Yesterday, we welcomed over one hundred budding Seren Academy A-level physics learners to the Welsh capital to celebrate their achievements completing the British Physics Olympiad (BPhO) programme – a series of nation-wide physics challenges.
A charitable trust run by volunteer physics teachers and academics from across the country, the BPhO is designed to support UK learners with an interest in physics to develop their skills, as well as recognise excellence in young physicists.
With so many subjects to choose from, deciding what A levels to take can be tough and can even feel a bit overwhelming, but there are things you can do to help you make the choices that are right for you.
Here, Seren Academy learners, Olivia Lloyd and Abigail Thomas, who know only too well how difficult subject choice decisions can be, offer their key pieces of advice on how to confidently pick your A level subjects.
This post is the second in a serious of blogs from Olivia and Abigail and you can view the first, covering GCSE revision tips here.
Finding your groove can be tricky, particularly during an already daunting time, and especially given that your GCSEs will be the first qualifications you have prepared for.
We all know that revision can be difficult, but a well-planned and tailored approach is key to doing well in your exams, feeling confident and levelling up in your studies. But the real question is, how do you get the most out of your revision?
Here, THREE of our Seren Foundation alumni, Olivia, Ezra and Abigail, have come together to offer their top tips to help you get the most out of your revision.
Congratulations on finishing your exams, Seren Academy learners!
You’ve been working extremely hard and deserve a break, but as many of you will be applying to some of the most competitive universities in the world, we recommend putting in time over the summer too.
Here, two of our Seren regional hub coordinators – Stephen Parry-Jones (Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil) and Karen Thomas (Neath Port Talbot) – share their top 10 ways for you to maximise your summer.
1. Get reading:
Once you have investigated the university courses you might be interested in applying for, you may find that there is more than one that takes your fancy. Using subject reading lists for different courses will enable you find out more about them and help you make your decision. Make sure to read at least one or two of the booklist suggestions for each university courses you are considering. You’ll find these on the universities’ websites.
Cambridge admissions tutors advise taking small aspects of your academic interests and making yourself an expert in those. You can do this by looking at broadsheet newspapers, magazines such as the New Scientist, History Today or the Economist, academic journals, and Oxford’s Very Short Introductions which, as the name suggests, provide concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects.
TOP TIP: You will be able to cite your reading and its impact in your personal statement and interviews.
2. Check out podcasts:
Podcasts are a great way to absorb knowledge on a range of different topics and master technical vocabulary. This will be invaluable during university interviews as using the correct terminology and succinctly expressing difficult concepts will give you an advantage.
University podcasts are a good starting point. Simply internet search a leading university and the word ‘podcast’ and you will almost certainly find something that interests you. Each will vary in length, complexity, and approach but you’re bound to find something that works for you.
Radio 4 is also a great platform to find podcasts. Some examples are listed below:
More Or Less – primarily about statistics, their use, and abuse, but not just for mathematicians
The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry – excellent as an overview of scientific topics
The Infinite Monkey Cage – good to gain insights into areas of science beyond A level
The Life Scientific
All in the Mind – in conjunction with the Open University – one for psychologists
Inside the Ethics Committee – all based on real-life medical dilemmas
In Our Time – covering humanities and sciences.
The Moral Maze – perfect if you have to write an essay for LNAT, Thinking Skills, BMAT
Law in Action – reflections on current legal hot topics
3. Listen to TED talks:
TED Talks cover a range of topics from science and business to global issues in over 100 languages. These videos are a great introduction to different academic interests – listen to one before bed or when you wake up in the morning.
An interesting website, Intelligence Squared, can be useful if you need to write an essay analysing points of view, e.g. for LNAT, TSA, etc. It holds debates on current issues, such as reparations for slavery, and features some masterful speakers.
6. Make the most of free courses with The Open University:
There are over 1,000 free courses available via The Open University. Some are introductory, others are more advanced, but they are a great way of getting out of your comfort zone and introducing yourself to university-level learning. The great thing about these is that you can take them at your own pace.
7. Prepare for university admissions tests
Familiarise yourself with what your test involves and spend time preparing for it. You can find past papers, marking schemes, and model answers online:
The Law National Aptitude Test – Google tests under the ‘videos’ tab and you will see that several undergraduates have posted videos such as ‘How to Ace the LNAT.’ Take a read through of the comments on them as there are some nuggets out there.
And remember – actual practice yourself and studying the model answers is the most crucial way to prepare.
Are you in the process of preparing your application for medicine at university? As a highly competitive degree, a range of different experiences, skills and characteristics are required to not only impress admissions tutors and secure a spot in the first place, but to also succeed in the degree once you get your offer.
While there is no quick hack to succeed in medicine, there are several skills that can be developed which can boost your applications. When applied throughout your studying, they can also make life a lot easier, ensuring that you give yourself the best chance at success.
Here, second year medical student at the University of Cambridge, James Bibey, one of medicine and biomedical sciences instructors at the Seren International Online Summer School, shares his five key tips for learners applying to study medicine and how to succeed in the degree.
