One of the things most students wonder about before coming to university is what makes uni different to A levels. You might believe that university is a huge step-up from A levels: but you shouldn’t see it as an insurmountable challenge. University is simply an opportunity to learn in a different way and to practice new skills.
Here are five differences between first year and A levels, and what you can expect as you start your new course:
Fewer contact hours
At university, depending on the course, the likelihood is that you’ll have less taught hours of study. As a History and Politics student, I had around 10 contact hours in my first term of university; compared to maybe 30 contact hours per week during my A-Levels.
First year is essentially about getting everybody up to the same standard as everyone else. It’s designed to give everyone the same introduction to the course. The rest is up to you as you won’t be taught everything. You have to think independently outside of class hours, and you’ll have more time to do it. This is especially true for humanities students.
Another thing that makes uni different to A levels is that if you’re a student with lower contact hours, chances are that your time outside of class will be spent doing some reading.
At first, it’ll seem like you have much more work to do than you had in A levels. However, you’re not expected to read everything, but to try and analyse the key points of a text.
First year is about teaching you to learn smarter, not work harder. The texts you’ll read will most likely have abstracts, introductions and conclusions that you can take advantage of. Your tutors don’t want you to just digest the content immediately: they want you to decide what matters independently.
Developing new arguments
University learning isn’t based on having one ‘right’ answer. You can decide what arguments you want to focus on, what view you want to take, and then do the research to back this up. While there are certain standard arguments you’ll build on, unlike A levels, they don’t have to be the focus of your discussion. You can bring in new perspectives and ideas, and your work will be all the better for it
A chance to experiment
Are you interested in a new subject area and want to find out more about it? Unlike A levels you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be good or bad at it. University is about improving the skills you already have and developing new ideas. Equally, for the first time you’ll be in classes where not everyone has had the same foundation of teaching at GCSE/ A level. As a result, you’ll have a much wider background of learners. You should use this as an opportunity to see new ways to learn and take advantage of it!
Not everything counts towards your final grades
The main way that uni is different to A levels is that you’ll be learning content that may not count towards your final grade. This is the opportunity to experiment with new learning styles and ideas: if you make a mistake, that’s ok! You don’t have the looming prospect of an exam hanging over any of the modules you are doing this term: it’s just about learning the content and getting used to a new way of thinking. This allows you to take the pressure off of yourself, and remember why you enjoy the subject, allowing you to embrace the challenges.
Read more student blogs about what uni’s really like.