Updated: Apr 16
Learning in Sixth Form is very different from the learning you did at GCSE and the key difference is that more emphasis is put on independent learning. One of the most important parts of Sixth Form is coping with the amount of unstructured time in your timetable (i.e. free periods) and making the most of them.
In Sixth Form, your lessons will take you through new material, introduce you to skills and provide you with the feedback you need to improve the homework and coursework that you produce for your teachers, but the real learning happens outside of the classroom. Not only will you be expected to do more on your own, but you are also expected to organise yourself, rather than 'going with the flow'. On top of this, the work will be more difficult and take longer AND you will need to prepare your UCAS application along the way.
So how did I make the most of my time in Year 12-13 and what would I advise you to do?
Create a routine
Everyone will be telling you to create revision timetables, teachers will be signposting you to timetable resources and templates, etc. But what you really need to focus on is a healthy and realistic routine that you are able to carry out on a daily basis.
Start with the things you HAVE to do (these are your 'non-negotiables'):
Sleep is fundamental to your health - as you probably know, 8 hours of sleep is ideal! This may change depending on how you feel but it's good to have a set time that you aim to go to bed and wake up at. I often went to bed at 11 pm latest and woke up at around 6.30 am for school (ew, memories).
Pencil in the times that you usually have dinner in your house. For me, this was always around 6-6.30pm so I would always take a 6-7 pm break to eat and be with family. I would then go back to studying after.
Commuting to and from school + your time at school
Block off the hours when you're at school and when you're traveling to and from school. This helps you be more realistic about the time you have left to study.
Your study time - class work + revision
After figuring out all of your non-negotiables, it is time to schedule your study time.
Lucy Parsons, a Cambridge University Geography graduate and teacher, suggests the following hours for studying your GCSEs and A-levels:
Year 11: 1-1.5 hours per week per GCSE subject. So if you're doing 10 GCSEs = 10-15 hours of study at home per week.
Year 12 and 13: 6.5 hours per week per subject. If you're doing 3 A-levels = 19.5-20 hours study at home per week.
You then have to make sure to include this number of hours of study into your weekly timetable.
Now, when it comes to having a weekly timetable, I didn't have one that I strictly stuck to if I'm honest! I had my school diary and class schedule to keep track of homework tasks and tried to do revision in any gaps. I actually spent most weekends completing revision and classwork from 9-5 pm! This is when I'd get the bulk of my A-level studying done (*shudders at the memories*).
If Notion existed when I was doing my GCSEs and A-levels, I would have definitely used it! If you haven't heard of Notion, it is an all-in-one workspace where you can write, plan, collaborate, and get organised - it allows you to take notes, add tasks, manage projects & more.
This is the Notion workspace that I would have used if I was in Year 12 and 13: https://www.notion.so/Year-12-13-Time-Manager-3b9e4231e49045099c09751c19bea6db
You can download this workspace as a duplicate template and edit it as much as you want! It also includes links to my work experience letter and personal statement.
I also highly recommend Ali Abdaal's videos on how to use Notion here
If you can't fit a good number of hours to study into your weekly timetable and you want to get the best grades possible then you may need to give up on some of your 'negotiables'. These tend to be part-time jobs, hobbies, or mindlessly scrolling through Instagram... But with any time that's left…feel free to include these back in!
Breaking down your study time
I used my 'study time' to complete any compulsory school work such as homework and coursework. Then whatever time I had left, I would spend revising. REVISING is going over things you already know - NOT teaching yourself new things. You need to include revision and current classwork into your 'study time'
Homework and coursework
Complete urgent homework and coursework FIRST
After this, spend the remaining time on revision tasks. Revision is not in addition to this study time. Revision tasks include: going over flashcards or making them, attempting a past paper and marking it afterward, attempting to write an essay, writing up notes on core concepts, and testing yourself.
Keep your revision ACTIVE. See my blog post of my favourite methods here
Preparing for your UCAS application
Preparing for your UCAS application can be a daunting task but the only part you really need to worry about is your personal statement.
I spent the whole of Year 12 focusing on my A-level content and nailing that down. I registered to UCAS in June and began writing the first draft of my personal statement after I had completed my exams in early July. This means that I had a good 3 months to write multiple drafts and show my teachers, parents, and any medical students to get their feedback.
Gaining experience for a medical application (think EARLY - summer between Year 11 and Year 12 then plan to do more experience in Year 12)
In terms of gaining volunteering and clinical work experience, I made sure I started looking for these around January of Year 12 (I wasn't sure if I wanted to do Medicine so I started fairly late) to arrange work experience for my half terms and the summer months.
For ideas on what you can do for volunteering during COVID-19, see my blog post here
I completed most of my medical experience during Year 12, especially in the summer. I used to volunteer at a charity shop fortnightly (every 2 weeks) until I completed ~ 16 hrs and my work experience placements lasted for a week each during Easter holidays and summer. I had 1 experience during term-time and my teachers allowed me to go (try not to miss out on teaching time though).
See what I got up to for work experience AND download an example of my work experience letter in my blog post here (also included in the Notion link)
I recommend sending out emails (quickest and easiest type of written correspondence) to specific doctor emails NOT generic hospital email addresses or ward clerks. The best thing to do is look up the hospital you want to do a placement at and search their Consultant Directory.
I also highly recommend looking at Outreach schemes and trying to get onto one for aspiring medical students. These can give you a better insight into the universities you may want to go to, they're free, they provide fantastic tips and advice about the application process and even interview practice. See my blog post here to read about the ones I did and the key programmes to look out for (the ones I WISH I did).
So now that you've created your weekly routine, you need to start following it and stick to it.
If it doesn't work for you, think about where it's failing and re-organise yourself and your routine to suit your needs.
Common difficulties and possible solutions:
It's really important that you recognise what your procrastination looks like and how to stop yourself from doing it. If you find yourself consistently unmotivated to study, you may need to rethink your study technique or adapt your schedule.
Most of the time, we hate revising and can't stay focused on it because it's boring. But ACTIVE revision should stop you from feeling this way. Revision is mainly TESTING yourself, NOT writing notes. Sometimes, attempting questions (even with little knowledge) is the best way to learn!
I also highly recommend downloading the app 'Hold' - for every 20 mins you stay off your phone, you can accumulate points to spend on £4.99 cinema tickets, free popcorn, Mother's Day gifts, gym memberships and so much more! I love incentives so I highly recommend them.
"Revision takes hours... I won't be able to do it today"
Try not to get bogged down with thinking that revision is going to take hours or days. In 15 minutes, you could revise some definitions on a couple of flashcards, commit a mnemonic to memory, solve an equation, learn a few words of vocabulary, or learn a quotation. If you want to really ace the exams, DO NOT waste time.
Long travel times
Time on the bus or train is always long enough to be useful and this is something I've really taken advantage of recently (if I'm traveling alone). I tend to try online questions or read up on a few of my notes during my commutes to keep me on my toes and see if my knowledge is improving.