How far have we come with classroom technology?

So, it would appear that chalkboards are a thing of the past right now.

Gone are the days when it was just textbooks, pens and paper and the chalk on the little metal thing at the bottom of the board.  It would appear that we’re really moving on now in the world of education.

Classroom technologyThe traditionalists among you may despair, but I think it’s time to take stock of what’s going on in the world of education. After all, if you don’t know what’s out there, you won’t know what to expect and what might or might not be considered the norm for schools and universities.

Classroom Technology (CT) can be defined my eyes as different learning tools and methods of presentation in schools, colleges and universities.  It doesn’t have to be just limited to the classroom either – lecture theatres, libraries and sports facilities can even be included in that too.

So let’s have a quick run-through then…

  • The chalkboards (and even the whiteboards) are on their way out – Definitely a major development in schools has been the phasing out of the once-traditional idea of writing with chalk.  It’s a stereotype of old-fashioned schools that is slowly fading away as we get more integration with computers.  The most famous example of this has got to be the Interactive Whiteboard – of which the SMART board is probably the most renowned.  They often retail for around £1,500 – quite the investment then.  However, with schools getting grants to update technology these are quite attractive options for schools, especially given their reputation as greatly interactive tools that help multiple groups of people with different functions at the same time.
  • Finally… They’re modernising the computers – It’s safe to say that the days of computers still running Windows 98 are over in schools.  As times have moved on the demands placed on IT have increased and it has called for some faster tech.  I remember the good old days of only a handful of PCs in my school even running the latest system at the time.  Of course, when I went back to go and talk to some of the kids later I found that every PC was now running some of the most advanced software I’ve ever seen.  Everything is more powerful and much faster than it used to be.
    Why though?  Well, part of the reason is down to the fact that graphics-based courses and the like are on the rise.  IT classes are trying to keep up with the modern world too, so all of a sudden we’re having to catch up.  I can remember having a disk space quota I couldn’t exceed – it doubled every year, starting from 10MB in Year 7.  Looking back on my A Level in IT… No way would I have been allowed to do any of my work when I was younger… Everything is adapting to keep up.
  • QR Codes and Smart Phones are here to stay – Recently, we found a great guide to some of the best QR Codes out there in the educational world (which can be found here) – it indeed got me thinking… With more and more people owning Smart Phones and the like, is the education world keeping up? The simple answer appears to be yes – we’ve got quick ways to access a whole host of information.  For some, that information can be found quickly via a mobile phone using the internet.
    Remember also, that some Smart Phones are capable of downloading podcasts and other educational tools for students.  Phones have got basic calculators nowadays, some even carry graph creators.  With all of this, the answer becomes a little closer and requires a little less work – or effort, depending on your view.
  • Tablets are replacing traditional pen and paper – Is it any surprise that handwriting skills are perhaps less important now?  I talked about the idea of handwriting skills in a previous article, and there’s a perfectly good reason for this.

At university, I often see students taking notes on tablets in lectures.  Suddenly that A4 Jotter Pad seems a little old fashioned, doesn’t it?  Having a tablet means you can do many different things – advanced systems allow the creation of graphs and other complex features.  Even the PowerPoint presentation you’re reading in that lecturer is probably viewable.

These are just a few things that have changed over time, based on what I’ve seen.  But is that a good thing?  And where will it stop?

I’ve always enjoyed the benefits of taking notes by hand, for example. For some reason I find it more personalised and it means I can revise better.  Some, however, like to be modern and keep with the latest trends, meaning that they are at the cutting edge, so to speak.

In an economy where modern skills are highly prized it’s probably no bad thing to keep up.  However, having some knowledge of the old-fashioned (so to speak) can of course be appreciated by the so-called ‘old guard.’

Where do you sit?  Let us know.

