A Levels – Things I wish I knew before JC2 began

Hello. It’s Grace.

With A levels behind my back, I’m glad to be back on The Origin*.

Cutting straight to the main focus of the article, A levels was no doubt, tough. Without seniors to guide us, I can confidently say the batch of 2018 was left to walk in uncharted waters. We made big mistakes, fell into deep traps, felt hopeless about our future prospects at some point in time. But the one things in common is, we learned and pulled ourselves back up. For the rest of our lives, we will proudly display our scars as a badges of honour.

I feel it is only right if we seniors, survivors of the bloody battle, share insights we have gained from the process.

1. STOP. I say again. Stop comparing yourself to others

The only person you should be competing with is yourself. Comparing yourself to someone means you are defining your self-worth by the standards of another person. In the process, you are killing your self-esteem by indirectly implying that you will only be happy with yourself when you outdo someone. Throughout the year, people progress at different speeds owing to different commitments. Do not get frazzled when you hear about someone completing all the TYS and rush to do the same. Instead, acknowledge that you have been lazy/busy, and note down in your calendar which days you are going to complete it. This prevents you from wasting time thinking about the smart alec and you know that eventually, it will be done.

2. Positive self-talk

A common phrase mentioned throughout the year was “Do not be Complacent”. Do not, however, confuse the notion of preventing oneself from becoming complacent with lowering one’s self esteem. Not becoming complacent means adopting a growth mindset and acknowledging that there will always be something new to learn about a topic. Lowering one’s self-esteem refers to innately scolding oneself for getting only 70 rank points because you did not get 80. It is vital to treat yourself with utmost compassion throughout the year. This means being best friends with yourself. Would you scold your best friend for getting 70 rank points? Of course not. Treat yourself as if you would treat your very best friend. Validate your achievements and recognise it is okay to feel good about yourself. Switch off your inner tiger parent who constantly tells you that you could have scored higher, could have done this, could have done that.

3. Stop trying to prove yourself to others

Let’s face it. 50% of the time, we’re trying to uphold a facade. We all want to appear as the perfect student who scores 70+ rank points every examination and revises his/her work every day. The truth is, nobody can do this perfectly. All of us are bound to slip-up and fall behind due to unforeseen circumstances like illnesses. The natural instinct is to pretend like nothing happened so one could appear as if they have their act together. Guess what, you’re only lying to yourself. You are indirectly forcing yourself to expand energy to uplift this facade. Admittedly, it’s tiring. One should realise that everybody has bad and good days. On bad days, do not suppress your emotions in bid to ward off queries from people. Feel your emotions. Recognise that who you are as a person is not defined by your emotions but your value system. Emotions are fleeting. Acknowledge them and do not be afraid of losing friends just because you are not your usual bubbly self. True friends will love you no matter what emotion you are feeling. True friends know that anger does not equate to you despising them.

4. Learn to love what your learning

A common phrase used to describe A levels was “A Battle”. This, I found, caused many to focus on the end result rather than the process, resulting in unnecessary stress. Suddenly, every study session would become a mental battle between willpower and giving in. Doing homework became a source of dread. Focusing on the end goal leads to short term rote learning where one mindlessly memorises for the sake of an exam. In contrast, focusing on how one can gain from the process results in one taking time to make sense of the information. When learning, ask yourself why does this matter to me? What in this subject am I passionate about? How can I apply this knowledge to my daily life? Forming this somewhat intimate relationship with your subjects makes sustained long term learning possible.

5. Learn what works for yourself

Quit googling “Study tips to get top grades”. A thousand and one methods will appear which will only confuse you more. Instead, use the March Common Tests and Mid Years to experiment which study method works for you. Personally, I realised a little too late (during prelims) that I studied most effectively in noisy places like food courts, and in 3 hour blocks with long 1 hour breaks in between. A rather eccentric study method I acknowledge, but it works for me. The takeaway is, everybody is different. Some people study well in 45 minute blocks with short breaks while others can concentrate for hours with long breaks. Some people might be more productive in quiet libraries while others might find background noise more ideal for studying.

6. Do not forget to play hard too

Studying inevitably, will take up a large chunk of JC2 life. But, setting aside time for play is equally important. Planning some time for fun acts as motivation and refreshes the mind for the next study session. After all, what human can study with maximum concentration for 18 hours a day? That’s insane.

I surmise you were expecting a list of practical tips. Instead you’ve just read a list of mental/psychological tips.

A levels in my opinion, is more of a mental game rather than a matter of who works the hardest. By the time you have reached the month before A levels, everybody would have revised all the content. However, it is those who have the mental capacity to continue discovering new insights, apply what they have learnt, validate themselves from within etc. who will suffer less anxiety and stress overall.

All the above being said, I have not received my A level results yet so take the above with a pinch of salt. They are after all, opinions.

Grace Marie Yeh