Life as a Bloomsbury Sixth Former revolves just as much around the practical aspects of studying as it concerns the more academic and intellectual dimensions. The practicalities of Sixth Form studies arise from applying principles and precepts to everyday behaviour, and they provide invaluable experience that enables students to acquire and refine skills that will stand them in good stead at university and later on in their jobs and careers.
While Bloomsbury Sixth Formers are required to wear school uniforms, the latter differ from those worn by younger students. Sixth Form uniforms have a more adult appearance, feel and style (as befits the enhanced maturity and responsibility Sixth Formers are expected to demonstrate as young adults). Sixth Formers are expected to wear these uniforms with pride and to bear in mind (a) that the school will be judged by outsiders in accordance with how they behave and present themselves and (b) that younger students will regard them as exemplars.
Consequently, Bloomsbury Sixth Formers are obliged to cultivate a neat, clean, tidy and well-groomed image whenever they wear their uniforms and to set a good example sartorially and in terms of their behaviour generally. Neckties and shirt / blouse buttons must always be fastened properly and all clothes kept and worn in a well-ordered fashion.
Learning how to manage time effectively is among the most significant skills Bloomsbury Sixth Formers master (please see the EFFECTIVE BALANCING section under ETHOS for details of guiding principles). We all have weeks that consist of 168 hours; like other people, Sixth Form students have to make decisions about how many of these hours to spend on work, how many on sleep and how many on recreation, social activities and relaxation. As such decisions will be made in effect by the way time is allocated in any event, Bloomsbury Sixth Formers are guided over the importance and benefits of conscious planning and of keeping to choices made on the basis of priorities.
All students have – to varying degrees – to face and deal with such challenges; these are, however, greater for Sixth Formers in the sense that their timetables are less formally structured than those of younger students and contain the ‘gaps’ they are required to fill with private study (please see PRIVATE STUDY PERIODS). Perhaps ironically, Sixth Form studies – while involving fewer lessons than IGCSE and lower levels of academic study do – actually entail a greater workload. Good time management skills are thus essential for understanding how best to match specific allocations of hours and minutes to particular study-related tasks.
And not only do classes and lessons diminish in number for Sixth Formers; they actually enjoy diminished importance too. Scheduled AS and A Level classes and lessons are not designed to teach discrete units of study in the same way their equivalents at IGCSE and lower levels do. Rather, they introduce Sixth Formers to a range of new materials, sources, authorities and theories which students then have the opportunity to analyse and think independently, creatively and critically about in private study periods. Teachers in classes will provide Sixth Formers with guidance, direction and feedback on work assignments they submit, but the actual learning process at Sixth Form level takes place in private study periods when students think for themselves, follow their own lines of enquiry and approaches, work autonomously and develop their own viewpoints, skills and perspectives. This is the essence of independent learning, which is often depicted as the most important and valuable aspect of international school studies.
To maximise the effectiveness of private study periods for independent learning purposes, Sixth Formers need considerable acumen in self-organisation. Time management involves not just making decisions over how to deploy precious hours and minutes but also self-discipline in implementing and keeping to the choices made. This in turn requires an ability to prioritise tasks and to order them in terms of importance so that time can then be allocated accordingly. Revising for an examination may, for example, have to take precedence over reading generally around a subject of personal interest to a student. Self-discipline in these circumstances thus involves doing what is important rather than what is enjoyable, and a balance has to be struck between necessity and pleasure (please see EFFECTIVE BALANCING)
The first step in task prioritisation at Sixth Form level is to make a list of assignments, projects and undertakings arising from AS and A Level studies. Such a list might take the following form:
- Write up notes from class
- Read chapters 3-4 from secondary textbook
- Return books to library
- Complete homework assignment
- Watch video about homework theme
- Check date, time & venue of talk by visiting university representative
This list is just an example; each Sixth Form student will from time to time face a slightly different list of tasks, depending on which subjects they are studying and what progress they have made with each syllabus.
The next step is to determine how much time is available and when; once this subdivision of the weekly total of 168 hours is calculated, it then becomes easier to order the various tasks in terms of their respective importance and to allocate time units accordingly. The upshot might take the following form:
TOTAL TIME AVAILABLE FOR TASKS - 4.5 hours (= 270 minutes) spread over Monday afternoon – Tuesday afternoon.
TASKS / TIMES:
- Check date, time & venue of talk by visiting university representative (Monday 8.25 – 9.20 during Private Study Period = 55 minutes)
- Return books to library (Monday 10.15 – 10.35 during break time between lessons = 20 minutes)
- Watch video about homework theme (Monday 17.30 – 18.00 during evening at home = 30 minutes)
- Write up notes from class (Tuesday 9.20 – 10.15 during Private Study Period = 55 minutes)
- Read chapters 3-4 from secondary textbook (Tuesday 11.30 – 12.25 during Private Study Period = 55 minutes)
- Complete homework assignment (Tuesday 13.15 – 14.10 during Private Study Period = 55 minutes)
TOTAL: 270 minutes
Some students with hi-tech skills use tablets and similar devices to make such plans; others prefer the more conventional paper and ink. Decisions such as this are for Sixth Formers to make themselves, depending on whichever system they find most congenial and effective.
It’s essential to remember here that there is no necessary connection between academic ability and organisational skill. Some intellectually gifted students perform less well than they could do potentially through inadequate personal self-management aptitudes; others who may not necessarily be academic high flyers achieve good results after arranging their time, set work, revision etc in a careful and methodical way. This marks one of the most significant intersections between academic and organisational acumen, and it would be difficult to conceive of a more potent example of the importance of practicality in Sixth Form studies.
A vital complement to the practicalities of time management and task prioritisation skills is self-discipline. Having determined how limited time should best be deployed, Sixth Formers then have to adhere to the decisions they make, and this requires a strength of character which enables them to cultivate staying power, to concentrate on what’s important and to resist temptation, diversion and the loss of focus.
It can be all too easy to succumb to the many distractions offered by social and other media in the twenty-first century; watching a film or taking part in a Facebook chat can often seem more attractive pastimes to a Sixth Former than completing an essay or reading a textbook. While it is important to allow time for relaxation (this is another aspect of EFFECTIVE BALANCING), it is also essential to develop sufficient self-discipline to be able to prioritise academic work not simply in making decisions but also in carrying them out. An important practical skill in these circumstances is the ability and willingness to say ‘No’ (to oneself and / or, if friends are pressing invitations to join them for social events during designated study time, to one’s peers). Another similarly essential skill is consists of setting cut-off points: a certain amount of time is set aside for one task, and once this is exhausted the student needs to accept that this slot has ended, that the best has to be made of what’s been accomplished even if this is not perfect and that the time slot cannot be extended other than by jeopardising the progress of other tasks.
The cultivation of this ability by Sixth Formers confers not only access to essential knowledge and the wherewithal to master their syllabuses’ contents but also a vital sense of being in control of their time, work and lives and a related sense of achievement as one list of tasks is crossed off after successful completion as another takes its place. The psychological benefits this brings to students can be just as rewarding as academic and examination success per se.
Again, these skills and the opportunity they provide for Sixth Formers to plan work in advance, to commence assignments well before deadlines and thus to avoid eleventh hour swotting (with all the practical, psychological and academic mishaps this can generate) are an invaluable investment for continued success at university and in career venues after graduation.