There has been a change to our education system. Actually, there have been many changes over the past few years. Now GCSE grades are numeric rather than alphabetic with the much misunderstood ‘star’ grade cast aside. In real terms I am not at all sure about the benefits associated with many of the changes, suffice-to-say they are statements that there is a new sheriff in town. The phrase ‘difference of insignificance’ comes to mind. However, let us consider at least one change to our A-levels that will have a significant material impact on students.

AS-level exams have been assigned to the archives, the history books. The end of public exams after the first year of A-levels is now in the rear-view mirror. Students can no longer sit modules in January, then May/June, followed by bi-annual repeats. What does all this mean for you, the student?

Those teachers and parents who, like me studied A levels in the late 1970s, did so over two academic years before sitting public exams. I would like to say that all my memories of the time are positive, alas they are not. If truth be told I distinctly remember being repeatedly told by my teachers to ‘pace’ myself, to always be up-to-date with my studies, to keep well organised notes, and to learn as I go. Likewise, I remember paying lip service to the advice, after all what did they know about anything - my generation does things differently!

My plan was simplicity itself. I would enjoy my first year, taking each and every opportunity to expand my wings. I would eventually buckle down to study in earnest after the Christmas before the May/June exams at the end of year two. My strategy was foolproof, unfortunately then I did not realise that I was the fool! Needless to say, after the festive period I had a mountain and a half to climb and only four months to do it.

For all you A-level students it is far too easy to succumb to the false sense of security offered by a set of exams scheduled for two academic years from now. Yes, you are bright. Yes, you will be able to burn the midnight oil. Yes, you will drink copious amounts of coffee. No, that is not the best way to achieve the grades that you will no doubt need.

Of the many differences between studying in the late 1970s and today, the one that is very much a game changer, relates to the vastly increased competition for places at the Russell Group universities. Today there is less room for error, for dropping a grade here or there. The data from the House of Commons Library is striking; in 1970 about 64,000 first and higher university degrees were awarded, increasing to 545,000 in 2011 – an 850 per cent increase.

Finally, the generation gap is often exaggerated, so throw away your foolproof plan and do things the old-fashioned way; ‘pace’ yourself, always be up-to-date with your studies, keep well organised notes, and learn as you go.

  • Dr Ambroz Neil is a coach and managing principal consultant at Alexander Partners