How to crush AS and A2 and cheat your way into medical school

by     11 Comments    Posted under: Career, Medical Schools, Personal Statement

 

A grades for MedicinePassing AS and A2 is not enough. For a guaranteed place to read medicine you must:

  • KILL your A-levels 
  • without dropping a single grade 
  • at the first sitting

These exams are the single most important hurdle between you and a place at medical school. Any other shortcomings can be can be fixed relatively quickly and easily, but a single dropped grade at A-level can simply end your application in an instant.

I see the odd last minute work experience student these days trying to spin a good story after a couple of hours following a junior doctor around. Invariably that person has grade A  A-levels in his or her pocket, and is trying to ‘fit in’ the other aspects of his application where possible. Very wise.

A-level retakes are even more critical, as dropping a grade at a second sitting means you’ll be even more likely to be pushed aside in favour of somebody else.
You may rightly worry about work experience, personal statements and all those “extra-curricular” activities needed for a respectable application to medical school, but without the right grades it is pretty much impossible to get in.

My strategy does not actually involve cheating, but it may as well, so seldom is it used by students, despite it’s excellent success rate.

Anyway, let’s get to the theory behind my strategy.

Firstly you need to understand how an exam paper gets written. The most important point to stress is that it is incredibly difficult to write a good exam question for any subject. Most questions will fail the vetting process which is very stringent. I’ve written exam questions for trainee surgeons sitting the MRCS and out of every ten questions I wrote, only one passed the stringent requirements for a standardised examination.

A2 chemistry for medicine

So examiners are forced to depend on recycled old questions that have passed the test of time with some minor alterations. Completely new questions are rare and in some subjects are actually NEVER seen.

You’re probably thinking that if the above is true, why are exams seen as difficult, and why do people still fail?

The answer is that the vast majority of people sitting the exam have no insight at all into how an exam is put together.
When grades are so criticial, this amounts to immense carelessness. Don’t you agree?

 

The strategy

When I studied for A-level chemistry, biology and physics, my revision strategy was as follows. It can be applied with minor modifications to any subject.

1. Understand the syllabus. Most people get this far without any trouble.

2. Order every past paper possible. I was lucky enugh to find every UK A-level chemistry paper going back to 1976. You can ask senior students, search E-bay and various online collections for papers. Start early.

3. Order mark schemes for as many papers as possible. These are available directly from the exam boards, for the more recent papers.

4. Stop reading any revision material once you are confident with the concepts involved. Stop re-reading definitions, stop re-doing calculations, stop looking through your textbook.

5. Start going through one old paper at a time. Start with the oldest. Try and answer the definitions and calculations without referring to any reference material. On the really old papers, skip over any questions that are no longer on the syllabus. Be grateful that your exam will be much easier than the 1985 paper.

6. Mark your paper yourself using mark schemes where available. Make a list of your errors. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have some of the definitions slightly wrong causing you to drop a mark here or there. Perhaps some calculation errors may creep in too. Are you dropping marks for simple things like forgetting to include units?

7. Kick yourself for any silly errors and look over any missing knowledge areas.

8. Repeat the process for each paper you have in your posession until you get to last years paper.  You will notice that you can score pretty near 100% on all of the more recent papers. If you’re still making silly mistakes, kick yourself and go back to step 5.

9. Sit back and wait for exam day.

10. Shamelessly crush the pathetic, infantile excuse for a paper that passes for the modern A-level.

11. Check through your answers twice amd then leave the exam hall. A grade A should be pretty easy to achieve by now, what you want to know is how many marks short of 100% are you and why?
I used this strategy myself. I initially tried it during the mock exams that we used to have and it worked so well I got some suspicious looks from my teachers. I was not quite scoring 100% though so had to repeat the process before the actual exam, with more attention to detail.

 

A slight problem you may encounter

Some people have a weak spot when it comes to calculations for Physics and Chemistry A-levels!
It is probably not your fault. GCSEs leave you totally unprepared for real study and the teaching in this area is terrible!  I struggled too, until I took things into my own hands and went through the Calculations for A-level Chemistry and Calculations for A-level physics books. They make the whole thing quick and easy and once through you can easily handle anything the real exam throws at you. For A-level chemistry this calculation book has some incredible recommendations and sounds awesome, but I  haven’t personally used it. My advice is to buy them early and use them throughout each module.

(These books should be part of step 1 of the strategy, unless you are a calculation legend.)
Remember that the competition is not as good as you think it is. Across the nation (the UK) there will be people who have only just learned to read and will bring the grade boundaries down quite a bit.

 

Final word

Most medical school applicants just follow the crowd and rely on luck. They think their above average intelligence will see them through. Some of these are people you will be leaving behind on your way to medical school. The real competition begins when you’re competing for that elusive cardiothoraic surgery fellowship. But that’s a few years down the line yet.

Good luck!

Leo

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  • Marco

    Brilliant summary.

    I used this exact strategy for AS and A2. Pretty much stoppes all reading a few weeks before each module and went through every past paper 2 or 3 times.

    It’s something you can repeat at medical school although my particular institution (ahem) doesn’t release old papers ever. Probably due to the reasons you mention in the article!

    • Leo

      Thanks for the comment Marco.

      I agree. And it’s a shame that most people never get to grips with these techniques and spend days stressing about a very manageable problem.

  • Laura

    Teaching on calculations is really bad at my college.
    Will give those books a try…

    cheers

    • Leo

      They will definitely get you up to speed with calculations.

      And the reason we stress aiming for 100% at all times is to get you into the mindframe of not letting a single mark slip away.

      It’s not difficult but some teachers make it difficult.

  • Hardeep

    Am re-taking A-levels this year so have already got a disadvantage but going to try this method out asap.

    Have got the calculation books linked to in the article. Brilliant stuff as you get loads of examples to work through by the end of which you can literallly attack in calculation.

  • Jim

    this strategy won’t work for English Lit now will it?

    • Anum

      I’d like to know that too.

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  • Vidhi

    Hello,
    This is a great strategy but word of caution, its not as effective now as it may have been.I used the exact strategy for GCSE’s (worked a treat!). Now however, I think that examiners have noticed how students can easily revise of mark schemes and have decided to change formats and involve more application questions, so doing this now may not be as useful as it was in the past (at least for as levels) .

    • Leo

      Good point Vidhi, However, if you can manage to go far back enough, you’ll find that even the newer quetsions just look like re-hashed questions from yesteryear. There are only so many things one can ask and even if the question is worded differently or has an aplied element to it, you can see straight through it once you’ve done the relevant groundwork!

      Getting the really old papers is a tough task though. Perhaps we should start collecting them here.

  • King

    Hello, I’m a Malaysian and currently doing my EDEXCEL A levels and i was hoping if you guys would be ever so kind to introduce some good Biology and Chemistry workbooks and reference book!
    Thanks!