As the clock ticks ever closer to A level Results Day, you may find yourself experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. The anticipation, the excitement, the nerves – it’s all part of the journey. While it’s natural to feel Results Day anxiety, there are a number of steps you can take to help manage the stress.

1. Bring someone with you

Whether it’s a family member, a close friend, or a teacher, having someone with you to collect your A level results can help alleviate nerves and provide invaluable support and reassurance.

If things don’t go as planned, they’ll be able to talk through alternative options, as well as help you with the practical stuff – like organising your documentation and writing down phone numbers. It can be reassuring to know that, no matter what happens, you’ll have someone by your side. If you get the results you’re hoping for, then you’ll have someone there to share the moment and celebrate your success.

2. Don’t feel pressured to share your results

In the midst of all the Results Day chaos, it’s easy to feel pressured to have to open your results with friends, or to share them with anybody and everybody who asks. This can lead to additional stress, especially if your peers are comparing their results.

Focus on your own achievements and progress, and try to avoid comparisons. Remember that everyone’s academic journey is different. Judge yourself and your results by your own standards, no one else’s. If being around peers is going to cause you undue stress, then open your results in a more private setting, such as outside or in the car.

Speaking of comparisons, it’s also probably a good idea to stay away from social media.

A happy and surprised teenage girl looking at her exam results on A level Results Day with her friend.

3. Preparation is key

If you’ve read our Top tips for A level Results Day article, you’ll already know that preparation is key.

Results Day doesn’t always go according to plan. Prepare for every eventuality so that you aren’t caught off guard if you don’t quite get the exam results you are hoping for. Having a plan in place will provide a sense of structure and control amid the uncertainty, and ease some stress on the day itself.

Know when and where you will be collecting your results. Make sure you have a note of your UCAS ID, a copy of your personal statement, a pen and paper, and a fully charged phone at the ready. Write down the phone number of your firm and insurance university admissions teams. And, make a note of the contact details of universities with Clearing vacanciesthat you’re interested in.

To find out more about what you should expect on Results Day, check out our Surviving A level Results Day Student Guide.

4. Talk to someone

If you’re entering Clearing or have any other worries or concerns, seek guidance from a professional. This may be a teacher, a tutor, or a careers adviser at your school or college, or the UCAS Exam Results Helpline (0808 100 8000). They will be specifically trained to advise and support you step-by-step, helping you to explore different avenues and make well-informed decisions.

Results Day is a very stressful time. You don’t want to make any rash decisions or settle for a course you’re not truly interested in as a result of panic! Talking through everything with a professional who understands the situation you’re in can help ease the pressure and reduce your overall anxiety.

A student talking to his teacher about his exam results on A level Results Day.

5. Take care of yourself

Results Day can be emotionally and physically draining, so remember to take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat good food, and engage in self-care. No matter the outcome of your results, try to maintain a positive outlook, and take care not to catastrophise. Remember that this is only one milestone in your journey, and there are countless opportunities ahead.

Results Day (and the lead up to it) is undoubtedly a nerve-wracking experience. But remember that students up and down the country are all in the same boat as you and it’s natural to feel anxious. By planning ahead, seeking guidance from others, and looking after yourself, you can help minimise unnecessary stress and ensure that you’re in the best headspace to make informed decisions about your future.

Good luck, you’ve got this!

A level exams are over and you can finally breathe a sigh of relief! Now’s the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy your hard-earned break. You deserve it!

September may feel like a world away, but if your next step is university, it’s a good idea to start preparing. Moving to university is a big deal and there’s a lot of things to consider. A little bit of research and preparation now will put you in good stead for a stress-free start. As a recent uni grad, here are my top tips to help you prepare for your new adventure!

1. Manage your finances

Student finance

Student finance is a loan to help cover the costs of university. It generally consists of a Tuition Fee Loan, which is paid directly to your university, as well as a Maintenance Loan, which helps you with your living expenses.

If you need government-funded student finance but haven’t already applied, now is the time to do so. If you’re in the UK, you’ll need to apply through your relevant Student Finance body:

Applying for student finance can be quite time-consuming, so make it a priority to ensure your funding is in place for your course start date. If you’ve missed the full-time undergraduate student finance deadline, don’t worry. You can still apply up to nine months after your course start date, although the funding may be delayed.

You may be eligible for extra support if you have a dependent or a long-term health condition, mental health condition or specific learning difficulty.

In addition to student finance, many universities offer bursaries, scholarships, and awards. To find out more about available funding, check out your university website to see what they offer.

Student bank account

You’ll also want to set up a student bank account. Student bank accounts are current accounts made for those in further education which generally offer interest-free overdrafts (emergency piggy banks from which you can borrow money) and other additional perks. If you’ve applied for a Maintenance Loan, this can be paid directly into your student bank account.

All of the main high street banks offer student bank accounts. Do some research before opening up an account. Sites like MoneySavingExpert and Save The Student offer comparisons and explain how different accounts work.

Budget, budget, budget!

Whilst you’re at university, it’s important to keep on top of the money moving into and out of your bank account. This is where budgeting comes into play.

