Sunday, 16 December 2012

Michaelmas Managed

Suddenly I am approximately one ninth of the way through my university education. That's a rather confusing realisation. I guess uni is supposed to make you feel older because you're an adult, doing adult things like actually studying - you have a loan to pay for your education! - and I guess I do feel older and more mature now.

However, I'm incapable of dealing with the fact that it's all gone so fast. It's been a really intense, really difficult and really amazing first term. I've made so many brilliant friends, met so many scarily intelligent people, and my abiding emotions are probably a cocktail of exhaustion and exhilaration.

My last post was a couple of weeks in, where I'd just got through my first few essays and was starting to settle into the routine of things. It was really busy with so many new experiences - meeting new tutors, going to new lectures - and I guess I expected things to relax a little bit once we got into the middle of term and there weren't so many freshers-related activities to engage in. Well, it didn't - it only got more intense, which explains why it has taken me so ridiculously long to update! The first couple of pieces of work you do might be relatively simple, leading off your A Level studies, but here's an example - in 6th Week for Microeconomics we were set, to do all together within 7 days - whine alert - an essay, 3 discussion questions, 5 problem sets, 3 Maths exercises, and one article analysis. On top of that I had work for an extracurricular French class, an essay and an insane amount of reading for our Moral Philosophy tutorial, and questions for our Logic class.

I don't know whether you will judge that to be a lot or not - it certainly felt like an annoyingly large amount at the time. Ironically PPE students at my college have the reputation of not doing much work anyway (which is definitely true in comparison to some subjects - you should hear how much the Med students have to do, shudder). The fact that we'd been used to being spoon fed at school just made it worse, because of the amount of self teaching you'd have to do - being set an essay is fine, but what if that essay title is totally incomprehensible until you've read about 3 books? It's not like at school, where you'd have the concepts explained in advance, you might run over an essay plan in class, you'd have written helpful notes already - you're totally on your own and it's a bit of a difficult adjustment.

This all escalated to the point where by the middle of term I was having a vague crisis and doubting whether I was good enough to study my subject. I think everyone goes through those moments - there's a phenomenon known as 'Fifth Week Blues' where, essentially, everyone is suddenly overcome by mid-term depression and so lots of colleges try to put on activities to cheer everyone up. I personally think Fifth Week Blues is a bit exaggerated - by that point we'd mostly all settled in and so had a support network of equally stressed friends for whenever we were finding things a bit tough. It is a little sad, though, when you're studying a subject in the middle of the night, and you've worked so hard over the last 2 years just to give yourself the opportunity to study it, and every week of Sixth Form you've been struggling on through various tedious pieces of homework just to get to this point - and you realise you're not really enjoying it in the moment.

I think I realised afterwards, however, that my own work patterns were working against me. My deadlines in Michaelmas (the name for the first term in the Oxford calendar) were all bunched up from between Tuesday evening, to Wednesday morning, to Wednesday evening, and so this short timeframe was conducive to... pretty poor work habits! There were a couple of weeks where I didn't start anything for that week until rather late on Monday night, and so I would barely emerge from my room as a result for the next two days. When you're stuck with a work schedule as stupid as that, it's not surprising I wouldn't be enjoying it, and so for next term I've promised to reorganise myself and basically be much more committed to having a good schedule. I've been given such an amazing opportunity to learn from such world experts and I definitely don't want to waste it.

Thankfully, there were an insane number of fun parts to the term too. I've mentioned already that I've loved being able to meet so many interesting and fun people, and the social aspect of uni is definitely amazing. For one, it's relatively hard to imagine yourself staying up until 5 in the morning completing Sporcle quizzes with a group of friends in the common room at school, but at university it's a perfectly reasonable way to spend your time! Things got especially fun in the last few weeks of term - because we finish term on the 1st of December, everyone celebrates the substitute-Christmas 'Oxmas', which is topped off by a massive dinner in halls which was amazing. Even the prospect of end of term reports and 'Warden's Collections' (basically a solo discussion with the headmaster-like figure in each college and one of your tutors about your academic progress... daunting) couldn't dampen the happy atmosphere.

During the first term I never actually went home, although some of my friends did, and you'd think after 9 weeks away I'd be eager to have a break and get back, but the opposite was actually the case. I can't say this enough - you develop such strong bonds with your friends at university so incredibly quickly, and it was really sad saying goodbye to everyone at the end of term. Lots of these people are going to be your friends for life, and it's easy to see why once you get here. To all the people currently applying through UCAS - you have so much to look forward to. I never expected to enjoy my first term as much as I did, and I'm really excited to come back next term, despite the prospect of exams in the first week (gulp).

After the end of term, I had an equally intense next couple of weeks. I spent the first week on the Oxbridge Varsity ski trip with some of my friends from college, which was a lovely experience; but the second week saw me back at my college helping at interviews! It was, to be honest, incredibly surreal. My memories of interviews last year were so clear, and it was really interesting to talk to all the applicants this time around. I remember being so scared before my first interview that I essentially didn't sleep; I obsessed and worried about not knowing enough about the books on my personal statement; but it all worked out in the end, I guess! I do definitely think that a large amount of success with the Oxbridge interview process comes down to luck - all the interviewees I talked to were so committed and interesting, having to sort through them all is a certainly unenviable task. Masses of luck to anyone waiting for responses.

That's it from me! As always if you have any questions or comments just leave them below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Happy holidays everyone!


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Apparently I'm an Oxford student

Several things have changed since my last post. Firstly, I'm married (I'll explain shortly). Secondly, I've had my first essay crisis. Thirdly, I'm actually feeling pretty settled in. Each of these will be explained in due course.

Freshers' week was an initially intimidating but ultimately lovely experience. Everyone being chucked into the same crazy world together means that everyone bonds so, so easily and by now (end of my third week) I feel like I know everyone in my year at least by sight. I've detailed my very first day in the previous post, but in the first few days after that you're kept busy even though work doesn't begin until the next Monday. Various activities included registering with a local GP, signing a ceremonial book that every student passing through the college in the last zillion years has written in, and meeting the college chaplain who is willing to look out for students' welfare whether or not they are religious.

There are loads of bonding activities in the evenings to look forward to; tickets were available for nights out, but if people fancied something quieter there were trips to G&D's (by far the best ice cream shop not only in Oxford but in the entire world), as well as midnight ice hockey and film nights. We also had casual meetings with our tutors in the first week. It feels slightly strange to call people who are largely world experts in their fields by their first names, but you get used to it quickly and it feels nice to be treated like an adult.

Freshers' week culminated with Freshers' Fair in town. Everyone was given wristbands and we snaked our way into a large elegant building before being bombarded by more societies and stalls than you'd believe could possibly exist. Before my scrawly email address became illegible as I jotted it down on signup sheets at various booths, I somehow signed up for Gliding Club, Alternative Ice Hockey, the International Relations Society, Mountain Climbing Society, and a host of others that I may or may not never become involved with beyond occasionally reading the society emails that hop into my inbox every half hour.

