Cambridge A Levels vs. IB: Choosing the Right Path

How To Excel In Cambridge A Levels

The Cambridge International Examinations are a globally recognized and respected board whose qualifications are accepted by 1900+ institutions across 81 countries. They boast 5,30,000 subject entries per year from over 130 countries. But how many of these people get a grade of A or higher? Check the statistics for yourself.

Although the numbers may seem jarring at first, it is only meant to bring into light how the right amount of dedication and focus can make you a part of the minority that achieves an A or above in their subjects. The Cambridge  AS and the Cambridge A-Levels can be tough, for not only people switching from other boards but also for the students who have done the Cambridge IGCSEs.

Starting at AS, which is the first year of the 2-years A level course, students must plan out a schedule that they can follow for the next two years. Planning will significantly improve your chances of smoothly sailing through the cambridge AS and the cambridge A-Levels exams.

So, through trial and error in our personal experiences, our team at Tychr has put together all the lessons we learned the difficult way- so you don’t have to.

Pick only the minimum subjects you think necessary

As in many things in life, Quality over Quantity is a good motto for your Cambridge A-Levels. The minimum number of subjects required is 3. Students may also often pick 4 subjects which may be a good idea to keep your options open.

However, more subjects than that could make those years unnecessarily burdensome. The Cambridge A-Levels can be tough to cope with, and taking up many subjects only adds to the pressure one may feel.

Instead of taking a myriad of subjects, pick the subjects you really like and enjoy and then go ahead and give them your best. This would be a much better option than lugging several subjects throughout 2 years, that you may later find unnecessary for college.

Know your curriculum from the beginning

Before you begin with the learning, make sure you know what you are supposed to learn. It is very important to get a general idea of your different syllabi at the start of the year. Knowing this will allow you to be prepared and create your schedule or checklist to help keep track of your progress.

This also allows you to set milestones for your academic year that help keep you focused on what needs to be done and by when. In this way, you’ll have regular goals to meet that you can work towards and thus, avoid slacking.

Work hard during AS

A very common mistake students tend to make is slacking during the first year. Procrastination, although momentarily tempting, can have some serious repercussions on your A-Levels.

Do not bank on the idea that you can cover up in your A2s, because not only do they have significant weightage in your overall marks but A2 can be tough as it is without the extra work. Remember, your last year of high school also has a ton of other work, from college research, applications to examinations. Amidst all these you also need rest and to be able to enjoy your last year in school. So make hay while the sun still shines.

Go through the syllabus content thoroughly

Make sure you understand all the concepts in your syllabus as well as you can. And according to me the best way to do that is to make sure you’re participating in your learning actively. Paying attention in class and reading your textbooks, or trying to mug up information is not the ideal way to prepare for your A-Level examination.

My go-to method for studying throughout my Cambridge A-Levels was as follows:

  • Make notes of everything that is covered in class.
  • Skim through your textbook thereafter and link your class notes to the textbook content.
  • Combine these- and other sources if you wish- and make your notes. This process allows you to use your skills to pick out important information and understand them from multiple perceptions. Following which you can rephrase it in a way you understood best and thus actively participate in the method of making your notes.
  • If there are concepts you’re unable to understand from these notes, use other resources or methods, such as mind maps, flashcards, videos, and quizzes to help.
  • Use class tests and term examinations to get an idea of what concepts are your strengths and weaknesses and address them accordingly.

I found that repeating this method for all chapters in all subjects showed some impressive outcomes. Although pretty generic, this method may not work for everyone as it did for me. This brings us to the next point.

Also Read: Top 10 IB Schools in Pune

Customize your learning methods

Yes, A-levels can be quite jarring and everyone around you may seem terrifically serious, you must remember that it is still your time of learning, and learning is always best done in the way we are comfortable.

So no matter how many popular or guaranteed learning methods are thrown your way, make time to explore several different ways and see what helps you the most.

This can be something bizarre (like creating presentations on your topics) or seemingly lax like watching videos on it- if it works for you go for it. There are several methods out there that you can try before knowing which one is right for you.

Just remember, the only way you’ll get through these years is if you enjoy what you’re learning and how you’re learning it.

Practice topical papers throughout

If you’re not acquainted with the above term, there is no better time than now to do so. Topical papers are available widely across the internet for many subjects.

They consist of questions from past papers that only focus on one topic at a time, this way you do not have to go looking for unrelated questions from other boards online or skim through many past papers to find one question from a given topic.

Topical papers will combine several questions from that chapter and make them available to you in a click. So, after each of your chapters is covered, go through topical papers and practice according to the concepts you’ve covered.

After having practiced and corrected them, since they often come with their mark schemes, go ahead and make a careful note of your mistakes. Going through the papers and corrections will give you an idea of which concepts are unclear from the given chapter.

Practicing these papers right after your chapter is done ensures that you’re not waiting till the last minute to decide whether you’ve understood the chapter well or not. Knowing right after gives you enough time to revise that chapter well before you move on and forget all about it.

Take feedback

Feedback on your learning is very important. Be it through teachers, group or self-study, quizzes, and practice tests, or mock examinations, take the feedback seriously.

Knowing where you need to improve will not come through revision, only practice. So pay close attention to your mistakes, analyze and understand them and continue to work on them. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your teachers or peers, or any other resources you may find helpful.

Regular tests, whether in school or by yourself, will help understand your strengths and weaknesses and keep track of the progress you’ve made. You’ll also find that this helps you stay motivated to do work.

Practice papers

Although very redundant- one can not stress the value of practice papers enough. Having prepared yourself by understanding the concepts, applying them individually, and correcting your mistakes, it is time to look at the subject as a unit.

Plan your schedule such that you have at least 15 days before the exam to focus solely on practicing past papers. This gives you a thorough idea of exam-style questions and how you may approach them all combined.

With a large number of practice papers available online, along with their mark schemes, you can work on them and do your corrections. Once you feel confident you can start setting time limits for how long you take to complete each paper.

As the exam day closes in, make sure you’re setting your timer to go off at least 10 to 15 minutes before the allotted time of the paper, leaving you enough time to recheck before you submit your paper.

The Cambridge A-Levels are one of the academic milestones, a bridge to the next stage of higher education. But having everything figured out is not necessary, or possible. This is why remember to enjoy your learning experience and kick back and relax when you can.

Work hard and don’t be afraid of picking subjects you enjoy over ones you simply score better in or changing subjects that you are no longer comfortable with. Regardless of what you’re told, as long as you enjoy learning it will all be worth it.

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