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Thinking of becoming an Erasmus student? 7 great reasons to do it

For those of you who are studying a foreign language as part of your degree in the UK, you might find this article one of the more important ones you’ve read recently…

TutorhubFor many students, Europe carries a vast array of opportunities, particularly in the domain of languages.  French, Spanish, German, Italian, Polish, Dutch… so many languages out there – and all of them can be easily found on an Erasmus adventure.  Many big universities across the continent offer year-long exchange programs to experience their country and come to terms with the concept of international cooperation.  You can either go off to study at a partner university or find a job in the private sector for a year – though the majority of people I’ve met on my adventures choose to study at a university.

For me, I am half-way through a fantastic Erasmus year in the city of Grenoble in France, studying at the Pierre Mendes University.  During this time I’ve had many extraordinary experiences and I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I’ve made some great friends and been able to see a fantastic country.

With all that in mind… Here are some of the reasons why going on Erasmus might be the best thing you’ve ever done for your education.

1. You get to meet so many people

Even if you consider yourself a quite, shy person who likes to curl up in bed in the evening and read a book, you’ll be surprised how many people you’ll meet if you go to just one international student’s meeting.

I can remember meeting a Mexican, two Polish, a Greek and a Belgian on my first evening in town – simply all from spotting something on Facebook.  You don’t have to be the biggest party-goer in the world to get to know people.What you’ll also find is that people from other nations are so proud of their homelands that some suggest you come and visit them at some point in the future.  Personally, I was at a party for international students and it took me literally five minutes to get a month-long tour of South America on the cards…

2. Some of the people you meet become great friends

It is extraordinary how many people get fascinated in England and where you’re from.  Often that mild bit of curiosity turns into meeting up time and time again to talk about our homelands and everything in between.

I’ve met some people here in Grenoble that I’ll probably keep in touch with for many years, so you can be fairly sure that if you meet people with an open mind and a smile on your face… You’ll find some great friends.

3. You’ll get to test out those language skills

Erasmus students generally like to speak other languages, and chances are they’ve learnt them at school or university.  However, there’s no substitute for getting out and speaking it in the real world – the sterile environment of a classroom can never prepare you.

It’s always tricky to start – for some reason natives in your host country can’t seem to work out you’re international if you’re on Erasmus – much different from the days when you’re on holiday and the locals spot you’re a tourist from a mile off.  However, give it more time and you’ll be amazed how much your language picks up

4. You can try out some of the local cuisine

Imagine coming back from a year abroad and finding you’re capable of naming and cooking just about anything from your host country… Your parents might actually consider taking you back if you’ve mastered the art of, say, French cuisine.

Aside from that, you have to remember that food forms a bigger part of Europe’s lifestyle than we manage back in the UK.  It is a great way to meet friends and socialise with them – all whilst enjoy some of the best food in the world..

5. Europeans know how to party

OK, so you’ve spent a year or two at university in England and you probably think it’s time to settle down now.  You know, get some work done… maybe?

It appears that those from mainland Europe have a somewhat more responsible attitude.  For example, they know when they need to get on with work but then know how to throw a great party when you all fancy a night off.  It is something that a lot of people take away from the Erasmus adventure.  Just be careful whilst you’re at it.

6. You will get some financial support

Don’t think that you’re on your own when it comes to Erasmus.  Not only do you get the Student Loans Company helping you out with a slightly increased sum of money for travelling, but you may also be entitled to the Erasmus Grant. It is, for many students, an absolutely vital part of your finances and will greatly help you make the most of your time away.  It’s something to definitely look at as it is a universal grant that can total EUR3,300 for an academic year, depending on where you go.  For me, this covers my rent and a lot of living expenses (and helps offset the bills at the end of my university life…!)

7. You won’t ever forget it

At the end of it, you’ll go back home and maybe wish you were back there – some people refer to it as ‘Post-Erasmus Depression.’

Ultimately though… You’ll be left with some incredible memories of the place you visited and the people you met along the way.  It’s something to remember for the rest of your life.

Remember: you can only do Erasmus once, and you can only do it for one year.  Once it’s over, you can’t ever be an Erasmus student again.  In my view, it’s the greatest year you could possibly wish to spend and, for me, it ranks very near the top of the greatest decisions of my life.

