How to manage the move from GCSE to A Level
You've got your results (yay, well done 😊), and A Level choices are made, History being one of them. Maybe it's always been your top choice simply because its your favourite subject, or maybe your decision is based more on it being a well regarded A Level and good for University applications, such as Law. Whatever the reason you've chosen this subject, you want to make the transition from GCSE to A Level as straightforward as possible and hit the ground running. That first term will be over before you know it!
Firstly, you can be reassured that your GCSE has been excellent preparation for further study. You have got used to learning a significant body of material and have developed crucial historical skills in key areas, such as source analysis and comparing the relative importance of factors. You are now going to build on and develop those skills further as well as learn to work more independently. Here are 4 top tips to help you with this.
Tip 1: Time management. You will probably find that, for the first time since starting school, a lot of your timetable is 'free' periods. Here's a good tip, try to call these study periods instead!!! Decide how you are going to spend them, setting specific tasks for each study session. Block your social media during these times if you find that will otherwise distract you.
Make sure you keep a good diary for deadlines and add some interim ones as well. So, for example, you have an essay due for submission in two weeks time. By Wednesday of week 1 you might want to have read through and annotated your class notes and textbook, and made further notes on any information relevant to your essay question. By Friday, you could have a detailed plan ready - what are you going to argue, what factors and evidence are you going to discuss. Then a draft ready by Monday of week 2, giving you time to re-read and redraft if necessary for Friday.
(For further advice on essay writing at A Level, you might want to read my essay writing blog post).
Tip 2: Read, read, oh and maybe when you've done that you could read some more. The teacher's notes and handouts and your textbook are really just the start. Reading around the subject is invaluable. You get different perspectives and extra material that there might not be room for in a standard textbook and this will add depth to your understanding of the subject. Many History departments will supply an extra reading list or you will usually find recommended reading in the textbook. Be cautious with web resources. Some are excellent but there are some more sensationalist ones out there. You should develop a good sense of which web sites are useful but usually ones ending ac.uk are reliable and academic or you could check with your teacher if you are in doubt. Your school might subscribe to journals such as History Today which can also extend your reading.
Tip 3: learn how to take good notes. You might want to jot down something your teacher is discussing in class or something you have read but learning how to make good notes (rather than just writing everything down word for word) is another key skill and one that will stand you in good stead for future study at University. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog post on good note taking.
Tip 4: write formally. One of the ways in which teachers, writers and documentary makers bring historical events to life is to use the present tense. So, for example, 'Henry VIII watches from the quayside aghast as his flagship, his pride and joy, the Mary Rose sinks beneath the waves, and all the while the cries of the drowning sailors can clearly be heard from the shore.' This style is great for informal, conversational discussions of history but not for essays which are addressing and anaylsing a particular historical question, and are therefore expected to use more formal English!
So, there you have it, ideas to be a top history student at A Level. Now, work steadily and listen to your teacher. You've got this! 👩🎓