Monday morning, 1st week (Freshers' Week is known as 0th week) - that important bit known as 'studying' actually begins, and for me it's with three consecutive one hour lectures from 10am to 1pm. So far things have been great. Lectures vary in terms of their depth, but for most it's more of a general overview of a topic - the important work that will get you a good degree is done during private study, which is why the ability to motivate yourself to work is one of the most important skills (I'm pretty bad at it to be honest, but surviving so far!). Lectures are an easy way to learn things without having to stick your head in a book, and if you're lucky the lecturer makes handouts of printouts of slides; if not, prepare to practice your touch-typing skills for note-taking! I've got 9 per week, but they're all optional.

The Oxford Union is a world famous debating society and you'll always hear two sides about whether it's worth joining. As a PPE student I'm definitely interested in all that stuff, and my first taste of it was, quite frankly, amazing. On Wednesday I saw John McCain give a speech before being grilled by a bunch of budding politicians including, I am convinced, the next Boris Johnson; on Thursday it was the annual 'This House Has No Faith in Her Majesty's Government' debate, which was incredible. There were representative MPs from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives (lots of them from my own college weirdly enough, which resulted in a bit of good natured reminiscing between ideological opponents) and each gave a speech before taking questions. Just the fact that it's so easy to see such prestigious speakers and even, if you can pluck up the courage, engage with them, reaffirms the fact that I feel so incredibly grateful to be in the position that I am and have all these opportunities before me.

Of course, it's not all perfect. Having an essay crisis on your first essay is really not a good idea because then your brain convinces itself that staying up late (or early, or even not-that-early as was my case...) is now an option. I think I'll find it easier to manage in the future - we have our Moral Philosophy tutorial once every two weeks, and our Microeconomics tutorial every week as well as a logic class each week (we do other topics during the next two terms), so the workload is spread out. This is especially the case compared to other subjects and there's already been a bit of good natured joking about how PPE students never do any work (I'll withhold judgement on that one). Anyway, I handed in my essay an embarrassingly small number of hours after I'd finished it, but it's just a lesson to myself that it's easy to get distracted when there are so many opportunities here, and it's important to take time out and just go and do the necessary reading and research.

Matriculation was last weekend, and it was quite hilarious to see everyone buttoned up in suits and blouses with either ribbons for the girls or fancy white bow ties (fake or real) for the boys. The Oxford gown is a decidedly strange garment with strange long flaps that never seem to hang properly unless you have wide shoulders and a six pack, which sadly doesn't include me. I managed to find myself awkwardly turning my head in the middle of the matriculation photo and given that I was standing in the middle of the back row and am therefore noticeable to everyone who bothers to peruse the photo, it definitely ranks in the Top 10 most embarrassing moments of my life. We all filed down to the Sheldonian to listen to a bit of Latin and to be gawped at by tourists, before enjoying the rest of the day socialising.

If you've made it all this way - well done! I hope that gives you a bit of a flavour of my first couple of weeks. The final piece of news is that I am now happily married to an E&M student, and am very much looking forward to meeting our children next year... Don't worry, this isn't actual marriage - all the freshers pair up over the academic year and end up mentoring the 2013 freshers, our 'children,' next September.

Have a lovely week everyone! If you have comments or questions please do let me know below.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Home sweet home away from home

Seeing all my friends go off to uni, one by one, should have meant that when the time finally came for me to make the *long* journey up to my new home, I was prepared. Naturally, I wasn’t. Last weekend was a hectic mix of shopping, salvaging and hair-pulling.

Packing to go and live somewhere else for the next 8 weeks straight was quite a strange experience. I kept finding odd items in my room, such as an old autograph book I'd forced my 10-year-old friends to sign, or fairy lights, and then deciding that they might possibly be vital. Universities have varyingly vague rules about what is appropriate to put in your room – for me, blu tack is banned, and any intriguing appliances like a sandwich maker aren’t allowed because of the fire risk. When it all came down to it on Monday afternoon, I had a suitcase, a soft suitcase, a big blue box, a small blue box, a cardboard box without a lid, two larger cardboard boxes with lids, and a slightly frowny expression on my face. I wasn't ready to move out and go to university. I felt (and still feel, 8 days later) about as mature as a little Year 7 who spends the entire lunch time playing 'running' in the playground. Doing serious work with people who are all really smart and articulate and confident? The only appropriate response is "pffft," really.

So, I rocked up to my college in Oxford feeling intimidated and unworthy. The sight of the beautiful building that would presumably be my home for the next three years (assuming I don't fail - oh yeah, you start worrying about that pretty soon) was alternately amazing and terrifying. As soon as you arrive, you are directed to collect bits and pieces of admin from the Freshers Week team (who rock, by the way!) before beginning the long laborious job of lugging your luggage up three flights of stairs. Having spent a summer largely loafing on the sofa and moaning whenever the remote naughtily removes itself to outside my 1m reach, I probably benefitted from this minimal exercise.

Then unpacking begins. My favourite feature of my room is definitely my gigantic pinboard which I immediately decorated with photos of my friends and family - I printed off 30-odd photos at Boots which was definitely a good investment. I did extremely well on the room front overall, as I got a bit of a say in where I would want to go, but really this varies by college and university. I also brought a Beatles poster, which makes it look as though I have a much better taste in music than I actually do. There are lots of miscellaneous bits of kit that I wouldn't have considered having to own and make me feel pretty domestic, such as a dishcloth, tumbler glasses and a healthy supply of Otrivine (Freshers' Flu has hit, by the way. Three days solid with a gravelly manly voice and forcing my poor friends to listen to me hack up a lung instead of being able to focus on a lecture on the joys of logic). 

After unpacking, I said goodbye to my mum, which was emotional for her and embarrassing for me (kidding, Mum, I'm kidding) and then twiddled my thumbs in my room for a while before summoning up the courage to throw myself into the sanctuary known as the Junior Common Room (JCR). It has not been a week and I cannot count how much money I have wasted playing pool and the Are You Smarter Than A 10 Year Old? arcade game (evidently, despite being 18+ years old, relatively capable university students, we are not). One of my biggest worries, and it remains a big worry, was that I would hop up to an unfamiliar person, throw out "HiI'mEmma-I'mdoingPPE-howaboutyou?" and they would look at me like a squashed pigeon before telling me "finalists don't mingle with freshers..." When I was interviewing, the older years helpfully wore pinks scarves to enable easy differentiation, but now we just have to trust fate and general common sense.

