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Messed up A-levels very badly, what to do now?

  1. May 21, 2012 #1

    So, I want to go into something science/technology related but I'm not sure whether it's viable for me with my a-levels. I do physics, maths (mechanics) and history, and I will probably have quite bad A-level results in August. Not only have I retaken the year (frowned upon), I've retaken exams several times (up to five times for some) which I've heard shows up next to grades, my history a-level in particular is not looking very good (C, F, possibly D-E for coursework, and one exam I have yet to take that I will hopefully try to get a B-A in), and I have no extra AS level to speak of since I dropped out of it, which means my possible UMS is even lower and I can't apply to certain universities that require 3 a-levels and an AS. Since I've already retaken the year I can't pick up an AS and retake some exams again without paying a significant amount of money (and even then is an A worth it when it shows up that you've retaken the exam 6 times?...)

    Since I didn't apply to university this year I have a gap year of nothing, which I should probably be filling with work experience?

    I've been told to look into doing a foundation year, but I'm not sure whether a) my UMS will even be good enough for foundation year b) whether completing a foundation year means guaranteed entrance into the main degree

    I haven't wasted my time trying to calculate UMS, but for now, if I do well enough in the remaining exams, I can get a B-A in physics and possibly an A* in maths if I get over 90 in the A2 exams, but a D/E/F (assuming I get an A in the last exam) in history, and with no required AS level...

    By the way, the reason why I have problems studying and with 'motivation' is that I have what is unofficially known as maladaptive daydreaming disorder (not an official disorder, but it has been studied) which essentially causes me to drift away from reality and run/pace/stand still (usually triggered by music) most of the time, and there have been many lost weekends and Christmas breaks where I do nothing but think and compulsively run/pace for hours. I can't concentrate for long periods of time, and I'm late to every lesson. Although now I've joined a support group, and I'm using techniques to get back my attention span (steadily increasing periods of timed work, followed by very small breaks), and I've seen improvement in my revision (I actually finished a physics paper with time to spare! Admittedly it was only a unit 1 paper)

    Any advice is greatly appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2012 #2
    This will be a very large problem for you at university.

    Honestly, go work for a few years (I say this because it is what I did). You will condition yourself to a routine, which is the most useful part of learning to study at uni.

    You need to sort your attention span problem out because, although universities are typically very accommodating for students with special needs, they are not sympathetic to students who don't show up and don't do the work.
  4. May 22, 2012 #3
    I agree, I need to sort it out before uni, I'm already slowly improving it. I think there may be no quick fix, I've heard from others with MD that when they took drugs for OCD (fluvoxamine) they stopped drifting and pacing, but others have reported no improvements plus I wouldn't be able to get a prescription for it anyway.

    Ah, but I don't think there are many job prospects for me, of any kind or skill level, in this climate, with mediocre qualifications and with no connections. Except maybe becoming a freelance concept artist? That's very uncertain territory, and not much good at building a routine since you work from home at any time
  5. May 22, 2012 #4
    I have a similar issue. I spend extended periods of time thinking and after a few minutes, I find myself walking around the house or pacing in my room.

    How did I fix this? I didn't. Did I find a way to work around it? Yes.

    Now, what is key here is whether you really are interested in doing something in math/science. If you like what you do, you'll come back to it eventually. In order to get things done, I had to bring more structure to my work.

    For example, when studying maths, I'll say that in one hour, I can study vectors (equations of lines/planes, etc) and I go ahead and do just that. A few things caught my attention and caused me to drift but I reminded myself of the main aim, which is to learn the chapter and be able to do some problems. So, I sat back down and continued to study.

