Now that your GCSEs are all wrapped up and you’re beginning to make the transition towards starting your A Levels, you might be wondering what things you need to have ready before school starts up again.
So to help, I’ve put together this list of 10 essential items you’ll need to have before you start your A Levels in September.
Although this list is built mainly from my own experience, it should also cover any combination of subjects you’re planning to take.
Of course, some subjects or even some teachers may well recommend additional items, like plastic wallets. If that’s the case, you can still use this list as a guide and anything you don’t have, your teacher will point you in the right direction in your first week.
Now, you might be thinking “I just did 10+ GCSEs, and I’m only taking 3 A Levels…so surely I just need the same stuff – it can’t be that different?”
Well, as you’ve probably heard a million times, A Levels are much more involved than GCSEs. The jump up can be quite tricky at first and there’s a lot more content in each subject. That means you’ll likely be filling up ring binders a lot more quickly than you’d imagine. So it’s best to be prepared from the outset.
For example, I took 4 subjects at A Level: maths, further maths, physics and chemistry – which are less “content heavy” than others like English or History, and by the end of the 2 years I had at least 10 full ring binders!
Personally, I used to carry around one ring binder for each subject. For the most part that was fine, but occasionally I had lessons on 3 different subjects in a single day – which did mean taking in 3 heavy ring binders in my rucksack!
But you’ll find that days like these are rare. If you are unlucky enough to have 3 different subjects on a given day, then you can always keep a ring binder in your locker overnight, or simply take in whatever your need for those subjects that day, rather than your entire folder.
Instead, you’re more likely to have just one or two subjects on a given day – and a whole host of free periods, which are definitely one of the best bits about A Levels.
But whatever your A Level subject choices, having these 10 essential items will ensure that you’re well-organised and ready to hit the ground running in September.
Throughout the article watch out for the links, as they’ll open up a new tab to specific and related items on Amazon 🙂
1. Writing pen
You’re going to be writing: a lot. Whether it’s taking notes in class, answering maths problems or writing essays.
I’d recommend choosing a pen that you enjoy writing with, so that writing feels like less of a chore! I took this to the extreme at the start of my A Levels and bought myself a nice Parker pen. Given the amount you’ll be writing, then unless you’re willing to consistently stock up on ink and assuming you’re like me and struggle to take good care of your stationery for a whole 2 years, then I probably wouldn’t bother investing in anything expensive.
Instead, you could buy a small pack of uni-ball eye fine rollerball pens (click here for the amazon link!) and have handy a set of cheap biros as a back up.
I personally preferred writing in black rather than blue, but of course that’s up to you. I’d be surprised if your teachers asked for you to write in a specific colour… that’s one of the great things about sixth form, you’re given a lot more freedom and independence.
For the more neat and artistic students, you should also consider having a number of coloured pens in your pencil case. Having different coloured pens will help make your underlining stand out, and also just make your work much nicer to look at. Believe me, this helps when it comes to revision!
Having a pencil is necessary for subjects like art and maths. But pencils are also really handy to have for other subjects like English or history, where you’ll be analysing and annotating texts and may want to rub things out as you go.
You can also use pencils to go back over your notes and underline things you think will be important when you come back to revise.
This one’s a biggy!
You’ll be getting through a lot of paper, whatever the subject, so I’d really recommend buying notepads in bulk at the start of the year.
Given that you’ll likely be using ring binders for each subject, you should buy paper that’ll slot in. To be on the safe side, I would recommend writing on A4 ruled paper with four holes. This will then fit into either a 2-ring or 4-ring binder, whichever you end up choosing.
At some point you will also be using plain paper, or given worksheets which are not hole punched. Therefore, keeping a small hole punch with you, or having a standard hole punch at home, will come in handy.
You needn’t have a different notebook for each subject…but at the end of every lesson it’s a good idea to tear out the pages in your notepad and sort them into the relevant folder divide. This will keep your notepads empty and your folders organised, with everything in order and nothing missing when it comes to revision – the last thing you want to be doing before exams is hunting for loose bits of paper!
On top of your A4 notepads, you may also want to keep a smaller notebook or diary for your homework and to-do lists. You could even go one step further and invest in a student planner/ academic diary like this one 🙂
4 & 5. Ring binders & dividers
Okay, you got me – so I cheated a bit here.
Yes, these are two items in one, but they’re both super essential!
You should have at least one ring binder per subject and depending on how much content your subject entails, you may eventually need more.
As for the dividers, well, I learnt from experience…
At first, what I did was look at how many different modules there were in each subject.
For example, in A Level maths, I took 6 different modules: C1, C2, C3, C4, M1 and M2. So at the start of the year, I bought one ring binder and put in six dividers.
However, after a few months it became apparent that each module had a lot of content, and so one divider for each wasn’t going to be enough.
Instead, it made more sense to have a divider for each topic. Using Maths as an example again, in the C1 module there are 5 key topics: algebra, geometry, sequences, differentiation and integration. So I had 5 dividers in total for the C1 module. Then for C2 I had 6 dividers for the 6 different subtopics in that module.