Thankfully, everyone has been lovely. I hopped into the JCR and it was stuffed with a load of happy, talkative freshers who are all just as eager to make friends as you are. One of the best things Oxford does is to organise college parents for freshers, which is actually quite a big deal - freshers of different subjects pair up rather soon after the start of term, necessitating full on proposals (I've already heard stories of a proposal involving a lift and a heart shaped flower arrangement) and by next September they are mentoring two new freshers who look to them for advice, subject-specific and not, throughout their first year. Mine are absolutely lovely and extremely kind which seems to be the general rule! We went out for drinks with them, before heading off to dinner with our subject reps and classmates. The evening ended with a trip out into town as a group, where everyone bonded over some very amazing bad dancing. I flopped into bed on Day 1 feeling overwhelmed, but a little bit more confident than ever before that I was going to fit in.

I hope that's given you a good overview of my first day, and I'll be posting soon with updates on the saner parts of freshers' week and, of course, my first proper pieces of work. I really want to use this blog to give good advice, now that I feel as though I have genuinely learned so much from my experiences ever since I started this blog a year ago; so if you feel as if I could help with anything, or you want me to point you to someone who can, please comment below and I will definitely get back to you.

Now it's bedtime for me. Up early tomorrow for a General Philosophy lecture!

Emma xxx

Friday, 21 September 2012

They think it's all over

Results day went by in a dizzying blur. My friends and I had solemnly sworn not to look at our results online, and instead we were planning on doing this extremely old fashioned thing where you actually bother to drag yourselves into school and laboriously tear open a big fat envelope to reveal your results and consequently, your fate (gulp). The best way to approach results day is as one massive party, whether in commiserations or congratulations, so we had a sleepover, woke up satisfyingly late, before lazily suggesting to each other that we might actually want to get up and find out if we were actually going to have somewhere to study for the next 3 to 4 years.

As we were getting ready, I heard a confused grunt from one of my friends. "Huh. Email from UCAS. That's weird. 'Congratulations, your place has been confirmed'...."

So, the celebrations started prematurely! In the end it was a nice way for all of us to find out - no confused fumbling through lots of pieces of paper from different exam boards, no endless refreshing online - just an email, bam, you made it, done - and once you've made it, the actual results don't really matter!

It feels extremely strange to have finished school. I've been on holiday so long I barely have any idea what day of the week it is (no, this is not a joke). Teasing my little sister (who is just starting Sixth Form and is already worrying way too much about applying to university) about the fact that she has to get up early and do homework and is tragically prevented from sleeping in until lunch time is pretty awesome. It feels like a minor injustice that they've decided to do up the Sixth Form common room as soon as we have vacated the premises, but I suppose I'll live with it.

I have a few pieces of advice for anyone lazing around and waiting for university to start, whether you've got a week and a bit to go like me, or whether you happen to be reading this in 12 months' time. Number one - don't find yourself lumbered with a load of leftover tasks related to school. I find myself partly in charge of organising the leavers' yearbook, which isn't done, and it is an absolute nightmare. The fact that everyone is being siphoned off to different corners of the country (or the globe) means it is pretty much impossible to get things you might need, such as money or plain old yearbook content, from them. Seriously, be organised! I am the Queen of Procrastination with a BA in Timewasting and a PhD in Laziness, which is why I didn't decide to get all this stuff done sooner. It's hindering my ability to keep up with uni things that ought to be the centre of my attention, which definitely isn't good. Get yourselves good teams to deal with this stuff and jointly share the pressure - ideally, waaaaay before exams are even on the horizon.

That point about being organised also applies to uni proper. As soon as you hear those good old magic words 'Congratulations! Your place to study [insert uni subject here] at [insert uni here] has been confirmed,' you will get inundated with a literal avalanche of forms, requests, letters and opportunities. I've lost track and have already begun to fear that I'll rock up on October 1st and be informed that I forgot to sign on the dotted line somewhere, and as a result have been relegated to spending another year flicking listlessly through A level revision guides - strangely enough, meeting my offer hasn't destroyed my paranoia that I didn't really get in after all. An example - I had to return a form for my university identity card that lets me into the libraries and other restricted places; I needed to attach a photo, and was sternly warned that if I did not do so, I may have to have one taken on site. Given the likelihood of such a photo ending up looking something like this, I hastily returned the documents.

It's not all doom and gloom - I've heard about accommodation too! Accommodation varies wildly from uni to uni and from this-part-of-the-uni to that-part-of-the-uni - you hear stories of palatial residences with widescreen televisions and free popcorn machines (possibly a small exaggeration), and also stories of leaky, dingy shack-like establishments. Some places (like my college, yippee) give you an element of choice, such as whether you want to shell out a few extra bucks to avoid having to share a bathroom with a corridor of mysterious neighbours. It's up to you whether you want to take up these opportunities, but one thing you absolutely don't want to do is return all the forms late and then end up with the worst room by default.

Currently, once yearbook related nightmares have sorted themselves out, I am supposedly getting on with my reading list. I've laid out a series of intriguing looking texts on the floor, as though looking at their uniformly grey covers is going to help me somehow absorb the secrets within. I've also surprisingly been set a series of pre-term Maths problems for Economics in that 'reading' list; as a creature who is not particularly mathematically minded but has somehow managed to hide that defect up to now, I'm feeling vaguely pessimistic, but I'll see how it goes.

A final piece of good news (although I can imagine some people going 'oh no, not more') - I'll be continuing blogging through my first year at uni! So all the embarrassing things I get up to over the next 12 months will now be recorded for me to look back on in shame at some point down the road.

Hope you all got what you wanted from results day! As always, any comments, questions, queries, rants - I'm happy to answer them in the comments below!

Emma xxx

Monday, 13 August 2012

Results Day (or "What to do when you know the worst is coming")

So, today is Monday 13th of August and in just a few minutes (I'm up of course - what's the point of holidays if you don't mess up your sleeping pattern by going to sleep at 2am every day?) I'll see the clock on my computer swing round to Tuesday 14th of August. So, essentially, it's two days to go.

How did it come around so fast? It seems like only yesterday exams were over and we were enjoying a whole load of post-exam parties, holidays, the leavers' ball, and saying "see you in August" while making jokingly pained expressions. For the first time it's been a holiday where we really don't know what's coming next - my little sister was taking her GCSEs while I was taking my A2s (and failed to convince me that "GCSEs are worse than A Levels!!!111") but she knows what's coming and can buy all the AS revision guides she wants. I reckon that I'm pretty similar to everyone else in that I'm irrationally nervous about jinxing myself by looking at reading lists or anything scary like that!

So, what are your plans for what is sure to be a long and tortuous day... August 15th? My friends and I have some ideas about how to make it fun; it's good to have something to look forward to, no matter what happens after! Here are some ideas; please note that these suggestions can also be used to help cure more serious cases of P.O.D. (Post Olympics Depression):

1. Have a Harry Potter movie marathon
This is such a great idea that there is already a thread on The Student Room full of dozens of people who are going to be watching these epic films. Sure, you probably won't make it through all 1068 minutes, but it's still fun to watch a few of them and discuss why Dumbledore is the best headmaster ever. And, hey, you think your entry conditions are harsh? At least you don't need an Outstanding in OWL Potions to get into Snape's NEWT class. That, my friends, is tough.

