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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

Sixth form essentials

Sixth form is a big step in a teenager’s development, bridging the transition from child to adult, as your teen works toward qualifications which will affect what they do in the future. Schools and colleges actively encourage independent study to help prepare students for further education or the workplace, where they will be expected to take a more proactive approach to finding out information for themselves, instead of relying on being told what to do.

Effective study and revision also includes developing and growing essential life skills, such as good time management; the ability to deal with situations when things go wrong; and finding the right balance between work and play. So sixth form is not only about getting qualifications, it's about developing personal qualities that will serve them well in the years ahead, whatever path they choose after year 13.

Help them get off on the right foot by making sure they have all the practical items essential to effective sixth form study, so they can focus on ways of working instead of whether or not they have the tools necessary to do well.

Laptop or tablet?

Make sure their laptop's appropriate for sixth form study. It doesn't need to be brand new, but it needs to be lightweight enough for them to carry around, fast enough so they're not constantly left "hanging", have enough memory for them to work on large files (even if they're storing them in the cloud) and with a decent screen size that won't cause eye-strain. Very important, and too often overlooked, they'll need a laptop stand - so they're looking at the screen at eye level and not hunching over it. They can get a permanent stand for use at home and a portable one to carry at school.

Alternatively, they might prefer a tablet. These are lighter and easier to carry around, just as functional when linked to a wireless keyboard for typing, but the smaller screen size can be a disadvantage if they're studying subjects which require a lot of time online (rather than practical studies, when their time online is reduced).

Having both is a luxury rather than a necessity, though it could be useful if cost isn't an issue.

Text books

Has your teen found out what text books they need for the year ahead? In many cases, the school will provide copies and often these will be online. However, if not, or if your teen prefers a hardcopy rather than an online version, they can buy their own either new or second hand. Make sure they've got the right edition - get both the title and ISBN number from the course teacher to avoid mistakes.

It's sometimes easier to understand and learn new subjects by getting the same information in different ways. So your teen might also find the corresponding CGP books for their subjects helpful. These are designed to help students by covering the key subject information (usually written with a touch of humour to add interest) along with revision guides, exam practise workbooks and quick tests - take a look here.


They may be tackling less subjects, but they'll be going into much more depth, so they'll have a lot of information to keep track of - both online and in hardcopy. Make sure they start with a large A4 lever arch file for each of their subjects so they can store their notes and handouts together in one place. This will help them keep track of what they're doing on each subject, as well as making it much easier to find what they need when it comes to revision later on. Over time, they're likely to need more than one file per subject. Organization is key to feeling in control, so they could opt for different colour files for each subject - that way they can spot at a distance which files relates to which subject. If not, each file should be clearly labelled. Within each file they'll need plenty of dividers to separate out work into different categories - preferably aligned with their syllabus, so they can tick off what's been covered and what they have yet to do. The idea would be for these files to be stored at home (they'd be heavy to carry around), which means they'll also need a smaller folder to carry with them for their day to day work - let's call it a day file.

A day file wouldn't be as large as a lever arch, but it would be large enough to carry around what they're currently working on and still A4 size. This time they'll need dividers to separate out each subject. It's even better if there's a slip folder tucked in the back for them to store papers until they've been able to punch holes. Once they finish each section of work, they'll move it into the appropriate lever arch file for long-term reference. This keeps the file lighter and means they're only carrying what they need.

At the same time they're going to need an online filing system to keep track of work they're doing that isn't in hardcopy. It's a really good idea if they create folders and files to mirror the same system they're using in hardcopy. This helps maintain the link between physical and virtual work, as well as keeping them focused on what area of the syllabus they're addressing and understanding how their virtual and hardcopy work fits together.


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There's a variety of online planners and calendar that they can use - or may already be using. That's great, and we'd encourage this, so long as they're not spending all their time organizing their time instead of studying! That said, a physical planner/organizer/diary, where they can mark in exam dates, when important assignments or homework deadlines are due will help them keep focus on what's they should be doing and when they should be doing it. It can also help you avoid arranging big family events or holidays when they have important deadlines to meet.

List apps

We're not big fans of large to-do lists - they can become unmanageable and risk students feeling down if they never manage to tick off everything on the list. That said, they still need to keep track of what needs to be done so they can prioritize their time. We do recommend smaller to do lists - separated out by day, week, month and term so they can get a clear picture of short and longer term goals. This will also help them make adjustments if they feel they don't have enough time to do everything. They'll be able to look at their lists and determine what they keep pushing aside and evaluate why that is, then make changes to address any challenges before they become big issues. Hardcopy versions are fine, but generally students seem to work better with lists online - using notes pages on their phones will mean their lists re always on hand!

Study timers

Talking of phones, these can be a real issue when it comes to providing a distraction from studying. It's far too easy to decide to set a time on the phone, then get waylaid checking social media, messages and notifications. Buy them a study timer so they can put phones away during study/homework time. There's a wide range available, and it can make allocating time to study more fun. There are simple cubes that you turn over to set shorter or longer study bursts - say 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes or more sophisticated versions that also give a countdown. Smaller chunks of focused study time are far more effective than long stretches of time and they can also give a sense of achievement, encouraging more short bursts of effort.

Ear buds

For many students, some background noise can help concentration, regardless of whether they're in a noisy environment or a silent one. If that's the case for your teen, they'll need some quality earbuds so they can tune into playlists while they're working. We'd recommend they make themselves a variety of playlists so they don't waste time selecting an appropriate range of tunes when they should be studying! Some good examples might be: quiet, instrumental music to study by; upbeat, happy tunes to lift their mood at the start of the day or if they're feeling down, some soothing, calming music to listen to ahead of bedtime.

More ways you can help:

The Parents’ Guide to Homelife & study shows how to support your teen in making study and revision time as productive as possible. We’ve included plenty of tips on creating a homelife that encourages success and helps them flourish, as well as guiding them towards healthy habits that will be just as useful once their adults. We’ve mostly focused on long-term support, but there are also some pointers on how you can help just ahead of examinations when the pressure is especially intense. Get your copy now:


We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy, Vanessa and Darius -


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