Private Tuition Blog: Archive for April 2012
Posted on 29th April 2012
I recently discovered http://www.funnyexam.com which, as well as providing a great deal of amusement, also offers some excellent lessons in how not to answer certain exam questions. But what can you do to get the examiners on side and, delight them and so earn yourself plenty of marks? Here are some tips to help you do just that…
-Present your work neatly.
Nobody likes to have to decode messy handwriting, so make sure your work is legible. Writing on alternate lines in the answer booklets will help to make your writing easer to read and easier for the examiner to mark because there will be plenty of space for them to write comments.
-Answer the question!
Although this sounds terribly basic, you’d be amazed at how many people just don’t answer the question. Take a moment to figure out exactly what you are being asked to do and then try and do exactly that, nothing more, nothing less, and no irrelevant tangents.
-Check your spelling and punctuation.
You can really let yourself down if you make lots of silly mistakes like getting apostrophes in the wrong place or using the wrong version of a word (there/their etc). Take a few moments at the end of the exam to look through your answers and make sure the spelling, grammar and punctuation are all tip top.
-Balance your time carefully.
Use the mark scheme to guide you when it comes to planning how long to spend on each question. Questions worth higher marks will require more detail and attention. If you take a moment to look through the paper and plan out how long you should spend on each section you should prevent yourself from running out of time or spending too long on a question that only requires a short answer.
-Be confident enough to be selective with your knowledge.
If you’ve done a lot of revision you can feel a big urge to show off everything you know, but examiners aren’t interested in you listing off thousands of facts, dates and quotes willy-nilly. Instead they want to see you using your knowledge effectively and in a sophisticated, well-structured way. Choose the best evidence to support your answers and weave the knowledge in stylishly, rather than just plonking in information wherever, and the examiners will be delighted with your answers.
Posted on 29th April 2012
There are lots of clichés about exams, some of which are true, buts some of which could really do with being dispelled. Here are some common thoughts about exams that should really be banned in order to make your life less stressful and so in turn, your approach to exams more positive and effective…
‘Failing the exams would be disastrous’
Of course you want to do well in your exams, and you should try as hard as you can to do yourself justice, but if something does go wrong and you don’t get the marks you hoped for, it really isn’t the end of the world. You can sit most exams again six months later, or you can reassess your options and choose a slightly different path to get to where you want to go. Exams are not a life or death matter, and if you spend too much time worrying about ‘failure’ you’ll waste valuable energy that could be channelled elsewhere more productively.
‘I need to know everything before I sit the exam’
It is impossible to know absolutely everything about a particular topic and all you can do is follow the syllabus, look through past papers, talk to your teachers about the course and base your revision on these things. Read around the subject, make sure you equip yourself with the essential topics, and then you should be fine. If one or two unexpected elements turn up in the exam, don’t panic and do your best to answer the questions with the knowledge you do have.
‘My memory isn’t good enough to do well in exams.’
Memory is a muscle that can be trained and honed. You also need to tap into how you remember things, as everyone’s brain works differently. Don’t rely on memorising things the night before, but instead build up your bank of knowledge gradually and keep using the knowledge so that it is easily accessible. As soon as you stop using things you begin to forget them…
‘I have to revise 24/7 in order to well in exams’
This is not true at all, and it much better to do shorter bursts of really effective revision than to work non-stop in the run up to exams. If you deprive yourself of sleep and relaxation then you will totally wear yourself out and you won’t be able to do your best in the exams. Yes, you do need to work hard in the run up to exams, but prepare carefully and make sure you look after yourself as well. Eating well and getting plenty of sleep is also a vital part of exam preparation.
Try and thing positively about exams, and see them as a way to bring all of your knowledge and hard work together and to show off how your brain has been developing. Do the best that you can, but don’t think of them as the be-all and the end-all, because in the grand scheme of things they are important but not the only thing that matters, in fact far from it.