2. Eat your own body weight in food
However it goes for you results-wise, Thursday is sure to be an exhausting day. Screaming and crying, whether it's due to elation or devastation, is tiring work - Mo Farah ain't got nothing on us! Therefore, it's important we need to fuel ourselves well the day before. In my case, this will probably involve popcorn, pizza, takeaways, crisps, hot chocolate, marshmallows, cake, and more E-numbers than you can shake a stick at. If this sends me into a food-coma from which I only manage to emerge from 12 months later, so much the better.

3. Remember the good times
If, in theory, just in theory, I was reminiscing back to childhood, I might remember all the things that helped me overcome the obstacles I faced when I was still wearing dungarees and still thought Snape was a bad guy. There was the Noah's Ark lamp that saved me from all those evil monsters that took a liking to lurking under my bed; there was the ratty blanket that cheered me up every time I had to make a sickness-inducing journey in the Big Green Dragon (it's a car, ok?). As a child, I survived being pushed off a float by a boy in the year above at the swimming pool; being wrongfully accused of having picked my nose in public; having to do the most difficultest exams of all time, SATs; being picked on by my evil little sister who only chose to victimise me because she didn't have my emotional maturity (obviously);  and having to pack up my bags and move to a different school where I didn't know anybody. Ew. Yet, thinking about it, if we got over all these seemingly insurmountable obstacles at the time, we can surely survive results day. Having Rabba, the Rabbit (even as a child, my naming skills were clearly stunning) on standby would not be a bad idea either. But this is just in theory of course. I don't need teddy bears to give me cuddles. I'm tough.

4. Familiarise yourself with the comfort blanket known as CLEARING
I am told that the Daily Telegraph publishes the definitive list of vacancies in Clearing on 16th, so a trip to the shops on your way to school to pick one up may be useful. Some helpful facts about clearing - you don't have to apply to the same courses as for your original UCAS application, there will always be vacancies except for the most competitive courses and universities, and people wishing to make use of vacancies in clearing must contact the universities directly to enquire after places. Let's hope we'll all make the offers we have, if we have them, but if not it's reassuring to know we can still make it to uni this year.

A massive GOOD LUCK to everyone reading this! Whatever happens, I bet five years from now we'll be looking back and laughing at ourselves for being so preoccupied by something that honestly won't affect everything we do in the future.

Emma xxx

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Stops and Starts

I can't even remember what it was like to not be in school. We've had nursery and pre-school and junior school and senior school and sixth form and now, finally, study leave at the end of it all. With a eight or nine exams to populate it.

I'm writing this on Sunday, we left school on Tuesday, and in between then I've managed to get two of the nine exams I must complete to get into uni, out of the way. I don't have another until the 11th of June, which is a nice long break, and gives me good time to get in some good healthy procrastination. It's weird being back in the exam hall. The last exam I did was my retake back in January, and the fact that I had to go to an external exam centre to do it actually made it feel like much more of a big deal than these two.

The thing is, you're just so distracted during this last term that the exams kind of creep up on you. It started about a month ago, in Maths, when we suddenly realised it was one month to go until our first Maths exam; Statistics. We sort of chatted about how horrible that was, and how none of us were prepared, and how weird it was that the exam was so soon. Then, suddenly, it was a Wednesday afternoon and I was sitting in a lesson, thinking 'in exactly 7 days I'll be sitting in the exam hall doing my other Philosophy retake.'

It hasn't really hit me yet that I've left. We've still got lots of other things coming up after exams; barbecues, balls, a celebratory evening or two, but we'll never again experience the regimented life of the school day; we'll never have to complain about dragging ourselves in half asleep on a Monday morning, never have to do any more 'homework,' never have to complain about the younger years skipping ahead in the lunch queue. I was really, really, really lucky to go to such an amazing school. Most people aren't so lucky, but I was, and I guess writing this blog in some way helps me to give back by sharing the advice they have given us. Without our head of sixth form, head of careers, form tutors and all the other staff throughout our school years, I know for a fact that we would be completely lost when thinking about the concept of university. I've been vaguely thinking about going into teaching after my degree, and if I end up being anything like as good as them, then I'll consider myself very lucky.

So, the exams. My first exam, like I mentioned, was a Philosophy retake. Lesson #1 folks - try to get it right first time, because then you'll end up with less to do in the summer afterwards! It was even harder than it had been in January to try and cram all the stuff I'd learnt a year ago back into my brain, but I think I managed it more successfully than I did back in May last year, which was a useful affirmation of the fact that my former method of revision (typing out the textbook feverishly) really was a load of rubbish. It's strange and yet very familiar being back in the exam hall, with its rattling fan in the boiling heat, and I was glad to get out of there... only to zip back home and start cramming for Statistics on Thursday. I think I did ok in that one, although I found it hard without the comfort blanket of the mark scheme immediately within my reach, which had accompanied me while I slogged through past papers. The most annoying thing is when post-exam discussion means you realise you've done a question wrong, and there's nothing you can do about it, and yet that one mistake hangs over you more than anything else about the paper. I know some people go to look up mark schemes for maths papers immediately after they've completed them, but I'd warn against it - there's no point, it's better to just forget about it until 16th August and instead concentrate on doing as well as you can in your other exams.

Anyway, that's all from me for the moment! I'm going to try and tackle the mysteries of Student Finance this evening (I know, I know, I've left it so late) so should put in an update about that pretty soon. As always, if you have any queries or thoughts, let me know in the comments!


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Can't Revise? Then listen to this...

I can't revise. That's probably obvious, given the fact that I'm typing this on a Sunday afternoon when I ought to be the most motivated, and with a Bank Holiday tomorrow this is a great chance to get some serious work done... but nope. Can't do it. So instead, I started googling 'motivational songs' which mostly seemed to result in articles detailing playlists for the gym. But hey, given the choice between running on a treadmill and leafing through a incomprehensible textbook... how different are they really?

Lots of people like revising in silence, or with calm music on in the background that sounds vaguely similar to a burbling tap. A few people I know will turn on the television just to have the sound of conversation in the background, to distract them from their thoughts of 'oh god I learnt this last week and I can't even remember what existentialism is panic panic panic.' I'm not one of that lot. And so, in no particular order, ten songs that will definitely motivate you to stop reading this and get back to work...

1. Reach - S Club 7 (LINK)
I think we can all agree that the feeling 'when it seems that all your hopes and dreams are a million miles away' is never more prevalent than during the revision period.