Make the most of the opportunities your university can offer… And explore Europe.

I promise you.  You won’t regret it – it’s life-changing.

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School entrance lotteries and banding on the rise

Postcode lotterySchool admissions are one of the great mysteries of the modern education system, along with where sports science graduates actually end up, the results of students coming out of private schools… and how Michael Gove still has his job.

Political commentary aside, it does remain an interesting area of debate.  How do schools assign places in times of excess demand and is it really working?

Generally for schools of all levels you need to be living in a catchment area – basically somewhere roughly nearby where you can reasonably travel to and from with ease.  A school bus usually suffices in the school’s book of definitions when it comes to transport, for example.

This in itself creates a fair bit of heated debate among parents.  For example, the house prices around some of the best comprehensives in the country can be significantly higher than similar dwellings a bit further out.  Does this mean that, to be a catchment area for a school, you have to be wealthy?  Are we unintentionally creating a ‘top education for the rich’ system?

Of course, there are parents out there who want the best for their kids and that’s completely fine by me.  Then again, you could argue that some parents are trying to beat the system, including those who register addresses in relatives names to get a place at a prestigious school.  Such things sound far-fetched, but not unimaginable.

All of this can, on occasion, create an excess of demand for school places.  What we are frequently seeing in England are schools using two key methods to try and select which students they will accept…

The lottery

It is as simple as it sounds, the names (or more commonly those in a certain postcode within the catchment area) all go into a pot and the schools picks that year’s class.  It’s fairly indiscriminate and you could argue it’s nice and fair for people.  It stops people paying out more to guarantee a place… simply because there is no guarantee.  You could have spent three times more for your house than the family down the road, but you are no less-likely to get your kids into a school as a result.

Of course, the parents who shell out great sums of money or try and beat the system are not the greatest fans of the lottery idea.  I mean, if they’re paying for the privilege (or indeed, beating the system) then surely that should count for something?

Banding

Banding is something which many are not so familiar with, but it does happen.  Basically, to ensure a mixed-ability school, the school admin pick a cross section of abilities, taking a sample of children depending on their results.  It gives the school a nice, diverse set of pupils with different schools and weaknesses.

From a school’s perspective, it works out two ways.  OK, so they haven’t just picked out the brightest students, which presents a risk to their results and thus reputation.  However, with a wide range of skills on offer in each year then it offers the potential for the school to see steady improvement over all areas.  Each student has different preferences so it allows the school to be diverse in what it offers, even if the students aren’t the strongest they could have theoretically picked.

It gives everyone a fair chance.  It takes money out the equation, which is perhaps for the better.

The BBC reported very recently that the Sutton Trust had found that such methods, especially banding, were all on the rise.  Banding in schools has risen in 5 years from 95 schools to 121, according to the new research.  On top of that, 42 other schools are currently using the lottery system.

Why, though? Well, one of the cited possible reasons is the growth of academies, who can set their own rules of admission, providing they provide fair access and stick within the boundaries of the law.  With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that as the number of academies has risen over the last few years, the specific ways of admitting pupils are rising too.

Of course, when you remember that there are 20,000 schools in this country, the numbers don’t really register as significant.  However, with more and more schools trying to cut out the red tape (regardless of what you think about them!) then perhaps we might see this percentage rise even further.

The Sutton Trust see this all as a good thing, remarking that such increases are ‘encouraging’ when it comes to getting a balanced intake.  The report goes as far as to recommend that such systems are implemented more and more, especially in light of the fact that a report they published earlier suggested that pupils from poorer backgrounds were more sparsely seen at some of the better schools in the country.

Of course, with all of these things you’ll see a bit of controversy.  Parents have done a bit of complaining about this, arguing that the school selection system shouldn’t be reduced to lotteries.  The founder of Parents Aloud (a campaign group who are vocal on the issue) have decried it as ‘disgusting’ and NetMums founder Siobhan Freegard warned that such tactice could make the problem of school places worse, especially when parents end up with their children going to different schools.

