by Graeme Matthews

April 13, 2019

There is a system that you can use that allows you to organise your workspace and folders so that you can easily find the resources that your teacher gives you. You can organise your time so that you are completing your homework assignments, lab reports and studying for topic tests with a structured approach. And you can have a school-life balance so that you don't get burned out with your studies.

If getting organised for your A-level studies is something which interests you then keep on reading this blog post.

Organise The Resources Your Teacher Gives You

One of the main differences between GCSE's and A-levels is the volume of information that you will receive from your teacher. In A-level courses, isn't the case of a slow and steady teaching pace using a few worksheets that have to be completed by the end of the week. Rather, it is the case of a fast-paced approach where you are receiving handouts, sample questions to complete in class, homework sets, past paper questions, old practice exams and lab assignments on a daily basis. If you don't have an organizational strategy in place at the beginning of the course you can quickly become overwhelmed with paperwork which could impact your final grade.

The best practice to organise all of the resources you receive from your teacher is to use one A4 lever arch file for each section of your course. For example, because there are three sections in A-level chemistry, you would have three lever arch folders. One for Organic, one for Inorganic and one for Physical chemistry along with the necessary divider tabs and sheet protectors. As soon as you receive a resource from your teacher you place it in your day folder. And as soon as you get home you hole punch it and file it in the appropriate A4 folder.

Although organizing your resources using lever arch folders is an excellent organization system, you can also organize your resources digitally using a scanner app on your smartphone which is connected to an air drive. Once you receive a resource from your teacher and before you submit your completed homework assignments you scan them using an app on your smartphone and save the file to the appropriate folder on your air drive. Most schools offer a free subscription to Microsoft Office 365 which includes a 1 TB air drive, the Microsoft Office suite and a scanner app called Office Lens.

If your school doesn't offer a free subscription to Microsoft Office 365 then it's worthwhile purchasing a subscription and installing the app on your smartphone. Or if their school uses Google classroom then purchasing a scanner app for your phone and using Google drive as an air drive. There are many different scanning apps and air drives available for your smartphone. The advantage of using the Microsoft Office suite is that Office Lens scans a document directly from your smartphone and saves it to your OneDrive.

Once you have established an organizational system the next step is to make filing and scanning your paperwork part of your daily routine. Filing and scanning resources should take about 15 minutes per day for you to complete and should be the first task you complete when you come home from school and before you start your homework. This is because the paperwork quickly mounts up by the end of the week and a well organised set of folders is crucial when you start to revise for your topic tests, UCAS prediction exam and final exam in the course.

One of the major differences between a student who earns a C in A-level chemistry and one that earns an A* is that the student who earns an A* is organised. They don't spend their time looking for notes that were scribbled on a piece of loose-leaf paper and then placed in their textbook. They don't spend time looking for homework sets or sample questions that were tossed somewhere in their book bag. Rather they have a well organised set of folders so that they can easily find the resource that they are looking for and spend their time learning the course material.

How to organize your A-level work:

  • Buy one lever arch folder per topic in your A-level course.
  • Purchase a subscription to Office 365 or a scanner app and an air drive.
  • Scan and file your resources as soon as they receive them.
  • Scan your completed assignments before you submit them.
  • Maintain your filing system by spending 15 minutes each day filing and scanning your resources.

Optimise Your Daily Commute

A lot of students commute anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half each way to school especially if they live in a large city. This adds up to between one or three hours each day or five or fifteen hours each week. That's the equivalent of almost either one or two school days each week that they spend commuting to and from school!

Everyone needs some downtime to decompress after school and make a few phone calls to their friends, listen to music, watch a movie or stream a YouTube video. However, A* students know that this is valuable time they can use to study for their course. Because they are organised, they don't waste any time looking for handouts or homework sets tossed in their book bag because they can easily find them in their day folder. Rather, they use their commute time to revise key definitions and concepts using index cards or a flashcard app on their smartphone. They complete their weekly reading from their textbook or a digital copy of their textbook. Or they complete homework questions using the paper copy in their day folder or a digital copy on their smartphone.

