Libby Ahluwalia shares preparation strategies for students in lockdown who are moving from GCSE to A Level Religious Studies next term
Coronavirus is presenting a lot of difficulties and uncertainties for everyone, including those of you who are moving on from Year 11 and planning to begin studying for A levels next term. Many of you are trying to study at home, but perhaps having to share computer facilities with other family members, or having to cope with looking after younger siblings or family members who are unwell. All this uncertainty can make people very anxious. How can you keep up, and what can you do to prepare yourself for A level study, especially without the reassurance of GCSE exam results?
Maintain a sense of perspective
The most important thing to do is to try to keep things in perspective. In many ways, there is no need to worry about ‘keeping up’, because the situation is the same for everyone in your year group. No one is surging ahead without you while you’re staying indoors. Everyone is missing school and missing face-to-face teaching. So if you need some time away from schoolwork, take it, and don’t worry that you’ll be getting behind. Looking after your mental health and your physical health is the most important priority at the moment.
However, if you have time and you’re keen to keep your brain active, and you’d like to make a start on shifting from GCSE ways of thinking to A level standard, here are some ideas you might like to try. Reading, note-making, practising your research skills and, above all, critical thinking will all help to sharpen your skills so that when you can begin A levels, you will be in the best position to make the most of your learning.
Reading good quality material is excellent preparation for A level, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction and whether it’s about religion and philosophy or not. Try to read something of quality every day, whether as a book or online. If you’re going to be studying Christianity at A level, you might also find it useful to read one of the gospels all the way through, as you would a story, to understand more about Christian beliefs about Jesus. Luke’s gospel might make a good choice.
Note-making is a valuable skill at A level and also for later life if you’re hoping to go on to university. Use podcasts and talks (such as the TED talks) as a stimulus, and try to make notes of different points and reasons as the speaker is talking. Make sure you note the name of the speaker and the talk as well; and at the end, when the speaker has finished, go back through your notes and pick out the key, essential messages of the talk. If you try to use handwriting at least two or three times a week, with luck when you go back to school your handwriting will still be legible.
Nobody will expect you tostart A level already knowing the content of the course. However, you can keep up your research skills while studying at home, and it would be a good idea to do some research about some of the thinkers you’ll meet during your course. As you can’t go to the library, use online search engines to see what you can find out about: St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant and David Hume. There are lots of other philosophers too, but these ones appear in the course a lot. Find out about the context of their lives – when did they write? Who were they writing for? Why have they become so well-known?
Being good at RS involves critical evaluation, not just learning material and describing what others think. So while you’re studying at home, try to develop your critical thinking skills. If you watch a film or a documentary, think about the different views expressed in it and whether or not you agree with them; consider the reasons behind your own position. If you read, think about whether or not you agree with the opinions of the writer. If you listen to a talk, think about what the speaker is saying and how someone who disagrees might respond.
None of this is absolutely vital. If you can’t manage it, don’t worry – the most important thing is that you and your family stay safe.
Libby Ahluwalia has extensive teaching and examining experience and has authored numerous successful textbooks for GCSE and A Level
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