Unfortunately, these days, exam results count for a lot. You need A-Levels for university, and at least GCSE’s to get a good job. So, when home schooling with the intention of taking exams, it is necessary to take a structured approach, but one that does not abolish the benefits of home education and the reasons you decided to home educate in the first place.
Distance Course or Do It Yourself?
You have two choices when deciding on how to study for A-Level.
- Pay for a long-distance course. This means working at home or online. You get given the course material and you are assigned a personal tutor. You send off your assignments (usually weekly) to be marked by your tutor.
- Do it yourself. Get hold of the exam board’s specification for your chosen A-Levels, which will tell you how the exam is structured, what you need to know, and the assessment objectives ( how you will be assessed.) You’ll also need to have a look at the recommended reading on your exam board’s website, and you’ll need your exam board’s text book for your subject (if there is one), which will be invaluable for exercises and practice. Obviously this approach will require more effort on your part, but it leaves room for more flexibility and allows you to decide what you think is essential in order to learn to your full potential and pass the exam. You may be able to find resources online, as well as extra books that could help you. If you are worried that is not enough, you could pay for a tutor to come to your house a couple of times a week to go over things with you and make sure you are on the right track.
I home-schooled using a distance course called Oxford Home Schooling, which offers great tutors. The weekly assignments really helped me with my essay writing skills. However, I found that when it came to revision, all I needed were the AQA textbooks, and so if I were to do it again, I would definitely consider the “do it yourself” approach.
Finding a Balance
I don’t like to think of home-education as “school at home.” I personally do not see the point of mimicking the mainstream education system by using a rigid timetable and working 7 hours a day. When home-schooling alone or with siblings, the “class” is so much smaller. Therefore, there is no need to wait for each other before moving on to the next topic. The typical mainstream school day is so long because there are so many children to cater for, and many children find themselves doing pointless “busy work” while they wait for their peers to catch up.
When I home-schooled, I did three hours in the morning, which was an hour on each subject. After that, I was done, and the day was mine. This is what home-schooling is all about. You can spend your afternoon learning about other things that interest you, doing sports or hobbies and going places.This time off is just as important as your academic learning. It’s important to involve yourselves in other activities, and gain skills from everyday life.
As exams became nearer, I began to work in the afternoons too, but your revision plan is entirely up to you.
Finding an Exam Centre
Whether you choose to take a distance course or create your own curriculum, finding an exam centre is your responsibility. I would recommend booking your exams early, the March before your summer exams at the latest. An exam centre is a school that lets private candidates (that’s you) take exams alongside their students. Your exam board will have a list of exam centres on their website, like this one for AQA.
If you are using a distance course, your tutor will explain which forms you need to fill in to be able to submit your coursework for marking to the exam board.
However, if you are not, things get a bit tricky. Before submitting your coursework and filling in this form (for the AQA curriculum only) you need somebody to authenticate it (confirm that it is your own work.) Usually, this would be your teacher or your tutor. Because relatives are not allowed to authenticate your work, you would need somebody who has supervised enough of your coursework to do this. This is where that occasional tutor I mentioned above could come in useful. Exam boards have a lot of useful information for private candidates, so if you are unsure about who could authenticate your form, it would be a good idea to give them a call. They will also be able to tell you when the deadline for your coursework would be.
If you want to apply for university, you will need somebody to predict your grades and write you a reference for your UCAS application. I home-schooled for the second half of my A-Levels, but did the first half at school. I contacted my old headmistress and asked her to write me a reference. After showing her my work, we predicted my grades together. If this is not an option for you, you need to contact your chosen universities and ask them what they would prefer. Some will not accommodate for the fact that you have home-schooled. Others may give you an answer based on your previous work and an interview.
Taking a Year Out
Between leaving school after AS levels and starting my correspondence course for A2, I took a year out. It wasn’t planned, and only happened because I missed the deadline for my distance course and was clueless about how to go about studying for A-Levels by myself. It turned out to be a huge advantage for me. I didn’t do anything spectacular, like go travelling or earn lots of money. I stayed at home, read many, many books, and scratched the surface of subjects that interested me. That year, and the one I spent homeschooling, fed my interest in education methods and the human learning process. I read so much information and discovered names such as John Holt, Maria Montessori, Jean Liedloff and Reggio Emilia.
Many people call it “de-schooling”- getting out of the monotone routine of school and re-discovering your curiosity. I found a love for learning I never knew I had. I honestly think that without that year, I would not be writing this blog. I wouldn’t appreciate learning for what it truly is- a natural process instead of something you have to cram into your head to get a certain grade. Now, when I study with the aim of getting a good exam result, I do it knowing that it is my responsibility to make sure that the grade is not the only thing I get out of it. I make sure I am learning things that will stay with me after the exam.
Another invaluable element was that I grew closer to my mother. I began to see her as a person and not just “Mum”. It meant so much to me that she trusted and respected my decision to home-school, and made me want to prove to her that I was capable of being in charge of my own education. I also have a very strong bond with my 5 year old sister, and I don’t think I would have this if I had not been constantly with her through those first crucial years of her life.
Studying from home taught me to manage my time effectively, work to a deadline and to give some thought to what I wanted to learn, and to how I wanted to learn it.
Taking exams does mean adding some structure to your home-learning, but it does not mean that you must go back to school or imitate a school environment. The benefits of home-education and self-directed learning are limitless, and exams do not have to stop you from making the most of them.
Good luck if you are home-schooling this year!