Ultimately, when I look at this, I see a lot more fair access into schools thanks to lotteries.  It is possible to have different social backgrounds all present in the same school, creating less of a social imbalance.  Parents who spend vast amounts of money in these cases can carry a sense of entitlement.  Remember that every parent has an equal right – the system is slowly changing to reflect this.

For me, the use of banding is also reasonable, since it allows schools to have a broad range of skills, meaning that we are driven away from pointless specialisms, something I’ve never agreed with.  However, I think we have to be careful with that – we need to fully understand how schools perform their banding.  Do they assume that the richer among us are the brighter?  If so, then all of a sudden things become very different and the whole house of cards starts to tumble…

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Brain Training: an effective way to improve your memory

Whether a big exam is looming ahead or you need to improve your memory to keep abreast of a large body of information, brain training is a unique way to maximise your chances of success.

Brain training involves the use of games or activities targeted at exercising a brain-based capacity which is useful to real-life situations and outcomes. Different activities are used to target key neural circuits responsible for such areas as the memory, attention and speed in processing information.

Brain training

What does the evidence say?

A recent study published in Psychological Science indicates that although brain training may not increase intelligence as a whole, it definitely does augment one’s ability to retain information.

Another study, the largest ever on brain training (published in January 2014), revealed that a short course of brain exercises helped older adults retain improvements in reasoning skills and processing speed for 10 years after the culmination of the course. Gains in memory retention, meanwhile, began to drop off after five years, which is still a significant amount of time to display the positive effects of cognitive training.

This is good news for students and good news for the population as a whole, since enabling minds to remain sharp even during old age has immensely beneficial consequences for the healthcare system but also for the elderly themselves, who are able to enjoy a significantly better quality of life.

What does Brain Training involve?

To see how much fun and enlightening brain training can be, log onto the site of popular providers, Lumosity, for a free taster of what it’s all about. This company offers a series of online games and apps that target three main areas: speed, memory and attention.

The site allows you to ‘test’ their programme out, after asking a series of questions to determine which areas you need help with. For instance, you may be asked whether your main goals are to improve your memory, pay attention or multi-task. Based on your own desires, the programme will provide a quick, three-part test.

The games are fun and challenging they are likewise humbling for those who fancy themselves as quick thinkers. One game might focus on ‘speed’; this game involves showing you a quick series of shapes and asking you to hit the right or left arrow to indicate whether or not the shape you are viewing is the same as the one you have just seen.

The idea is to answer correctly, and to do so quickly. Another game, focusing on ‘memory’, presents a series of patterns you have to recall precisely. Still another part of the test may focus on your ability at paying attention: across the screen, a bird and a number flash quickly. The aim is to click the mouse on the exact spot the bird was located and to remember the number that was flashed (on another part of the screen) soon after.

After this initial ‘test’, you are given a score, which will usually leave much room for improvement. In order to avail of the personalised programme created for you, you have to pay a minimum of one month’s fee. The games are truly so much fun that just thinking that they are also working on your brain fitness, makes them quite irresistible. They reveal an undeniable truth: the most effective ways of learning are usually those which are also the most engaging.

If you would like to try out some free brain training games first, try websites like Brainmetrix.com , which tests everything from your reflexes to your spatial intelligence and creativity.

What to look out for when purchasing a Brain Training app/programme:

Personalisation: We all have different goals and weak points that need work. Therefore, a ‘one size fits all’ mentality is not appropriate when it comes to brain training.

Targeted training: Brain training is not just any game or activity which activates brain functioning, it involves activities which target specific abilities/neural circuits.

Duration: Each targeted brain function should be stimulated for 15-20 hours over maximum period of approximately two months. This is why purchasing  good programme after doing your research into different companies, is wise. Some of the best programmes will set you back around £4.99 a month, which isn’t too great an investment considering the advantages offered.

– Graded difficulty: The games/activities should get harder as you progress, to challenge you to a sufficient degree that improvement is made.

