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Effective Work in the Sixth Form

Desborough College


1. The Sixth Form

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a different environment from the Lower School 3-5 A Levels instead of 9 or 10 GCSE subjects time outside A Level teaching is your own responsibility considerable trust is vested in you to utilise this opportunity

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only a short period in your academic life: five and a half terms the Lower Sixth year is crucial the long Autumn Term of that year is perhaps a quarter of your A Level teaching the ground work of the subject is laid there

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your Sixth Form work will determine your university or employment choices to keep your options as wide as possible you need to be working well from today as opinions are formed of you day by day

You have an academic tutor. Their job: • • • • •

to guide you into effective work habits advise you on open days and higher education assist in revision schedules to monitor your progress in the Sixth Form use them and seek their advice

This booklet is designed to complement that advice and aims to provide an orderly and planned approach to work. Treat your academic work as your job and skills learnt now will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.


2. Organisation of work You need: • a quiet atmosphere conducive to work • to create time, don’t snatch time for work • concentration; make regular time targets (e.g. 50mins work) at the end of which there are rewards (10min coffee breaks). • an ordered environment, clear working surface, pens/pencils/books all organised You should: • use a homework diary • Preparation should be done well in advance of deadlines—manufacturing essay crises is an unnecessary exercise in brinkmanship • You should also become conscious of the number of hours you work each week • With your Form Master’s help, you should set targets • A bare minimum is 15-20 hours a week (5 per subject) • Be honest with yourself • Keep a balance between subjects. Above all, remember that the aim of this planning, of a new awareness of time, is to ensure that assignments are done well, and done promptly Homework: two/two and a half hours a night • It is easy to find distractions, long breaks, TV, social media etc —don’t succumb to them ... Weekends • we expect you to be busy people and the weekends are no exception with work, social and sporting commitments, but there is generally lots of quiet time on Sundays – use it for valuable background reading. Workspaces • Maudsley certainly ought to be a place to relax and socialise, please respect the quiet of the reading room and play your part in ensuring that the common room retains a 'coffee-house feel'. • ensure that the LRC is a place conducive to reflection and concentration • you should get to know the system of cataloguing books to enable you to find what you want Direction • much of your work will be directed, that is the completion of assignments which are specified in detail be they reading, noting, essay writing or problem solving. • nevertheless it is vital that you spend as much time as possible doing what many Sixth Formers entirely neglect to do— devoting attention to your own individual needs, for example reworking particularly difficult points, practising skills, reprocessing notes, revising past notes and reading around the current topic or ahead of a new one. This is undirected work.


3. In the classroom and the laboratory • • • •

be a positive contributor and don’t just be a sponge. never be afraid to ‘have a go’, although you should think before rushing in. by doing so you help create the atmosphere where everyone feels free to speak without fear of ridicule. Listen carefully to points made by others in the set for the way a fellow pupil expresses something may be more helpful than the pre-digested material from a teacher.

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never be afraid to ASK for clarification if you do not understand something. you may find the next stage hard unless you master the work on which you are presently engaged.

Practical work is not just to keep you occupied for a whole period each week, but is a vital part of the learning process and will always be integrated with other lesson work. It is important in each case that you are aware of how the work fits into what you are studying, and what you are expected to learn from it.

Problem solving • do not leave questions untouched until the day before the deadline, it is pointless at this level handing in substantially incomplete pieces of work When you do hit the inevitable difficulties explore the following avenues of help: • reference to worked examples in textbooks. • interchange of ideas (not whole solutions) with other set members. Often a solution rests upon a key idea which can be profitably shared. • assistance from staff—do not be afraid to ask for clarification but make sure that you ask before the deadline While it is very true that there is a great satisfaction in solving a complicated problem on your own, it is also immensely frustrating when one cannot find a path to the solution. When this happens, it may be worth asking yourself some, or all of the following questions: • • • • • • •

Can I draw a diagram? Is the diagram big/clear/accurate enough? What results, formulae or equations are applicable in this case? Have I used all the given information? Have I written down enough equations? (n.b. for 2 unknowns I need 2 equations etc.) How can I check my working so far? Have I copied the question down correctly? Have I asked a fellow student for help? Have I asked my teacher for help?


