleges and having my heart set on one of them, with the other completely written out of the equation. I attended an interview with the principal on my birthday and fell even more in love with the college, solidifying my decision to apply only to this college.
Having secured my place, we are now in June of 2016 and I have just finished my GCSEs. I attended the taster day at the college I’d applied for and hated it. I knew straight away that I’d made the wrong decision. The teachers didn’t seem too enthusiastic about their subjects and the individual departments didn’t seem very established to the point where it almost felt like a backwards transition from how well established and organised the departments were at high school.
I came home from the taster day and straight away contacted the other college which I originally disliked and was immediately made to feel welcomed and invited to their taster day, which happened to be the following day. Long story short, I loved it. It was everything I expected from a well established sixth form and it seemed to have everything in place to guide me on my journey into university. This college was East Norfolk and is the one I’ve attended and loved for the past two years.
On starting college, it felt very much like I was being thrown into the deep end – everything was new and you obviously are given a lot more independence than you have ever had before in school. I began studying for A Levels in geography, mathematics and sociology, however after a few weeks I decided that geography was not for me and so was able to make a last minute switch to physics; so let’s talk a bit about my experience of the courses.
On the lead up to college, one of the things I was told repeatedly was that the difficulty of the courses would increase dramatically and it is a huge step up from GCSEs. In reality, I find this statement to be questionable. From my experience, the courses are very well structured and make the transition very easy. The real step up from my experience was not from GCSE to AS but rather from AS to A Level (first to second year).
I was the last year group to study the modular mathematics course and the first module (C1) was very much a recap of GCSE content with a little more new content added which not difficult at all. From there, the following modules are based on fundamentals introduced in earlier modules so in this sense the course is nowhere near as difficult as it’s made out to be. Of course it is an A Level so it is difficult by nature, they’re not designed to be easy or achievable by everyone, it’s just not as difficult as you may be led to believe.
In GCSEs (again, I’ll use maths as an example), there is not much structure to the course. You can’t say “oh, we’ve finished a quarter of the course now” confidently without going through a textbook and dividing the chapters up yourself, and when it comes to the exam you could really be faced with anything from the entire two year course.
At A Level, the courses are much more clearly divided into modules and you are given a much clearer idea of what could come up where. This helps with your understanding of concepts as well as making it easier to develop the ability to link and unify concepts.
Another noteworthy thing about A Levels is the fact that (almost?) all of them are now linear. This means that the AS Level and A Level are two independent qualifications. Although the first year of the A Level course is identical to the AS course, if you sit the AS exam at the end of your first year this will no longer count toward the full A Level. The full A Level grade will only depend on your performance in your second year exams.
With this, you can almost treat AS Levels as mocks in order to gauge what exactly you need to work on a bit more during the second year. A benefit of this is that if you decide that you want to do something different after your first year, you’ll not have wasted a year as you’ll still come out of it with a qualification.
Having just completed my second and final year of A Levels at Sixth Form, I can offer two pieces of advice, both interlinked and both equally as important as each other.
The first, don’t limit yourself to working just in lessons. This one is fairly obvious but please don’t get lazy with this. I am someone who did very minimal work outside of lessons and although I did get done what needed to be done, it would have made revision and the lead up to exams a lot less stressful if I’d have stayed consistent with the amount of effort I was putting in outside of lessons.
I began revising over Easter and I will be more than happy to share my revision methods at some point in the future, however I’d just like to place emphasis on the intensity of revision which was required during this period between Easter and exams in order to compensate for my lack of work earlier. In this time period I can probably count the amount of times I went out socially on one hand, simply because at all times I was either revising or stressing about revision. I got it done and I think I did it quite well, it was just a very stressful time and so I would seriously recommend staying on top of your courses right from the beginning.
My second piece of advice is simply to have fun. Yes, stay on top of your work, but don’t do it religiously every day. Just a few hours a week would be fine. When you’re not doing this, go out. Meet new people. During Sixth Form you’ll meet hundreds of new people, many of whom will be close friends for life. On top of this, you’re likely to pass your driving test while at Sixth Form and this combined with your new friends is the ultimate passport to freedom and enjoyment.
Don’t hold back from meeting new people and making new friends, and when you have them, go out and have fun with them. One of my biggest regrets is not talking to more people at college and I’d do anything to go back and change that. Don’t lead yourself to this same regret.
To conclude, I can wholeheartedly say that the past two years of A Levels at East Norfolk Sixth Form college were the best two years of my life. I’ve met new people, I’ve expanded my knowledge largely and I’ve found who and what I want to be. If you put in the work, you are more than capable of achieving well at A Level and enjoying your college experience as much is it is to be enjoyed.
Mathematics Undergraduate, Kuk Sool Won Instructor and Aspiring Mathematics Teacher.