Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Questions

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.

Emma

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Retakes

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!