2. Staying Alive - The Bee Gees (LINK)
Okay I just like this song. I suppose it's relevant in that, whatever happens in that History Unit 3 paper you've been dreading, you're not very likely to keel over in the middle of it. Silver lining right there.

3. Don't Stop Me Now - Queen (LINK)
Bringing the 'fun' back to 'revision.' I personally feel that having 'don't stop me now 'cause I'm having a good time' booming in the background might trick your subconscious into actually enjoying a couple of hours of note-taking.

4. All These Things That I've Done - The Killers (LINK)
When there's nowhere else to run, and you've invented every possible excuse as to why you can't revise, is there room for one more maths paper? I think so.

5. Eye of the Tiger - Survivor (LINK)
Awesome song. I listened to it and tried typing at the pace of the 'dumdumdumdumdumdumdum' in the background... didn't work. Never mind! You'd think this song loses its cool when the fight it refers to actually ends up referring to the fight against your ever-present inclination towards general laziness, but it doesn't.

6. I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor (LINK)
In a similar vein to 'Staying Alive' above. I get the relevance of 'At first I was afraid, I was petrified' but I failed in my quest to create an analogy to revision from 'thinking I could never live without you by my side' unless the "you" refers to UCAS Track. Never mind.

7. You're The Best - Joe Esposito (LINK)
So many good lyrics here. Even if 'you're the best around, nothing gonna ever keep you down' sounds like the sort of lie your mum might dredge up, the rest of it works. When I was checking the lyrics they'd even transcribed 'INSPIRING GUITAR SOLO' in the middle. I rest my case.

8. So What - P!nk (LINK)
So what if it's a nice day? So what if there are a billion more enjoyable things to do? So what if you accidentally ripped your folder into pieces and now have to carry it around in bits? (happened to me the other day)

9. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go - Wham! (LINK)
I'm sure we've all wondered what it would be like if we woke up too late for an exam... last year I got locked in the bathroom the morning of my C2 Maths exam and it had to be broken open with a crowbar, but that wasn't because I'd fallen asleep in the sink, it was because the door was rubbish.

10. Walking On Sunshine - Katrina & the Waves (LINK)
Okay this rather more fits the feeling you get when you're spilling out of the exam hall after your last paper, and you begin ranting to everyone who will listen about how rubbish the questions were while at the same time jumping up and down at the prospect of the long long summer ahead with nothing to do but relax. It's still a good revision song though.. a reminder of the light at the end of the tunnel!

Okay, so that's that! I feel like I've engaged in a sufficient amount of time wasting by typing it out, so maybe I'll follow my own advice and get back to the good old textbooks. As always, leave me a comment if you have a question/comment/criticism or if you want to share anecdotes of being motivated to pick up a pen and paper after having had the Teletubbies theme tune on loop for a while. If you've enjoyed this post or any of my others, please let UCAS know here!

Have a nice week!


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A Grand Extended Project

One thing that, in my experience, advisers like to tell you to do when applying to university is to 'pad your application.' Like I said in my last post, these days just having good grades at A level isn't enough in lots of cases - you have to mark yourself out as an interesting and different applicant by doing something more.

I've talked loads about the way this can be done in terms of a personal statement - work experience, extra reading, research, all that. What I haven't gone into in so much detail is the extra qualifications you can take. At my school, we were offered the chance to take three different extra qualifications - the AQA Baccalaureate, the Extended Project, and the Young Applicants in Schools Scheme that allow pre-university students the chance to do modules with the Open University. I don't know much about YASS, although there's lots of relevant information about it here! However, I did decide to take the AQA Baccalaureate and the Extended Project, so I can share my experiences about each of those here.

The Extended Project Qualification is actually a piece of the AQA Baccalaureate, but it can be done separately, so I'll look at each in turn. The AQA Baccalaureate is designed to be a qualification that makes A Level study a little similar to the International Baccalaureate by adding elements like the Extended Essay in with the Extended Project. It is officially comprised of 3 main A levels, at least 100 hours of personal development through Enrichment activities, an AS level in General Studies, Critical Thinking or Citizenship Studies, and the aforementioned Extended Project. Depending on your A level grades and grades in the Extended Project/AS level, you can achieve a Pass, Merit or Distinction.

I personally think that if you're going to do the Extended Project it's definitely worth it to do the full AQA Baccalaureate as it's not much more work, to be honest. To go with your Enrichment activities you need to write an Enrichment diary detailing all your work under the three categories - work, community, and personal - and depending on your personal situation it's not that difficult to rack up over 100 hours of enrichment during the year. For example, included in my count is some of the work experience I've done already for my personal statement, my part-time job, helping out at a school Higher Education evening, running a club, performing in a play, being on the school magazine committee - the sort of things I would have done anyway, and all you need to do to clock up the 100 hours is write about it and the skills you gained from it. As for the AS level, I guess it depends on whether your school offers any one of these as a subject, but if you give yourself plenty of time I'd imagine you could self-teach Critical Thinking potentially.

The largest part of the AQA Bacc is therefore the Extended Project. This can be done either as a 5000 word research report, or as a 1000 word supplementary research report. I went for the 5000 word one, and I've loved doing it. I combined my interests in politics and philosophy into an essay on political philosophy, particularly the political philosophy of Thomas More and Niccolo Machiavelli. The fact that it's 5000 words long means it's nearer to the kind of essay that you might be asked to write for university, and it encourages you to do deep research - which I can say, as someone who is taking History A level, is very useful! You are allocated a supervisor from amongst your teachers and they help guide you through the process and check you're keeping on schedule, which I can say, as someone who can often be quite last-minute, has been very helpful. The freedom of being able to pick your own topic, as long as it's not something on the syllabus of a subject you're studying, is very nice as well.

So, I hope that has been interesting and informative! If anyone has any further questions about the AQA Bacc or the EPQ, hit the comments. Plus, if you've enjoyed this post or any of the other ones on my blog, I'd be very grateful if you could let UCAS know here!

Have a great week,


Monday, 23 April 2012

A(nother) Level

I'm sitting at my desk, floundering away and writing this instead of revising. The interesting thing is that my mind is on work and grades and university and school and all of that an extremely large amount of the time, but that does not translate to revision particularly often.

Anyway, one thing I've been thinking about recently is the general perception and treatment of A levels. If you type 'a level grade inflation' into Google, some of the top articles talk about how the exams are apparently a joke and disgraceful, and this is a view that isn't just restricted to the press. When you meet people get the odd few sniggering about your A level choices; once I told someone I was going to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics and they burst out laughing about how I was doing a 'wishy-washy' degree and ought to study something 'useful.'

