My Education 16 - 19

Stephen McHugh (00:24):

Hi there, and welcome to episode seven of the Stephen's Evolution Podcast. I'm Stephen McHugh. I have Asperger's, a form of autism, and I make fortnightly episodes based on my lived experiences with the condition. In this episode, I'm going to talk about my education post 16. I've already done several episodes based on my education, and please be aware that there may be some sections which contain content linked to sensitive topics. You can skip these sections if you want. Please consult the show notes for more information on these matters.

Stephen McHugh (01:14):

Following leaving school, after doing what's known as GCSEs at the time, one option was to go to sixth form and study A-levels. Unfortunately for me, I didn't gain enough good grades to progress onto advanced level courses and therefore I would spend the next academic year, resitting GCSEs.

I focused on getting down to hard work, and as I did so, I found my level of understanding and confidence improving. What I really mean is my English language skills were improving, and I could understand better than before what I was being asked to do when it came to applying new knowledge. The subjects I studied during this particular year included GCSEs in biology, chemistry, English, language, and environmental studies.

Stephen McHugh (02:22):

As hard as it can be sometimes to recall facts you've learned in class, there is one way you can try and come up with to remember them by creative means. One example I can think of here is from my chemistry classes. It is to do with the application of mnemonics using the word oilrig. This stood for oxidation is loss of electrons and reduction is gaining of electrons.

Stephen McHugh (02:56):

Other ways here included general formulae, which helped me to better understand, interpret, and apply knowledge to form chemical equations. Looking back, these were examples of tips given to me and my class by our chemistry teacher at the time. Their lively personality added some element of fun to the lessons too. It was clear to my chemistry teacher then that I had good ability with the subject and thought I had the capability to continue it at advanced level.

Stephen McHugh (03:41):

I would've done this if I had achieved a grade A, grade B. As I thought logically that the transition to the advanced level course from the GCSE one may have been more manageable for environmental studies. This was a subject I found interesting since it included studying the potential implications of climate change, deforestation, pollution, and the destruction of the ozone layer.

Another interesting section from environmental studies concerned the study of rocks, which gave me an appreciation of the natural geological processes on earth and how they've helped to shape the planet into what it is to today.

Stephen McHugh (04:33):

I like to try and use my understanding of how these processes may lead to the discoveries of possible vital ingredients for life and other planets and moons. I also like to work out how we can all be more energy efficient. One way of doing this is by installing more insulation in your home, particularly in the loft area where more heat can be lost. This may lead to reduced heat loss from your home, enabling more efficient heating, reducing energy costs, and environmental impact. There are more ways I could talk about in relation to matters regarding environmental subjects.

Stephen McHugh (05:22):

Looking back, I felt confident enough to contribute to to class discussions in environmental studies. I perhaps should have achieved a better grade in this subject than I did. My language limitations likely meant it was more difficult for me in some cases to apply knowledge in order to extend my answers to certain exam questions.

Stephen McHugh (05:51):

For GCSE English, it would take me until the end of my second year in sixth form to achieve a grade C, which was the minimum standard for a pass in GCSE's. In some ways, this shows how hard it was for me during my second year in sixth form, as I prepared to resit my GCSE English, again, a tip given out by teachers who marked English papers turned out to be a significant turning point for me. I realised it was a common and important mistake on my part in each of my previous GCSE English examinations. It concerned questions where one would be asked to do writing and lay it out in the form of a letter, article, newspaper or leaflet, or any other format. It was here. We were taught to include bullet points and catchy headlines written in bold lettering in order to gain the reader's attention.

Stephen McHugh (07:00):

The mistake I'd make here was that I do such a question in the format of a story, much like in narrative writing based on my experiences here. Why not try to read as many newspapers, magazines, and leaflets and other things and try to spot and study writing styles employed? I didn't actually do this, but after being shown by our teachers, it made enough sense to me.

Stephen McHugh (07:30):

Another tip I'd like to offer here is that I thought back to a time in secondary school when we were taught to think of several words, meaning the same thing. An example could be two nice people bought us ice creams here. One could also say, two generous people bought us ice creams here. In this case, note how generous may be used instead of nice or even kind for that matter. I applied this concept, especially during writing. In order to give the impression I had a broader command of English, we would all, we would also study extracts from an anthology, which involved to some degree comprehension various uses of words, dialects and language development.

Stephen McHugh (08:27):

In years gone by. Over the course of my second year in sixth form, I managed to produce more creditable pieces of work. This gave me more confidence to work on my own. For some parts of the GCSE English course, there would be tasks which involved speaking and listening and group work where certain discussions would be had I, I would find these situations quite hard. As such tasks involved social interaction, my difficulties with social interaction and language hampered me in these situations and really in normal day-to-day life.

Stephen McHugh(09:12):

For me, a more favourable approach here can be when members of a class are asked to give individual talks on separate days about something that interests them. This was once evidenced by me giving a talk in junior school about telescopes for which I was praised. Making this the more ideal option for me, for this one can have more time to prepare what to say and research relevant information in advance rather than having to do something straight away.

Stephen McHugh (09:49):

At the end of my first year in sixth form, I gained enough good enough grades to progress onto advanced level courses. I was more relieved than elated. I chose to do advanced level courses in mathematics, computer science, and biology. Once my A-level studies commenced, my progress in mathematics could be rather slow. This was not helped by the fact that I had gone more than a year without doing any mathematics, hence why it became rather rusty, including my algebraic skills.