Posted on 29th April 2012
There’s no end to the complaints about GCSEs and A Levels these days, and the debate about whether or not A Levels adequately prepare students for the rigours of studying for a degree is continuing ferociously.
I recently read an article by The Sunday Times’ Sian Griffiths ,which detailed how many universities have to offer undergraduates remedial classes to fill in gaps in their knowledge before they can really delve into degree-level study. According to data published in Griffiths’ article, in a survey of 633 lecturers, two thirds said that their universities offered extra tuition, and 75% had to adapt their teaching style ‘to accommodate floundering first years’.
Even students who have achieved a string of top-grade A Levels need booster classes when they reach university. Oxford and Cambridge both only admit students with superb academic track records, and yet they also have to offer ‘catch-up classes’. Professor Helen Watanbe-O’Kelly, chairwoman of the modern languages faculty at Oxford told the Sunday Times how disappointing the GCSE and A Level languages syllabi are, because they offer so little grammar. To compensate for this, ‘everyone except native-language speakers gets one hour a week of grammar classes; the lowest stream gets two hours a week. In the past they would arrive at university with this knowledge.’
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, told a House of Lords select committee: ‘This is one of the issues where you might think that a university such as Cambridge would be exempt from the problem, but we are not… In our fairly heavy mathematically orientated physics courses we are having to embark on remedial teaching in mathematics.’
The obvious solution to the problem is to make A Levels more challenging, really boost the quality of secondary-school teaching and for there to be a greater level of ‘joined-up-thinking’ when it comes to structuring A Level courses and their relation to BA degrees. With the current curriculum review underway, here’s hoping that the above will happen, as it would be a great shame indeed if universities had to pump more energy and resources into ‘patching up’ students’ knowledge than advancing and expanding their understanding and thinking.
Posted on 29th April 2012
This week, students taking IB English will have to write a commentary on an unseen passage of prose or a poem, so I thought it might be a good idea for us to brush up some literary terms. You don’t need an encyclopaedic knowledge of technical vocabulary in order to analyse a poem, but having a few terms up your sleeve will really help and impress the examiners enormously. Try and learn a few of the following and see if you can find some examples of them when you are preparing for the exam with practice papers.
A line of iambic hexameter (six iambs).
The repetition of a consonant
The rhyme scheme ‘ababa…’
Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines or clauses
The repetition of a word or phrase at the end of one line and then the beginning of the subsequent line.
Contrasting ideas/pairs of opposites placed reasonably close together
A wise, and often witty/pithy saying
As well as being a punctuation mark, ‘apostrophe’ is also the moment in a poem when the speaker suddenly addresses someone or something.
Repetition of vowel sounds
Non-rhyming verse, mostly in iambic pentameter. (See Milton’s Paradise Lost for the most famous example of blank verse)
Verse which methodically lists and examines different body parts (usually female)
Very heightened/exaggerated language
A pause or breath in the middle of a line of poetry
A pair of rhyming lines. Shakespeare’s sonnets mostly end in rhyming couplets.
The writer’s choice of words
A poem that is expressed in the voice of an imagined character. Robert Browning wrote many dramatic monologues.
The omission of parts of or entire words.
The opposite of end-stopping (i.e. the sense of the line runs into the next line of verse)
The repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive lines
An un-stressed ending to a line
Poetry that isn’t written in a particular form and with a specific pattern of rhyme etc.
Rhyming couplets written in iambic pentameter
A line with an extra syllable
An understatement for comic effect
If the end of a line finishes with a stressed syllable.
When a word sounds like what it means (e.g. ‘bang’)
A contradictory phrase such as ‘hot ice’
To say something whilst trying not to
To attribute life and emotions to inanimate objects
Writing about something in a roundabout way
A stanza composed of four lines
A stanza composed of five lines
A stanza composed of six lines
A fourteen-line poem following a particular rhyme scheme
The elision of an entire syllable from a word
A stanza composed of three lines
Posted on 26th April 2012
Mr Oliver is back in the news again after expressing his anger at Michael Gove, and accusing him of allowing nutritional standards in academy schools to plummet.
