3 ways to bridge the GCSE to A-level divide

The gap between GCSEs and A levels can feel huge – but teachers can ease the transition, says sixth-former Robbie Hicks

The transition from GCSE and A level: One sixth-form student explains the challenges

The transition to post-GCSE options – whether it’s A levels, BTECs or other qualifications – can be a challenging time.

The move to college or sixth form brings a lot of changes. 

Free choice over subjects allows for new individuality, but also means many tough choices. 

Freedom brings excitement but increased responsibility. New, harder qualifications ramp up the pressure.

It is vital for students to be settled in and anticipating the new challenges ahead of them.

I have just experienced this jump from Year 11 to Year 12.

The transition from GCSE to A level

So what helped me kick start my sixth-form career?

1.  Taster days

Never before will students have had such a capacity to personalise their education, previously being restricted by the few customisable options that filled up three or four of their GCSEs. 

As well as this, these new choices have the ability to open doors and block off others – so the decision is of paramount importance.

I was challenged by this freedom, but found taster days extremely useful. If teachers can provide a genuine experience of what a Year 12 lesson will be like, the subsequent choices are based on personal experience rather than anecdotes and assumptions.

Many students also change establishment for their sixth-form or college years, so it’s a good idea to integrate these taster sessions into open days if possible.

2. Careers talks and advice

Sixth form or college is often a stepping stone for further study, such as university. It is important for students to know about picking appropriate subjects that will not inhibit further choices.

For example, the lists of “facilitating” subjects can suggest which A levels are required for many courses – and make students aware of the “softer” choices. 

As well as this, many universities only accept BTEC qualifications when supplemented with one or two A levels. The required subjects can be surprising, too – chemistry, rather than biology, is vital for medicine courses, and maths is the most recommended subject for degrees in many fields.

Making this information available to students is integral to ensure that their choices take into account ability, passion and future prospects.

3. Reading lists

I made use of suggested reading lists for each subject I was going to study so that I could get a head start on the A-level content in the last weeks of summer.

Encouraging students to do this to any extent will prove beneficial, as ultimately time taken settling into a new course structure reduces precious teaching time. 

There are also excellent online resources like Primrose Kitten on YouTube that provide revision and head-start materials. 

At 16 years old, making these choices can seem overwhelming. Giving students as much information as possible is key to them making the best decisions.

Robbie Hicks is a sixth-form student in the South West

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