8 A-levels Study Techniques You Need to Know

Admissions

2020-12-17

Getting into medical school requires a good UCAT score, well-written personal statement, sound performance at an interview, as well as high A-level grades.

Entry to medicine generally requires AAA grades or higher. Make use of the study skills below to boost your A-level performance.

1. Know yourself and what you are studying

  • There are at least three types of learners, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (doing). Which one are you? Optimise your study around the learning method which suits you and try to reduce time spent on those which don't work so well.
An eye, an ear and a hand to represent visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, respectively.
  • Get to know the syllabus inside-out. There's absolutely no point learning things which you won’t be assessed on. So the first step is getting to know the contents, and the second is finding out how you will be assessed.
  • Take a look at the past papers as soon as you can. Familiarity with the structure will give you confidence, and also help you focus on learning the right things.

2. Note-taking tips to aid your revision

  • Be selective with your note-taking. Don’t attempt to write down everything that the teacher says, but only the essential information. You may ask yourself, ‘How would I know what’s important?’ This is why familiarising yourself with the syllabus and doing pre-reading matters.
  • Highlight or underline the most important facts and concepts.
A highlighter drawing a squiggly line.
  • Use symbols and abbreviations to speed up your note-taking and don’t worry too much about grammar and spelling.
  • If you’ve missed something or were away for a class, catch up with your handouts and notes by asking your teacher or a classmate.

3. How to remember lots of information

Understanding the contents fully helps you to retain information more effectively. However, there are times when you simply have to memorise a wide range of facts.

  • Use mnemonics to help you with retention or retrieval of information. For example, memorising the sequence of orbitals for chemistry (s, p, d, f, g, h, i, k) can be hard as there is no pattern to the list of letters, but use the sentence, ‘Sober Physicists Don't Find Giraffes Hiding In Kitchens.’ to easily remember this.

Come up with your own mnemonics or use ones created by others to aid your study.

  • Use a mind map to easily remember lots of information pertaining to a topic. Write your subject in the centre of a page and radiate out with a hierarchy of linked topics and facts. You can do this on a piece of paper or using a programme.
A mind map showing branching of study topics
  • Read the information aloud to yourself. This helps you remember more efficiently and effectively.
  • Use flashcards and carry them with you all the time. You will be amazed at how efficiently you can use bits of time here and there to boost your revision. You can also use digital flashcards to test yourself.
Three flashcards between two hands
  • Regardless of which memorising technique(s) you use, regularly revisit your materials. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve demonstrates how easily information is forgotten if you don’t revisit it:
The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, showing how information is forgotten over time.

4. Learn to manage yourself

  • Organise your study schedule with planners and calendars and incorporate a regular study routine into your life. Don’t be too ambitious, as this might put you off from sticking to your schedule.
  • Learn to prioritise your tasks. A useful system for prioritisation involves assigning your tasks into four quadrants based on importance and urgency, as well as factoring in your readiness or progress. Also balance your study across your subjects, as you need a high grade in all three subjects to get into medical school.
Four quadrants for assigning priority: (1) Important and urgent. (2) Important but not urgent. (3) Not important but urgent. (4) Not important and not urgent.
  • One of the biggest barriers to academic success is procrastination. There are plenty of tips available online on overcoming procrastination. Reward yourself when you complete a task or a milestone, such as watching an episode of your favourite Netflix show after you’ve studied for two hours or have completed an assignment.

This increases your motivation and turns your distractions into constructive rewards.

  • Time is a scarce resource. Improve your concentration to maximise study time. Develop an interest or add meaning to the subjects and topics that you are studying.

For example, you will find chemistry more interesting after appreciating how the treatment of many diseases relies on a deep understanding of biochemical reactions in the body.

5. Environment matters

  • Optimise your main study environment. Ensure that you have a well-ventilated room with adequate lighting, and a comfortable chair with your desk at an appropriate height. You might prefer to study in a quiet environment, but many study better with some background noise. Do whatever you can to help you focus.
  • Be free from distractions and interruptions: put your phone on silent during study sessions. If this is not practical, turn off your notifications from social media apps including Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat.
A "no-phone" sign
  • Equip yourself well with the resources you need, including stationery (e.g. notepads, pens, highlighters), study materials (e.g. notes, textbooks, workbooks), digital devices and study planners/calendars.
  • Form a study group with a number of self-driven and motivated classmates. You will be able to share resources, teach each other, and a degree of tension and competition is good for keeping you on track. You can also find study buddies online.
Three friends studying together in a room.
  • Despite the tips above, don’t wait for the perfect setting and moment to study. Just do it.

6. Test-taking tips

If you feel that your exam grades generally do not reflect your preparation, try using the DETER strategy to improve your performance:

  • Directions: Read the directions carefully before launching into the exam.
  • Examine: Do a quick survey of the contents of the exam to get a feel for it.
  • Time: Plan how much time you will spend on each section or question.
  • Easiest: Work on the easier questions first and don’t overspend your time on one difficult question.
  • Review: Review your answers multiple times, making use of all the time given to you.
DETER test-taking tips: (D)irections, (E)xamine, (T)ime, (E)asiest, (R)eview

7. Further study tips

  • Start your revision early. Most students cram to a degree, but cramming does not work. You may have been able to get by in the past with cramming, but the volume of content covered at A-levels warrants a more structured and disciplined approach to studying.

Practise spaced learning for effective and gradual accumulation of knowledge.

  • Study breaks are important for improving your productivity as well as benefiting your mental and physical health. Be aware of your attention span and plan your study sessions accordingly, with quality breaks in between.
Woman meditating in front of a yellow and pink ying yang symbol with her legs crossed, hands together and eyes closed looking after herself between study.
  • Interleaving is an evidence-based method for more effective and longer-lasting learning. Mix several topics during your study sessions, but don’t switch your subjects too often.
  • Use multiple resources to enhance and reinforce your learning, including your notes, teachers, classmates, textbooks and the Internet.

For example, textbooks are great for covering all contents in sufficient depth, but might not be okay when you find a concept difficult to digest, in which case you can find a YouTube video that explains it thoroughly.

A computer screen showing an explainer video on YouTube.
  • Getting through A-levels is a challenging journey. Don’t be afraid to seek help, whether it be talking to someone about your concerns or seeking direct tutoring support. Reach out to your caregivers or school to discuss your options.

8. How to get help with your A-levels

Achieving AAA/AAB grades or higher can be a challenge for even the brightest and most hard-working students.

We want to help you get accepted into medicine. As we don’t offer support on A-level subjects we’ve teamed up with the UK #1 provider of revision materials, SnapRevise

SnapRevise offers interactive learning materials and personalised support for the following A-level subjects:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Economics
  • English Literature
  • Geography
  • History
  • Psychology

Visit SnapRevise and use the code MEDIFY10 to get £10 off your first month. That’s one month of the basic plan for FREE.

Succeed in your Medical School interview. Start today for only £10

Membership will expire on Wed 31 Mar 2022 23:59 UK time

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