1. Have an open mind
Many learners will find that they enjoy different topics at university compared to school or college, with lots of new areas covered during a medicine degree, such as anatomy and pharmacy. While we all have our likes and dislikes, you should ensure that you do not close yourself off to any of the subject areas that come up during your studies. Maintaining an open mind and ensuring that you engage with the content in each module as much as you can it will give you an interesting blend of subject-specific knowledge and provide you with a good basis for future skills development.
2. Know how you learn
Biomedical science students tend to have a lot of lectures and practical sessions so think about how you will take notes and revise effectively to use your time well. Some students prefer to note every single word within a lecture while others would rather make mind maps and diagrams to aid their learning. It doesn’t matter how you learn, only that you are aware of what works for you. Doing so will help you manage your time and absorb as much knowledge of the subject in a way that suits your learning style.
3. Prioritise your time
Medicine has a lot of content, so you can’t learn it all – be prepared to prioritise what is most important. University studies can place a high amount of pressure on students at times but, by effectively using your time when it comes to studying and revision periods, you will be able to successfully delegate tasks and differentiate between the most and least important. By gradually mastering the skill of time management, you will be able to facilitate a smooth transition.
4. Keep your hobbies
Studying medicine is hard so make sure you balance your work with some downtime doing the things you enjoy to support your mental health. It does not matter what – whether it’s running, knitting, reading, or painting – it is crucial that you do not let go of these hobbies. You don’t have to be an expert – the only thing that matters is that you enjoy it and are able to disconnect yourself from your studies. As you transition into university life, it is likely that you will find new interests – ensure that you find time for these too. Taking time out will ensure that your studies do not take a toll on your wellbeing – keeping a balanced lifestyle is key.
5. Prepare for the long haul
Medical professionals have very long training periods, with many continuing their education after their degrees. Take every day as it comes and remain motivated. You will undoubtedly see improvements in your skills and abilities over time. This runs hand in hand with the need to take regular breaks and to enjoy your hobbies. This will provide you with some perspective on your studies and on your journey in obtaining a medicine degree.
Are you interested in studying abroad? Whether it is for the entirety of your degree or only for a few months, moving overseas to study can be one of the most enriching experiences on offer. Not only will it give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture, with quite likely, a different language, but it will also aid your long-term skills development; skills which will be beneficial in your future employment.
Here are a few tips to ensure that you make the most out of your period studying abroad…
1. Understand what you will be studying when abroad.
It might seem obvious but it’s often the case that the degree courses on offer in the UK differ slightly from those offered abroad. Whether it’s the number of years of study or the type of modules covered, there are a range of differences that you should research before embarking on international study. Make sure that you are familiar with the education system where you are planning to study and ensure, above all, that you understand the differences and similarities should you wish to return here for employment in the future. The same principle applies to those who are only intending on studying abroad for a few months: your degree whilst abroad may vary slightly from the one you are studying in the UK.
2. Engage with the culture
While moving abroad to study is an amazing educational opportunity, it is also a chance to immerse yourself in a different culture. Whether you participate in the local sports, taste the national cuisine, or learn about the history of some of the most famous sights in that area, engaging with the culture offers you a broader global view while developing a range of life skills that will help you stand out on any future application or CV. Our advice is to make the most out of your period abroad, developing personally and professionally in a way that will support you in the future.
3. Develop your language skills
If you are moving to a country where the language differs from yours, it is vital that you try your best to learn some of it. Not only will you find yourself being better able to engage with the culture and local people, but you will also find that developing your language skills will have a domino effect on a range of other competencies. Research shows us that you can develop stronger critical thinking abilities through language-learning as well as improved confidence. Being multilingual also enhances employment opportunities which are on offer with being. Engaging with a new language provides a range of benefits which have the potential to truly develop your long-term personal growth.
4. Expand your network
Although being a student in a foreign country may seem daunting at first, by engaging with the local culture, people, and, of course, your fellow students and academics, you will gradually build a network of individuals who may be able to open doors for you in the future. Meeting new people will expand the depth and breadth of networks and knowledge that you will develop too.
5. Make sure to have fun!
Undertaking a study period abroad can be one of the most life-changing experiences on offer to students. It can provide you with opportunities you may never have thought possible. Put time and effort into your studies, but be sure to also enjoy your time abroad and ensure that you appreciate the experience by making the most of everything that comes your way!
When it comes to taking care of yourself, staying on top of your mental wellbeing is absolutely crucial. Not only does it allow you to look after yourself and improve your mental health in the short-term, but it can also help you manage difficult times in the future. In fact, even the smallest acts of self-care can have a huge impact on your mental health.
Here, Guto Tegid, a social sciences and law expert at the Seren International Online Summer School, shares his tips on how to watch out for your mental health:
1. connect with nature
Undoubtedly one of the key ways to give yourself a mental health lift is by getting some fresh air whenever you can. Not only does the calming, outdoor atmosphere aid in reducing stress and improving your mood, but increased oxygen flow will also boost your brain power and productivity. Whether you do so by looking through the window for a few minutes, or by taking a walk around the garden, connecting with nature can help develop your cognitive capacity while, more importantly, looking after your wellbeing.
