Surviving the leap from GCSE to AS level History - the student view.
For many students the transition from GCSE to AS level is one of the hardest stages of their school career. This is the stage where teachers begin to stop guiding you along every step of the way and start to expect you to take your education into your own hands, and many students find it hard to cope with this. They carry on working at the same pace as they have always done and are soon overrun with deadlines for coursework and impending exams. However, if you know what you are doing it should be easy to avoid that kind of situation. While the history AS level course is more challenging than GCSE, it is by no means impossible, and with enough preparation it should be easy to get the grades you want. Below are some tips from me and other students who have gone through AS level History and the teachers who taught them that you can use to help you achieve the best you can.
1. One of the main differences between AS history and history in previous years, and something which often takes students by surprise, is the level of independent work you are expected to do. The topics you are studying are often so large that you will be unable to cover the entire topic in depth and do a large amount of revision solely in class time. This means that right from the start you have to be prepared to go the extra mile and get work done in your own time. Good examples of this would be reading around the topic in your own time, finishing off work you started in class but didn't finish and doing some light revision when you can.
2. When reading around the topic remember that the books don't all have to be historical textbooks- even a piece of historical fiction set around the time or including some people or events you might be focussing on can be extremely helpful. Reading around the topic will help you gain a much wider understanding of the context, which is always useful, and might get you more interested in the topic itself.
3. Getting in to the habit of making good notes in class is probably the easiest way of ensuring good grades. Condensing what you have learnt in a lesson into a page of clear, well written and easy to understand notes doesn't take a lot of effort and when you get to revising these notes will be hugely helpful. A lot of students don't take good notes during lessons and feel they can revise straight from the textbook much more easily, however during lessons your teacher will often tell you important information that has come from a different source to the textbook you are using. If you don't write it down and look over it later you won't be able to use it in the exam! You should also remember that your course textbook is not the only source of knowledge for the entire course! If you stick to the course textbook alone, you will not get the grades you want and you won't really get your teeth into the topic you are studying and after all, you did choose to do AS level history.
4.) Writing essays is one of the biggest leaps to make. At GCSE you will have written extended answers, but at AS level, these have to be lengthier, far more structured and make greater use of evidence and historical opinion. Your teacher will be able to give you some help about how to construct essays, but there is a good essay writing guide on the HA student zone and you should definitely write a plan first and have it clear in your head what your argument is before you start writing.
5. A big mistake AS History students often make is assuming that the vast majority of revision will get done in class. While this would be nice it is unfortunately hardly ever true. The syllabus teachers have to cover is huge and more often than not you will still be covering new material while the exam deadline is creeping closer. Starting revision as early as possible will be a massive help to you and will actually make revising easier and your workload more manageable. If you start earlier you will be able to do smaller, relaxed chunks of revision over a long time period, rather than spending countless frantic hours in the last few weeks covering the whole topic. It will also make remembering names, dates and key facts easier as the more times you go over them the better you will remember them.
6. A lot of AS History students find revising difficult as they don't know what to focus on or how to revise. Some good advice would be to get a hold of as many practice papers as possible, do them in exam conditions and then either mark them yourself or ask your teacher to have a look at them. This will help you find out what areas you're weakest in, make you feel less nervous about the actual exam, give you a better understanding of how questions are framed and ultimately allow you to shape and structure the rest of your revision better.
7. After you have done a few practice papers you will need to look at some mark schemes. Ask your teacher if you are not sure where to find these, as they are extremely helpful. There should be mark schemes available for every exam paper from the last few years which include things such as expected answers and marking criteria. Reading through these may be a bit boring but they always contain really useful bits of advice that you can use for your own exam. As well as mark schemes there are also a series of examiners reports available to students. These reports are written by examiners and give information about all the positive and negative things they noticed when marking exams. These are really useful for showing you what the examiner is actually looking for when marking work and can help you shape how you answer questions.
Nick Sharma, Haberdashers' Aske's School, New Cross.