As for A levels as a whole, people feel justified in putting them down because the pass rate keeps on rising. In 2011 the pass rate was at a record 97.8%, an increase of 10.1% from 87.7%, just 14 years previously. The general argument that I've read is that modules and retakes make things a lot easier, there is more teaching to the exam, that sort of thing. However, I would argue that this doesn't necessarily make things easier for A level students. The new A* grade, for both GCSE and A Level, helps to differentiate candidates further, and lots of people hold offers that require them to achieve the new A* grade which they would not have had to achieve a few years ago. Importantly, as everyone who has taken A level modules will know, it's not as if an 80% in an exam suddenly guarantees you an A; how well you do is very much dependent on what other people achieve also, because of the standardised UMS marking scheme. For example, for Maths, one of my subjects, the raw mark that delivers 80 UMS, an A, can be up to around 65/75 - whereas for Philosophy it can be around 55/90. That's 87% in raw terms compared to 61%.

In this way, there is no such thing as an easy paper because you're judged in relation to your peers. My Economics teacher always likes to joke about how we should only start to panic in an exam if we're finding it ridiculously easy, because apparently that means everyone else will be as well (I'm not sure that I agree with him, but the point stands....). Then there's the issue of the various insults people like to throw at particular subjects. Critical Thinking, for example, an AS level I took, is one of the more maligned subjects, yet I spoke to an academic at the university where I hope to study next year who said it was actually an A level that allows people to learn extremely useful, important skills and it is hindered mostly by its lack of popularity (though of course his view may not necessarily be shared by other academics). Also, if a university sees a subject as weak, it has the option of giving you an offer and then specifying which subjects they want you to achieve the grades in, in case they see one as being irrelevant or perhaps easier (one of mine did this).

Basically, I feel like it's wrong to say people can just trot off merrily into the sunset with weak applications and weak qualifications and just get everything they want 'unjustly.' I have learnt that there are so many precautions and requirements that students have to satisfy when applying to university; from the varying offers, to the personal statements, to the extra qualifications, to the specifications of offers.

...I don't know. It's an interesting topic of discussion. I'm not an expert, just someone experiencing the system. However it's something I'm really interested in so if you have any thoughts, even if they are in strong disagreement with mine, please feel free to leave a comment below!

In the meantime, I should get back to my revision. I'm wondering, how many other people find it absolutely impossible to revise without listening to music? I definitely need to feel like I'm enjoying myself in some way, even if most of my focus is on the page in front of my that I've been reading for the last 5 minutes without taking in a word. It takes away some of the monotony! However, I know loads of people find it completely distracting, so I guess it might depend on what kind of mood you're in.

Anyway that's it from me for the moment! If you've enjoyed reading this or found it helpful, you can let UCAS know here! As always, if you feel like sharing any ideas, thoughts, feedback and all of that, just let rip in the comments and I'll get back to you!


Friday, 13 April 2012

Accommodating revision

So, I've firmed. You'd think that would be the end of the matter, but of course UCAS is always weighing on my mind! First of all, I got a letter last week from UCAS confirming my responses to universities (I went back to check that CF, 'conditional firm' was the one next to the university I had actually picked as my firm way too many times to admit).

Secondly, it seems that my firm now has a file on me, which is a bit frightening! About a month or so ago I got a letter in the post from my college requesting various details, which I duly filled out. These included dietary requirements, medical details, all those sorts of things, and an extra letter about accommodation! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that I got pooled post-interview to another college which was the one that eventually accepted me, so I have in fact never actually visited or stayed the night at the place where I might spend the next 3 years of my life, so this was a particularly interesting read for me.

From what I remember, there were about 6 different price bands you could go for, each described in a few sentences, which was a nice touch. I know some colleges don't give you a choice and you just take what you are allocated with when you turn up at the start of October, so it was nice to get some kind of idea about what we might be expecting. Perhaps the biggest bonus about my college is that it has one of the highest numbers of en-suite rooms in the university, but apparently the older students get dibs on these and then the ickle firsties have to scramble around for the remainder, so I'm definitely not expecting one!

Having received all that in the post, I filled it in, sent it back, and got an email more recently informing me that they needed a photo in order to "complete your file" which was a little nerve-wracking... Having had my fair share of horrific school photos, and knowing that they pretty much always turn out to be totally gormless and then unfortunately end up being used by the members of staff for the ensuing 12 months, I was a little nervous to respond!

Apart from that, the holidays have begun, and as always this means only one thing... or is supposed to, anyway... revision! Unfortunately after a good revision session prior to the mocks, I feel like I've slipped back into my wicked non-revising ways... I was away for the first week of the hols, and the busy days meant I didn't have time to do much apart from go out then sleep when I came back, so that was out. As for these next two weeks, I'm currently working 2 part-time jobs and for some reason my brain has convinced itself that if I have work on one day then I am unable to do anything except laze around for the remainder of the day. I've created a revision timetable like I did last time, but so far it's pretty blank. On the one hand, that means it's very representative of the amount of time I have actually spent revising... on the other hand, it's suddenly hit home that I only have 5 weeks left until my first two exams.... gulp!

Anyway, that's it from me. If you've enjoyed reading this or found it helpful, you can let UCAS know here! As always, if you have any comments, questions, criticisms, queries or rants, just let rip in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!


Friday, 30 March 2012


Well, it's finally happened. I've received all my responses from universities, and I've selected my 'Firm' and 'Insurance' choices. Really, the only thing left is exams - if it's possible to say 'only' about exams...

I applied to universities via UCAS on October 7th and I got my fourth and fifth replies this week, about 5 months later, days before the provisional deadline. That's fair enough, the universities have in several cases thousands of applications to sort through for individual courses. I was lucky enough to hear from my Firm early on, so I was luckier than many of the people around the country who will have been kept waiting until this point to hear from their Firm choices, and perhaps might have to wait until early May.

One university I replied to sent me emails every few months informing me that 'my application is still under consideration.' After the initial panic attack that comes from seeing an email from a prospective university in your inbox, I guess it is good to receive assurances that your application hasn't been lost amongst the hundreds of others they must be looking over!

Another thing that has been great is when universities get immediately involved as soon as you get an offer. Receiving an email or a letter with leaflets along with the UCAS update is really nice, along with invitations to offer holder open days. I know these things are sent out to all offer holders, but it gives you a sense that the university cares about you and, if you were to pick them as your Firm, wants to get involved straight away to ensure that the transition from school to higher education is as easy and exciting as possible.

Anyway, replying. I got my final reply two days ago, but waited a little while before finally taking the plunge and choosing my firm and insurance. Five months of twiddling my thumbs meant I knew what I was going to do dependent on the replies from the last two unis, but I wanted to think to myself again to make sure I knew I was making the right choices. That, and I guess I was a little scared as well! Once you have all 5 replies, UCAS Track gets a little box on the left hand side informing you that you must reply to your unis by a certain date. The penalty for not replying by that date is that all your offers get automatically rejected. So, it's important to get your replies in on time, that's for certain...!

