The Cambridge A Level exams whether in the Sciences or Arts or Commercial subjects is boot camp, well, in an academic sense. My meaning here is that studying for your Advanced Level exams is equivalent to preparation for the rigors in the academia. If you successfully pass your A Level exams with three straight As, there should be no school anywhere in the world that should take you for granted. In fact, in some countries your A Level passes guarantee you a place either as a sophomore or a freshman in an Ivy League. But what we’ve experienced over the years is a situation where the candidates hardly have a jolly good idea what they’re up against, or that they know but bungle things up at the last minute.
Here’s how I think you could pass the Advanced level muster.
- Go back to those old notes you took in High or secondary school and study them again thoroughly. They are the tools with which you need to build a rock-solid foundation for your A level.
- Be sure you have the correct syllabi. Know the options for each paper and most of all, know the paper weightings. By this we mean that certain topics in certain subjects attract more marks than others. Concentrate on those areas. A certain year we had students scoring A in very lowly weighted options of a paper but had low scores in the areas that carried high marks.
- Attend less and less of class and do more of research both on the internet and in the library. The student who scores the A is one who has gone beyond what the teacher says in class but adds what he knows to that that the teacher teaches. There was a candidate in my school who had made an A in Geography from another school – no mean feat, I must tell you. When I asked him how he managed to pull this off, this was what he told me: ‘If you woke me up from sleep at any point in the day and asked me any questions from any section of Geography, I could give you the answers’.
- Make friends with the teachers, tutors or whatever they are called. Show them you got what it takes. Let them know you’re keen and they’ll break their backs trying to make sure you pass and pass very well.
- Shut the world out. No phones. No parties. No girlfriends. No boyfriends. Slave driver I am, eh? But the A level is one that normally takes two whole years to complete and you want to do a crash programme and still carry on with all of the other extras? No, that wouldn’t do. If you have to complete your syllabi for three stiff papers, wouldn’t you rather shut the world out awhile for just 290 days of your entire life?
- Write every test assignment you’re given. In some countries there is a cumulative record of all of your tests that could affect your overall grade.
- If you’re in the Arts, let your handwriting be legible. The same goes for the Science and Commercial subjects. The answers are in English and the English are sometimes known to get upset with a shoddy handling of the language. Be neat in the presentation of your answers. Some of the exams state that neat and orderly presentations of answers are prerequisite for passing.
- Read the questions very well and make sure you understand them. In most cases, the understanding of what is required of you is a clue to unraveling the import of the entire paper. For instance in the A Level Literature-in-English paper, we have discovered that one essay-based question could have as many as seven other questions embedded in that one question. So if you were to respond to only one or two of the questions in that one question, chances are there that you may not do very well.
- Polish your essay-writing skills. Nearly every Cambridge exam question should be handled as if you were writing an essay. This presupposes that you must know that essays have four parts – the title (which may be optional) the introductory paragraph (consisting of the thesis and central idea), the body of the essay and its conclusion.
- For the Options in the Sciences, if you look closely at the mark schemes you would discover that quite a lot of the answers required are to be given either in a sentence or a phrase rather than with single words. So if the answer were to be say, ‘long leg’ and you wrote ‘leg’ as your answer, oops!
- Please do research past questions. They give you feel of what to expect and they get you familiar with the disposition of the entire exam.
- If you were to take heed to all of these suggestions and you barely studied, you would waste everybody’s time as well as yours. You must study, study and study either by yourself or with friends and with a time-table.
Now that you know, go for it!