Stephen McHugh (10:37):

As it turned out, good algebraic skills were necessary for studying the A-level. I liked to experiment to see which learning patterns suit suited me best. However, the problem here was that I could get through pages of work without getting anywhere meaningful. During the first year of my A-level studies in maths, there were some topics that I found easier. These were differentiation, integration, geometric and arithmetic progressions.

Stephen McHugh (11:14):

At the end of the first year of my A-level studies, I narrowly passed the first module in mathematics. At the same time, we commenced a new module, which was to do with statistics. In this module, this we would study permutations and combinations and working out how many times a certain number of objects could be arranged. One interesting fact I found out here was that the odds of winning the national lottery turned out to be roughly one in 14 million.

Stephen McHugh (11:52):

The second year of my A-level studies was where we did a new module, which built upon what we learned in the earlier module. During the first year of my A-level studies in maths in this module, there were topics involving trigonometric equations, along with studying logarithms. Here, I didn't find myself too out of my depth. Midway through the second year of my A-level studies, a decision was made for me to do AS level mathematics, which is half an A-level.

Stephen McHugh (12:30):

There were concerns about my ability to study the full maths A-level. There was one module known as mechanics, but it was judged that I lacked a sufficient physics background to be able to study it and gain a competent mark in it.

Stephen McHugh (12:50):

There was another module that one could choose to do at the time, which was called decision making. Here, one needed to be good at timing on hearing this here, I didn't feel confident enough about getting up to speed in order to score a good enough mark, I could work quite happily on easier topics and questions on my own. However, when it came to mastering more difficult topics and questions, that's when more in the way of problems started and I needed more support. Fortunately, they had extra help classes. In combination with attending these sessions and doing work in my own time, the work gradually began to make more sense.

Stephen McHugh(13:41):

At the end of my A-level studies in mathematics, I achieved respectable scores. In the first two modules we studied, my total score was only little more than 30 points off a pass at full A-level. To do the full A-level one would've needed to have studied an extra two modules. The fact that I didn't seek one one-to-one tuition in my eyes makes this achievement even more remarkable.

Stephen McHugh (14:15):

Thinking back to the one-to-one tuition I received for GCSE, this also strengthened my passion and enthusiasm for mathematics. At times, it felt as if they were guiding me during my difficult times for computer science. We had to pass the first year in order to progress onto the second year. Throughout the first year of my A-level studies in computer science, I would make a concerted effort to work harder in my own time and would spend time practicing exam questions once I felt confident enough about my understanding of a particular topic. This, I believe, was instrumental in helping me to pass the end of first year exam with a satisfactory grade whilst not being top of the class.

Stephen McHugh (15:18):

During the second year of A-level studies in computer science, one had to carry out a project to see where and who could benefit from some form of computerization. The barriers for me here would be that it would involve considerable degree of social interaction in terms of finding out about a current system and its flaws. It would also involve explaining to prospective users how it would work, and what to do in the event of any technical problems.

Stephen McHugh (15:54):

In addition, the fact that it required more in the way of technical knowledge, especially programming and databases, didn't help either. These were topics which proved more of a struggle for me than anything else. On the other hand, one area of the syllabus I found interesting was the binary number system and how numbers are represented using binary. I would also find out that the binary system was widely used in computers, data representation, computer instructions and calculations.

Stephen McHugh (16:32):

I learned that binary was represented by ones and zeros and is the language of computers and the way computers like talk to one another. At the end of my A-level studies, my final A-level grades were relatively low overall. Despite this, I felt proud to complete the equivalent of two and a half A -levels. The standard of my results were affected to a very large degree by the deficiencies in my language and ability to understand my educational experience was largely affected by this problem.

Stephen McHugh (17:14):

As I began to improve in this area, I was able to achieve better results. However, the level of difficulty in the subjects that more advanced levels meant my language ability and understanding was not getting better quickly enough to enable me to show my real ability sometimes back over the years. Because of my language issues and difficulties understanding and explaining things in my own words, I resorted to trying to memorise course related material. However, this didn't allow me to fully grasp and understand the material I was memorizing.

Stephen McHugh (18:01):

For the A-level in biology, I coped satisfactorily for the most part. I was able to score a few decent class test marks along with making useful contributions to class discussions. I was also able to research relevant content in order to produce well-written essays in order to meet homework deadlines. In addition, I was judged to have good practical skills and could write meaningful and logical conclusions to carried out experiments.

Stephen McHugh(18:41):

However, it was the genetics module that would account for my final A-level grade, which was rather low. This was the most difficult part of the course for me. It was hard for me to apply knowledge learned from classes as the years have gone by. Since then, I've learnt there is far more to genetics, to the biological world than meets the eye. Genes make us what we are and who we are. Out of the sciences, I prefer physics and chemistry more as there is more emphasis on mathematics in those science areas.

Stephen McHugh (19:24):

And that's all there is for this episode. Let me know if you found it interesting or that it's resonated with you in some way. You can find links to me on Instagram and Twitter at the footer of my website,, and why not give it a rating or a review if you've not already done so, you can do this on Apple, Spotify, Podchaser or Podcast Addict, and towards the footer of the homepage of my website, you can find a link to a page where you can sign up to receive news of newly released podcast episodes. Goodbye for now and I'll talk to you all again soon. On the next episode, when I shall talk about my education post 19.
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