Once on Track, you click on 'Choices' and then 'Reply to Offers' at the bottom. Drop-down boxes then appear beside the unis you have received offers from, saying Firm, Insurance, or Decline. I selected my Firm, my Insurance, declined the others, then spent about 5 minutes checking and rechecking that I'd not made some sort of embarrassing technical error that would result in me rejecting the lot. Don't worry, it isn't hard technically, but I guess when so much is riding on it, you're going to be worried even if it is really simple! Finally, I sent them off, and then went back on Track not many minutes later just to make sure that I had actually replied properly!

Well, that's over then, and it's been an eclectic mix of emotions along the way. What next? We've just broken up for the Spring holidays, so I guess revision will begin pretty soon (ha ha). I'll continue posting about things like open days and all of that, because while the application process may be over, I still feel very very far away from actually going to university! As always, if you have any comments or queries, leave them below and I'll get back to you asap.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Key messages

It's finally true... the whole university application process has really begun to wind down. With one week to go until the suggested normal deadline for university replies, I'm still waiting for two out of my five, showing, perhaps (un?)encouragingly, that universities can also be as last minute about these things as I sometimes am about my homework!

There's been a definite change at my school - the focus is now on the Year 12s. Us old Year 13s are busy hearing details about gap years, whereas the Year 12s are the ones who head off to higher education evenings to hear about the intricacies of the UCAS process for the first time... which happened tonight, and I was lucky enough to be invited to give a talk!

I'd really encourage those of us who are in Year 13 to share everything we've learnt with people who still have to face these challenges. Fear of the unknown is pretty serious, and if you remove the 'unknown' element of that, we've all found that, over time, it can become - gasp - exciting! I've adapted some of the stuff I said tonight to make it relevent for more Year 12s, so if anyone finds the prospect of reading my ramblings intriguing, continue on...

The first time you really can turn your attention to universities and UCAS is once the exams are over and you head back to school. I know it seems a bit difficult to have to drag yourselves back into school at that point, but trust me, that last half term was one of the most enjoyable for me out of my whole time at school. We were allowed 3 days out to visit universities for open days. This was something I messed up a little bit last year, as I didn’t decide to book any until the last minute, and they fill up very fast, so I didn’t get to visit a couple of universities I would have liked to have seen. However, most unis also hold open days in September, so you can see them more than once if you want. Once you get to an open day, don’t waste the opportunity – try and see as much as you can. Everyone there will be really willing to answer questions, so ask as many as you can. Taster lectures are always worth attending, and at most open days you can also explore accommodation as well. As well as attending open days, in the last half term your form tutors will start to help and encourage you to write your personal statement. I looked back at my first draft of my personal statement before today, and it wasn’t that great. I was worried I hadn’t achieved enough or done enough to write about, but there’s one big opportunity you’ll all have to build your personal statements, which is the summer holidays!

You’ll probably hear this again so many times, but I think a personal statement is all about showing you’re not just content to sit in lessons and doodle, and instead that you actually have academic curiosity. There’s no better time to get busy and follow your interests than during the summer, and there’s a lot of ways you can do this – find some books you’d like to read, attend lectures, borrow relevant magazines, and use connections to get work experience if you can. I’m going to be studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics next year, so I worked at BIS for two weeks, which was a big commitment as I was staying in London away from my family, but ultimately it was so worth it because I got to talk about amazing things like attending a Public Accounts Committee hearing that I wouldn’t have been able to touch if I hadn’t committed myself and gone there. If you don’t know anyone personally who can get you doing something relevant to your degree, ask around in the rest of your year, because there’s sure to be someone who knows someone and you can all help each other out.

So, after I’d done all that in the summer, I got back to school in the autumn and it made such a difference in terms of how confident I felt. I’d read around for economics, for example, and I suddenly found myself grasping new ideas far quicker because I had a deeper background knowledge. For the autumn term, I’d also really recommend the Extended Project Qualification, which I found really interesting, and once again you’ll get a supervisor who is really supportive so you can keep to deadlines and stay on top of the extra work.

When it comes to finally making choices and sending off your UCAS form, enjoy it. I really liked my final personal statement as seeing the stuff I’d done laid out like that made me think that maybe I wasn’t so useless as I’d previously thought I was. I’d been a little bit worried after my AS level results as I did badly in one of my favourite subjects – I thought it would stop me getting an offer from my first choice university, so for a while I thought about not even applying there. However, I eventually applied anyway, and I got an offer, which felt incredible. One thing about the autumn term - for me at least, it was the busiest I’d ever have in my whole time at school. There are lots of deadlines for things that aren’t directly related to university, like coursework, so make sure you stay on top of it all and don’t commit yourselves to more than you can handle. If you’re feeling down, remember everyone else in the year knows what you’re going through, and will happily help you out.

Overall, applying to uni is, however, however much we try to avoid it, a much bigger deal than other vaguely similar things we’ve done in the past such as changing schools. That’s definitely a good thing. As you’ve probably gathered, everyone treats it differently, and one of the best things about it is that there’s an amazing sense of camaraderie amongst everyone in the year. You might hear people cheering in the common room when someone checks their phone for emails and finds out they’ve got an offer. It’s also fantastic in that it completely broadens your horizons. For the past 14 years of schooling we’ve had our heads down focusing on end of year exams and then the holidays as a break away from all that homework, but by the time you’re applying to university the focus is on moving on to the next stage of your education and it’s a totally different system. I think everyone comes out of the process feeling a lot more confident and sure of ourselves, where we’re going, and what we’re aiming for.

Okay, that's enough from me for now! As always if you have any comments, questions, or (short) rants, leave me a message below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A sudden burst of motivation

Well, mocks are over. Our exams are condensed into one week, making for an intense period involving 8 exams for me (I'll have 9 in the summer, including one retake). I actually feel like, this time, I revised harder than I've ever done before for any exam session, and it reflected well in my results! The idea that the end is in sight is finally beginning to dawn on me, and as such revision doesn't seem like such a drag any more. You're working towards a goal at A2, whereas for AS it seems a little bit more confused and laid-bank as if you're just 'banking' points - which you are, but I'd argue AS matters just as much as A2, if not more, as for most people it's the only thing the unis have for you as a concrete achievement.

Way back in the heady days of Year 10, I remember that I'd made a timetable to structure my revision. That wasn't something I'd ever done since as I doubted my ability to stick with it. AS revision involved bursts of hard work where I'd set myself targets of pages to cover in the space of an hour, and if I met those targets, I'd get the rest of the hour off. Looking back on it, it was quite a stressful and ineffective revision method, because I'd just focus on getting through the pages quickly, rather than understanding them.