First, you’ll need to establish how much money will be coming into your account. Your income may include a Maintenance Loan, bursaries, salary from a part-time job, or money from the bank of Mum and Dad. Calculate your total expected income for one semester at university, then divide by the number of weeks in a semester. Next, work out how much you’ll roughly need to spend each week on rent, bills, food, travel, course costs, and other essential expenses. Then subtract your essential expenses from your income, and you’ll be left with your weekly student budget. This is the amount of money you can afford to spend on luxuries, such as clothes, takeaways, and socialising!

Freshers week can be particularly spenny, so consider setting aside some extra cash for things like event tickets and student society fees!

A student depositing money into a piggy bank.

2. Find accommodation

Speaking of rent, have you sorted out your university accommodation? First-year students typically choose to stay in halls of residence, which are a great middle ground between the comforts of home and independent living. You’ll meet lots of other students who are in the same boat as you and have access to a range of facilities that will make student life more comfortable. Many universities set internal deadlines for guaranteed first-year accommodation, so don’t delay!

You’ll need to carefully consider which type of accommodation best suits your needs. Would you prefer to be catered or self-catered? Do you want to live in single or mixed gender halls? Would you prefer to stay in alcohol-free accommodation? There’s a lot to think about!

Alternatively, you may want to look into private student accommodation, or if you’re attending university in your home town, you may choose to reduce costs by living at home.

Check out UCAS’ accommodation search tool to explore university and private accommodation options.

3. Get chatting

Social media is a great way to connect with other freshers doing your course or staying in the same halls of residence. Try searching for “[insert your university] Freshers 2023” groups on Facebook, which are often run by your Students’ Union.

If you’re particularly interested in joining a specific sports team or society, you could also reach out to them on their Facebook or Instagram pages. Some sports teams may run ‘pre-season’ events which new recruits can attend to find out more about the club and meet future teammates.

Two female students chatting in a university halls of residence bedroom.

4. Visit the area

If you haven’t already attended an open day, it’s worth visiting the university campus and its surroundings to familiarise yourself with the area and its general layout. Keep an eye out for key locations such as the university library, students’ union, halls of residence, and bus or train stations. If you know where you’ll be staying, it may be helpful to pinpoint your local shops and other amenities.

5. Write a packing list

There’s no two ways about it. Packing for university is stressful. You don’t want to forget something important, especially if your university is at the other end of the country! This is why it’s essential to make a comprehensive packing list.

The items you’ll need to bring will depend on the type of accommodation you’ve chosen. If you’re staying in self-catered accommodation, for example, you’ll probably need a longer list of kitchen equipment than someone staying in catered accommodation.

It’s worth checking with your accommodation provider whether there are any prohibited items, such as electric blankets, fan heaters, and mini fridges.

Check out The Student Room guide to the university essentials you’ll want to pack!

Three students moving into their university accommodation.

6. Medical stuff

University students are particularly susceptible to illness, so contact your GP to ensure all of your vaccinations are up to date. In particular make sure you’ve had the MMR and MenACWY vaccinations.

If you’re currently taking any medication, it’s often recommended to bring at least one extra month’s supply in case of any delays when registering with your new GP.

7. Learn to cook

This one’s more important if you’re self-catered. Although the odd takeaway is fine, relying on ready meals and takeaways too often will be costly to both your wallet and your health. Having four or five go-to nutritious meals that can be whipped up in no time will certainly make your life easier. So make the most of your time at home and ask family and friends to teach you their favourite recipes!

Also check out websites such as BBC Good Food and The Student Food Project for simple and budget-friendly student recipes!

8. Pre-reading

Pre-reading is probably the last thing you’ll want to think about after having just finished your A level exams. However, many universities release reading lists prior to the beginning of term. It’s worth taking a look to get an idea of the topics you’re going to cover and perhaps do a bit of light reading to get a head start on the course contents.

Don’t feel pressured, however, to read every text or to buy every book on the list. Textbooks can be very expensive. You may be able to buy them second-hand once you’re at university or borrow them from your university library.

Female student reading in her university library.

Moving to university is an exciting yet nerve-wracking time. Getting organised early will help you better navigate the transition and minimise unnecessary stress along the way. University is a new chapter in your life, so embrace the adventure that lies ahead!

If you submitted your UCAS application by 25th January 2023, you should have heard back from the universities you applied to. Hopefully, it’s good news and you received the offers you were looking for. If you were unsuccessful, however, and didn’t get any offers, don’t despair. It may not seem like it, but there are still plenty of options available for you to consider.

1. Ask for feedback

Admissions staff will read through countless student applications, so try not to take rejections too personally. There could be any number of reasons why your application was unsuccessful, so your first port of call could be to contact the universities you applied to to ask for feedback.

Although they are not required to give you a reason, it’s always worth asking, and any feedback received will be valuable.

2. Appeal a university’s decision

If you feel that a university has not fairly considered your application, then it may be possible to appeal their decision. However, appealing shouldn’t be taken lightly and you need to think carefully before doing this. The process can be complex and universities will usually only consider appeals in the following exceptional circumstances:

  1. The university has not adhered to its admission policy
  2. New information in support of your application has emerged which may have affected the initial decision, had it been available at the time the decision was made
  3. There is evidence of bias or prejudice in the decision-making process

The appeal is made directly to the university in question. Each university will have its own applicant appeal procedure which can be found on their website or by contacting the admissions team.

It’s worth noting that appeals must be submitted within a specific time frame determined by the university.

