From A Levels to undergraduate study, how hard is the transition…really?

This post is based on my experiences at Newcastle University so the links at the bottom are only applicable to prospective students there. However, in my experience I’ve found that most universities have similar provisions for their first-year students, go on their websites to find out more!


From A Levels to undergraduate study, how hard is the transition…really?

At Newcastle’s undergraduate visit day this year, I was asked half a dozen times about how hard being a university student is compared to studying for your A levels. Google this question and you’ll find yourself in a sea of internet forums with complacent or panicked students bragging about how much easier it is or students stressing over how difficult the transition is.

The truth?

It’s incredibly subjective. University is going to be as difficult as you want to make it for yourself but you also have a lot to gain from putting in the extra effort. So essentially, the difficulty of the transition is, like most things at university, largely up to you. The hardest bit about coming to university (in my humble opinion) is how to live with your newfound independence but chances are, you’re going to have that challenge around this time in your life regardless of whether you choose to come to university or not.

But back to the studying.

I’m going to unashamedly hold my hands up here and admit that I’m a nerd – I love to learn. So imagine my surprise when I went from working hard and getting awesome grades in college to working hard and getting low-average grades in university. It was a shocker, for sure.

This wasn’t because the transition was too difficult or because I’d lost smart points over my blissfully long and wonderful gap year, this is because of a simple truth that will be repeated to you time and time again by your lecturers: you have to learn to work differently.

A brilliant thing about first stage (your first year) when you come to university is that it doesn’t count at all in your marks, you just have to pass it. One big important reason for this is that your lecturers want you to adapt your college habits to suit university – now, instead of writing to pass an exam, you’re writing to show that you really understand and can analyse the material and, most importantly, you can think for yourself. Weirdly, A levels don’t encourage this practice too much and instead, they opt for wanting you to say specific things (I remember spending far too much time memorising legislation dates on flashcards and looking at mark schemes), rather than your own ideas. You might already be doing this sort of thing, if that’s the case then great! Keep practising! But for those of you who aren’t – don’t worry. You’ll figure out how to express your thoughts and argue your point wonderfully soon enough and once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever did it differently.


It’s well worth mentioning that there’s loads of support available to you to help with the academic transition into university (the non-academic side is worth a whole other post of its own!). Here are a couple of pointers to give you an idea of the amount of people you can turn to:


  • Your lecturer
    Obvious, I know, but your first port of call if you get stuck about something specific to your module should be the person who’s leading it or who’s heading up your seminars
  • Your peer mentor
    Most first years will have a peer mentor who is a student in their 2nd or 3rd year who has been trained to point you in the right direction for help and to share their own experiences of university
  • Your personal tutor
    You’ll be allocated a personal tutor that you meet up with at least once a semester, you can talk to them about all things university – including how to make the transition from A level to university as smooth as possible
  • Your peers
    There’s a very good chance your degree has its own university society or at very least, a Facebook group for your course and/or year. Talk to other people and see how they’re getting on, quiz the 2nd and 3rd year students over what modules they picked and how they make referencing less boring (everyone has a tactic!)


There’s also university-wide support you can use too such as:


The transition from A Level to university can be really daunting and challenging but there’s loads of support you can access if you need a hand – plus you have all of your first year to figure it out before you really have to knuckle down when your grades start ‘counting’.

So try new things and have fun!

The EU Referendum: You’re Tired of Hearing About it but There’s One Last Thing You Should Know

Recently everywhere I look has been taken over by a very big question – is Britain going to leave the EU?
This is partly because I choose to surround myself with politics, heck I’m a history student, being a politics nerd pretty much comes with the territory. However, the EU Referendum is something special.

Unlike most politics, this has went well beyond the heady realm of the elite bigwigs in government and is now an issue that is crossing the social and political boundaries of generations, class, race, and regions with a fiercely passionate edge.

But despite this, there is still one major problem that I just can’t iron out of the argument no matter what I read or who I listen to.

I respect everyone’s right to their own political views but I’m finding it hard to see any logic in anyone whatsoever voting Leave when I’m yet to find a single solid argument of how it would be a positive decision on a global scale. That’s right, global.

I’ve followed the debate for months looking at both sides and this is still something I can’t get my head around no matter how impartial I try to be or how much research I do.

There is literally nothing to gain by Britain leaving the EU that cannot be answered for by the wealth of benefits Britain reaps from its membership.

Furthermore, if you are not a British citizen/you detach yourself from that status for a minute, just ask yourself – is a breakdown in the European Union, which is a very real possibility if Britain leaves, going to have a positive impact on a global scale?

