A Levels in one year? We thought so…

This was to be a post describing a plan to complete A Levels in one year. As regular readers know, in 2020 our 17yr old had a lightbulb moment, shook himself and decided it was time to study now. He took the four GCSEs he needed for his next step, and gave himself nine months to study them using the ICS Learn courses. Not only did he pass everything, but he achieved a 9 in English Literature , and an 8 in English Language – having never written an essay (or really enjoyed reading) before last summer (he shared his tips for other teenagers setting out on homechooling GCSEs in the UK here). Riding high on his success he decided to plough on and complete his three A Levels inside a year too. How much harder could it be?
The new courses were set up, and he quickly contacted all his tutors to introduce himself and explain his timeplan.

He was met with polite disbelief – the experienced tutors were unanimous in their opinion that this plan was not only not sensible, but also self-sabotaging. Each of them questioned Toby as to why he needed to do the three subjects inside one year, instead of the usual two. Of course it was possible – anything is possible – but what was the need? What was the urgency, having come this far, in cutting short his own chances?

Teenage boy working at a desk in his bedroom, home schooling – By Monkey Business Images Shutterstock

So Toby came to us, acknowledged what his tutors had told him, and talked it through. We asked the same question – why this drive to get it done in a year? It was a deadline he had imposed upon himself – no one else had told him it was necessary. So what was the reasoning behind his urgency to study A Levels in one year? It transpired that it was a combination of impatience for his ‘next step’, heady confidence after his GCSE success, along with an underestimation of the work involved in A Level courses. We looked at the hours required for each course (History, English and Law), and did the maths.

  • A Level syllabuses are designed on the assumption that students have approximately 360 guided learning hours per subject.
  • 360 hours pers subject, and three subjects, that’s 1,080 hours of studying.
  • There are 29 weeks between September and March, allowing a week off for Christmas, and presuming a five day week that’s 7.5 hours solid study a day, without additional reading or research.

Yes of course it’s do-able… but it’s a tough schedule for anyone to uphold for that long, and allows almost no time for revision or exam practice. It also meant an 18yr old looking at an exhausting, pressured and relentless year, with no room for bad weeks, loss of motivation, being unwell, a holiday… any small thing could throw the entire course off track and impact on his final results.

Plus of course all three courses are essay based – it’s not so much the amount you need to learn for A levels, but how well you can develop the sophisticated reasoning and writing skills. And that simply takes time.

Teenage boy wearing headphones works at desk in his bedroom By Monkey Business Images | Shutterstock

So we talked through the practical consequences of taking the usual two years instead of one – what and how would this impact? And it turned out… not very much. Yes, of course, Toby would be another year later than his cohort. But he already is a year behind them – and many are taking a year out instead of going straight to Uni. Will twelve months really make such a difference in the grand scheme of things? As adults we know it won’t, and we attempted to help Toby see that slowing down is perhaps the fastest way to get there; using a little patience will still get him to the same place, but perhaps with a lot less stress and anxiety along the way.

A Levels in one year? We thought so…

And so, he stepped back. He listened – and now he’s not planning on A Levels in one year. He’s planning on A Levels in summer 2023, with two years ahead filled with a combination of studying, travelling, time to see friends and doing what most teenagers do. And instead of the anxious face weighed down with the study schedule and colour coded constant screen alarms, he’s enjoying his studying again, and feeling excited for the next chapter.

And for us, the best thing is not only seeing him examine his choices, weighing up consequences and choosing the right path for himself, but also atching him learning to be bold enough to be flexible, to change his mind when something doesn’t feel right, and to know it’s never too late to choose a new way.

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

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  1. He sounds pretty awesome and that does sound like a wise decision to come to. We’re having to make some tricky decisions here too re: A-levels as J flew through GCSE’s but then missed over a year of school due to shielding so in effect, he’s trying to catch up last year’s A-level work this year ready for exams next summer and with A-levels being around 4 times harder than GCSE’s that is proving quite a challenge but so far he’s refusing the idea of allowing an extra year to do them. I’ve sent him a link to this post so might help him think through the options.

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    • Thanks – I hope it helps. Let me know if J might like to talk to Toby, I’m sure he’d be happy to. I think it’s just hard for them to grasp they really do have plenty of time, and there’s no hurry – it’s so ingrained into the system that X must be done at Y age.
      I hope J makes the right decisions for him – and remembers there are no wrong ones.

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