It is an urban myth, doubtless begun by lairy FE tutors, that A-levels are the hardest, most challenging qualifications you will attempt as a student. I'm not sure how this conclusion has been reached, but let me assure any doubters: it is completely false.
It is irresponsible to suggest that the two years you will experience while studying for A levels will be the toughest you could possibly face. I've heard tutors telling classes full of students (me included) to prepare for the most intellectually draining experience of their lives as we all stood on the threshold of two years of 'hard graft'.
I'm not trying to say that A-levels aren't hard, they are. But the step up to higher education is even harder. I recently caught up with a couple of my old school friends and, naturally, conversation turned toward discussing the successes and failures of our fellow classmates. Coming from a good Grammar school, I was surprised to learn just how many high-flighers at school had more than met their match at university.
The reason I get so rattled by comparisons between A levels and degrees is because they are completely different ball games. At college you can expect to be drip fed some information in classes and given a little bit of homework. Essays are a piece of piss; you learn the technique and regurgitate the analysis. Compared to GCSEs they are definitely a big step up, but they follow pretty much the same structure.
The difficulty with studying for a degree is not necessarily the content of the subject, but the fact that you have to do it yourself. Nobody is going to get on your back, nobody is going to push you and offer you kind words of motivation. It is you versus you. The teaching/learning relationship is much less personal and that is something that can be quite hard to adjust to.
Although you may eventually face repercussions, for the most part it is entirely up to you whether you even attend lectures and seminars. There are people that I swear I've only seen twice and I have more than one module in common with them! It isn't hard to keep yourself in check if you actually have the desire to do so. But when the nightlife is booming, and you're faced with the choice of a nine o'clock start on Tuesday morning or three trebles for a fiver at the bar, it's easy to see how people lose the will.
At college, the nightlife isn't on your doorstep. You have to be in at nine virtually every morning, it's a routine. However, at university you can start at 2pm one day and 9am the next. When your flatmates all have the day off tomorrow, but you have to read for your seminar to make sure you actually have a clue what is going on, that's when you realise how committed you are to your studies. If you want to do well, you will do. If you haven't got the desire, you'll fall short.
It doesn't necessarily matter how intelligent you are. At college, you can read textbooks and get information to stick in your memory before the exams, regardless of whether you've been paying attention in class or not. When you get to university, if you haven't been following the module for the whole semester, you're susceptible to a nasty shock when it comes to even trying to revise. I know some very sharp people that flunked university through lack of organisation and willing. Likewise, I know less academically inclined people who have comfortably achieved an upper second class degree through sheer hard work.
So to say that the hardest work will come during your A levels is just incorrect. Degrees are as much (probably more) a test of your drive and commitment than intellect; and your final classification will reflect this.
Distractions at university are rife. Finding the right balance between socialising and studying is absolutely imperative. Don't be fooled by the measly 40% benchmark in your first year either, if you aim only to better 40% you'll be hit with a metaphoric tonne of bricks in your second year!
Other than that, university is a magnificent experience. If you're thinking of going ahead and studying for a degree, don't be deterred just be warned, it isn't 'easier' or 'less of a step up'. University will test you in areas of your character you've never before been tested; certainly not at A-level.