Complementary Activities

To sharpen your memory for upcoming exams, there are many strategies you can adopt which will complement your brain training programme. These include:

Using Learning Maps: Recall large amounts of information more effectively by using visual maps. According to the creator of the ‘Thinking Maps’ method, Dr. David Hyerle, there are eight different types of learning maps: the circle, bubble, double bubble, tree, brace, flow, multi-flow and bridge map.

Each map is used for different tasks. The Tree Map is particularly useful for organising large amounts of information. Create a tree map by dividing one subject into different main and sub-headings. Having all the information written in a condensed form on one piece of paper will help you see how each part of the subject relates to the whole, and will enable you to remember details more efficiently.

Break up the information into chunks: Memorise smaller quantities of information on a daily basis, rather than leaving an inordinate amount of work for the week or day before the exam.

Go mnemonic: Use imagery, rhymes, songs or acronyms to recall long lists of information.

Discover your own personal way of learning: Some students find that reading notes out in a loud voice increasing their ability to retain information; others prefer to review highlighted information various times. It is crucial to take the time to discover what works best for you and to stick to it relentlessly.

Relate it, retain it: Studies have shown that memory increases when we make associations between new and existing information. This is why investing time in mapping is so important: it highlights how the parts of a subject relate to its whole.

We hope that you have found this blog post interesting. If you would like to share your brain training tips, please feel free to add a comment.

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How to prepare for your A levels

Oh dear. Michael Gove is planning to make A levels more difficult.

Not the news many students starting these challenging exams would want to hear. What it does mean however is that doing well at these exams will soon require more preparation and dedication than in the past.

A levels

You will need to sharpen your academic skills in areas like researching, writing, references, problem solving, analytics and critical thinking.

What follows are our tips to help you choose the right subjects and prepare properly for your AS and A level exams.

Select the right subjects

Take time to talk to your sixth form or college tutor; they will help you select the subjects you will need to pursue your degree of interest at university. If you do not have a chosen career in mind, go with the subjects that most interest you; this will make it easier to select a career that truly fulfils you in the long run.

It’s also a good idea to research into the syllabi of any new subjects that were not available while you were studying for your GCSEs. See whether the skills the subjects demand and your own strengths coincide. If you are set on a particular university, try to elicit which subjects are most likely to get you accepted in that particular institution.

Check out websites of these universities; Cambridge University, for instance, has published a list of subjects they deem less effective preparation for their courses. These subjects should best be avoided if they interfere with your chances of entering the university of your dreams.

Be aware, there are difficult subjects with high workloads and easier subjects. Be careful about taking too many difficult subjects, if you have any doubt in your ability to pass them. You will get to hear who people rate as the best and the worst A level teachers, so bear this in mind when making your selection.

Revise regularly

Revision should be a regular task; at the end of every week, all your notes should be revised and digested into a format that is easier to memorise. If you allow week after week to pass without looking at your notes, it will only make the task more daunting. Revising regularly does not mean allowing yourself to ‘burn out’. It is up to you to determine how many hours daily or weekly you need to efficiently summarise, memorise and conduct the necessary research.

You may work best by studying for two or three days steadily then giving yourself a two-day break. When you do allow yourself some leisure time, use it wisely. Make sure that you truly disconnect by doing something you love. Social interaction is likewise vital if you don’t want to feel like A levels revision is costing you your personal life.

Use effective study tools

One of the most effective ways of reducing a large bulk of information into a more manageable format is through the use of mind maps. These break a subject up into headings/main ideas, subsidiary ideas or sub-headings and more specific details, using visual imagery to increase memory retention and help students relate parts of a subject or idea to the whole. A good mind map will use colour, images and text to boost memory and concentration.

Practice past exam papers

One of the best ways to learn to manage your time during the exams, and to ensure you are familiar with the format and nature of the questions you are likely to encounter is by doing past exams; the more you do, the more comfortable you will be on exam day.

There are many past exams available on the Internet, though if you run out of material, ask your teacher if they can help you access more tests. Remember that the questions you will encounter are not likely to be the same, but that is not the point of completing practice exams – rather, it is the nature of the questions, the structure of the exam and the time you will be allowed for each section, which are of interest.

