Because you're nearly there, that's why. Words of advice by Joanna Harvey

Nearly there, but not quite yet! Just a little bit more of your hard work will see you out of school forever.

Having spent much of your life so far in a classroom, you probably can't wait to leave. But you're now embarking on one of the most important years of your academic life: you have got to make sure that you work hard to achieve the grades that you deserve. Ending school on a high note, with good grades, makes it much easier to do what you want in the future.

Dave Barros, 19, is studying a degree in journalism. He didn't do too well in his A-levels, which made it a struggle for him to get into university. "If you don't work hard now," says Dave, "you could end up doing a boring job that you don't enjoy."

Whether you intend to work, study or go off around the world, you need to pass your exams to get the best out of your life. Of course, it's important that you take time to chill out with your friends too. Put as much effort into your studies that you do into planning your free time and you can have the best of both worlds!

Revision can be tough, says Jennifer Johnson, 26, who is also studying a degree in journalism. She advises that you put in the graft. "The positive part comes later, when you get your exam results."

Another concern may be your parents. Putting the time in to your revision will prove to them that you have a responsible attitude. It should help minimise the hassle you get from them, and comfort them that you are mature and independent enough to manage your own schedule. Most parents only get on your back because they want you to do well, so showing them that you don't need supervision will encourage them to give you more freedom.

This year is an exciting time, full of important questions and decisions. What do you want to do when you finish your exams? Would you like to go into higher education? If so, what do you want to study and where? If getting a job sounds like your thing, then what job do you want? And what qualifications will you need? Because no matter what you want to do, you will need to be qualified to do it.

Emma Mendonca, 21, works as a nursery assistant and achieved a Level 3 in a Cache course diploma. She is happy working in the job she wanted, but regrets not trying harder in her coursework. "I could have done a lot better," she admits. "Do well and study hard now. You can enjoy yourself after the exams!"

Take time to look through college and university prospectuses. These will give you lots of information on HE courses and an idea of the exam results you should be looking to achieve. Gather information on open days too, so you can visit the institutions you are interested in and what they have to offer.

Another option to consider is a gap year. A little time out can help you decide what you want to study and where. It can also rejuvenate your enthusiasm for a subject, or spark new interests. You could work abroad or go travelling, even look for a placement nearer to home. The Year Out Group website at www.yearoutgroup.org will direct you to lots of respected programmes and projects. Another good port of call is www.universityoptions.co.uk. If you're still undecided about your future, you can apply to HE or find a job after your gap year, delaying the decision. Alternatively, you may be able to apply this year and defer your uni or college start date - but check with the institutions that you're applying to first.

For good advice about your personal situation, speak to your school or college careers advisor. "Look for your next step and put together your CV. Universities and colleges look for a student's desire and interest in their chosen course," says Sonia Vij, deputy head of careers and employment service at Thames Valley University. "This should be demonstrated in your UCAS application."

With new ideas to juggle and big decisions to make, give yourself time to think and take advice. The sooner you start considering your options, the more measured your decisions will be. This year is about discovering where you want to go next, which means considering what you enjoy most. Reflect on where and how you can have the most fun - this year, next year and in your long-term career.

Make a structured revision plan

Different revision methods work for different people, but some advice is universal: work in a quiet place with good lighting and draw up a realistic revision plan. Beyond that, there are various techniques you can use. Jennifer Johnson, 26, rewrites information in her own words. "You understand it better when it comes from you," she says. While Jessica Gillespie, 20, recommends that you take regular breaks.

Finding good revision methods can help you later on in life too. They can help you gain an ability to focus, meet deadlines and come to an end result. They can also help you gain confidence and develop your time management skills - which are all must-have skills in the real world!

However, the million-dollar question is: when do I start revising? Get into the habit of summarising your work as you learn, creating summary sheets to help you as you get closer to the exams. Then start going over these notes and planning a more structured revision plan about three months before your exams.

Seven top tips to put you on the right path

1. Try to fit your notes onto one side of paper or on flash cards, as it is easier to take in

2. Highlight need-to-know facts

3. Record important information on a tape, mini disc or mp3 player and listen to it before you go to sleep. This is a method that some actors use to remember their lines

4. Test yourself: see what you can remember without looking at your notes

5. Time yourself at home while doing a past exam paper

6. Think positive! Once you start revising, the exams will look much easier

7. Don't overdo it! Take regular breaks from revision - then get back to it. Good luck!

Which Course magazine is now available online at whichcourse.epagesmarketing.com. Contact Joshua Gilbert - tel: 020 7005 2283; fax: 020 7005 2292.

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