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Minding the gap between A-levels and degree

By Joe Rennison

Thursday 20 September 2012 Trends

As you progress through the education system, each stage presents new challenges. This is true when you begin your GCSEs, when you start your AS Levels and when you start your A Levels. Between each stage of qualification there is a gap that must be traversed. As you prepare to start university this gap is perhaps at its widest.

It should be noted that the extent of this gap will not only depend on the university you attend but also the course you choose. An arts degree is likely to have in the region of 8-12 hours of lectures and classes, compared to a science degree which may well be full-on 9-5. Therefore, the points raised below will be felt in different measures depending on your situation. You may even find that there are differences that haven’t been discussed in this article. Still, what is written below is a good starting point for what you can expect.

Private study

A university degree will require you to be far more self motivated than you are used to. At A Levels it is likely that you were taught everything you were examined on in the classroom by a teacher. At university, you will be expected to have read and learnt much of the material before you enter the classroom and some content may not even appear in your lectures. You will need to be prepared for classes so that you can raise any questions you may have, rather than expecting a teacher to tell you everything you need to know. The London School of Economics state on their website that they expect students to, “take responsibility for managing your own learning: actively engaging in your programme and ensuring that you spend sufficient regular time in private study.”

Class sizes

When you are in a lecture, you will be one of many people. You will be expected to listen and take in what you can and the opportunity to ask questions will be rare. Your classes are, in contrast, likely to be much smaller groups than anything you are used to and there will be no hiding in the corner. You will be expected to have done the reading, have something to say and you will probably end up looking a little silly if you arrive unprepared. Therefore, make sure you study outside of your lectures and classes, so that you can get the most out of them when you are there.

The temptation to avoid studying

For everyone, the new found freedom to manage your own time often means a little too much time is spent socialising and not enough time is spent working. It is important not to work all the time and regular breaks and extra-curricular activities may even help your studies, but it is also very important that you do work enough of the time. A good work-life balance, coupled with a strong work ethic, will ensure that you benefit from both the academic and extra-curricular provisions on offer.

Get to know your lecturers

These are the people that mark your essays, that set the syllabus and that will mark your exam papers. If you want to know how to do well, what book to read next and ask any questions, then you should get to know your lecturers. Make sure they know who you are so that you can e-mail them or pop in to see them and you won’t seem like a random stranger asking for help. Having a good relationship with your lecturers will impact significantly on how much you enjoy your course and how well you do at the end of it.

Seek help if required

The other advantage of having a good relationship with your lecturers is that if you a struggling with your course then you can easily ask them for help. You may find it difficult to settle in to a new way of working, or perhaps the workload will prove too much, or perhaps you will be unsure how to manage your time effectively. For all these things you can ask your lecturers to help you. You can also seek help from your students’ union, or from the university student advice centre. The most important thing is to not let your study problems build up but instead to ask for help early, minimising any negative impact on your time at university.