13th March 2016

Are you revising the stuff you already know?

Recently, psychologists have conducted a study in which they watched small children playing with jigsaws. The findings show us something really interesting: by the age of 4, a large proportion of little kids would rather do a jigsaw they’ve done before – and be able to do it successfully – than try a jigsaw they don’t know, and risk not being able to do it.

Why is this? Surely, you’d have thought, they’d be bored repeating a task and would want to try something new. But it’s not the case – instead, they choose to avoid potential failure. Even by the age of 4, we’re avoiding struggle and staying within our comfort zones.

This goes a long way to explaining underperformance at GCSE and again at A Level. Ordinary human beings don’t like being put in a position where they have to struggle with something. Just the word ‘struggle’ has very negative connotations and implications in our language. We say someone is ‘struggling’ if things aren’t going well – it’s almost a replacement word for ‘failing’.

But studies show that learning speeds actually accelerate when we struggle. The harder we find something, the harder we have to work – and the more effort we put in, the quicker we build understanding. It might not feel it when you’re right in the middle of a tough assignment or a difficult piece of homework, but the struggle you’re experiencing is accelerating your learning. And the student who seemed to find the test or the homework easy? Well, either they didn’t – and they don’t want to admit it; or they struggled earlier in their education and built a stronger understanding – an understanding which allowed them to succeed in this case.

In order to be really successful at anything, you need – at some point in your life – to struggle with it. Think of your A levels as those difficult jigsaws we mentioned at the start: don’t go back to the puzzles you know you can already solve. Seek out something that will make you struggle.

It’s not easy, but it will be worth it!

At Up Learn, we continuously evaluate your ability to handle a particular A level topic. If you’re finding it easy, we move on to something harder. We repeat this until you’re achieving at the A* level across everything you need to know. Find out more at Up Learn.

This post was a guest blog post written by Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin authors of The A Level Mindset.