Over the next few weeks and months, our year 11 students will be finalising their option choices. Like most schools, we ask them to pick initial options with the knowledge that many students will naturally make changes to these before our September start date. In this blog posting, we aim to give students some tips to help them make the right decisions.
Tip 1: Get Advice
Lots of people will be keen to offer you options advice. Your subject teachers will know your skills and ability in a subject and will be able to advise you on whether they feel you are capable of studying a particular subject at sixth form. Your form tutor and progress leader will also know your strengths and weaknesses across all subjects and will be able to advise you on whether a particular pathway is suitable. When choosing subjects it’s always useful to talk to staff from the sixth form team. They will have lots of experience of advising students about options and will be able to give you crucial information about the nature of subject courses, entry requirements, subjects that need to be studied to gain access to certain careers or higher education courses etc. Every year the sixth form team at Radyr have over 100 meetings with students and parents to try to make sure we get our students on the right courses. If you are a year 11 student reading this, seek out support from your sixth form team. They will be able to advise you to make sure the subjects you pick not only complement your strengths and skills but also fit in with any careers plans you may have for the future. Sixth form staff will be able to discuss the suitability of options with you based on your current expected GCSE grades. They will also be able to give you an indication of what your target grades would be if you chose particular subjects at sixth form which is crucial when making decisions. Remember any target grades at GCSE, AS, A-level or BTEC are there as a guide to motivate and help you. At Radyr Sixth Form, we will set students the challenging target to achieve results in the top 25% of UK students with the same GCSE results. We are proud that not only do our students meet these targets, in many cases they exceed them. Knowing what your target grades are likely to be based on your current GCSE grades is a very powerful tool to help you make the right option decisions.
Tip 2: Play to your Strengths
When choosing sixth form subjects, it is important to play to your strengths, by that we mean choosing subjects you are good at and enjoy. This might sound obvious but every year we encounter students who choose subjects that they have struggled at for GCSE because they feel it is essential for a particular career pathway. The jump from GCSE to AS-level is massive and if a student finds a subject very demanding at GCSE it is highly likely they will not cope with the increased demands of the subject at sixth form. Although some degree courses specify that you need to study a particular subject at A-level to be considered, (for example if you want to study medicine, you will need to study chemistry and biology), most do not. Therefore when picking options, think about choosing the subjects you enjoy and which you can get the best overall grades. At Radyr we offer around 30 different courses, the majority are AS/A-level courses however over recent years we have seen a big increase in the popularity of vocational courses. Courses such as BTEC Information Technology, Sport, Applied Science and Business are coursework-based and are ideal for students who tend to perform less well in examination-based subjects. Students from all abilities can access these courses and they are equivalent to A-level. A recent trend at Radyr has been that a number students are choosing a mixture of traditional A-level subjects and vocational qualifications. Students who have chosen this pathway have told us that they have found it useful in terms of balancing their workloads. For example, choosing 4 coursework-based subjects, or 4 exam-based subjects in year 12 may be demanding to even students who excel in each type of assessment. Picking a combination of subjects that have a balance of coursework and examination-based assessment is always a sensible option.
Tip 3: Carry out your own Research
Although there will be plenty of people who will be keen to offer you options advice, parents, teachers, careers advisers, etc, ultimately the final decision will be only yours to make. Therefore it is essential you carry out some research first. Firstly, as we have mentioned previously, before picking any options it’s important to check whether you will be required to study specific subjects for future university courses or for any future career plans you may have. There are a number of ways you can do this. The easiest is through the UCAS website search tool.
This allows you to search through their massive database of courses and to drill down on the entry/subject requirements of courses that may interest you. At Radyr we have started using the fantastic Unifrog platform that is incredibly user friendly with the added advantage of being able to store any searches. Two other great websites that offer a wealth of careers and university information are Which? University and Pure Potential.
Before embarking on any sixth form subjects, make sure you research what you are likely to be studying and how you will be assessed. In Wales, in most circumstances you will be following WJEC courses for AS and A-level. You can find copies of subject specifications, past papers and revision material on the WJEC website. As mentioned previously, its important to think carefully about how each subject is assessed and whether that would suit your strengths and skills. For example if you are someone who struggles writing an essay, avoid subjects which involve a large amount of extended writing, e.g. history, politics, sociology etc.
If you have friends already studying at sixth form, it may also be useful to chat to them about their current options and how they have found the transition from GCSE. On our Radyr Sixth Form Interactive Prospectus, we have a number of video subject guides made by past and current students, where they talk through their reasons for choosing specific subjects and what they are enjoying studying in each. Seize every opportunity to find out about what you will be studying. For English, students will often pick up reading lists of poetry, texts etc that will be covered during the course. This is excellent practice, as it not only helps students make an informed decision, but it also gives students who decide to take the subject the opportunity of building up their knowledge of this material before starting the course.
At Radyr, our students have now made their initial option changes and over the next few months we will be starting to build the option blocks to meet our students’ curriculum needs. Like most sixth forms, any choices you make can be changed. Typically over 150 option changes will take place between GCSE results day and the first week of term. We like other schools appreciate that students will often do better or worse in a subject than expected and therefore this will make them think differently about their sixth form options. We want to support our students fully and therefore we build flexibility into any curriculum that we offer.
Do not spend too much time worrying about whether you have made the right options at this stage of year 11. It is much more important to focus on getting the best set of GCSE’s that you can. The better you do at GCSE, the more options will be available to you. There is always time after your exams to review your choices and to fine tune your subject options if necessary. Hopefully the advice in this blog will prove useful to you and do not to be afraid to ask for help.