Is a future of a divided Europe really the legacy you want your vote to have?

And what about the past?
Has political disengagement and isolationism ever really benefitted political relations?

Think about war, think about terrorism, think about technological and medical advancement, space exploration, civil and human rights progress, international relations, education, ethics, religions.

Think about the big stuff and just ask yourself – are we better off exploring and addressing these issues as a united front or should Britain turn away from all of this and cast itself aloof from these problems by disengaging with the very union that was created to solve them?

I urge everyone to deeply consider this before they cast their vote. This referendum isn’t some political protest, a patriotic takeback of ‘England for the English’, some working class revolt or a fingers up to the EU.

Now, you could be right in sitting there scratching your head and wondering why I’m asking you to think about your vote on such a big scale. It seems silly right? Arrogant even, to think that Britain could have such an impact on the enormously broad and complex issues I’ve mentioned above, let alone where you put the all-important cross on that scrap of paper.
But what if it isn’t?

Can you really justify running the risk of taking it any less seriously?

Will the generations after us be proud of our efforts to consider each argument both carefully and seriously or will they look back in amguish at the shambolic media campaigns (both leave and remain) that have taken over our screens in recent months?

As almost every student who takes history in an English comprehensive knows (alongside hopefully many more people!), it took just one spark to set alight the events leading to World War One.
I’m not saying that World War Three is on the brink here but just consider how these brief moments in history can then become the spark that sets the world on fire.

Can anyone confidently say the EU referendum is a light or easy decision with this in mind?

The EU referendum is a pivotal moment in modern history that can either divide us or bring us closer together in the name of progress.

I’m voting remain, that much is obvious.
This post however, isn’t about talking you round to my opinion. It’s to provoke you into thinking further about the impact of your vote and what’s at stake here. If you vote Leave then that is completely acceptable. You are not racist or a bigot or uneducated or any of the other entirely undemocratic slurs that are being bandied about as a result of that decision. You have your reasons and so long as you can rationally justify them on a bigger scale then no one has any right to think negatively of you because of that. That isn’t what democracy is about.

However, you have a responsibility to yourself and to everyone around you both past, present and future. That responsibility is to not take the EU referendum lightly or be swayed by the media’s statistical spin that tries to make you and your interests the heart of this issue.

Please, whatever you box you do decide to make your mark on, strongly consider the bigger picture and the impact your vote will have on the future and indeed, the history books in generations to come.

This decision has to be bigger than us as individuals, families, our small local communities or even our children’s futures.
We all must pause here to think deeply and broadly of the bigger global picture and not of ourselves.

Above all, think.

June 2016 Update – Welcome Back

Hello all! IMG_20160602_151220

Thank you for returning back to my blog after such a long hiatus, it’s good to be back and writing again.
So why such a long break? Well the main reason is the stress and pressures of university and personal problems have caused some health issues for me recently. Alongside other projects I’ve been doing, this has left very little time to maintain my blog so, thanks to a kind notification from WordPress the other week celebrating my blog’s first anniversary, I’m now using The English Teacup as a hobby to help with recovery and as a way to kick my ass back into writing more.

To give this a boost, I’d like to introduce you to my new project, Photos and Words. This project is the simple idea of using photos I’ve taken to accompany flash fiction (something I’m very new to!). This project is in its very early stages and is basically one big experiment so please take a gander and leave me some feedback and thoughts on what you think – suggestions would also be appreciated! You can find out more about it by visiting this page:

You will also notice a few more changes that have appeared on my blog: a more streamlined banner, a couple of new pages and link to a PayPal donation button on my sidebar. Now, this last one I’d like to talk about in a little more detail. It costs me £22 per year to keep my domain name. Though this isn’t a huge expense, it mounts up quite rapidly when added onto my initial start-up cost. On top of this, there’s the time aspect – maintaining my blog involves hours of work and can be very time-consuming. This is the main reason it’s been at a standstill for so long, I simply don’t have the funds to do this in my leisure time at the expense of other (paid) projects. For this reason, I’ve decided to include the option of readers donating via PayPal to help go towards blog maintenance costs. Please don’t think this is going to my own purse – all donations will be kept aside to go towards the blog maintenance costs and to help reimburse the initial start-up costs. For this reason, if you enjoy reading my work and would like to see more of my content in the future, please consider donating if you are able to. Even donations the price of a coffee or a tabloid newspaper can go a long way in contributing to a much larger project. If you want any more information about this, please get in touch via my contact form page or by email (

Thanks again for coming back to my dear little blog, I hope you enjoy having a browse around my latest posts.

– The English Teacup