2.Talk to others
While it may initially seem intimidating to open yourself up to others, sharing both your successes and concerns with the people around you can have a massively positive impact on your overall mental wellbeing. For some, it may be more comfortable talking to friends or family, whereas for others, opening up with a professional may be the best option. However, there is no right or wrong way to share your feelings. Find your way of communicating which encourages you to be transparent, and to share your problems with those who can listen and support, not only do you build stronger relationships with those around you, but you also raise your own confidence and, in the long-term, positively influence your mental health. The saying really is true: a problem shared is a problem halved.
3. Take a deep breath.
When we take deep breaths, we give our bodies an opportunity to relax and reduce tension. In doing so, our brain is more capable of rapidly releasing positive emotions, relieving stress and enabling us to feel less anxious and overwhelmed, particularly when we are under a lot of work or study pressure. Leading doctors have found that deep, heavy breathing taps into the brain-body association and can lead to a long-term improvement in mindfulness. Further research has highlighted how our brains are wired to connect various breathing patterns with different emotions. Through taking long, deep, and steady breaths, we are essentially able to trick our brain into believing that we are in a calm state of mind.
4. Take regular breaks.
Not only does taking frequent breaks give our brains and bodies time to recharge, but it also allows us to refocus our attention and enhance productivity. Staring at the same screen or undertaking the same task endlessly with no pause can lead to brain fog and can reduce our brain’s capacity to absorb information. This is especially the case in the post-pandemic world where working from home has become the norm. Breaks, even short ones, are proven to improve mental health by giving us the chance to recover from stress and restore the energy needed to get through our work.
5. Do something you enjoy
This can be anything. Whether you are a keen piano player or someone who enjoys painting, doing something that you enjoy can help you beat stress by boosting your self-esteem and transferring your concentration to an action that you find gratifying. Spending even a short amount of time on the hobbies that you enjoy can significantly improve your mental health.
Summer schools can undoubtedly provide a HUGE boost to your personal skills development and academic journey. Providing a backdrop for discussions on your CV, UCAS applications, as well as potential future interviews with employers, they prove your commitment to enriching yourself, learning new skills and broadening your horizons.
The Seren International Online Summer School is no exception. By taking part, you will be exploring subject-specific topics with highly qualified instructors while also being given the opportunity to network and build relationships with likeminded learners and academics!
Here, Guto Tegid, a third-year philosophy, politics and law student at Kings College London, and one of our social sciences and law experts at the International Online Summer School, shares some of his top tips on how to get the most out of your experience:
1. Be open-minded
Having an open mind will enable you to appreciate your studies through a multidimensional lens which will be absolutely crucial in your future academic journey and employment. Doing so encourages you to think critically and rationally, allowing you to be analytical and evaluative without preconceived notions, which will help you to make the most out of your experience, regardless of what subject you are on. Being open-minded is a key component of self-development.
2. Engage with the content and your fellow learners
Actively participating in your classes, whether through studying the pre-assigned reading or by asking questions during the workshops, is a crucial element of your learning experience. It will enable you to grasp the topic more successfully while also providing the groundwork for thought-provoking discussions with your peers during the class. Increasing your engagement will also boost your personal skills by paying greater attention and focus, it can motivate you to practice higher-level critical thinking skills.
3. Lookout for networking opportunities
Not only is networking about making friends and building relations, but it is also a crucial element of your long-term career development. By creating links with individuals from a range of industries, you will provide yourself with a platform for future connections when looking for references and employment opportunities. Furthermore, developing your ability to network and build relations boosts your professional confidence while, at the same time, contributing to your social well-being and eventually leading to a broader exchange of ideas.
4. Take care of yourself
While more often than not being a positive and thoroughly enjoyable experience, there’s no denying that our studies can be quite intense at times, which can have an effect on our mental health. It is crucial that you take care of your mental health while participating in the summer school. Take generous breaks. Eat well. Go for long walks. Take care of yourself, anything that works for you as an individual is perfect. Remember that you have people all around you who are willing to support you to ensure you can make the most out of your summer school experience!
5. Don’t forget to have fun!
Above all else, the Seren International Online Summer School is an opportunity for you to delve into some of your favourite topics in detail while working with a group of likeminded learners and instructors. Through this opportunity, you will be given a platform to learn more about topics that may potentially be connected to your future studies as well as gain an important boost to your future applications and interviews!
The beginning of your A levels marks an exciting time in your academic journey. Having hopefully chosen subjects you’re passionate about, your A levels will provide you with valuable insights into what you may wish to pursue in further education.
This time also offers the perfect opportunity to explore your interests outside of school or college, take part in some fascinating Seren masterclasses and advice sessions, and even join a one-of-a-kind Seren Summer School which you may have heard about at the launch event back in October.
Seren alumna Molly Rowlands, now a Natural Sciences (Mathematics and Education) student at Durham University, gives her top tips for making the most out of Year 12 and bossing your studies.
World Mental Health Day is happening this Sunday 10 October and to mark the day, we’ve been talking with Nia Evans, Children and Young People Manager atMind Cymru about the work Mind Cymru are doing, and to share some advice on how to improve your mental wellbeing and who to talk to if you need support.