A* students also choose their mode of transportation wisely so they can leverage their study time. If they live in a large city they may have a variety of modes of public transportation. For example, bus, tube, train or combination of these modes of transportation. Rather than take the bus which may be standing room only during their commute time they may choose to take the tube or the train so that they can get a seat and get some work done during their commute home.

A* students understand that they need to leverage their time wisely so that they can earn the grade that they want in the course. They know that it can make an impact on whether they earn an A* or a C in the course. Your can reclaim this lost time each week by choosing a mode of transportation for your daily commute which allows you to get work done during this time rather than being the shortest commute time to and from school. Being able to study between an extra one to three hours each day which is between five and fifteen hours per week can make a large difference in the grade you earn in your A-level exams.

Optimise your daily commute by:

  • Choosing a mode of transportation that allows you to study during this time.
  • Plan what you are going to study during this time i.e. revise key definitions and concepts using index cards or complete your homework assignment.

Organize Your WorkSpace

Besides organising their folders, A* students also know that they need to organise their workspace. It doesn't matter where they study at a desk in the corner of their bedroom, at the dining room table or at the public library. Wherever they study, their workspace is organised.

If you are working at a desk make sure that you have a good light source such as a desk lamp, a bookcase to store your books and folders and a comfortable chair. You will also need a pencil case to store pens, pencils, different coloured highlighters, ruler and a calculator. And you will need an adequate supply of college-ruled paper, a hole punch and index cards.

If you are working at the dining room table or a public library then you will need a sturdy book bag and a day folder in order to transport your work. Although this may seem something which is easy to complete it is an important one because having an organised workspace means that you will be more productive when you start completing your course work.

Organise your workspace:

  • Have a desk in your room with a good light source, a bookshelf and a chair.
  • Buy all of the stationary that you need for the course.
  • Make sure you have a sturdy book bag and a day folder.

Organise Your Time

One aspect of their lives that A* students have mastered is time management. It's another major difference between students that earn a C on their A-level courses and an A*. It may just appear that A* students are always studying during their spare time between lessons during the day and in the evening time. And they always seem to have their homework set and lab practicals completed and ready to be handed in by the due date.

You can organise your time using a time management system. It doesn't matter if its a school planner, a day planner or a time management app on your smartphone. What is important is that you have a system that accomplishes two things. First, it captures all of the due dates for homework assignments, lab reports, end of topic tests and exams. Second, it allows you to plan how you are going to complete all of the assignments by their due dates and what you are going to study each day.

The first aspect of your time management system is easy to achieve. You get into the habit of writing all of the assignment due dates that your teacher gives you into the time management system. And avoid jotting important due dates in the corner of your notes during your lessons. The second aspect is a little more complicated as it involves you structuring your time wisely during their study sessions. If you need help with this read the blog post Revision Plan: How A* Students Plan To Revise For A-Level Chemistry for more details.

Organise your time:

  • Find a time management system that works for you.
  • Get into the routine of writing all of your due dates in your time management system.
  • Plan your week so that you can complete all of your assignments.

Getting organised for your A-levels is crucial for your academic success and is something that you may not have been required to do when studying for your GCSEs. A-level courses are taught at a faster pace than GCSEs and you are required to learn and retain a larger volume of information. Modelling the strategies used by A* students such as how they organise the resources given to them by their teacher is one way you can   improve your grade in the course. By completing the suggestions in this blog post you will be off to a great start in your A-level courses.

I hope that you found this blog post helpful and that it gave you some tips and ideas on how to be more successful in your A-level studies.

Please leave a comment below!

About the author 

Graeme Matthews

Graeme Matthews has a B.Sc and an M.Sc in Chemistry and a PhD in Adult Education. He has been teaching a combination of university level, college and A-level chemistry for over 23 years. He has taught over 10,000 chemistry students in his teaching career. He has a proven track record of helping students earn an A* on their A-level chemistry exams so they can attend the university of their choice.

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