Overall for Maths A Level, I ended up using 3 folders (and only expected to have 1 in the beginning!). This will probably be the case for many of your subjects and topics, too, as it’s hard to know just how much (or little) space will be needed for each one. And given everyone writes up different amounts, as every student is different, it’ll also be different from student to student.
As a guide, you could look at the smallest divisible topics for each of your subject modules, like I did with maths, and ensure you have enough dividers to cover them all. But given this may change as you go along, as a starting point, simply have one ring binder per subject and at least 10 dividers per binder.
You can always get more if you need them.
For the mathematicians, you’ll need to have a scientific calculator at hand. You’ll be learning some funky things in your first term, from converting degrees to ‘radians’ and calculating the inverse cosine of an obtuse angle. You’ll also finally get to know what the “log” button does – and no, it has nothing to do with chopping down trees! A simple calculator will no longer cut it (pardon the pun).
Some schools will provide scientific calculators for you to purchase at a discount, so it’s probably best to wait until your first week of school before you go about buying one yourself.
For those doing Further Maths A Level, although not essential, you may even want to go one step further and use a graphical calculator. This will help you visualise graphs and you can even solve really difficult equations on them, which is great for checking your work. If you don’t have the money to buy one of these, though, then you can also use the free online graphical tool, wolfram alpha.
For those of you not studying maths or science, you may be thinking that this isn’t an essential item. And for most of you, it isn’t. However, every week without fail, somebody will forget their calculator – so if you’re interested in being a class hero, then having one handy wouldn’t be the worst idea!
Perfect for underlining titles and twanging at the end of the table, the ruler needs no introduction…
You can go for 15cm, 30cm, shatter resistant, wobbly, clear, coloured or steel.
The options are endless.
When it comes to the handy ruler: you do you.
You wouldn’t have thought that we’re living in the 21st century…but alas, every subject will come with its whole host of textbooks for you to lug around, unfortunately.
I don’t have too much advice for this one, because it’s so dependent on each subject you’re studying. In essence, your school should have all of the textbooks you’ll need and give them out to you during your first lesson.
In the majority of cases, you will be asked to give these textbooks back at the end of your A Levels. So do remember that the books are essentially on loan to you, and so you shouldn’t write in them. Otherwise you’ll likely be fined or asked to pay the full price of the textbook, which can be really expensive.
If you’re someone who likes to make notes in textbooks, then you should ask your teacher if you can purchase the textbook from the school. Some schools will offer a student discount on textbooks for A Levels, so do try asking them first before buying them at full whack online.
9. Pencil Case
Otherwise where will you put all of your pens, pencils and highlighters?!
But really, do have a pencil case that’s big enough to hold all of your things. As I began stocking up on backup biros, different coloured pens and highlighters, my little pencil case couldn’t take the strain anymore and the zip broke. Sad times.
So be smart (unlike me) and buy a big enough pencil case.
Also thinking ahead, when it comes to exams, you’re typically asked to have a clear pencil case so that the invigilators know you’re not carrying cheat sheets or notes into the examination hall. So you could buy one like this.
Sure, it won’t be pretty. But at least you’ll be prepared!
10. Water bottle
This might seem like a strange item to have on the essentials list, but really I’ve saved the best till last.
A recent study by the University of East London and the University of Westminster found that drinking just 300ml of water can boost attention by up to 25%. Just imagine, staying hydrated could enhance your attention and focus by 25% – that could be the difference between getting a grade C and a grade A – just from drinking enough water every day!
So it’s really worthwhile carrying around your own water bottle with you every day at school.
For the environmentally conscious of you, now is a good time to consider finding yourself a water bottle that’s going to last you the whole two years. It’ll be your hydrating companion through good times and bad – so choose carefully!
Before we reach the end of the article, there are some items that didn’t make the A Levels essential items list, but you may find them useful.
- Hole punch; to ensure any handouts or plain paper will fit into your ring binder
- Highlighters; great for, well, highlighting(!) important things for you to notice when it comes to revising
- Sticky tabs; to keep track of important pages in your notes or textbooks
- Earphones; to help you concentrate during your free periods
- Rubber; to go with the pencil
- Pencil sharpener; to go with the rubber
And that’s everything 🙂 If there’s something you think is really important and I’ve missed it out, please leave a comment below!
I hope this essential list of items has helped you think about what you need to prepare before starting your A Levels in two weeks time.
If you’d like any advice before starting your A Level journey, whether it’s about preparation, organisation, subject choices, study tips, resources, or anything else, then feel free to get in touch with me or the rest of our team on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, on our live website chat or over the phone.
We also have an A Levels Support Group on Facebook, where we’re sharing more advice and articles like this one. You can join the group by clicking this link here.
Finally, I wish you all the very best of luck in your A Levels. Although you might be anxious now about how difficult it’s going to be, or wondering if you’ve made the right subject choices, I promise you’ll settle in really quickly and have a great two years ahead. I personally found my two years at sixth form some of the best years I’ve ever had. And if you ever get stuck or have any questions, our team’s here whenever you need.
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer holiday!