    It also helpful to work in small chunks. Even if they're fifteen minute or thirty minute chunks, it doesn't matter. You should also try to not spend too much time *away or on breaks* when you're studying. I'm not a fan of anything self-help, seeing as it's usually a load of sugar coated rubbish but this has some useful bits. I found a lot of it to be useless and it's really the last part that I think is relevant here. ("My Schedule")

    Note that this is just *one* way and it may or not work for you. Nevertheless, you should give it a shot. The key is to not give in to any urge that will waste your time. Start your day with your studies and then after you've done an amount of work you're satisfied with, you can relax. I'm still trying to make my own schedule but in the meantime, I can still get some work done! Remember that "more time" or "more effort" does not usually mean "more gain". Eventually, you'll hit a point of diminishing returns and it's at that point that you should stop. i.e, that point where you find yourself pacing. Just stop working and then resume after a while.

    If you don't want to take a gap year, look into Germany and France. In Germany, there's a physics B.Sc at Universitat Leipzig - I know someone there who has an offer for Part III Maths at Cambridge, if that's any indicator of the rigor of the curriculum there - and an engineering B.Sc (general for 1st year) at TU Harburg. Both are taught in English. Entry requirements aren't usually very high because these courses are considered "hard" and they don't attract many applicants. (in general) Nevertheless, staying *in* the course will be hard. That is not to say that they're ruthless. If I'm not mistaken, at Leipzig, one can extend their stay by some semesters and take less courses per semester if they can't handle the usual course load. I also believe they have a "bridge program" for mathematics before the degree starts!

    France has the 5-year grandes ecoles. If you know French, there's the classes preparatoires and a few engineering "ecoles" that you can get into straight out of A-Levels. Look into those. There's also the INSA and their SCiences et ANglais program. That's taught partly in English and is aimed at students who speak English. Entry requirements are AAA (I e-mailed a prof there about a year ago) but from what I gather, it's not "set in stone" and it won't hurt to apply in case you're interested.

    Let me know if this helps or if there's anything else you'd like to talk about. Anything for a fellow day dreamer/pacer. (okay, maybe not *anything*)
  6. May 22, 2012 #5
    There are. You can tend bar if you can talk to people and it helps if you're a girl. You can wait tables. You can carry heavy stuff from place X to Y. You can also volunteer in a hospital or school. You get the idea...
  7. May 22, 2012 #6
    Thanks for the schedule suggestions, I'll definitely try that method out. I used to read Cal Newport's blog a long time ago, but I never get round to implementing his advice

    Hmm, those are interesting options, although I think I'd do much better if I spent my year studying physics/whatever field I decide upon and working on my severe procrastination problem so that I'll be more prepared for uni.

    Or instead of self preparation there are foundation or year 0 degrees with very low entry requirements compared to the main degree here in the UK, but I'd only consider that if it meant guaranteed entrance into the main degree, which I'm not sure of. Mech. engineering at Manchester uni lets all foundation year students on to the main one, but I'm not sure if that's the case with other universities or degrees

    I doubt that they'd be *that* flexible, (BBF or whatever similar combination I end up with...) plus I have no AS and retook the year, which certain universities don't accept, and the rest don't like without sufficient explanation like illness or bereavement. So I doubt that I'd make it through the first round but you're right, it wouldn't hurt to apply, especially if I do well in the remaining exams

    Ah, Sure, there are but from what I've heard/seen from others, even those kinds of jobs are hard to get or even find, especially in London where there's a ridiculous amount of competition. Add to that no experience or people skills and I doubt that I have many prospects, I guess my only advantage is that I'm a girl. But it wouldn't hurt to try so I'll send out as many applications as I can. Volunteering might work, not in hospitals though, those are notoriously hard to get placements in.

    So I think the plan now is to go on jobseeker's allowance, apply for jobs/placements, do some self-studying in preparation for uni and apply to either a foundation degree or main bachelors degree either in the UK or the rest of Europe (Europe seems more appealing only because tuition fees will be lower). Thanks again for the advice, fellow dreamer
  8. May 23, 2012 #7
    I find it interesting that you're a girl. The girls who've been in my class who *can* (or those who seem capable enough) were usually much, much better with managing their time and following instructions than guys. The few "dreamers" I met, tended to be the types who were able to get their work done somehow!