3. Find a course through UCAS Extra

If you applied to five courses in your original UCAS application* and you aren’t holding any offers, then you can apply to further courses using UCAS Extra. This runs from 23rd February to 4th July, and is essentially another opportunity for you to get a university offer.

Although there is no limit to the number of choices you can make using UCAS Extra before the deadline, you can only apply to one course at a time, so think carefully about the course you’re applying for.

If you accept an offer, you won’t be able to make any more applications in UCAS Extra. If you decline an offer, or you don’t hear back within 21 days, you can add an alternative choice.

The UCAS logo on their official website.

It may be helpful to reflect on why your initial application was unsuccessful.

Are your predicted grades lower than the entry requirements of the courses you applied to? You can’t change any of the information you submitted in your initial application, so if you feel that it doesn’t reflect your true potential, UCAS Extra may not be the best option for you.

The same goes if you’re considering applying for a different subject. How relevant is your personal statement to the new choice of course? You may be able to call up the university you’re applying to and offer to send them a new personal statement directly, but there are no guarantees that they’ll accept this.

If you still have questions, check out these handy UCAS Extra FAQs.

*If you didn’t use all five choices in your original application, there’s no need to go through UCAS Extra. Simply add a further choice in the UCAS Hub before 30th June. Note that if you originally applied to a single course, you’ll need to pay an additional £4.50 application fee.

4. Find a course through UCAS Clearing

If you haven’t managed to secure a university place through UCAS Extra, you still have time. UCAS Clearing provides another opportunity for students to find a place on a course with vacancies.

Although Clearing is open from 5th July to 17th October, most university places become available in August with the release of A level results. It’s important to note that you are only eligible for Clearing if you have paid the multiple choice application fee.

Thousands of students apply through Clearing every year. Over 66,000 students were accepted through Clearing in 2022. Don’t be put off by rumours that only unpopular courses are available through Clearing − plenty of great universities offer popular courses, such as Engineering and Law, each year!

From 5th July, you can find a list of all Clearing courses with vacancies using the UCAS Clearing search tool. If you find yourself in Clearing, UCAS will also provide a customised list of courses that you’re likely to be accepted on through Clearing Plus.

If you find a course that you’re interested in, you’ll need to contact the prospective university through their Clearing hotline to enquire about vacancies. Make sure you have your UCAS ID and unique Clearing ID number to hand.

If you’re offered a place and choose to accept it, you can add this as your Clearing choice in the UCAS Hub. You’re only allowed one Clearing choice at a time, so if you change your mind you will be unable to select another unless you call up the initial university and request that your place is cancelled.

Three Sixth Form students researching UCAS Clearing universities.

UCAS Clearing can be a stressful process. Check out our Surviving A level Results Day and Top Tips for A level Results Day blog posts to learn more about how you can best prepare for Clearing.

5. Take a gap year and reapply

If your heart is set on a particular university or course, then you may decide to take a gap year and reapply for next year’s entry. This will allow you time to improve your application, as well as time to gain additional experience in your chosen field. When submitting your new application, it’s important to highlight how you intend to use this time to build on your knowledge, skills, or work experience.

Remember, there’s no guarantee you’ll be offered a place the second time around, so make sure you have a backup plan!

6. Consider alternative pathways

If you’re unsure whether the traditional university route is right for you, you may want to consider undertaking a vocational qualification, such as a higher or degree apprenticeship.

These qualifications typically involve more hands-on learning, teaching students knowledge and skills relating to specific career areas and applying them within a work-based setting. You’ll be employed by a company and paid for the work you do.

Application times and methods vary. Check out the UK government’s Find an apprenticeship search tool or contact the National Apprenticeship Helpdesk on 0800 015 0400 or by email for further information.

Which of the above options you decide to take will depend on your chosen university course. For example, students applying to medicine, veterinary medicine, veterinary science, or dentistry cannot use UCAS Extra to apply to additional medical courses. Moreover, due to their high demand, it is unlikely that these courses will be available through UCAS Clearing.

If you aren’t holding any university offers, try not to panic. Remember, there are countless paths to success and a whole variety of options available to you. Use this setback to consider other opportunities, such as applying to a different university or course, taking time to travel and explore your passions, or undertaking vocational training.

Exam season is right around the corner, and if you’re about to sit your GCSEs or A-levels, the nerves may be kicking in.

While all your hard work and preparation will certainly pay off, it’s equally important to ensure that you go into your exam with a positive mindset. The evening before is an ideal time to mentally prepare for the task ahead.

Here, I’ll outline five things you can do the evening before your exam to ensure you’re cool, calm, and collected on the big day.

1. Use your study materials

Read over your notes or test yourself with flashcards one last time. Although re-reading notes is often considered a ‘passive’ revision technique, casting your eye over your notes the evening before your exam is a good way of refreshing your memory on key facts and information.

You don’t have buckets of time, so prioritise the areas you feel least confident with. If there’s a topic you don’t fully understand though, don’t panic. There’ll always be areas you find more challenging than others, and at this stage, fretting over something you may have overlooked will be more of a hindrance than a help. Remember, intense cramming shouldn’t be your focus. It’s more about making yourself feel more confident, organised, and self-assured.

Briefly flicking through a couple of past papers may also be helpful to re-familiarise yourself with the format of the exam, so you know exactly what to expect on the day.

