Ekaterina, A-Level student

After studying at a British school in Cyprus for four years, Kate decided that she didn’t want to change her curriculum upon her return to Russia. Instead, Kate chose to study A-level Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics at Algorithm.


I went to a private British school: there were strict rules, in one sense, but it was also very nice because people knew what they were working towards. I have met a lot of people in Russia who were doing things they didn’t like, and they did them to earn money, or to have a position in society, or they had relatives who helped them get the job. In Cyprus it seemed that almost everyone genuinely liked what they were doing. The teachers were also very different from my Russian teachers. I personally only studied 7 GCSE subjects, and they were the only ones available to me. I suppose I don’t need additional subjects, as I know what I want to study in the future and I have the subjects necessary to get there. Doing something like Drama or Russian as a second language, which is very popular among Russian students, doesn’t make sense to me. Spending my time on something that doesn’t relate to my focus.

The benefit of Algorithm is the teachers, they obviously have very high qualifications and are really interested in what they’re doing. Some subjects are taught even better than in my previous school, for example Mathematics. Obviously, teachers treat you in a different way once you study A-level. It’s not a big change, you were 15 and now you’re 16, but teachers expect  you to become much more intendent. Classes here are also small, which is good.

When she was younger, Kate partook in many different types of sport, always seeking to compete with others and improve herself.

I was always very busy, which is perhaps why I never excelled at Russian school. I have been doing figure skating for 10 years, I won some competitions in it. I also did volleyball at ЦСКА club, I did swimming, skiing, won some medals. Now I’m playing basketball. I have realized that I really enjoy team sports. From my experience of figure skating, which is a very competitive sport, people are willing to do almost anything to get the top places. When I was competing, I was a small girl, and there were mothers, grown women, who would mock other children, call them fat, and so on. I realized that it wasn’t worth it, and moved away from such competitions. However, like competing with other people, and now I tend to do that in academic subjects. Sometimes this is a silly idea; I know you just need to give your own personal best, and not look at others. Now I know I need to focus only on my own results.

Kate’s future lies in Physics, a subject that has always appealed to her.

From my very first Physics lesson, I realized that it was something that other subjects couldn’t give me. I always spoke to my Physics teacher, who was very different from my other teachers and never just turned away when I asked him questions. He explained lots of things to me, that were not on the school curriculum. It’s the only subject where I can get really frustrated, because I did not do well on the exam, but one day later I will go back and I will study harder and harder to try and change this. Whereas with other subjects, I can lose motivation, because I don’t care about them as much. I spend pretty much most of my spare time doing Physics and reading books about it.

So I never questioned what I want to do in my future. Last year, I planned on going into Engineering, because of the combination of Maths and Physics. I am still considering it, especially Aeronautical or Aerospace Engineering, because its what I am most interested in. I really enjoy rockets, spaceships, building, managing – it makes me really excited. In America at the moment there is a growing number of private space companies, like Space X. Obviously they’re partially sponsored by the government, but its still such a change, and its something that I think we will never be able to have in Russia or in most European countries. Many European countries aren’t willing to invest in aerospace. That’s part of the reason why I choose to do A-levels. I always found it interesting, how things work outside our planet. I have started to study Astronomy this year, as part of a MSU club, and people there are preparing for Olimpiads for Astronomy and Physics. It’s probably the most difficult subject I have ever studied, and I have studied a lot of subjects before. Without a good base of knowledge of Astrophysics, you won’t get anywhere, because it’s a difficult subject, and it is very different from Physics. It requires a lot of creative and imaginative thinking; you have to imagine how things look and work. I realise that Astronomy is perhaps not something I want to pursue, but I do want to incorporate it with my Physics and Maths. So I want to study Aerospace Engineering in America, or perhaps Physics in one of the European or British universities.

I think people really judge you by the subjects you’re taking. Technician or Humanities student, etc. I don’t really have that; I find all subjects equally easy and equally difficult. Maths is slightly easier for me than History, because of the sort of thinking that is required, but I found that Humanities and Technical subjects balance each other out. Nobody wants to talk to a human being who is only interested in Chemistry. It gets boring. A really intelligent person is the type of person who can talk about many many different topics and make links in their head, making conversation about almost anything. There are people like Leonardo Da Vinci, who are great at everything, and then there are people who are good at Maths, or Art. People like DaVinci are geniuses – they can incorporate huge amounts of information and are equally good at a lot of things. That is why I think that people like DaVinci are a great inspiration for me, to move forward not only with subjects that are best for my future, but in all spheres.

Kate’s advice to those considering taking A-levels is not to underestimate them.

A-levels are nothing like GCSEs. You can be very confident and have very good GCSE grades, but it is a very different amount of work that is required of you. If you had 7 A*s at GCSE, you might receive three Bs at A-level. It’s definitely a different amount of work; I’m constantly revising or doing homework, going through past papers. I’m studying mathematics based subjects, which are less time consuming in terms of work than, for example, history. But it still involves a lot of going through past papers, identifying your consistent mistakes, and just generally getting to know yourself better, because its important to know your weaknesses. I’ve met a lot of people who are really confident, because they’re naturally good at maths or physics, and then they go to the exams and get Bs and Cs, because its not enough just to be good at something. Some people just don’t seem to understand this, because in their class, or in their school, they’re the best. But there are thousands of people who are doing much better than you, you just don’t know them. You have to think about all the people who are also talented, who have more abilities, or dedicate more time, and they get higher marks. It’s pointless to compare yourself to your classmates.

When you’re like me, and studying three technical subjects, and just thinking about maths-maths-maths, it’s not good for your mental health. You have to do something completely different. In my case, that’s sports. Make time to relax and not think about differential equations. I also read about Physics, but they’re more like pop-science! They’re about lots of different things that are happening in the world and how Physics affects them. When it gets close to exams I tend to avoid TV shows and music, as it can get stuck in your head and it can distract you and affect your grades. Before my History GCSE, I didn’t watch TV for a month! I think that’s why it went better than my History mock exams.

Speaking about her plans for university, Kate’s priority is to get good grades and go on to study Physics to a higher level, regardless of where.

I just want to study Physics, and it doesn’t really matter where. Obviously there are ambitions – as a student, as a person, you want to do your best. I cannot personally say, before I get my exam results, where I want to apply. Where I want to apply and where I can apply – they are two different things.

Different people have different opportunities, some go to better schools or have four different tutors. That’s something I can offer to the universities – I work independently, I know how to take part in a team, but I prefer working independently and not giving up on a problem if I can’t crack it from the first, second or tenth attempt. I will keep trying and dedicating all my free time to solving it, because it’s the best feeling when you can finally say that “I did that by myself”.

Maybe universities are looking for a variety of people, for those who will be innovative. People remember individuals like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, for example. When I look at the things that they have accomplished, like the Falcon Heavy launch, it’s just incredible. People like that are doing something new, something different, something that will expand our knowledge of the universe, of our solar system.

My dream job would be with NASAA or any big company working with aerospace engineering, maybe somewhere in Switzerland researching Physics. Obviously I would like a high position, but its not about money. It’s just about accomplishing something – setting goals and achieving them.

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