    Yeah, tuition fees in the rest of Europe won't be 9k! It's free in Leipzig. I hear Berlin is a nice city to live in and neither are as expensive as Munich. As I said, not many persons apply for math/physics at German universities, which means that admission is "open". Ergo, there are usually no grade cutoffs and as long as you've got the minimum grades required to go to uni in your country (i.e, EE at A-Level + whatever amount of GCSEs with at least C grade), you have a good chance of getting in. At least, that's how I remember it. One has to use a feature like UCAS, called uni-assist to apply.

    Here, check this out. I remember there being more such degrees but I guess the numbers must've drastically lowered due to the deadline approaching. (July 15th, I think) There's also bachelorsportal.eu
  9. May 23, 2012 #8
    I will certainly check those out, thanks. Hah, good for them, I have never been able get any work done until the day before an exam (like today) all through school, and I can never seem to come on time to lessons despite threats of expulsion, I *always* get sidetracked. I was allowed to retake the year on the condition of having a team of two teaching assistants follow me about everywhere, tracking my hw/cw and lesson attendance, sitting next to me in class getting me to work again if I drift off, and it obviously didn't work. But I've always managed to keep a little confidence in my abilities intact when every now and then, I actually get to study the concepts before a small test and I do well, or I solve a question most of the others in class couldn't. This happens very rarely though.
    Last edited: May 23, 2012
  10. Aug 13, 2012 #9
    Hi, I'm glad to be able to reply to you. I'm 41 and was very much like you. I daydreamed through my life, flunked A levels and University because of this. I daydreamed away most of my life until I was 35. I can now concentrate. I think it is a version of depression. At any rate, it is not something that most people can understand and it took hours of my daily life. My life in my head was much more real than my real life. My advice to you is - don't go to university until you have sorted it out. When I went to Sussex, I had only two tutorials a week - 4 contact hours - and the rest was mine to "self-study". You can imagine what happened. Plus, I didn't have the opportunity to make many friends and was incredibly lonely. It didn't get better. I had to sort out my depression before I could make any progress in my life. Going to therapy helped - as I could talk about all the stuff I had hidden. Working through a book called "The Artist's Way" really helped solve the problem of daydreaming - I would recommend that. Also, read "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. I pretended for many years that I could "make myself work" but it wasn't true - I'd drift off after a couple of sentences when reading a book and the afternoon was lost. This caused a lot of pain in uni as I failed all my courses and I was very ambitious and bright. I didn't know how to control it. Anyway, my advice to you is: get a job, any job, because the routine does help and having to concentrate on tasks does help. It also helps to be with people as they keep you connected to the present. Also, think about what you're daydreaming about. In my case, I created an alternative reality for myself because I didn't like myself or my life. I would do "The Artist's Way" because it has a lot of practical tasks for you to "bring the inside out", ie. live your dreams instead of daydreaming, and the daily journal writing helps your concentration span by freeing your mind. So, my advice is, get a job, read those books and maybe see a therapist if you have things to talk about. I wouldn't study until you are sure you can - based on my experience. It is a serious disorder and does not go away without treatment. It is as serious and life-threatening as any addiction. Even if you become a waitress, that is still OK - it can be a fun job, you can meet people and live independently - and that sense of success will help with your daydreaming. You need a routine. Independent study requires commitment and I don't think you can do that yet. I certainly couldn't. I tried but I couldn't. Daydreaming is often a consequence of misdirected creativity or energy - so when you learn to let yourself "play" in life and sort out your problems, then you will be able to concentrate on your work. Read those books and let them help you. With regard to A levels, the system has changed since my day, but I would say that you're better off not to study at the moment. I would try to sort yourself out for a few years and when you're better, do the A levels again from scratch and apply to unis. And that is only when you can feel comfortable knowing that you can concentrate for a 3/4 hour stretch daily. It is a serious problem and needs to be addressed. I love studying but I had to leave it for years because I knew I had a problem. I wish you all the best. I know it is no reflection on your potential.

    Ash Cloud.
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