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10th March 2022
Starting Medical School can feel overwhelming, but some of your experiences and skills gained at A-Level will help you with the transition. Here’s some insight from Kirsty, a St Andrews student, into the important things she learned while studying for A-Levels which have helped her out at Med School.

Core scientific principles

During my A-Levels, particularly in Chemistry and Biology, I was introduced to many concepts which I am now continuing to build on each day at Medical School. It was useful to have a firm grasp of these principal themes which underpin so much medical science.

For example, an understanding of substrate and enzyme interaction, which I gained during A-Level Biology, has been important in studying metabolism. Exploring weak acids and bases, and their dissociation in various environments, during A-Level Chemistry gave me an excellent foundation in pharmacology.

Independent work

Much of our learning at Medical School is independent. It’s really up to you how you wish to take your lecture notes and prepare for upcoming examinations. This may feel overwhelming at first, but I think that work becoming more independent at A-Level made the transition slightly more manageable.

During my A-Levels, I typed my notes up, prepared flashcards and found past paper questions when exams began to approach. This way of tackling my studies helped to prepare me for Med School, where independent study is expected and necessary to keep up.

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Juggling different subjects

You might think that now you’re at Med School, you only have one subject to concentrate on – but this is far from the truth, because there are lots of different aspects of Medicine to study.

Initially I found it difficult to juggle physiology and anatomy in addition to other disciplines such as histology, pathology, pharmacology, etc for different systems. However, my experience of studying and staying on top of varied A-Level subjects certainly helped to prepare me for organising and balancing my range of studies at Med School.

Control and choice

I found A-Levels to be an exciting period, where for the first time at school I had a real say in which subjects I wanted to study – and I could really begin to focus my efforts towards applying for Med School. It felt empowering to be in control of my future.

It also prepared me for university in terms of having a more decisive mindset and learning to embrace what really interests me. This has been important when deciding which university societies to join, which talks to attend, and which topics to consider for student-selected modules and dissertation in my third year. For example, I have become involved in a peer-assisted learning scheme. The delivery of medical education is an area that I’m very interested in, and I have been fascinated by health psychology during my lectures, so this is perhaps an area to consider for my dissertation next year.

Practical work

During A-Level Chemistry and Biology, we were lucky to have had practical classes. With this prior experience of using the light microscope, glass pipettes, agar plates and real animal tissue, I felt more competent and confident with practical work in labs when I started Med School.

During such a big transition, it was comforting to have a little bit of background knowledge in these more hands-on elements, and it felt like I was developing my skills rather than starting completely from square one!

Non-scientific studies

Whilst A-Levels in Chemistry, Biology and Maths gave me a good scientific foundation for Med School, I also studied French and an EPQ. I developed a huge passion for French, and this non-scientific A-Level really opened my eyes to the wider world. Studying another language is a powerful thing – not only does it boost your communication skills, it also prompts you to consider things from other perspectives! Other arts or humanities subjects can have a similar impact. When I move on to a partner Medical School after St Andrews, I have a provisional offer to study Medicine with European Studies.

Completing an EPQ was also a good opportunity to practise extended writing and referencing. I considered medical ethics in my EPQ, quickly realised that this was a very interesting topic, and I was grateful to have some knowledge of it while applying for and starting Med School.

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