4. Reading All your reading should have a purpose, apart from that which is done purely for relaxation when all your work is up-to-date. That purpose might be • that you were asked to read a chapter or two by your master as part of covering a topic • that you are filling in background to help understand a specific text or problem • that you are searching for material specific to a particular essay topic. You need a clear understanding of how to use the library. Don’t be afraid to BROWSE, selecting books from the shelves whose titles suggest they might be relevant to your assignment. Concentration: make sure your environment is conducive to quiet reading Different speeds • you must cultivate an intelligent approach to every book you read, moving from the general (SKIMMING) speed, which provides you with an overview to the particular (a SLOW GEAR for dense and detailed reading) • when SKIMMING, constantly bear in mind what you are looking for—answers to specific questions, details on areas about which you know something and need further substantiation, or the outlines of a different argument challenging that which you’ve met in class Look at: • the publisher’s blurb to see whether the book will be relevant to your needs. • the table of contents. • the index. • the beginnings and ends of chapters, and especially the chapter headings, sub-headings and summaries. Gutting a book • the process of GUTTING a book should be a relatively speedy one • once you have found the material of special importance for your work, you should employ that SLOW GEAR

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read the chapter carefully and critically. If the book is your own, use a hi-liner pen to mark the main points; otherwise, use a light pencil and erase afterwards mark only those details which substantiate the arguments you need for your immediate problem— don’t confuse yourself with redundant details. when finished, trawl back through what you have read to REVIEW the material and ensure you have missed nothing vital

Reading is not a passive process • as you read you should ask questions of the text, challenging it, comparing it with what you already know, ensuring you understand the central arguments, and thinking how you can make use of the material in your topic. Benefits • whatever your A Level discipline, reading literature in your holidays, or when work is up-to-date, is a civilising and life-enhancing activity. • it helps make you a more interesting and better informed person, and this is certainly something which Admissions Tutors and Employers look for in their applicants.


5. Notemaking Why take notes? • Useful record • Helps understanding • Helps memory • Helps exam revision What do you need to note? Consider if you really need this information and if so which parts? Will you really use it? When and how? What questions do you want to answer with this information? Some people argue that to learn we need to encourage ‘whole brain’ rather than ‘half brain’ learning. This means that we need to utilise both the logical left and the creative right sides of our brain. Traditional linear notes tend to make use of the logical left side of the brain, and are more associated with sequential learning. Notes such as mind maps that are mapped out/pictured/drawn are linked to right brain activity. How to take linear notes: • Divide your notes in to headings representing each topic or subtopic. Number each section and subsection. Use abbreviations and symbols. • Leave a space between each section so that you can add more notes later; when you are revising, for example. • Use colour to separate different parts of your notes e.g. write your own thoughts in one colour, quotes in another and facts in a third. • Link up related points using arrows or dotted lines To create a mind map: • Use a blank sheet of paper and draw a picture in the centre of the page that represents your main topic. • Draw some thick, curved, connecting lines coming away from central image then from each of these lines, draw other connecting lines, spreading out like the branches of a tree • Label each branch; use one key word per line - single words give your mind more flexibility and are better at sparking off new ideas than phrases. • Use colours and images throughout - colour is exciting for the brain • You can represent cross-connections in your mind map using dotted lines For example:

(Taken from: http://mindmapcentral.com/how-to-mind-map-with-tony-buzan/ 17/06/13)


6a. Essay Writing For a least two-thirds of A Level subjects the essay is a crucial discipline being a logical argument, couched in clear prose, which demonstrates understanding, the skills specific to your subject and the utilisation of apt knowledge. There are several approaches to essay writing:

Of the 3 methods, only ONE is advisable—the Planned Essay.


6b. Structure • • • •

it allows you to shape an argument that coheres and it helps you keep track of your argument. it helps you decide on, and order, your paragraphs, and allows you to eliminate reproduction. it helps you isolate, select and bring to the embryonic essay that information in your notes which is important for answering the question. it is a skill transferable to the Exam Room.

How do you write a plan? it is a good thing to have your essay title on a sheet of rough paper that you carry around with you for a day or so. As ideas about the title come to you, jot them down on that rough note. The point is that you need to give yourself time to look all round a problem. Diving in will probably mean that you’ll miss an important aspect of the answer. If you follow the principles outlined above in chapter 2. Organisation of Work, you will have the time to do this. • •

settle down at your desk, spread your notes round you and take a clean sheet of paper, headed with the title and focus. break up your argument into paragraph headings, spaced down the two sides of the plan sheet, with gaps between each paragraph heading. You might think in terms of 6 or 7 paragraphs to develop the argument. after that, as indented subsidiary points, insert the facts, figures, quotations and support work which develop the argument each paragraph states. You can number your note pages, and use book page indexation, to allow easy reference once the essay writing process gets underway.