2. Pack your bag

When you wake up on the morning of an exam, it’s normal to feel anxious. Having to frantically search for and pack everything you’ll need will only create additional stress, and you may run the risk of forgetting something important. This is why it’s necessary to get organised the evening before.

Here’s a checklist of items you may need:

Depending on the subject, you may also need the following items:

Remember to check with your school which items you’re allowed to take into each exam. You may also want to pack a healthy pre-exam snack!

Teenager reading a book in bed.

3. Look after yourself

Don’t spend all evening revising. Knowing when to step away from your books and have some downtime is crucial to give you time to unwind and recharge your batteries. Trust me, you’ll feel more refreshed and alert come exam day.

Here are a few ways that you can practise self-care and maximise your chances of success:

4. Get an early night

Getting a good night’s sleep (at least 7-8 hours) is crucial if you want to perform your best on exam day. Staying up late to cram may leave you feeling exhausted and on edge − not the best state to be in when you’re going into a 2-3 hour exam.

Research shows that sleep impacts memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills. An early night will help you feel more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to focus on the task in hand.

And while on the topic of sleep, don’t forget to set an alarm (or two…).

A teenage boy having an early night the evening before an exam.

5. Breathe

I know it’s easier said than done, but try to keep things in perspective. At the end of the day, it’s just an exam and all you can do is try your best. Pre-exam nerves are more common than you think. Try to keep a positive mindset and if you start to panic, take a few deep breaths.

You’ve got this!

Ah, the 9. That tricksy grade. When I sat my GCSEs, the new grading system had just been rolled out; I remember the mystery that surrounded talk of the elusive top level. Even now, the legend surrounding level 9 persists. In 2022, just over 5% of students in England got a 9 in maths. Reserved for the very top-achieving students, it’s hard to know what you need to do to get it, and for many, it feels like an elusive, unreachable goal. But this isn’t the case!

In this article, I’ll provide some personal tips and tricks to give you that last push over the top. So here you go: how to get a 9 in GCSE Maths (from someone who got one).

1. Build good habits

Your exams may take place at the end of Year 11, but good preparation can start the first day of Year 10. Putting in effort throughout your GCSE years will equip you with experience and practice − things which are crucial in a subject like maths, which is largely skill-based. By the time May rolls around, most of the grunt work will have been done, which will make revision a lot easier.

Prepare for end-of-unit tests and mocks as you would for the final exam. Scale down the time spent revising so it’s proportionate to how important the test is (you don’t need to study for an end-of-unit test two months in advance!) but keep everything else the same. This will give you an accurate picture of how you’re doing and how effective your study methods are. Exam technique is an important skill to master but can’t really be taught, so make the most of every opportunity you get to work on it.

2. Do the time

There’s no getting around it: you have to put the work in. You learn maths best by doing it. But be mindful of how you put the time in. If you sit loads of past papers in a row, it’s hard to tell if you’re riding on the coattails of your short term memory or if you’ve truly got the hang of a topic. Another risk of ‘bingeing’ maths in this way is that all those numbers can blend together and you can lose track of which question needs which method.

Divide your maths revision up with your other subjects. Little and often is best, so you can become comfortable tackling problems without regurgitating what you did just 1 hour ago.

If you’re looking for ways to keep your maths skills sharp without overdoing it, sites like 5-a-day are great for providing variety and manageable workloads.

A student tackling GCSE maths problems using a calculator.

3. Look at the methods

Maths is very different from other GCSE subjects because it relies on application of knowledge. This makes revision daunting. However, you can still use your favourite revision techniques: it’s all about using them in the right way. Using flashcards to memorise key formulae is great, but they can also be used to learn the steps required to solve a quadratic equation. Switching facts for instructions in your go-to revision materials is a useful accompaniment to past papers and textbook questions.

Write instructions to tackle different question types. Try to condense the information so a total novice can follow along; this is a skill in and of itself! It will help you work efficiently, and the process of being purposeful with your words will cement the method in your brain.

While this can help you get started with maths revision, be aware that this activity alone won’t be sufficient. Creativity, experimentation, and adaptability are key for getting a 9, so don’t rely on this to get the job done! View it as a good foundation from which to think imaginatively and thoughtfully.

4. Make the most of past papers

This is repeated so often it barely seems worth saying, but I will anyway. Exam boards provide whole libraries of resources, so use them! To get a 9, you should really be completing every past paper available; you could even repeat some to see if you’ve improved.

Start with past papers as soon as possible. The questions won’t be too different from the ones in your textbook, and it’ll get you familiar with how examiners want you to think.

Past papers can equip you with a wealth of information if you know how to use them. Find your weaknesses and target them with questions by topic. Identify common questions and topics that crop up each year. When marking your work, study the mark schemes closely. Identify the key steps and the unnecessary steps in your working. Mark schemes sometimes give alternative methods, too, which will help grow your toolkit. Continually evaluating your progress like this is important.

AQA GCSE Questions by Topic on the Physics and Maths Tutor website.

Questions by Topic for AQA, Edexcel, and OCR GCSE Maths on

5. Read the examiners’ reports

Examiner reports are fantastic as they give you free insight into the examiners’ brains. They point out what sorts of things students struggle with, any trends they’ve noticed, and sometimes might even give away what sort of topics and questions they like to ask. Read them to help you assess your performance in past papers.

