With the support of online tutors, UKSC student Tahseen was able to secure a place at the competitive City of London School at 16+. In 2021, Tahseen graduated from City and is off to study Economics and Management at the prestigious University of Oxford.
I studied Maths, Further Maths, English Literature and Physics (Physics just for one year). I chose my A-level subjects by what I found interesting at that time. Although my options were the core subjects, they can be very broad: Maths is the key to the Sciences, and as an essay subject, English can give you a good grasp of History and Politics.
Most people in my year group chose to study English with, for example, History, Politics or Theology, but I wasn't really considering career paths, so I just chose the subjects I was interested in.
As the year went on, the difficulty of the subjects escalated quite quickly. By the end of lower sixth, I started to realise that I needed some support with my studies.
At the beginning, the A-level course content was mostly the same level as GCSE. For maths especially, since I had studied a further maths IGCSE module, I had already covered some of the A-level content.
As the year went on, the difficulty of the subjects escalated quite quickly. By the end of lower sixth, I started to realise that I needed some support with my studies. Lockdown intensified the difficulties of studying, both in a practical sense, for example not being able to do experiments, and also in the mental sense, because it was really hard to keep yourself motivated and productive in the confines of your own room.
We did a couple of assessments. One round of assessments was in Year 12 summer, and in Year 13, we did short tests from September to December. In January and February we were meant to have mocks. None of those happened. So, we had mocks / actual assessments that counted towards our grades in March, April and then in May. And those three assessments were used as the evidence for our teacher-assessed grades.
During the two years of the A-level course, you have to start thinking about what you want to do in your future career and at university. After doing some research, I found that economics and management fitted together well. Economics is studying the industry whereas management is related more to being in the industry and managing people. And I wasn’t that interested in other subjects that complement Economics like history, politics or philosophy, so economics and management just clicked.
I asked my Head of Year who is an economics teacher for some book recommendations. Through extra reading, I was able to understand that economics is a multidisciplinary subject — it branches into politics, history, even psychology. So seeing the multidisciplinary side helped me realise that I wanted to study a degree with two subjects rather than just simply Economics.
I chose Oxford mainly for the course. I applied to study Economics and Management as they complement each other very well. There are lots of universities that offer economics, some with PPE, some with History. Only two of my choices were outside London and I wanted to go to Oxford because it's a highly reputable university.
I was still 50 / 50 about moving away from home when making my university choices. If I had to move away, I wanted it to be somewhere close by or to a city I was familiar with. My two options outside London were Oxford and Newcastle. I wanted to choose Oxford because it was only two hours away from London and it's a good university. Although Newcastle is further away, my dad knows people in the area so I would fit it quite well.
I had to sit the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) and an interview for Oxford. I didn’t encounter any major difficulties with the process, I think the key to getting through the application process is knowing how to meet deadlines.
The TSA and interviews were also not particularly difficult. I think what did make the TSA difficult was the fact that I hadn't done a subject like it before. That's why I did lots of practice questions with my tutor so that I knew how to face the questions. The TSA is an unusual type of assessment, you have to complete multiple-choice critical thinking questions under a lot of time pressure. Some of the advice my tutor gave would be to draw a flow chart or use shorthand and that really helped.
I had two interviews. One was for the economics side, and one was for the management side. There were two tutors for each interview. For economics and management, the interviews were more talkative, so I don't think having the interview online made much of a difference. Although if there had been in-person interviews, I would have loved to visit Oxford!
The tutors managed to identify and correct my weaknesses very effectively. If I had been studying on my own, it might have taken a lot more time and even hindered my assessment preparation.
Tutoring played a crucial role in building my confidence for the admissions tests and interviews. The lessons helped me allocate my time for assessment preparation effectively. I was doing my English coursework, revising for the mocks and reviewing all the content I had learned in the lockdown period the previous year at the same time. With online tutoring, I was getting something out of every single lesson and left feeling like I 100% knew a topic. The tutors managed to identify and correct my weaknesses very effectively. If I had been studying on my own, it might have taken a lot more time and even hindered my assessment preparation.
It depended on the type of lesson. For admissions tests, the tutor knew what I should be studying to help me prepare better. He would be giving me strategies or telling me to do this paper in this amount of time. Whereas say for example, in maths, I would be leading the session. I’d say, I've done this amount of work, I might need help on this, can we go through this? So, it really depended on the lesson. And all of the tutors I studied with were quite flexible with regard to the content.
Everything was online so I didn’t get to do much. When I was in Year 13 around December time, I stopped going to extracurricular activities to concentrate on my A-levels and university applications. In Year 12 however, I continued to do debating and also took part in the Barnes English Society. The Society is not a Reading group but a place where we got to explore different texts, for example, Dante's Inferno. This helped a lot with my English studies.
Always feel free to ask your teachers for advice and help, especially if you’re using online tutors.
I think similar to what I just mentioned now, the first thing you must do is establish a study routine. And try your best to not leave out any schoolwork or homework. Even if you hand it in late, it’s better to do your homework, as not doing it will hinder your learning.
Also, use a varied number of resources like YouTube tutorials as well as paper revision guides and textbooks. I think some people believe that we are only visual learners, but it shouldn’t be like that. Everyone should use a myriad of different resources to help with their studies, as this will help link different concepts together.
And lastly, always feel free to ask your teachers for advice and help, especially if you’re using online tutors. For me, a lot of the questions that I had about my subject, I could not really ask in the lesson, especially in online lessons. So, in online tutoring, asking your teachers everything, with no shyness or any kind of arrogance, will help you to get good grades. Asking a human is definitely better than asking Google! Google cannot reveal what you find difficult, it just puts all of the information in front of you.
Other than learning a new subject that I've never studied before, I'm also looking forward to living on my own outside of London and trying to establish a new daily routine. And becoming more independent, I guess.
Something mentioned to me by my teachers is to have consistency. Studying a lot during term time and then not doing anything in the summer severely hinders learning. At the same time, too much studying and revision can make you burn out, reducing the quality and effectiveness of your learning. Over the summer holidays, I completed a few admissions tests and read up on my English coursework, however, what I was meant to do was start writing my draft. But I did not complete that. So, that made me push the deadline to October / November where the university application deadlines started approaching. So, my tip is not to cram things!
I would say the lessons were beneficial, practical and very valuable.
If you are thinking about applying to top schools and universities in the UK, contact the UKSC Team for a free consultation. Our consultants will be with you every step of the way, from supporting you with your subject and course choices, to exam preparation and helping you embark on the next step of your educational journey.