What to do on A level Results Day 2013

By Alison Home, on 31 July 2013

This year, the A levels results day is on Thursday 15 August (7 August in Scotland). If you are taking the International Baccalaureate, you will probably already know your results. Waiting for your results can be stressful, as your grades will decide whether you go to your firm choice or insurance choice university, or whether you need to enter clearing.

Here are our top tips for surviving results day, whatever your grades.

If you met your predicted grades
If you met the conditional grades of your firm choice, you will be automatically confirmed at that institution . All you need to do is start planning your accommodation, student finance and so on for September.

If you just missed the grades for your firm choice, but did meet the grades for your insurance choice, you can contact the department of your course at your firm choice university and ask if they will still consider giving you a place. If they will, that’s great, but if they won’t, then you will be confirmed at your insurance choice.

If you got much better grades than your teachers had predicted
Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off. If you have done much better than you were expecting, you might want to adjust your plans.
You might still be happy with your firm choice university. You don’t have to change courses or institutions just because your grades were higher than expected. However, in some circumstances you might want to try to make a change.
If you have got better grades than you were expecting and would now like to try to apply to a more competitive university, you can use the UCAS Adjustment system to apply to different universities. You won’t lose your current university offer until you accept an offer from a new institution, so there is no risk involved in the process, and you can use the service between 15 to 31 August. UCAS Adjustment can be useful if you were initially rejected from courses and universities that you really wanted to attend, because it gives you a second chance to re-apply with your new, higher grades. Please note that UCL has never taken part in Adjustment to date, but many other universities do offer Adjustment places.

However, don’t just apply for any new courses because the grades are higher than your existing offer. Think very carefully about whether it is still the right degree for you – it is not a good idea to apply for a course that you haven’t researched, at an institution that you have never visited, in a city that you have never been to!

If you were not planning to go to university, but now decide that you want to apply with your high grades: consider very carefully whether you want to attend this year, or whether it would be better to take a year out to make a more informed decision. Even if you have already left college or sixth form, you really don’t want to rush into the decision. Universities will be happy to accept a student who has taken a year out, especially if you decide to gain some experience that is relevant to your degree.

If you didn’t get the grades that you were predicted
Don’t panic! Talk to your firm choice university as soon as possible to check whether you can still take up your place. If you got lower grades than you expected, but you have still met or exceeded your offer, then you will definitely still be able to take up your place. If you have only missed your grades by a small margin, your university might still let you study on your chosen course, or they might offer you a place on a slightly different course – think carefully about whether you want to accept this.

If you have not met your offer from your firm choice, but you have met or exceeded your offer from your insurance choice: you will automatically have a place with your insurance choice university and you don’t need to do anything.

If you haven’t met your offer for your firm or your insurance choice and neither of them are still willing to accept you, you can go through the UCAS Clearing system. Clearing is a system to help students apply to degrees that still have spaces available on A level results day. All the course vacancies are published on the UCAS website and in the Telegraph newspaper. You apply directly to the course that you are interested in; they will look at your exam results and your original personal statement and will make a quick decision on whether to offer you a place. Again, it is important not to make any rash decisions. You might want to apply to universities that you had previously visited when making your original five UCAS choices, or to different courses at the institutions where you held your firm or insurance offers. Remember that you will have to study the course for the next three years of your life, so make sure that you definitely want to go the university that you are applying to!
Please note that UCL has never taken part in Clearing to date.

Or… take a year out to re-think
Another option if you have missed your offers at your firm and insurance choice is to take a year out. This can be useful if you are not sure what you want to do next – it is much better to do this than to make a rash decision that you may regret. You can work to save money for university, or gain some experience that will be relevant to your degree or your future career. You can also resit your A levels, which could increase your options when you are applying to universities (although some universities do not favour students who have taken resits). You can reapply to the places where you held your original offers, or you might decide that you want to do something different. Lots of students take years out or gap years, and universities will still be happy to consider your application.


Five Things To Do In The Summer Holidays!

By Alison Home, on 31 July 2013

You are probably looking forward to the summer holidays as a time to rest, catch up with your friends and soak up the sun. However, it is also a great opportunity to do fun – but productive! – things to improve your cultural capital, giving you great experiences and skills to write about in applications for college, jobs and university. Try to do at least one of these five things this summer!

1. Think about your university plans. If you are a year 11 or year 12 student, you should already be thinking about what you want to study and where you want to go to university. Go online and order prospectuses (or look at them online) for all the universities and degree courses that interest you. See if you can visit a university, or plan to go to some open days next year. The University of London Open Day is on 10-11th September 2013, and will have representatives from 16 different London universities. See here http://informationdays.gradsintocareers.co.uk/ for more details. If you are in year 13 and will be going to university in September, ask your department for an introductory reading list and get a head start on your reading, sort out your student finance and budgeting, shop for all the things you’ll need next year and start to pack all of your stuff!

