Back on course via the crammer

UNIVERSITY & COLLEGE COURSES If all else fails, a college may save your A-levels. Marie Woolf reports

Alexandra Coxen, 18, went to a leading girls' boarding-school. Last year, she took three A-levels, in French, maths and history of art. She failed maths, but retook it in January after three months at Davies Laing and Dick, a London crammer. The course cost pounds 1,500. She describes her experience.

I was exceedingly disappointed with my result. I had got a U in maths, but I needed an A to go to Oxford. I didn't want to be defeated by maths, so I decided to retake.

I made a bet with my Dad that I would get an A. He said it was impossible. Everyone thought I was mad to try to go from a U to an A. But I was determined to prove them wrong. Instead of going straight on my gap year, I spent three months studying for a January retake at Davies Laing and Dick.

I had friends who had gone there and who had got good results. It was also about five minutes' walk from my home, which was useful.

There were seven students in my class, a real mix of people. I had been to an independent girls' boarding-school, but here there were people from all sorts of backgrounds. Socially it was nice.

The ability level was more or less equal. Some were slightly better and some were slightly worse. There was one boy who was incredibly bright, but he was taking his exam early.

It was not at all like school. It was more like a tutorial, one to one. At school, the classes were larger, and they tended to teach to the highest level. Some students were exceedingly bright, and people could get left behind. At the college, you got more personal attention.

At school, I just panicked when it came to maths. I had absolutely no confidence. Every time I did a maths equation, I would question what I had done. Every time I went into an exam, I totally panicked. I felt I didn't know the basics properly.

At Davies Laing and Dick, my teacher basically built up my self-confidence. Gaining confidence about my ability was quite a slow process to start with.

My teacher was encouraging. If I got something right she would say: "Yes, that's right, keep going, keep going. That's good." They didn't encourage as much at school.

Davies Laing and Dick was completely geared up to getting good results. They made you do hundreds of practice exams to improve your technique and to help you understand the way A-level questions are phrased. They stopped if you didn't understand something and explained it. There were certain things I was weak on that I had to work at.

Because you were doing a two-year course in three months, the work was very condensed. There were two hours a day of teaching, four days a week. I was far more motivated to work than at school, because I had a definite goal.

Before the exam, I was a bag of nerves. Everyone was nervous. But I felt well-prepared. The teacher had familiarised me with how the exam would look, so I knew roughly what kind of questions would appear in each section.

It was not like the first time, when I thought, "Oh my God, what am I going to do?"

After the exam, we all went out and celebrated. Everyone in my class did well and got the results they expected.

In the end I was three points from an A grade, so I lost the bet with my Dad.

But I was delighted with my B. I'm going to Bristol in October to do anthropology and archaeology. I'm really excited.

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