Acknowledge the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet

Keeping up your energy levels for two entire years is quite a challenge; it helps to feel vital, healthy and fit while you are revising, so make sure to include brain boosting foods (like fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and foods, which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids).

Create a study group

Some of you will be self-starters. You will prefer to study alone and do not need others to set and work towards goals. Others, however, work best in a social setting. You may find the company of others motivating. If you find that working in a study group works for you, create one. Establish rules with your group mates from the outset, including the length and number of breaks, etc. Share vital resources and tips gleaned and test each other regularly to identify possible neglected areas in your respective study plans.

No stress allowed the night before the exam

If you have been consistently preparing for two years, do you really need that last night to cram information into your brain? Have confidence in what your discipline and hard work has achieved; get an early night to ensure your memory and concentration are in tip-top shape on your big day.

You don’t need to unload all of your knowledge on exam day

Think about the question you are being asked and answer it: One of the most annoying aspects of correcting an A level exam is finding a long-winded answer intended to show how much the student knows about a given subject, that does not actually answer the question posed. This is why doing past exams is so useful; they train you to divide your ideas into clearly defined paragraphs, and to connect your ideas in a logical and comprehensible manner.

Reward yourself

A levels are a hard slog. Make sure to reward yourself along the way, and to plan one special reward for doing so well on your A level exams, a nice meal or camping trip maybe. Having something to look forward to can be useful when you motivation flags.

I hope that you have found this blog post informative and useful. All that’s left is to wish you the best of luck with your A levels.

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Exam Tips: 10 ways to ensure that you don’t make silly mistakes

We’ve made silly mistakes and not done ourselves justice when it came to exam time.

Who hasn’t spent too long on an answer to a question? Answered the wrong question? Maybe you couldn’t even answer a single question? These moments haunt us the moment we leave the exam room. The purpose of this blog post is to give you ten ways of making sure that you are well prepared for the dreaded exams, and do as well as you can on the day.

Whether you are a University student or you are in the final years of secondary school, one of the most mentally exhausting times of the year is surely when exam season comes around.

ExamsExams do more than test our academic knowledge; they also pose a challenge to our sense of discipline, commitment and confidence. Overcoming these fears can be accomplished through effective time management, and by planning for exams from the time our course commences, instead of leaving it all to the last minute and allowing panic to take hold of us.

Some successful strategies to adopt to ensure the best possible outcome at exam time, include:

1. Creating a study plan

About a week or two into your course, it should be clear how much time you need to revise notes and undertake additional research, in order to stay updated with your course content. When making your study plan, make sure not to allocate too much time to one subject and allow for leisure activities and free time with family and friends.

If you allocate a specific amount of hours to one subject, try to stick to your plan strictly. This will force you to make the most of your time by discouraging distractions (such as television breaks or Internet surfing). A strict time schedule will also force you to adopt efficient study aids there are (for instance, mind maps, which can shorten revision time considerably).

The key to a good study plan is viewing exam revision as a continuous process instead of a short, intense burst of activity at the end of a course/trimester or semester. At least once a week, revise all your notes and summarise or highlight key points. Doing this will ensure that important ideas are fresh in your mind when exams roll around.

2. Not getting bogged down

Some students find that despite spending inordinate amounts of time on study, their exam results do not reflect the effort expended.

This can indicate that time is not being used wisely; for instance, students may be spending too much time researching one small aspect of a subject rather than keeping the larger picture in mind. This is why learning maps can be such a useful aid they establish the main and subsidiary elements of a subject or theme and guide you on where you should place the greatest effort.

3. Practice, practice, practice

You will find old exam papers for GCSE’s and A levels online at the examining board websites. At University, most libraries have copies of past exams in a given subject. These are some of the best resources you will find, since they will usually contain a similar exam structure to what you might expect to find.

Above all, past exams can help you train to answer a set amount of questions in a set amount of time. If you find exams which were set by the same lecturer or teacher who is currently teaching you, they will be doubly useful, since they will provide important insight into the type of questions you can expect.