The Shape of an essay An Introduction which: • analyses the demands of the essay title. • proceeds to outline the main points which will be developed at length. • provides a smooth run into the bulk of the essay. This should not be overlong but should catch the reader’s attention and show that you have grasped what is required and are proceeding to a logical answer. Don’t just rewrite the title in another form, and Don’t waffle. Be Direct! The Exposition: • at all times be relevant: continuously ask yourself whether you are drifting into narrative, or using material to show off knowledge which is not required by the question. • be neither too short (under 4 sides of A Level essay are unlikely fully to explore an argument) nor too long (prolixity can dull the edge of an argument and bore the reader—8 sides maximum). • be logical: ask yourself whether or not you have been guilty of internal contradiction and whether the argument assayed at the start is indeed sustained at the end. Avoid sweeping, unsupported generalisations. • be literate: check your spelling and if you are unsure, use a dictionary—check your syntax as well. • ensure that you state their source of quotations and that they are worth inclusion The Conclusion: • restate your main thesis. • explain how it provided a satisfactory answer to the question asked.


7. Revision Contrary to the belief of most A Level students, revision should begin immediately you start a new topic during your A Level course and is a process continuous through all your work. • • •

revise the notes you have made on the day you do them review them, for 20 minutes, at the end of the week go back over them a month later trying to recall what you’ve read, testing and stretching your memory; then you are building up knowledge and insight along the path of your A Level course

Remember: when you revise in this way, the aim is to check your notes, make good where your notes omit important elements, and reinforce your understanding of the topic. ie. an active process. However, towards the end of the 5th term of your A Level course you will have to raise your sights to the Examination itself. In this final revision period there are a few basic rules worth following; • • •

start early get down on paper the main topic title and subheadings. Your teacher will help in this. devise a revision timetable. Be realistic about this—plan for weekday mornings 9am to 1pm in the Easter holidays, perhaps 2 hours in the afternoon, but allow yourself evenings and weekends free. Fit your summer term timetable around your teachers’ class schedule.

A successful method is the ‘one-sheet-per-topic’ system, in which possible Exam questions are written at the head of the sheet, main themes and ideas are placed at intervals down the 2 sides, and substantiating ideas are indented below these key points. These sheets should draw on; • your notes, revised and improved as above, • a standard text book which complements your notes, to which you refer when in doubt, • revision class material where your teachers will cut through topics, bring out the main themes and illustrate them. The beauty of the single sheet system is that this provides an economical final revision source in the last fortnight before exams when the bulk of your notes, the juice extracted from them, can be put aside. You should revise by testing yourself. Read through a topic sheet, then take a piece of scrap paper and test, then mark, your efforts ruthlessly. Relearn points you got wrong. There are various tricks to help you remember information: • • •

by mnemonics, one common type of which is forming a word made up of the key letters in an important list of points you need to memorise. by mental picture, creating an image which contains the key elements of a topic. Mind maps, which are each unique, can be helpful in this. by colour coding those key points to differentiate layers of importance, and help the retention of the crucial themes.

Target your work at past papers, past questions. You can either write sketch or skeleton answers, outlining key points in your approach to a question or practise timed questions which will test your ability to think, adjust and select from your knowledge to meet a new challenge or understand a different perspective—all under the pressure of time.


8. Examinations • • • •

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make sure you know the Exam rubric before going into the Exam Room. understand the shape and requirements of the paper. give yourself time to THINK and to PLAN your answers—don’t plunge in blindly to a thoughtless recapitulation of a model answer you’ve just mugged up! distinguish between questions which ask: ‘Why’ . . . ‘Account for’ . . . ‘Comment upon’ . . . ‘Outline’ . . . ‘Compare’ . . . etc. know that it is crucial that, if asked to answer ALL or, in the case of some Arts subjects, 3 questions, you do so. don’t luxuriate in answering so lengthily on questions which suit you that you fail to complete what is required of you. imagine your examiner knows little; your objective is to explain things as clearly as possible for him. in calculations, always explain what you are doing, show your working, give units and clearly indicate the answer. in literary and historical questions you may be encouraged to illustrate your points by quotation. Make sure that they are apposite, and not used merely to show that you’ve learnt them. be legible.

A Radley/Desborough Collaboration

Effective work in the Desborough VIth form  

A handbook with advice and guidance for students at Desborough College moving into the Sixth Form.