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Starting the school year with A* study skills

The summer is nearly over and the new school year is almost here.  You may be starting your GCSEs or A levels, maybe with new teachers and new subjects.  You want to do well – very well – but there’s a lot to take in and it’s going to move pretty fast. So how can you make sure that you stay on top of your subject and have your eye on that elusive A* or level 9, right from the beginning? Luckily there are some simple, but highly successful, ways to do this. You need to develop amazing study skills. And you should do it right from the start of your course.  


Take notes every lesson, every time you read a textbook and when you watch films or other media for your course.  Notes are very important, because you absolutely will not remember key points, crucial facts or great examples without notes.  When you get to the end of your course, you will not remember the first part of your course if you didn’t make notes at the time.  You will need your own set of notes to jog your memory.   

A* TIP: A* students use the notes from their course to create revision aids before the exams

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Great notes won’t be much use to you if you can’t find them at revision time, or if they are all mixed up.  There is a logic to the way GCSEs and A levels are taught, with building blocks of different topics and skills taught across two school years.  Keep your notes in order, in ring binders and notebooks, so you can see how the course fits together.  Use headings and subheadings to make sense of them.  You can even use different colours to divide themes, modules or topics.  If you are unsure how the topics divide up, check your textbooks, ask your teacher, or check out the syllabus online.

A* TIP: A* students are organised and know how the course is taught. This means they can easily revise by topic at exam time. They also understand which topics are likely to appear on the exam papers.


If you need help, ask for it.  And ask for it as soon as you realise you are getting muddled, don’t understand, or are getting behind.  The longer you leave it to ask for help, the worse the problem will become and the more stressed you will feel.  You can ask your teacher, speak to your parents, or even a friend who is getting high grades and obviously understands the topic.  Don’t try to struggle on alone if it all starts getting too much – GCSEs and A levels are hard, so no one will think badly of you.  Just ask!  

A* TIP:  A* students ask for help when they get stuck or don’t understand.  They take control of the problem and work with someone to overcome it


Do the homework and develop the habit of studying outside school.  To get an A* or level 9 you will have to work out of the classroom as well as in it.  This is especially true for A levels – you won’t get everything you need for the highest grades in the classroom, you will need to put in effort outside class too.  Read books, watch films or media that are relevant to your subject and do the assessments set by your teachers.  Don’t think of free periods as a mini holiday – it’s a chance to go over your notes, make sure you understand what was said in class, and to read or work by yourself.   

TIP: A* students work outside the classroom from the beginning of the course.  This helps them stay on top of the workload and gives them time to understand each topic before the teacher moves on 

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Have a strategy to catch up if you need to miss class.  Everyone has to miss class sometimes, maybe because of illness or because there is something very important, like a medical appointment or a funeral, to attend.  The trick is to have a strategy to catch up on what you have missed.  If it is a short, planned absence then maybe a friend could let you copy their notes, and take copies of handouts for you?  You can ask the teacher what you will be missing, then read up on the topic yourself.  If it is a longer absence, as for an ongoing illness, then you can ask your parents to contact the teacher to arrange for you to have work at home and copies of resources.

A*TIP: A* students have strategies in place and keep up with their studies, even if they need to be absent 

The key to success then, is to start the course with some A* study skills. Get into the habit of taking more control of your learning.  It will pay huge dividends when you eventually get to the exams.   


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