This time, as we broke up for half term, I had my usual first weekend laze around, and I felt vaguely guilty as I recognised the signs - I'd bargain with myself, "I'll start revision tomorrow," "I can wait till the day after," "Day after that should be fine," and then I'd find myself with one day to go, knowing nothing. However, on Monday, I told myself to get a grip and I actually sat down and made a timetable on Excel. This can actually be sort of enjoyable - mine was colour-coded by subject, and I decided to organise revision in blocks - one hour studying, one hour relaxing, repeated. Starting revision early means you can give yourself these breaks and I can tell now that it's way less mentally draining. I also didn't set myself targets for pages, I just made sure I used the time well. As we're beginning to reach the end of the syllabuses in most subjects it was sort of nice to sometimes get the dawning realisation that yeah, we might just understand some of it.

So, mocks happened, and then I got my retake result last week, which I was very pleased with. Interestingly it felt like I probably did the same number of hours of revision for the retake as for the real exam, I just spent it in a different way - reading rather than writing. I think I can say, optimistically, that for the first time I know a personal revision method that actually works, after 8 years of entrance exams, end of year exams, and finally public exams. Just in time for the summer!

If you have any comments, or questions, drop me a comment and I'll get back to you!


Wednesday, 15 February 2012


Last year, I remember attending 6th Form Assemblies and listening to all the notices being given to the Year 13s, and thinking, ‘wow… this stuff is getting kind of close, but I don’t understand any of it.’ Applying to university sounded like an impossible negotiation through codes I didn’t understand (LNAT, TSA, BMAT, UKCAT, MLAT) and honestly at that point I was worried I didn’t understand enough. I wasn’t really one of those people who had chosen their unis at the age of 15 or earlier and therefore had an intricate knowledge of what pieces of work needed to be submitted when. I knew what course I wanted to do, and that certainly wasn’t the case for everyone in my year; but when you’re exposed to reports of things going on with the year above it does still make you wonder if you’re doing enough. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d answer a few general questions about the process particularly oriented towards people who are looking at 2013 entry.

1) What preparations should I have done now (between 7 and 11 months prior to application deadlines?)
There’s nothing you must have done by now. At this point in the process the focus is rightfully on preparing for AS exams or the equivalent. Once the pressure is off after those exams, then if you feel like it you can start to wonder about personal statements, but there’s no obligation at all at this point! The main potentially useful thoughts are those regarding what subjects you might want to carry on into A2 – for example if at this point you have a slight leaning towards Economics, it’d be good to start nailing down Maths as one of your A2 choices. All the info about necessary subjects for various courses are easily available online if you want to Google it.

2) Was the process all the way I expected it to be?
I think in some ways it was easier than I expected. Looking at the admissions process from the outside it seems so intricate and confusing, but once you’re in your final year and actually get to the point where you need to do your application, people will try to help you out as much as possible and at most schools there are lots of resources available to help you out. If you’re at a school where there aren’t such resources available, teachers will always be happy to talk to you, and places like The Student Room can be very helpful in terms of advice – lots of people who are very experienced with admissions use it.

3) What would I have done differently?
There are two things I might have done differently. Firstly, I might have done a little more research into courses to apply to. Given that I’m applying for a combined course there are lots of variations on that course I could have considered that still contain much of the same content, but I focused mainly on the original combination, which limited my options a little bit. I also might have done a little more research into universities abroad if I’d had the opportunity, although lots of foreign unis require different sorts of entrance tests and preparations so maybe it’s good I didn’t explore that avenue in the end. There were also a few extra curricular activities I took up this year that on the one hand were useful as distractions, but on the other caused a bit of stress, so I might have been a bit more selective in terms of what other things I took up, looking back on it.

4) What are the best bits?
Applying to uni is really a much bigger deal than other vaguely similar things we’ve done in the past such as changing schools, so everyone ends up treating it differently and there’s an amazing sense of camaraderie amongst applicants. It’s also fantastic in that it broadens your horizons – throughout the rest of our years at school we’ve just focused on end of year exams and then the holidays as a break away from all that homework, but by the time you’re applying to university the focus is on moving on to the next stage of your education with a totally different system. I think you come out of it feeling a lot more confident about yourself and where you’re going in the end.

I hope that has been useful! As always, if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below.


Thursday, 2 February 2012


Hello everyone! Sorry for the extended gap between this latest update and my last post. Things have been busy, with a retake, full blown Christmas holiday relaxation (a very time consuming thing, you know), coursework and all that, but I've been planning lots of content for down the road which hopefully I'll be able to share soon.

I'm going to be interviewing two careers/uni applications advisers and will be posting their responses on here as soon as I am able. So, if you have any questions for them, feel free to let rip in the comments section below! They're absolutely lovely and give the best advice, I've certainly benefitted from it, so don't hesitate to ask them anything you want to know.

The most notable thing I did in the last month was my Philosophy AS Unit 1 retake. I did unquestionably awfully in this paper the first time around, and hadn't had foreknowledge of this awfulness until I opened up my results in August last year. However, I didn't let it (and the low overall AS grade) dissuade me from applying to all the universities I would have applied to if I hadn't done badly. At one point I considered withdrawing my application to my dream uni as I was pretty sure the low AS grade in Philosophy (a vital subject for PPE..) was going to mean an inevitable rejection, but I didn't do that, and I got a place. Essentially, I got the grade, decided I didn't want to drop the subject and was committed to do better, so that meant a retake.

To any Year 12s reading this who don't already know this stuff - one of the best things about A levels is that you receive the final A level grade as a compilation of your best mark in each unit. This means you can technically retake any unit in any subject multiple times if you want, with papers issued in January and June every year. Universities vary in terms of how they look at retakes, with some more open to lots of them than others, but pretty much any uni won't mind if you've retaken one paper. When retaking, for example if you can't do it in school as people don't typically sit papers in January, it's important to register with another institution in your area several months in advance. So, I did this, and towards the end of December, with the heady cheer of the holidays fading into the distant past, I started trying to revise.

If you think it's hard trying to remember everything you've been studying over the last year, it's definitely worse trying to remember something you first started studying 18 months ago and haven't looked at in the last 6. Therefore - start revising early, earlier than for normal exams if possible. Think about exactly what caused you to mess up your first paper, and try and hone those skills by doing lots of practice papers. Different revision methods work for different people, but I changed my revision method slightly for the retake, and found it to be much more successful in terms of my understanding. First time around, I typed out the textbook like a madman for hours at a time, then read and reread my notes, highlighting bits I felt I didn't understand, before making a further list of the bits within the bits I didn't understand that I REALLY didn't understand. Second time around, I read and reread the textbook itself, before making concise notes. I felt this was much more productive as I was focussing on understanding the thing, rather than simply finishing typing up 20 pages in an hour. This, coupled with plans for past questions, meant I felt like I grasped some of the ideas properly for the very first time, and meant I was much more focused on the correct topics and knew much more accurate information. With that out of the way, it's back to preparing for the second (or third, fourth, depending how you look at it) hurdle of Year 13... mocks!