Thanks to Jamie’s amazing work a few years ago, which began with the programme Jamie’s School Dinners, the last government made radical changes to the nutritional guidelines for food served in schools. Since 2008, schools have been improving the quality of the food on offer to students, however it seems that standards are slipping, much to the disappointment of Oliver.
According to Oliver, education secretary Michael Gove is “playing with fire” by allowing academy schools to ignore nutritional guidelines. It is no secret that Britain is getting fatter; with approximately a third of children being classed as ‘overweight’ and obesity costs the economy millions of pounds every year. For the future of the UK, it is vital that we feed younger generations (and ourselves!) healthy food.
Oliver told the Observer Food Monthly Magazine that he has “nothing against [Gove] personally…but the health of millions of children could be affected by this one man”
. Gove is reluctant to impose guidelines on the head teachers of academies because he says he trusts the head teachers to deliver the best to their pupils.
However, many head teachers seem to have the schools’ bank balance, rather than their pupil’s health in mind, allowing vending machines into schools because they are so profitable. It has been reported by the Guardian that vending machines can bring in up to £14,000 a year to a school. So it is easy to see how money-hungry heads might want to keep them in their schools. Most state schools are only allowed vending machines that sell healthy snacks such as nuts, fruit and water, but academies are currently allowed to have those offering chocolate bars, crisps and other unhealthy items.
Jamie Oliver, whose explicit and vociferous comments against Gove’s attitude include: “This mantra that we are not going to tell [academy] schools what to do just isn’t good enough in the midst of the biggest obesity epidemic ever…The public health of 5 million children should not be left to luck or chance.” is not the only one applying pressure on the education secretary. Tory MP Zac Goldsmith tabled a motion in praise of Oliver’s campaign and the motion, which asks for academies and free schools to “adhere to the standards for school food so that the one million children now attending these schools can benefit from this commitment to their health and wellbeing”. So far 54 members of parliament have signed the motion.
I very much hope that Michael Gove does indeed take notice of the mounting pressure, and in the interests of the health of current students and future generations, he stops allowing nutritional standards to slip.
Posted on 26th April 2012
Not too long ago I wrote about how there was a bit of a furore among certain circles about how students are taught IT, and how they know how to use software, but are not given an understanding of either how it works, or how to build it. Considering the fact that we are now quite staggeringly reliant on computers, smart phones, tablets and the like, it really is a shame that we are not teaching students how to be masters of technology. However, it looks like things are now about to change thanks to a special computer-programming project, which is being set up in primary schools across the country.
Some enterprising and generous volunteers have set up an initiative called ‘Code Clubs’, which will teach the building blocks of computer programming to children aged 10-11. Clare Sutcliffe, one of the brains behind the project, told the BBC that it grew out of a concern that “we’re teaching our kids to be secretaries rather than programmers”. She wants to give students the skills to be creative with technology and “build things that are really exciting…we want them to be making stuff.”
Sutcliffe and her colleague Linda Sandvik are aiming to set up Code Clubs in 25% of British primary schools by 2014. It is also hoped that the clubs will all be run entirely by volunteers, to prevent teachers from having to increase their workload.
Code Clubs sound fantastic to me and I hope that they are a huge success. There are murmurings in the Department of Education about changes to the IT curriculum, which is likely to become more focussed on programming. With any luck the changes will take place soon, and combined with initiatives like Code Clubs will mean that in a few years’ time we’ll have a generation of ambitious and talented computer programmers in the UK.
Posted on 23rd April 2012
If you’re a student, the chances are that you you’ll have to read a lot of texts, and all kinds of different texts according to whichever lesson you are in or which piece of homework you are tackling. Sometimes we can read things and not know what on earth is going on, how the text might be useful to us, and what the important points are. It can all seem rather mind-boggling to be honest, particularly if you’ve got a long bit of text to look at which contains unfamiliar vocabulary and ideas.
