How Katrina beat the A-levels blues

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The Independent Online
By spring, sixth-form student Katrina Kennedy had written off her bete noire subject, sociology, and given up hope of being accepted by her first-choice university. Then her parents talked her into giving the subject one last shot and attending an intensive tuition course over Easter. Elaine Williams talks to a student whose hard work in the weeks before her exams turned despair into success.

Katrina Kennedy was convinced she wasn't going to make the grade. Sociology had turned out to be a disaster, and although she was on course for respectable A-level grades in both English and psychology, she had given up hope of gaining the two Cs and a B required by Manchester Metropolitan University.

A personality clash with her sociology teacher and a viral illness that forced her to take a year out from study after only six months in sixth form had led her to write off the subject. Katrina had her heart set on a degree in international business studies at Manchester Metropolitan, and a career in marketing, but by the spring she was already planning her retakes.

Although her family are based in Leeds, she was living independently and studying for A-levels at Loughborough College, which suited her well - apart from sociology.

She says: "I didn't get on with the teacher and didn't turn up for lessons. I just wasn't getting anywhere with it. I got a `U' in my mock exams."

It was during the spring term that Katrina's parents saw an advert for Easter revision courses at Harrogate Tutorial College and cajoled her to enroll for one in sociology.

She says: "There was no way I was going to go on a revision course just a few months before the exam, and show other students that I didn't know anything.

"I can honestly say that I knew nothing about the subject. But my parents persuaded me that I had nothing to lose."

When she turned up for the course she attended sessions with only one other girl, a sixth-form student at the tutorial college: "And she knew a lot more than I did," Katrina says.

Katrina was afraid that Barry Robson, the revision tutor and a full- time member of the tutorial college's staff, would feel she was wasting his time.

She says: "I thought he would be hostile, patronising. He was shocked that I didn't know anything. But he was also sympathetic. "He just said: `Well don't worry. If you work hard it's not too late to get a C or a B.'

"That gave me confidence. We worked from 9am to 4.30pm and he set homework every day. I lived at home and travelled in.

"He took me through the basics, the main theories and the main points and we went through past papers.

"My files were totally disorganised, bits of paper that didn't mean anything to me everywhere. So he sorted the files into sections, he suggested reading that I should do and gave me the name of a book for revision that was really useful.

"He taught us how to construct a sociology essay - I had never written one before. He taught us how to revise and how to take notes. A lot of teachers just assume you know how to do these things.

"It was very intensive and very tiring, but he gave me the confidence to work hard between Easter and the exams. In the end I got a B in sociology and I also got a B and a C in the other two subjects, so I made it to Manchester."

Now into her second university term, Katrina, aged 19, believes she owes her success to her revision teacher and has written to thank him. She says: "The skills he taught me have even helped me with my studies here. If you are struggling and you know you are struggling then it is definitely worth it."

Harrogate Tutorial College was one of the first to offer Easter revision courses 16 years ago and prides itself on using mainly its own staff members.

The college charges pounds 270 for 24 hours of tuition spread over four days. If only one person enrolls for a subject, he or she will get 12 hours of tuition for the same price. Accommodation with host families is pounds 63 for the course.

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