6. Study the specification

You don’t need to know the syllabus inside out, but read it over and check off the points you definitely can do, the ones you definitely can’t, and the ones you want to work on a bit more. Use it to guide your revision and make sure you cover everything so you’re not caught off guard on the day.

Together, the specification, past papers, and examiners’ reports tell you everything you need to succeed in GCSE maths. If you use them to your advantage, when it comes to sitting the exam, you’ll know exactly what is expected of you.

7. Every mark (and minute) counts

Being able to do well in exams is a skill in itself, regardless of how good you are at maths. You’re on a deadline, so find ways to save yourself time: scrub up on your mental maths so you don’t waste time on straightforward calculations, and make sure you know how to use the calculator you’ll have in the exam. Get the basics down: that two-mark geometry question might be the difference between an 8 and a 9!

8. Don’t be intimidated by it

Confidence can work wonders. Be self-assured: know that you’ve put the work in and are capable. Accept that some things are out of your control and there’s no use dedicating energy to them. Ultimately, someone has to get a 9 − why shouldn’t it be you?

Unsure about taking an EPQ in Sixth Form or College? It can be tricky deciding whether or not an EPQ is right for you. Sure, Year 13 will likely be stressful enough, even without the additional workload hanging over your head. However, studying an EPQ comes with lots of benefits that, in my opinion (as an EPQ veteran), make it something worth considering.

In this blog post, I’ll describe what an EPQ entails, before exploring the key benefits of taking one.

What is an EPQ?

An Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is a standalone qualification that you can take alongside your other A-levels. It is an independent project which allows you to plan and conduct research on a topic of your choice. EPQs are graded A* to E and are worth up to 28 UCAS points (half an A-level), with higher grades scoring more points.

How do EPQs work?

So, what do you actually need to do to complete an EPQ?

First of all, you need to decide on your chosen topic. Your EPQ can be on pretty much anything, from an investigation into the ethical issues surrounding the use of stem cells, to the design and production of bespoke kitchen cabinets. The sky’s the limit! The only condition is that your chosen topic is not directly covered by your other A-level courses.

Topic areas are generally selected by the end of Year 12, with the help of an assigned supervisor (usually a teacher). This then gives you the summer holidays to get a headstart on research.

The next step is to decide on the form your project will take. Many students opt for a written research-based report, typically around 5,000 words. Others choose to do a more practical project, with their final piece taking the form of an artefact or production, alongside a short 1,000-word report.

A teenage girl sitting at an easel and drawing for her EPQ.

In addition to the final project, you will be required to complete a production log. This is similar to a diary that details the entirety of your EPQ journey, including your initial project ideas, subsequent project proposal, and continuous self-reflection and evaluation of your project.

The final component of the project is delivering a short presentation to a small group of non-specialists.

Yes, there’s a lot of work involved − overall, you’ll be expected to spend around 120 hours on your EPQ − but don’t let this put you off. You’ll receive a tonne of support and guidance along the way from your assigned supervisor.

What are the benefits of doing an EPQ?

1. Study skills

Taking an EPQ provides you with the opportunity to develop crucial skills, applicable to both higher education and the workplace. According to AQA, the EPQ enables you to:

These transferable skills can be great to talk about in your personal statement or during interviews.

2. Preparation for university

An EPQ is excellent preparation for the more self-directed learning expected of you at university. You’ll have to be highly self-motivated, organised, and good at managing your time − arguably some of the most important skills for success in an undergraduate degree.

In many ways, taking an EPQ gives you a real taste of what university studies might be like. Unlike a traditional A-level, the lack of a set syllabus and directed timetable will require you to become more independent and take your own initiative.

A student giving a short presentation on their EPQ to their classmates.

3. Reduced entry requirements

Universities recognise the benefits of doing an EPQ and, depending on the university and course you’re applying to, applicants who take an EPQ may be offered lower entry requirements.

For example, Queen Mary University of London states “If a course requires ABB from three A-Levels, we may provide the following offer to applicants taking an EPQ: GCE Advanced A-Levels Grades BBB and A in Extended Project.”

4. Stand out on your UCAS application

Even if your top university choices don’t make dual EPQ offers, they will still certainly recognise the value of an EPQ in preparation for university-level study.

The University of Oxford “recognises that the EPQ will provide an applicant with the opportunity to develop research and academic skills relevant for study at Oxford” and encourages applicants to “draw upon their experience of undertaking the project when writing their personal statement.”

If you’re applying to a highly competitive university with low admission rates, it’s likely that many other applicants will have similar predicted grades to you. Taking an EPQ will help your application to stand out.

Admission tutors are looking for students who have a genuine interest in the course they’re applying for. Undertaking an EPQ relevant to your chosen course demonstrates commitment to your subject and shows that your interest goes beyond the A-level curriculum.

The UCAS logo on their official website.

If your EPQ topic isn’t directly related to the course you’re applying for, don’t worry. It still provides clear evidence that you have the critical thinking and independent research skills that universities are looking for.

It will also give you a great opportunity to demonstrate your wider interests and show that you’re a well-rounded individual when it comes to writing your personal statement.

5. Discover your passion

There are very few occasions, if any, in your secondary education when you can explore an interest or topic of your choosing.

What are you enthusiastic about? Are there particular areas of a subject that spark your interest? Do you strive to create something new and unique? Take this opportunity and have fun with it! You never know, you might discover a real passion that you want to pursue beyond school.

