Survival Guide:
International A Levels Edition

I am 99.6% sure that an entire continent of students empathize with the title of this article. Because completing your A Level is not just ‘completing your A Level’; it is a literal emerge-scathed-and-battered, roar-at-the-sky victorious event. I wish someone had schooled me two years ago how I’d fall from ‘average student getting by’ to ‘depressed and manic student struggling’.

The A Level years are probably the worst years you will experience, at least up until age 20. Apart from your education became almost the #1 thing to consume your time and anxiety, there’s dealing with university applications and taking additional exams to go abroad for higher education, researching where to go, researching how to get in, thinking and stressing about the financial side of things — suddenly you go from only worrying about the next test date to constantly agonizing over your growing list of responsibilities, your family constantly pressuring you and not having a clue as to what you’re dealing with, and dealing with covering a syllabus that is thrice as long as the O Level syllabus in two years.

I’m going to be frank with you. You’re going to go batshit insane at least once in the coming two years. The best thing you can do for yourself is listen to a few words of advice and get your shit together now before you start dropping all the balls.

1. Work from the get go

Don’t underestimate how much work you’ll have. Seriously, you’re going to be learning tons of new information and are expected to internalize all that within a very short amount of time. Think of each unit of your subject as one entire O Level subject; that’s how much work will go into them. So don’t have a procrastinating attitude: it’ll be your death sentence.

Organize yourself wisely: if you’re a routine person, draw yourself a routine and stick to it religiously. If you’re not (I wasn’t), give yourself daily goals and commit to completing them. If you keep postponing your studies, you’ll find yourself struggling to remember too many things and you won’t learn shit. But if you stay on top of your workload, you’ll find that you’re having an easier time of it than most others.

2. Don’t waste your free periods

This is probably my biggest personal regret… I didn’t use my free periods at school wisely. I hung out with friends instead, figuring that I’ll just do my work at home. Which was really rather stupid of me because Hermione had warned me in ‘Half-Blood Prince’ that free periods were for studying. I’m sorry, J. K. Rowling, I let you down. :(

For real though, don’t slack off during your free periods. Use them to revise, rewrite your notes, look up tutorials for things you don’t understand well, draw diagrams; do whatever work will push you forward, but use your time. You’ll get nothing out of spending that time with your friends, trust me; later that night, every single one of you will be stressing yourselves into ulcers. My specific advice would be to use your free periods to revise whatever you just learnt in class, either by reading up on the things you learn, looking up tutes, etc. or by rewriting your notes. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Rewrite and Revise

I cannot stress how important this is. In O Levels, students can easily put this off until the last few months (although I wouldn’t advise it at all… it’s just needless work, in my opinion) and then go into super-frenzy work mode. In A Levels, this is the stupidest method in the history of stupidity.

There is too much new information in your A Level syllabus for you to be able to revise all of it a few months before the exams. You might think, “Oh, I’ll be studying for the mocks then anyway, so two birds with one stone, amirite?” No. Please hush. You’re too young and precious to die now.

Constant revision will make sure that you actually retain the knowledge you just learnt. During O Levels, you do this over years, but you don’t have that advantage for A Levels. So constantly revise, go over your notes and the book again and again and again. Rewrite your notes and include relevant information from whatever research you did and whatever new thing your tutorial taught you. Rewrite your notes again. And again. And this is going to be hard to hear, but do not use your laptop to do this. Your hands are going to cramp into crone claws, I won’t lie to you; but your brain is going to remember everything a lot easier.

4. Take AS seriously

One of the things that made me mad at the world for the existence of A Levels is how easily it deceived me. The AS syllabus is close enough to the O Level syllabus that one relaxes and figures that they’ll be fine. This is essentially crippling yourself before you’ve even started the race.

Your AS grades are very important if you want to get good overall grades. The syllabus is generally thought to be easier than the A2 syllabus, because of its familiar topics — so its a lot easier to score high in your AS than in your A2 exams. Having said that though, it’s not exactly easy to score high in AS (I was speaking relatively before). Though the material is familiar, the testing style of the exam is completely different from the O Levels and you’ll have a lot less time to get used to that style. So your best option is to know your syllabus thoroughly.

5. Find some time for yourself

After all the studying you’ll be doing, you shouldn’t forget to take some time for yourself. It’s actually pretty awful if you only focus on your studies because you end up overloading your brain and just… kaput. Can’t study for shit, no matter how hard you stare at your books. So make sure you have some time to just chill out: read a book. Sleep. Make and eat a sandwich. Play some videogames (Disclaimer: not advised for gamers).

And don’t be too hard on yourself if you find you can’t leave your stress behind. It’s sometimes difficult to turn the off switch on your stress, especially with everyone around you constantly reminding you of the cause of your anxiety.

Just remember that it’s gonna feel so good when you beat the shit out of your exams and kick your stress goodbye.