2. Get some work experience. Email or phone companies or organisations that you would like to work for – even if their summer work experience schemes are full, you might be able to spend one day shadowing someone (following them around for a day to see what they do in their job). Find out when your favourite companies or organisations have work experience programmes and put together an application – even if you can’t take part this summer, you might be able to line something up for October half term.

3. Do some volunteering. There are so many different charities in Britain that focus on different causes, from animal shelters to children’s centres to charities to support people with illnesses or disabilities. Think of a way to support a charity that is close to your heart – organise a bake sale, do a sponsored run, swim or walk, or volunteer in a charity shop or in the organisation offices.

4. Take up a new hobby. Get together with a friend or a group and think of something new and interesting that you can try out this summer! Maybe you all like sport – have you tried ultimate frisbee, rock-climbing, zumba or handball? If you’re musical (or just want to have a go!) see if you can join a local choir, or start your own band. If you are creative, think of a craft or art project that you could do together – who knows, you might even be able to enter a competition, or sell the things you make!

5. Visit a museum. London has some of the best museums in the world and almost all of them are free! Try the British Museum, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, the Tate and the Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum. UCL has two great free museums – the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Check out www.timeout.com/london/museums-attractions for news about exhibitions and events.

Revision Tips – Keep Calm and Get an A*!

By Alison Home, on 16 May 2013

It’s finally summer in London but students everywhere are focusing on their studies rather than the sun. If you are taking exams this summer, make sure you read our top tips for revision so that you can keep calm – and get an A*!


-          It might be a bit late for this now, but you should revise each topic as you study it. When you finish a subject, create a 2-3 page summary with all the key points that you need to remember. If you missed any topics or don’t understand something, ask a teacher or a friend to explain it for you.

-          Make a revision timetable. Work out how long you have until your exams and split your time between topics. Allow more time for subjects that you find difficult, but don’t forget to revise the subjects that you find easier as well. If you have lots of exams grouped together, you will need to do most of the revision in advance and refresh your knowledge before each exam.

-          Make sure you understand the format of your exams. Are they essays, problem-based questions, or multiple choice? Is there an oral exam (e.g. for a language) or a practical exam (e.g. for art or drama)? Can you pick several topics to focus on, or do you need to revise the whole course?


-          To begin, go through your notes and think about your strongest and weakest areas in the topic. Look at past and mock exam papers, and think about which areas you might already be able to answer questions about.

-          Spend most of your time revising the subjects and topics that you find the most difficult. If there are gaps in your work, consult your textbook, ask a friend or teacher, and do some research in a library or online.

-          Create a new set of notes, which become more focused as you go along. Start with writing out everything you need to know about a topic, and gradually cut your notes down to the most important topics and keywords. Start with a few sheets of paper, then one side of A4, then A5, then a postcard and finally a post-it note! This helps you to actually remember the information rather than relying on your notes.

-          There are lots of different ways to revise – experiment! Try writing essay plans for questions from past papers; setting yourself mock exams; making timed mind maps on a subject; making up songs, rhymes and mnemonics to remember key facts and concepts;  writing colour-coded lists of information you need to remember;  making note cards that you carry around and use to quickly test yourself when you’re out and about; making a recording of you reading out your notes.

-          Check out websites like BBC Bitesize, S-Cool and UCL Revision Skills for more helpful tips.

-          Take lots of short breaks – or your brain and your eyes will get too tired to work effectively.  Turn off your phone and the internet when you are working – you can only take your breaks if you have been revising solidly.

-          It’s natural to be stressed, but stay positive! Eat sensibly and make sure you drink plenty of water – avoid junk food and sugary, caffeinated drinks. Take regular breaks where you move away from your computer screen – play sport, go for a walk, or even just turn up the music and dance around your room! Get plenty of sleep, especially the night before the exam.


-          Make sure you know all the important details in advance of your exam. Where is your exam taking place, and what time does it start? Make sure you have all the right equipment, including at least one spare pen. You might need to take specific items into certain exams – do you need pencils, a compass or protractor, or a calculator for maths, or the set texts for English? Do you need a bottle of water, tissues or throat sweets, or a watch to time your answers?

-          Make sure to read the instructions on the paper. How many questions do you need to answer? Do you have to cover a specific number of topics? Look at the possible marks for each question – make sure you spend the longest time on the questions with the highest possible marks.

