Classroom

So finally you are in the “Wonderful World of O Level”. After all those years in pre, primary and secondary school, you are finally here. The years ahead will be challenging, memorable and fun.

To summarize, you will go from this:

Cute Baby with Toys excited for O Level

To This:

Leonidas of Sparta ready for A Level Challenge

As I was reflecting on my years in CIE O Level, I thought about a few things I could have done differently. Based on my experiences, these are a few tips for all of you current and future O Level students.

So let’s get this started:

###1. Live Fully

Open Field

The subjects you study, the interests you develop, and the activities you participate in will define your path ahead and I would suggest you to make the most out of these years. This is the time you get the opportunity to try everything. So make mistakes and learn. There’s a lot going on and you are not under a lot of academic pressure. For me it was the time I discovered my interest and aptitude in Computer Science (although I chose Biology :P) and developed an enthusiasm for Football and Manchester United (Reds all the way).

Try everything and discover yourself. You should have an idea of who you are and what you like by the time you reach your A Level.

###2. Subjects

Books

Additional subjects were not offered in my school until my third year of O Level but I still regret not studying Computer Science and Additional Mathematics. If you want to study in a top International University you need more subjects in your arsenal than the deadly standard eight. In hindsight, I should have self-studied Additional Mathematics. I plan to study Further Mathematics in my A Level and Additional Mathematics would have surely helped a lot.

So, study as many subjects as you can. Universities love students who take up challenging courses in their school life. If you find that Physics problem a piece of cake I suggest you take up something more challenging and exciting. Don’t waste your time and mind on easy things. Challenge yourself.

Also, studying more subjects trains your mind and vastly improves your skills. The brain is a muscle and the more you use it, the better it gets. If your ambitions are high, better buy a bigger shelf and fill it with books of every kind. Trust me, the returns will be beyond your imagination.

###3. READING, READING, READING

Boy reading in book shop

Without good English, your chances of getting a good university admission fall dramatically. Be it the top-notch University of your dreams or the not so top-notch University of not-your-dreams, English is valued everywhere.

Let me give you a list of things where good English will rock:

  • English O Level Exam (Duh?)
  • The other O Level Exams ( O.o ) – Yes, it Matters.
  • Speeches, Debates, Magazine Articles, Applications, etc
  • Entry Tests for Universities
  • SAT or ACT (For International Universities and LUMS/NUST in Pakistan) – Very Important
  • Everywhere
  • Everywhere
  • Everywhere
  • ….

And by good english I don’t mean that you need to memorize the dictionary, Well you should if you can but you need good grammar and a solid understanding of the mechanics of English. The question is where do you get it from?

Reading: Read Novels, Autobiographies, Newspapers, Blogs, Websites, Magazines, etc. Literally, read every letter you can get your hands on. Trust me, this will benefit you greatly. This is the time to form a good foundation of your language skills and there cannot be a better way than reading.

Combine it with the first point and you will simultaneously improve your knowledge and your language.

###4. Harness the Power of the Internet

Consider yourself very lucky for you are living in the age where a whole lot of information is available to you no matter where you are living. The Internet is a huge resource and you should utilize it fully. Learn as much as you can and limit the time you spend on time thieves such as Facebook and Whatsapp.

You no longer have to wait till University to learn more. There are a whole lot of courses, videos and websites available for people of all interests.

These are a few resources you can start with:

  1. Khan Academy
  2. Edx
  3. Coursera
  4. MIT Opencourseware
  5. Codecademy

I was able to learn the Introductory Computer Science 50 (CS50) Course of Harvard right from the comfort of my own home and for free. What can be better than that? When you can learn from outstanding faculty like Professor Walter Lewin for free, you are doing injustice to yourself by not learning.

###5. Wide Range of Activities

Scottish Parliament

Participate in as many activities you can and once you find the things you like or are good at it, participate in more of those events. Participate in debating competitions, jump at every public speaking opportunity, play for your school team, write for the school magazine, learn programming, help the needy in your locality… Make your time productive. Don’t waste it.

Also, universities are not looking for a long list of competitions in your application. They are looking for students with deep interests. But you are not going to know your interests if you don’t explore yourself. So participate in several activities and once you find what you like, participate more in those activities. If you are good at debating, don’t stick to your school level. Participate in National Competitions. If you are good at computers, learn programming and start contributing to open source projects on the internet.

They are looking for passionate students with genuine interest. So discover your inner passion and actively participate in what you like. If you do that, you will be set for admission glory.

###6. Learning Style - Work Hard “Smartly”

Learning Syles

Each one of us has a different learning style and the earlier we recognize it, the better. Don’t fret over the fact that you are not spending as much time on your books as your friend does. Each one of us is different and what works for one, may not work for others.

Search for learning styles on the web and you will find a lot of material. Experiment new things and strategies, and find something that works for you.

See which notes are effective: others or your own. See which type of books you like: concise or elaborate. See whether you can self-study or need someone’s help. Are you a visual learner or do you learn better with recorded lectures? And so on and so forth.

###7. A Level Plan

School Building

Learn from your O Level experiences and in your final year, decide what’s best for you, yourself. Decide your subjects before your A Level starts and stick with them. And if you want to study in a top International University, take more than three subjects. Study five or at least four subjects.

Note: Further Mathematics is close to essential if you are looking for Science, Tech or Engineering admission in an International University.

###8. SET YOUR TARGET

Dart Board

Be it the dream startup, the dream job, or the dream admission, set your goal and start working to make your dream a reality.

For example if your dream is Harvard, check out its website and see what type of students they are looking for. Look at admissions of previous years, participate in college admission forums, surf the web for advice, ask the people around you, etc.

###9. Enjoy!

I don’t think I need to explain this one :P

So these are the 9 tips:

  1. Live Fully
  2. Subjects
  3. READING, READING, READING
  4. Harness the Power of the Internet
  5. Wide Range of Activities
  6. Learning Style - Work Hard “Smartly”
  7. A Level Plan
  8. SET YOUR TARGET
  9. Enjoy!

I wish you the best of luck (and grades) :)

Don’t forget to leave feedback. Share your opinions and if you have any questions fire away. Thank You for reading.


Waqas Ali Abbasi bio photo

Waqas Ali Abbasi

I am a university freshman who loves all things tech and cheeko milkshake.

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