There’s no denying it − an EPQ requires a lot of work and time commitment, on top of the regular demands of Sixth Form or College. In addition to bagging some extra UCAS points, taking an EPQ has many benefits and can be a truly rewarding experience. If you still aren’t sure whether an EPQ is right for you, get some advice from a member of staff who you feel comfortable talking to and who knows you well.

Getting started on your personal statement can be daunting; it’s a key part of your UCAS Undergraduate application, so it’s no surprise if you’re feeling the pressure.

The personal statement is an opportunity to show your passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to your subject, as well as to highlight the attributes you can bring to university life. If this isn’t nerve wracking enough, you’re limited to just 4,000 characters.

Whether or not you have already started your personal statement, check out our ten top tips below to help you achieve success.

1. Plan, plan, plan

Before you jump straight into writing, spend some time thinking about the key points you want to include:

It may be helpful to note down your ideas using bullet points or a mindmap, which you can refer back to or add to when inspiration comes. Perhaps rank your list of skills, experiences, and achievements from most to least relevant, so that when it comes to writing, you know what to prioritise.

2. Demonstrate your enthusiasm

Admissions Tutors are looking for students who demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, and excitement for their chosen course.

Instead of using stock phrases such as “I’ve always had a fascination for biology”, explain precisely what it is about this course that motivates you and provide relevant examples of effort and experience to support this.

For example, if you’re an aspiring biologist with a fascination for natural selection, talk about an article or book you have read and refer to the concepts or ideas that particularly resonated with you.

Show how you have gone above and beyond the curriculum to develop your interests and expand your subject knowledge. Perhaps you have undertaken work experience or volunteering, or conducted an independent project. What did you learn from this experience and how did it help you to develop the skills necessary for your course?

A female student writing her personal statement on her laptop in the school library.

3. Don’t just list experiences

Following on from the last tip, Admissions Tutors would much rather read about a few of your experiences, accomplishments, and hobbies in depth, than be presented with a long list.

Be analytical; reflect on your experiences and the insights you have gained from them. For example, what lessons did you take away from your work experience in a primary school? How did this experience shape your desire to become a teacher?

4. Be honest

Never over-exaggerate or be tempted to lie in your personal statement. For example, don’t say you’re fluent in a language if you only know a few basic phrases. Similarly, don’t claim to have read The Selfish Gene if you haven’t. The truth will come out eventually, and the last thing you’ll want to be asked in an interview is to give your rendition of the book.

But equally, don’t be self-critical and waste characters writing “I attempted to read the Selfish Gene but I found it too challenging.” You’re trying to sell yourself so remember to focus on your strengths!

5. Don’t just stick to academics

Universities want to know that you’re a well-rounded student who will positively contribute to university life. It’s therefore important to describe relevant hobbies and extracurricular activities you enjoy, as well as any non-academic accomplishments you may have, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Select an interest/experience and clearly demonstrate the impact it had on your personal development. For example “This summer I successfully applied to be a DiscoverEU ambassador, a unique opportunity affording me the chance to travel across Europe. Not only was this experience a great chance to discover new people, cultures and lifestyles, but it also enabled me to develop my interpersonal skills, self-confidence and assertiveness.

Although they may not directly relate to your subject, wider interests demonstrate your talents and highlight transferable skills key to succeeding at university.

Extracurricular activities, including sports, are great to include in your personal statement.

6. Avoid clichés and quotes

Make your personal statement your own. Admissions Tutors will be reading through scores of personal statements. Originality is key, so try to avoid using common phrases such as:

Equally, don’t use quotations unless they’re particularly relevant and can be used in a way which enhances your story. Personal statements are supposed to be ‘personal’ and by overusing quotations, you risk losing your own voice.

7. Mention personal circumstances

It’s important to briefly mention any extenuating circumstances which may impact, or have already impacted, your academic performance, for example serious illness, bereavement, caring responsibilities, or financial hardship. How did they affect you and your ability to study?

Additionally, extra information regarding your personal circumstances will be required if you are an international student, a mature student, or are applying for deferred entry. For more information, check out PMT’s Personal Statement Advice Page.

8. Draft, re-draft, and re-draft again!

You (probably) aren’t going to write a perfect personal statement the first time around − hats off to you if you can! Initially, write down everything you want to say without worrying too much about the character count. From there on, you can begin to cut-out the less important stuff.

Take your time; it could take five or more re-drafts before you reach perfection. It may be helpful to wait a few days before reading through your final version with fresh eyes.

9. Proofread

Get someone else, or a few people, to proofread the final draft of your personal statement. Perhaps ask a family member, teacher, or friend. The more feedback you receive, the better your final version is likely to be. Of course, there is a fine balance between asking enough people and asking too many − and only implement feedback you believe to be beneficial in improving your statement.

Spelling and grammar do matter. It may be helpful to use tools such as Microsoft Word’s free Read Aloud function to help you spot mistakes which are easily missed by eye.

10. Use the UCAS form 

Your personal statement is limited to either 4,000 characters or 47 lines of 95 characters, including spaces. The character or line count on programs such as Microsoft Word may not completely align with those of the online UCAS form, so don’t be tempted to leave to the last minute pasting the final version of your statement into the form.

If entering your personal statement draft into the UCAS form is too anxiety-inducing, test out Studential’s personal statement length checker − however, note that the results may differ slightly from that of the final UCAS application.