4. Checking your notes

Attending classes and lectures is key, since the contents of your notes are the clearest indicator of the aspects which your teacher/professor deems most important. Don’t go off into tangents when studying; focus on the same elements your teacher does.

5. Starting a study group

If you find that working with friends does not distract you, you may decide to start a study group. Stay focused and bring up key questions during revision sessions.

Studying with others and discussing important topics can enlighten you on fascinating new ideas and approaches which you may decide to bring up in an exam. Observe the study habits of the most successful students in your group and emulate them.

6. Using your tutorials

Your tutor will normally be available at specific times to answer questions and doubts. List down your biggest doubts and queries, so your tutor can address all these issues within the allocated time.

7. Getting an early night’s sleep

If you have stuck to your study plan, then there will be no reason for cramming the night before an exam. Sleep deprivation can cause you to commit errors and can negatively affect your ability to retain information.

If you are nervous the day before an exam, seek out natural ways to get rid of the stress. Head for the gym for a tiring workout, have a relaxing bath, or diffuse essential oils like lavender throughout a room to promote a sense of calm. Face even the toughest exams with a calm and confident stance; your results will reveal the consistent efforts you have made.

8. Time management

If you find that you are going over the allocated time in one particular question or part, skip it and come back to it later; otherwise, you could be missing out on easy points you can achieve by answering questions you know.

If the exam is multiple-choice, make sure you leave no questions unanswered; a few lucky guesses may make an important difference to the marks you achieve.

9. Answering the question

In essay-type exams, students often make the mistake of writing down absolutely all the information they know or remember on a specific point, instead of simply providing the information they have been requested to. This can annoy the examiner and wrest from the clarity and quality of the essay.

10. Hanging around

If you have finished 10, 20 minutes or even half an hour before the allocated time for an exam, do not leave; use this time to revise the questions, ensuring all have been answered.

Take a look at your answers; is there an interesting fact or opinion you have failed to mention in an essay-type question, or have you answered a multiple choice question wrong because you misread what the examiner was asking?  This is also a good time to check for unprofessional looking errors like grammar and spelling mistakes.

I hope that you have found these tips useful, and can put them to practical use in your exam preparation. All that remains is to wish you the best of luck!

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Are we creating mental health issues with incessant testing?

I’ve raised the issue of testing before as parents are worried about the impact of continual testing on our children. But when the teachers begin to suspect that there’s too much stress for children to handle it makes it all the more worrying.

Mental health

In this article in the Guardian the ‘Secret Teacher’ raises the issue many of us are beginning to suspect. That children are so pressured it has detrimental influence on, not only their performance, but on their health too. Yet teachers are expected to maintain this pressure to ensure good test outcomes, sometimes overrating the importance of these good scores to the kids. And this is happening to children at earlier and earlier ages.

I say overrating the importance because that is a point. Children are put through endless tests and assessments and drilled into thinking that GCSEs and A level results are going to be the only way forward to a productive and successful life. Often coerced into taking more and more of them without being told there are successful alternatives, as home educated youngsters are proving.

My worry is, where will it all end? How much more pressure are we going to put on young people before we call enough is enough? And who are these results all for?

Are they for the kids? Interesting that many home educated kids go forward into productive lives, some via Uni, without ever having been exposed to this kind of stress, some without having done any kind of test until they decided for themselves what exams were relevant to them and going for them.

Are they for the teachers to help them assess children? Funny, but I heard from a head teacher recently that all the scores and assessments which were passed on with the child to the next level of their education were hardly ever used. Teachers are far too busy teaching for the next set of tests anyway. And as the Secret Teacher says in the article, teachers need to cover their backs and in some cases are having to sacrifice the development of individuals to do so.

Are they for the parents? Parents are conned by the same story as the kids; that without these results they’ll amount to nothing. Totally untrue as many home educated children are now beginning to prove.

Are they for the schools? Well schools do always have their eyes on League tables and they are big business now. I have heard tales of kids being ‘encouraged’ to do subjects and exams that they weren’t interested in for the sake of the schools’ league tables rather than the individual’s development.