Luckily there are lots of things that you can do to make your reading more effective and efficient. Here are some top tips that can be applied to pretty much anything that you need to read for your schoolwork or revision.
-Think about why you need to read a particular piece of text. This should set you off in the right direction and keep your reading focussed. If you know why you are reading something from the beginning, you may know what to look for in the text.
-Work out an underlining and highlighting system. Perhaps you highlight things you don’t understand and will need to look up and underline what you think the important points might be.
-Jot down any questions that pop into your head about the text in the margins.
-Write down your initial reactions to a text, even things as simple as ‘wow!’, ‘what?’, ‘Noooo!’. This will then act as an emotional map showing your journey of thoughts throughout the piece.
-Ask yourself the following questions: What do you think the piece is about? What is the writer saying? What’s the tone like? Does the tone change? Is there any dialogue or quoted speech? Can you relate to the subject matter at all? Do you agree with what the writer is saying? Is the writer’s argument convincing? How do they make the argument convincing?
-Take a note of any facts/numbers/statistics/bits of evidence that seem particularly key.
-Start to work out how long you can concentrate on a bit of text for before your mind wanders. This will allow you to plan your reading time more effectively.
Hopefully you’ll be able to read more effectively now. If you think you need help with your reading and study skills, give us a call and we’ll help you out.
Posted on 23rd April 2012
Today is the 23rd April; it’s Shakespeare’s birthday, and it is St George’s Day. Since most of us know who Shakespeare is, I thought I’d investigate a bit more about St George as I have to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable at all when it comes to our patron saint.
St George is really very old indeed and we celebrate him on the 23rd April because it is thought that the 23rd April AD 303 was the day he died. As far as records show, the first St George’s day celebrations took place in 1222 when the Synod of Oxford declared St. George’s day a feast day in England.
St George is famous for three main reasons: the St George’s cross flag, for slaying a dragon and because of the line ‘cry God for Harry, England and Saint George’ in Shakespeare’s play Henry V. But who exactly was St George…?
St George was a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina who was born at some point in the latter years of the third century AD. According to legend a dragon once made a home for itself in the spring that provided water for the city of ‘Silene’ (thought to be Cyrene in modern Libya). In order to get water from the spring, which the citizens desperately needed to do, they would sacrifice a sheep to the dragon. However, soon the dragon got bored of sheep and took a liking to eating young maidens. For obvious reasons, this was far from ideal and highly unsustainable and luckily one day St George appeared and killed the dragon. The citizens were so thrilled that they all converted to Christianity.
Thanks to this legend St George is now most frequently depicted on a white horse killing the dragon and rescuing a distressed maiden. The dragon is often seen as an allegory for Satan or paganism.
In AD 303 the Emperor Diocletian decided that every Christian soldier in his army should be arrested, and all the other soldiers should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. This outraged George and he stuck by his faith and refused to be arrested. Diocletian did his best to convert George by bribing him with land and gifts, but George refused to abandon his faith. Eventually he was executed for his disobedience.
Between 1400-1700 St George’s Day was particularly widely celebrated, and although it is still marked in England, the festivities have waned somewhat over the past few hundred years. However you might still see some St George’s flags around today, and in Salisbury there is still an annual St George’s Day pageant. It is also seen as a good day to do very traditionally English things like have afternoon tea, watch Punch and Judy shows, go morris dancing and sing the hymn Jerusalem.
Are you doing anything to celebrate St George’s day? Let us know if you are, we’d love to hear from you!