If you take anything away from reading this blog post, then remember that the personal statement is your chance to sell yourself and convince an Admissions Tutor that you are the right person for their course. Demonstrate your enthusiasm, be honest about your experiences, and highlight the skills and attributes you possess that will make you a successful student.

The transition from GCSEs to A-levels is an exciting time that will present both new opportunities and challenges.

Life in sixth form/college is very different from school. You will grow intellectually and emotionally, develop new ways of thinking and learning, cultivate novel and existing interests, and gain a new sense of independence. It may initially feel quite daunting and overwhelming, and it can be difficult to navigate this new chapter of your life.

As a student who has successfully survived sixth form, here’s 10 things I wish I’d known before starting.

1.  You may initially receive lower grades

The transition from GCSEs to A-levels can be challenging. Courses generally have a settling-in period, so you won’t be thrown in at the deep end. However, the shift in course difficulty, workload, and responsibility is significant, nonetheless.

You might therefore find that at first you aren’t achieving your usual grades − but don’t worry! You won’t be the only one and your teachers will understand that A-levels can take some adjusting to. Trust me, although initially challenging, your hard work will be rewarded, and you will soon settle into the new regime.

2.  Be prepared for more independent study

A-levels place a much greater emphasis on independent study. In KS4, you typically spend around 25 hours per week in lessons. In comparison, if you take three A-levels, you’ll have around 13.5 hours of contact time with your teachers each week. You’re then expected to spend roughly the same amount of time studying independently.

Your learning during this time will be mostly self-directed. You won’t be restricted to specific activities and can take control of your own learning; for example, focusing on the topics you find most challenging.

Independent study should take place continuously throughout your two years at sixth form/college and shouldn’t be restricted to the run up to exams. You’ll be responsible for managing your time and establishing your priorities. You won’t be able to rely on your teacher’s nagging or reminders!

Independent study might include:

A male sixth form student independently studying at home.

Even in your independent study, remember to ask your teacher for help if you’re struggling.

Learning how to study independently is very important, particularly if you’re planning to attend university, where students are expected to undertake significantly more self-directed learning. Figuring out what works best for you now will certainly ease the transition to higher education.

3. Make the most of your free periods

One of the best parts of sixth form/college is not having a jam-packed timetable. You will generally have ‘free periods’ between some of your lessons each day. Your free periods are the perfect time to catch up on some homework, do some extra reading, get help from your teachers, or even begin researching your options for after sixth form/college.

A few hours a week may not seem like much, but over time, they add up. Try not to fall into the trap of wasting free periods by chatting and messing around with your friends in the common room. Yes, it can be good to take a short break, but free periods should (for the most part) be classed as ‘independent study time’ rather than time for socialising with friends.

If you’re easily distracted, be proactive and find yourself a quiet and secluded study spot − perhaps your sixth form/college library or an empty classroom − where you won’t be disturbed.

4. Start as you mean to go on

The start of sixth form/college is the perfect time to establish good study habits and routines. It’s very easy for work to pile up rapidly, so ensure that you keep on top of class notes and deadlines from the very beginning − Future You will thank you later!

Another good piece of advice is to revise as you go along. Rather than leaving revision until the end of the term or a few weeks before mock exams, make revision resources, such as notes and flashcards, after each lesson or topic. Test your knowledge and recall frequently. Doing small chunks of revision regularly will help to consolidate your learning, and will significantly reduce your revision workload by the time exams come around.

Three female sixth form students working during their free period.

5. Organisation is key

Organisation of your class notes, revision resources, and assessments is crucial to your success in sixth form/college and essential for effective exam preparation. At the end of Year 13, all of the content covered over the last two years will be examinable. Just before exams, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend hours searching for notes you made in the first term of Year 12.

Organisation may come easily to some students more than others, but it’s a skill that is vital for all students to master, especially those considering higher education.

There are plenty of small things you can do to stay organised and ensure that work doesn’t get misplaced:

6. It’s okay to switch or drop subjects

In the first few weeks of sixth form, don’t be afraid to request a change of subject if you know an A-level is not right for you.

Likewise, if you’re taking more than three A-levels and feel that you have bitten off more than you can chew, don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with a member of staff. Universities only require three A-levels when making offers, and it’s better to do extremely well in three A-levels than average in four.

A-levels are studied across two years so it’s best to identify problems early on, rather than struggle and potentially end up with lower grades overall as a result.

Of course, whether or not you are allowed to switch or drop subjects will be at the discretion of your sixth form/college, so be sure to enquire before selecting your subjects.

A stack of multi-coloured folders. Organisation is key to success in Sixth Form.

7. Teachers are resources to be used

Although independent learning is a crucial part of A-levels, remember that teachers are still there for you.

Most teachers will be available for additional support before or after school, or during your free periods. They will be happy to answer any questions, talk you through difficult concepts, provide feedback on work, or recommend additional reading or resources.

Many teachers are experts in their field and know the syllabus inside out, so it would be silly not to take advantage of them!

8. Don’t underestimate the power of past papers

If you haven’t already figured this out from GCSEs, past papers are your best friend! Not only are they a useful way of gauging your understanding of a topic, but they prepare you for the type of questions that regularly come up in exams.

