The Magic A*


Do you want to stand out? To achieve an A*? If so, your A* answer will need to look, on paper. just as you would wish to present yourself to a potential employer: committed, with an edge, succinct and without waffle, genuinely talented and with huge potential.

There are a number of traits common to the A* grade answer. Firstly, it will ooze confidence. So you will have to know what you are talking about, be assertive, understand what the question is asking and be explicitly clear in your answer. With Maths, for example, the way in which you construct your answer has to be blatant. You do not get an A* by keeping the examiner guessing or by achieving the correct answer, only to leave them having to discover how you actually came to the outcome. Your answer will need to be concise and contain every piece of crucial information necessary, whilst also containing absolutely nothing irrelevant. You will need to get straight to the point and not dance around your answer. After all, you wouldn’t answer a question in an interview with your life story, would you? If you accomplish all this, your answer will almost jump off the page, shouting pure quality in its presentation and its clarity.

The story is similar in other subjects. For example, in History the key to your A* is simply goodbye narrative and goodbye waffle; the examiner does not need to know how much you know about any given area. If that was the case everyone would be gaining an A*. On the contrary, they want to know how you will tackle a certain question; with longer questions, what evidence will you select to look at both sides of the argument and balance your answer? What will your final judgement be, and more importantly, why? Will this line of argument be sustained throughout? If you find yourself writing your answer immediately after reading the question, stop, you are probably writing your way to a C grade, at best. An A* quality answer comes from a student who is well prepared and well planned. The preparation comes beforehand in your revision, the planning comes in the exam.

For longer answers that require a judgement, take time to plan your answer. This way you will know what you are arguing, will look at both sides, and importantly, will deliver an analytical answer which has an air of conviction throughout. You wouldn’t say to a potential employer that you think one thing, then change your mind mid-answer, after all. If you did, you would risk losing out to the candidate who knows their stuff and can coherently articulate it: an A* paper is the same.

Finally, to get an A* you have to want an A*. Preparation and revision are key, and the more you actively involve yourself with revision and take responsibility for this, the likelier your A* becomes. A crucial part of this revision resides with your acknowledgement of the importance of the S.P.A.G (Spelling and Grammar) marks, which can be real grade changers. There is only ever one mark between an A and an A*, and imagine letting this slip through your fingers because you didn’t follow the basic rules of punctuation (capital letters used incorrectly being a common problem) or because you have not used subject-specific terminology. With your practice papers, always consider how many marks you would gain for S.P.A.G. Know your key words and practice using them. Don’t describe something, use the correct term for it. One last point to leave you with is, make sure you know your timing. You don’t get an A* by running out of time, so know your paper before walking into the exam and know how long you have to answer the questions- taking into account reading and planning time.

If your effort throughout your course has been A*, then you will truly deserve the magic of an A* grade. Good luck!

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I have been teaching in secondary schools for the past eleven years. During this time I have enjoyed various roles, including Head of Year and Head of Humanities, and have seen numerous students through their exams. I teach all Humanities subjects but my passion lies with History and Sociology. I love writing and sharing my thoughts and hope to inspire people with my words. I am a busy Mummy of two adorable children and am currently loving the opportunity to spend more time with these.

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