Posted on 23rd April 2012
Why is it that starting and finsihing things are the two hardest bits? Once you get going, and you’re in full swing (whatever you’re doing), it’s never as bad as you thought it would be. Psychotherapist Joka Van Wijk, has some great advice for students who find getting stuck into revision rather tricky…
Most of us are extremely good at procrastination, especially if we do not really look forward to what we have to do. It is amazing what our brains can come up with to avoid doing what needs to be done. Suddenly all kinds of tasks take up a sense of priority and we promise ourselves that after the next phone call or cup of tea we will really get started. The strange thing is that procrastination only makes us feel worse and nags away at our minds so we cannot really enjoy what we are doing anyway. By now as so often happens you could be nearly halfway through the day and so it is not really worth starting anything, right? WRONG, it is always worth it to get started!
Despite what people think, everyone has willpower. Think of all the different situations where you had no trouble getting on with something. The difference between procrastinators and non-procrastinators is that non-procrastinators have a strategy.
So make your list and schedule and START whether you will feel like it or not. The secret is not to wait until you’ll feel better first. Make the start first and then the feelings of accomplishment will follow after.
1. Make a list of all the different topics that need to be covered.
2. Break the workload down into manageable tasks. For each task that you have broken up, you will have a beginning and an ending.
3. Make a time table.
4. Start with the topics you’ll least enjoy, it will be great to get them out of the way.
5. Have regular short breaks every 20 minutes or so.
6. Make sure you eat healthy food and get a good night’s sleep, so body and mind can work well together.
Posted on 23rd April 2012
Revision and exams are stressful things indeed, and sometimes we all need a bit of help to get through difficult times. Here is some great advice from psychotherapist Joka Van Wijk…
There are periods in everybody’s life that are more stressful than others. Often these times coincide with a heavy workload or an anticipation of a particular event. This could be an exam, driving test or making a speech at a wedding. A logical step would be to organise your time carefully, make a list, break down the tasks into manageable units and draw up a schedule.
However the very anticipation of the event can cause any sense of logic to disappear out of the window. The thought of having to do the exam/ test/make the speech becomes like a beacon flashing incessantly in the mind taking up all the available brainpower. This not only makes it impossible to think of anything else, but the mind is unable to absorb any new information. By using all of your energy for worrying, you’ll end up feeling exhausted, therefore making it hard to even contemplate spending time studying and preparing.
When an exam or stressful event is coming up, it is important to put it in a wider perspective. It is going to happen regardless so worrying about it will only make it more difficult.
A good first step is to find out as much as you can about the circumstances surrounding the test or the event. Where will it take place, what will happen exactly and what is expected? How many people will be there and how long will it last? The amount of worrying or nervous anticipation of an event can cause it to take on enormous proportions. It is easy for an exam to turn into the equivalent of running an Olympic race or a small talk in front of two colleagues to escalate into a solo performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
Secondly, take a realistic view, often we anticipate the worst, but the chances are that if you prepare carefully and stay calm it will go ok. What is the worst that can happen and is that really so bad? There are many different ways to manage a situation and achieve certain goals.
Thirdly, it is helpful to identify situations that you have dealt with before and are similar to the one you are dealing with now. How did you do and what did you learn? The chances are that you coped much better than you thought you would. Or that you learnt from the experience or any mistakes that you made, which in turn help you to do a better job next time. You can therefore identify your strong points, as well as the areas that need to be worked on.
We are all very good at coming up with a worst-case scenario for ourselves, but why not imagine a positive outcome? You will instantly feel better and more comfortable about the event. This will help you to feel calmer and more confident, giving you the energy and motivation to help you prepare as best as you can.
Find a comfortable place to sit and take 3 deep breaths. Let you eyelids close and focus on your breathing keeping your attention in one place, either your nostrils or your diaphragm. If your mind wanders, just bring your attention gently back to your breath. Now imagine you see yourself in a film on a screen in front of you on the day of the exam or event you are concerned about. See yourself acting calmly and confidently. If you feel yourself becoming anxious, you can stop the image and bring your attention back to your breathing and when everything is calm again you can watch a bit more.
When you finish watching, you might want to watch the film again, so it becomes more familiar and natural. In fact it will become so familiar that you find you can stop worrying about the event at all and use all your energy to study and prepare for it.