Things I wish I knew before starting sixth form

Moving from year 11 into year 12 can be a challenging period for many either because of too much work, school change or both. It is very easy to get lost as you try to power through everything and keep yourself in control of the things you do. Having changed schools after year 11 I have been exposed to a completely new learning environment and would like to share what I have accumulated over the past two years with everyone else who is currently at this stage.

1. Consistency is key.
Regardless of whether you were the fearless overachiever or someone who had to work long hours during the GCSE period it is important to start working from the beginning of the year. You don't need to do endless hours of revision and make your life about just school work, but it is important to work through the syllabus in small chunks rather than trying to cram everything a week before your exams. The latter simply won't work and you will feel incredibly anxious and overwhelmed. Every day when you come home from school try to see what you have covered in class and go through it; make flashcards, write notes, do your homework/essays and test yourself - exam period, be that mocks or your real exams, will be so much less stressful if you stick to this metric.

2. Sleep matters.
It might seem like a brilliant idea to sleep for 3 hours and then feel great on the next day and do this a few times during the year but this doesn't seem to work in the long term. Figure out how many hours of sleep result in you feeling as refreshed as possible the next day and stick to that time ( try to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night). Enough sleep prevents you from suffering from sleep deprivation, which is crucial to you doing well, maintaining your memory power and not feeling like your brain is cloudy during your lessons. Another useful tip is trying to go to bed at the same/ similar time each night and waking up at the same time - this helps your body clock stay in order. Note: yes, you will have days when you will feel overwhelmed and might have a lot to do but that should not become everyday ( you can prevent this by effective planning and organisation) and you should try and look after yourself as much as possible.

3. There will always be people who will say that they did no work, but this is not always true. Work for as long as you need to in order to get what you have set done.
Having changed schools I have encountered this quite a lot; a student with full marks saying that they did no work for the test and they just managed to absorb everything from class. That is true for some people, but your entire year doing so makes you ask questions. People might do little work the night before an exam - yes, that is true but they probably did enough beforehand in small pieces to feel prepared. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that not working is okay because you will soon feel the consequences of that. However, don't also fall into the trap of speaking about work rather than doing it because you having a chat about "how much you have to do" will not get anything done. It is far better to sit down, break down your work and get on with it than spend your time having a discussion about it with someone. There is no need to openly tell people that you work little or a lot because there will always be a person who will draw a comparison or tell you that you work too much. You need to figure out what works best for you and stick to it to reach your own goals instead of drowning in endless comparisons.

4. Be as open minded to ideas and positive criticism ( specifically from your teachers) as possible.
When you start a new stage in your life and are keen on absorbing new ideas it is important to have a clear mind which is ready to absorb new information and viewpoints. As you do that, however, be mindful of what people say and the fact that it is just their views which you should look at critically rather than just absorb them. Similarly, when your teachers provide you with suggestions and criticism don't think that they hate you or something along those lines. As long as their criticism is constructive they are trying to help you and push you to perform better. Don't be upset if the marks you received were not the ones you expected but try to learn and grow from it.

5. Joining clubs and societies and not focusing on just work is incredibly helpful.
Sixth form is a wonderful time when you can take part in a lot of activities during lunchtimes and after school. It is important to do something outside of work because (a) it helps you change your focus and relax in a productive way, and (b) it will definitely help you when you will be writing your personal statement. See what societies your school has and join a few, and if your school doesn't have a society you wish it had, ask to set one up.

6. Being productive in your free periods maximises your chances of doing better and having more time to rest.
The start of sixth form also marks the availability of free periods in which you can do pretty much anything. Tempting as it seems to chat to your friends and do something non-academic and fun it is far more effective to use your frees to help you cope with the work load. Try to go over your notes, make some flashcards, listen to a podcast - anything which will help you progress in your studies. If you happen to do a little bit or all of your homework for a subject in a free period you will also have less to do in the evening, meaning you will have more free time. Try to stay productive as it will enhance your overall performance and make the year a lot more smooth.

7. Making friends with people who have similar interests and goals as you can help you perform better and feel happier.
When joining a new school it became tempting to befriend everyone because all the people were new but the truth is that there will be a lot of splits into smaller groups later on during the year because certain people will get closer. Find a group of friends where you will feel comfortable and motivated to do well, and not one where you are labelled a "nerd" because you work too hard or have goals which are out of their reach. It is important that the people around you are encouraging and positive, and ensure that the overall momentum of the group keeps you going.

8. Being organised goes a long way.
Once you begin year 12 you will realise that you have a lot of freedom in terms of organising your supplies, notes and time but it is important to use that freedom wisely to get the most out of it. Whenever you are set a piece of work, note it down in a planner and make sure you do it. Look after your notes - they don't have to look pretty but they must exist and must be effective for YOU as you will be using them to revise, and make further revision resources down the year/ your time in sixth form generally. Try to stay on top of things as much as you can and your life will have less stress going on in it.

9. Looking after yourself is very important.
Sixth form can be a stressful time with endless revision, exams, UCAS and a lot of other things which you will need to learn how to manage in a short space of time. School induced breakdowns and anxiety are not a myth - they happen, not often, but they happen and you should try to avoid as many of them as possible. Every week you work hard, make sure you take some time to yourself during the weekend and do something you enjoy. Join a club which is not related to academia, and listen to some positive music. If you feel bad or not confident enough - use positive affirmations, watch a good film which you like and eat some good food. Sometimes it's just important to relax when your brain fails to take things in. You will find yourself being more productive after some good rest in comparison to your trying to force information into your head - it just won't go in. Be wise about study and rest because too little or too much of either can have a detrimental effect on you and your performance.