Don’t be tempted to leave past papers until you have completed the entire syllabus. Start practising exam questions early on, for example at the end of each topic. Check out our Questions by Topic to assess your understanding of a particular topic and identify where you need to improve.

It can also be helpful to keep a record of the marks you achieve in each paper, so that you can return to them in a few weeks or months time and see if you’ve improved.

Be sure to practise under time pressure, especially for long answer questions and essays.

9. Becoming an ‘all-round’ student

Yes, academic performance is hugely important when applying to university, but it’s not the only factor universities take into account when considering your application.

Universities want to know that you’re a well-rounded student who will positively contribute to university life.

Year 12 is a good time to begin thinking of ways to strengthen your university application:

Developing a diverse skill set early on will certainly pay off when writing your personal statement.

Extracurricular activities, including sports, are great to include in your personal statement.

10. Take care of your mental health

A-levels are a marathon, not a sprint! Taking time out of revision to relax and socialise with friends and family is imperative for your mental wellbeing. Eat well, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep − yes, Mum knows best!

Your time is valuable − don’t let your studies claim too much of it. If you’re expected to spend two hours on an assignment but after four you still haven’t finished, then it’s totally fine to put it to one side. You’ve put the time and effort in. Similarly, if it’s 9 pm and you’re still working, you can call it a day. Your work will still be there in the morning, whereas your mental capacity will quickly diminish without sleep. Think of your A-levels as a new partner − personal boundaries are important!

I know it’s easier said than done, but keep things in perspective and try not to let the pressure get to you.

And finally, don’t compare yourself to others. You can only do your best, and nothing positive will be gained by comparing your grades or the amount of time you have spent studying to other students in your class.

Yes, navigating sixth form/college will be a challenge, but having made it through your GCSEs, there’s no reason why A-levels should be any different.

I hope these tips go some way to easing your sixth form anxieties! Remember, if you do find the transition between KS4 and sixth form particularly difficult, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

There are tonnes of great STEM extracurricular opportunities you can get stuck into, both locally and nationally.

Getting involved in schemes such as research placements, mentoring, and project awards gives you a chance to work out which areas of STEM may interest you the most, gain skills to help you in a STEM career, and meet new, like-minded people!

These experiences will also look great on your STEM personal statement!

We’ve compiled a list of different opportunities to boost your STEM personal statement, along with handy links and information about what each programme is like. They can all fit in alongside your studies and other priorities!

1. Youth STEMM Awards

You can register to work towards a Bronze (45 hours), Silver (90 hours), or Gold (150 hours) Youth STEMM Award.

You make up the hours by logging time spent participating in extracurricular activities involving science, technology, engineering, maths, or medicine (STEMM).

Activities can be carried out at school, online, or at home and can involve trips, visits, and after school clubs. Almost anything counts, including projects and work experience, so long as they are over and above normal lessons (and homework).

When you reach the hours, you will receive a medal and certificate. You also get a downloadable personalised e-portfolio capturing all the activities undertaken during the course of the Award.

You can sign up as an individual award taker (if your school doesn’t offer the scheme). Register your interest here!

2. Nuffield Research Placements

Nuffield offers UK-based Year 12 students a 4-6 week supervised research placement relating to an area of science, quantitative social science, computing, technology, engineering or maths.

As part of the programme, you can be eligible for a £200 bursary to help you participate and pay for travel costs.

A Year 12 student undertaking a Nuffield research placement in a science laboratory.


The STEMETTES scheme is free to sign up to and offers you the chance to be matched with a mentor within a STEM field.

It provides you with work experience, access to industry events, and the chance to meet other like-minded young women interested in pursuing a career in STEM.

4. 1000 Girls 1000 Futures

The New York Academy of Sciences offer a free mentorship programme for girls aged 13-17.

The experience matches you with a mentor in a relevant STEM field and offers you the chance to complete modules in career preparation and understanding your strengths and interests.

You’ll also get to network with other young women interested in STEM.

5. Bright Green Future

Bright Green Future is a scheme organised by the Centre for Sustainable Energy. It is an environmental training scheme for young people aged 14-19 who want to create a more sustainable future for our planet.

You get involved in a work placement and summer school, as well as training opportunities.

Applications for the year-long scheme open each year in April.

Two students undertaking a work placement in sustainable development to boost their STEM personal statement.

6. CREST Awards

The CREST Award scheme helps school students engage with STEM beyond the classroom. Work on your own project, and achieve one of their Bronze, Silver or Gold Awards.

You may be involved through your school. If your school currently doesn’t offer the scheme, ask your science teacher if they’d be interested in running it for you and your classmates.

7. The Big Bang Fair

The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair is the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths for young people in the UK.

They offer the chance for students aged 11-19 to submit a project into their STEM competition, with the opportunity to present at the event and potentially win big prizes!

8. NYAS’ Junior Academy

The New York Academy of Sciences’ youth scheme allows you to connect with other young people interested in STEM from across the globe, and gives you the chance to participate in competitions sponsored by big companies and organisations.

Applications for the scheme open twice a year.

None of these take your fancy?

There’ll also be plenty of opportunities local to you – try asking your teachers or searching the internet to see if there’s anything close to you that you could get involved with.

Keep an eye on our monthly Students’ newsletter for more opportunities popping up throughout the year.

If arts and humanities are more your thing, check out our How to Boost your Personal Statement for Arts & Humanities article for specific opportunities.