-          Stick to what you know. Now is not the time to experiment! Don’t answer questions if you only know about half the topic. It can be good to choose all of the questions that you will answer at the beginning so that you are prepared.

-          Make sure you answer the right number of essay questions – it’s no use doing two great essays if you run out of time to write a third.

-          If you are answering a problem-based paper, quickly move on if you don’t know the answer to a question – don’t waste time and get stressed. When you have finished, work back through the questions that you didn’t know the first time.  Have a go at every question – you might get some marks for your working, or using the correct units, even if the answer is completely wrong!

-          Answer the question you are asked, not the question you revised – always make sure that you are doing exactly what you are asked.

-          PLAN your essays. Make sure that you have a strong introduction with a clear thesis statement (‘This essay will argue that…’), which is repeated in your conclusion.

-          SHOW your working – you can get marks even if your final answer is incorrect. Make sure that you write the units and check you have given your answer to the right number of decimal places.

-          CHECK your paper at the end – make sure that you have written neatly (you won’t get marks if the examiner can’t read it!), that you haven’t made any silly mistakes and that you haven’t missed any questions by accident.

After the exam:

  • Don’t dwell on your answers or talk about the exam paper with your friends – it will only make you anxious.
  • Try to take some time to relax before you start revising for your next exam – even if it’s just one afternoon off.
  • Focus on the next exam, and think about how you might improve your exam technique – did you run out of time, do you need more practice answering essay questions, did you forget your extra pen?
  • Have a quick look at your revision plan. Do you need to adjust it?
  • Stay positive! Once you have sat the exam, there is nothing you can do the change how it went. Concentrate on moving on to the next challenge.

This blog post was written by Charlotte Lydia Riley.

Writing a CV

By Alison Home, on 20 February 2013

It is important to have an up-to-date CV ready to send out at a moment’s notice!  This means that you can always take advantage of opportunities when they come up.

Writing a CV can be daunting, especially when you are still at school and haven’t got much experience yet. However, there are some simple things that you can do to make your CV stand out.

Top Tips:

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New Year’s Resolutions for a Brighter 2013!

By Alison Home, on 1 January 2013

In January, people all over the world make New Year’s Resolutions to eat healthily, to exercise more, to watch less TV, to save more money or to be nicer to their families. These are all great resolutions! However, at UCL Horizons we have some suggestions for New Year’s Resolutions that YOU could make to help you do well at school and to improve your chances in the future.

Our top five New Year’s Resolutions are:

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The UCL Modern Foreign Language requirement explained

By Alison Home, on 20 December 2012

What is the Modern Foreign Language (MFL) requirement?

UCL requires that all applicants have a GCSE at grade A*-C in a modern foreign language. It is fine for this to be a ‘community language’ (for example, a modern foreign language that you speak at home with your family), as long as you have achieved an official GCSE qualification in it.

Why do I need a GCSE in a Modern Foreign Language?

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Finding Work Experience for Under 18s

By Alison Home, on 12 November 2012

Lots of people try to do some volunteering or work experience before they apply to university. This can be a great chance to add to your UCAS form and show that you are serious about your subject. Think about what sort of experience interests you – where would you like to work? What would you like to do? Who would you like to help?

Once you decide that you would like to do some volunteering or work experience, you need to target your plans, based on your future university study and career. It can be daunting trying to find work experience, but there are lots of ways to find opportunities:

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How to make the right A level choices.

By Alison Home, on 22 October 2012

Post-16 Choices – Choosing A levels

What are A levels?

During Year 10 you need to decide what subjects you will study at sixth form. Most students take three or four A levels, but you can also study the International Baccalaureate (IB), which gives a wider range. Some people study BTECs. These are vocational courses focused on specific careers. All universities accept A levels and IB, but only some university courses accept BTECs. As most students will take A levels, this post is focused specifically on A level choices.

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Fifteen things to do this October half term

By Alison Home, on 18 October 2012

It’s tempting to see half-term as a chance to sleep late, catch up with your TV shows and spend time with friends. But half term is also a great chance to take advantage of all the fantastic opportunities available in London. You can enhance your CV, get great experiences for your UCAS statement, and develop new skills and knowledge to help you in your GCSEs, A levels and beyond.

Try out some of our suggested half term activities this October!

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Personal statements – more tips!

By Alison Home, on 25 September 2012

I’ve been reading lots of personal statements this week, so I wanted to write some last minute tips for students about to apply through UCAS. Here are some common problems, and examples of how you can remedy them. My examples are invented, but they are based on real statements that I have read recently.


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