FAQs on Academics


Here are a bunch of questions that I commonly receive split by topic,

  1. Anki
  2. GCSE's
  3. A-levels
  4. Universities


What were your Anki settings?

I left everything on default settings and only changed the maximum review interval to 60 days. That's because A-levels are over 2 years, and reviewing at most every say every 6 months doesn't make sense to me.

How do I change my maximum review interval?

On the desktop version, click on the cogs icon of any of your decks and press Options. Scroll down to Advanced and set the Maximum interval to whichever number of days you would like.

You don't have to repeat this process for all your decks as you will notice on top, it says that Default (used by X decks) as the preset meaning that it will apply to all decks tied to that preset (which should be all of them).


What subjects did you take, and what did you achieve in your GCSE's?

I achieved 7 A*'s (in Maths, English Language, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Religious Studies, and History) and 3 A's (in Astronomy, English Literature, and French).

Your year group took the new specification Maths and English. How did you achieve letters in them?

I achieved a 9 in Maths and English Language and a 7 in English Literature but I find it easier to convert them to letters as I don't like having a mix of both.


Did you do an EPQ?


Why didn't you do an EPQ?

Generally, the advice that I have been given by teachers and some admissions tutors at Oxford and Cambridge is that if you're applying for a maths-heavy subject (like physics which I studied), then an EPQ isn't worth it when applying to Oxford or Cambridge. That said, I'm unsure how other universities perceive them.

Admissions tutors that I spoke to at Cambridge said that I should instead spend that improving my problem-solving skills to score higher in interviews and admissions tests.

I just started Year 13 and haven't begun making flashcards yet. What should I do?

I would recommend beginning making flashcards on the Year 13 content that you are covering in lessons because,

  1. Making flashcards yourself forces you to understand the material yourself.
  2. If you find yourself confused and having to look back on the relevant Year 12 content, you can make flashcards.
  3. Later in the year, when you find yourself doing topic questions on Year 12 content, you may find yourself having forgotten some piece of information so you can easily make a flashcard on that too.

The goal is to make flashcards on the content you are struggling to remember and understand. Going back and making flashcards everything on Year 12 content can be wasted motion (opens in a new tab) if you're already comfortable with many of the topics.

I have only been introduced to effective studying in Year 13. What is the most effective way to go over Year 12 content?

Remember that you are likely to know much more than you think. I have had times where it just felt like I had forgotten everything, but when I saw an exam question, all the content to do with it would come back to mind.

If you are in Year 13 and want to decide how to most effectively go over Year 12 content, I would recommend trying to do a year or two of AS Past Papers for that topic. You will likely get questions wrong due to (a) not knowing the content or (b) not being able to apply it. You will be able to tell the difference when marking the paper (but sometimes there will be a mixture of those two reasons).

For tackling (b), you often require more practice with questions. For tackling (a), you have now identified some topics you need to review. I would then recommend re-learning / refreshing yourself on the topic and making flashcards on it.

This is particularly effective for identifying the topics you have forgotten as you're forcing yourself to use active recall by doing an AS Past Paper rather than, say, passively recognising material in a textbook and asking yourself, "Do I remember this?" The answer here is likely to be yes almost all the time because you're mistaking recognition for recall.


Why did you choose Cambridge over Oxford?

The main reason is because of funding. Colleges with larger endowments generally have more money to give their students and cheaper rent and food. I just went on the Wikipedia page for both Oxford colleges (opens in a new tab) and Cambridge colleges (opens in a new tab), sorted the colleges by their financial endowment, and then looked extensively on their websites about which opportunities would be available to me had I applied to that specific college. Turned out that St. John's, Cambridge had the most funding and opportunities available to me (despite Trinity College, Cambridge being the richest), but this may have changed this I applied.

To give you an idea, because of my low household income, I got £10.6k / year in bursaries from St. John's College (Cambridge) and the university. I maxed out my maintenance loan from Student Finance at £9k / year, totalling £19.6k / year. This has meant that I've never had to ask my parents for rent, food, trips, hobbies, or anything else.

There were many other opportunities at St. John's College, such as an exchange programme (opens in a new tab) to Japan which I attended and the Learning and Research fund (opens in a new tab) (each student gets £900 / year across all three years to spend on books, research, or technology).

Ultimately, I would highly recommend looking at the college websites and seeing what opportunities would be available for you if you attend that college. I kept track of this research with a spreadsheet.

Why did you choose St. John's College, Cambridge specifically?

See the answer above.

Why did you pick Natural Sciences at Cambridge over straight Physics at Oxford?

See the answer above.

© Ray Amjad.