Are they for the politics? Definitely. Politicians want continual assessment of our kids and results to flaunt and build statistics with, so they can suggest to parents that they’ve been successful. In this political game our children are little more than pawns.

But what is successful? Statistics are engineered to produce the results wanted anyway – we all know that.  But increasing numbers of children with mental health issues couldn’t be classed as successful. Increasing numbers of children disillusioned with education because they’ve been lied to, as the Secret Teacher suggests, are not a success.

And increasing numbers of parents and teachers turning to home schooling would point to the fact that they don’t think the test heavy climate of school is successful either.

As the Secret Teacher points out, we need to rethink our priorities. And it is up to parents to start questioning and maybe demand an end to the plague of test obsession, before it becomes a plague of mental health issues among our youngsters.

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Exam motivation: 12 tips to get you started

Finding it hard to get started with your revision? Can’t settle down to it? Just staring blankly at your notes? You need to get motivated. The purpose of this blog post is to give you some tips on how to get started and work effectively.

Motivation1. Set high standards

There are few things more despairing than having to repeat exams, to have to do extra work or even repeat a subject because you have not achieved the grades you are able to. Aim for top marks instead of just a pass, as having a challenging goal will inspire you to put in considerably more effort.

2. Devise and stick to a Study Plan

Begin planning for your exam early in the academic year, sticking to a strict study plan and revising your notes on at least a weekly basis, so you don’t have to cram or stay up the night before the exam. Experiment with new study methods you may not have used in the past (such as reading your notes out to yourself out loud, using mind maps to clarify large quantities of information and using note cards for revision during the day).

3. Set realistic goals

If you are working on a thesis or long essay and you are starting to feel like you are never going to complete it, start working on it early so you have the luxury of breaking your work up into several smaller parts. For instance, if you are working on an Honours thesis and you need to write 10,000 words, try writing just 1,000 or even 5,000 words per study session. Reward yourself for days in which you achieve double your target word count, by enjoying some free time the following day.

4. Find inspiring teachers

If you are able to select subjects, opt for those taught by teachers who inspire you to new heights of excellence. An inspiring teacher is one who sees your potential and who often goes above and beyond the call of duty to motivate you in a given subject. This type of teacher may suggest excellent sources of further reading or may even lend you their own materials. They stand out from the rest because they clearly have a passion for their subject matter, which they are keen on passing on to their students.

Feeling comfortable with a teacher will also enable you to approach them about your study strategies; make sure you are on the same wavelength when it comes to identifying key areas of the course/subject which are likely to appear on future exams.

5. Do more than the bare minimum

When a subject is difficult, the best way to master it is by delving into it more thoroughly (in the case of humanities-based subjects), or tackling more difficult problems than the ones you are currently being asked to solve (in the case of science or maths subjects).

This does not mean spending an inordinate amount of time on minute details; it simply involves spending a little of your free time reading up on an author or subject you are studying, or tackling a few difficult problems with the help of a tutor, Internet resources and even YouTube videos. As your knowledge base becomes more advanced, previously difficult aspects of a subject grow considerably easier or more familiar.

6. Create a Study Group

One of the best things about school and university is the chance to share ideas with fellow students. Use group study time wisely, keeping chatting and socialising to short, set breaks. During a study session, test each other’s knowledge by asking questions which are likely to be encountered in the exam, ask each other questions about areas you may be having difficulty with and share resources.

7. Avoid distractions

Don’t have your computer on or your phone nearby if you may be too tempted to surf or socialise with friends. Avoid pausing several times, this could cause you to waste hours of valuable study time. You will also need to find the most suitable place for study, if home is a bustling, noisy place, it might be best to find a cosy spot in the library, where you can truly concentrate for long, uninterrupted periods of time.

8. Reward yourself 

Don’t concentrate on just one reward for successful performance at a final exam; rather, give yourself many small rewards (be it a trip to the cinema, afternoon run or break time watching your favourite show) for study goals accomplished. The reward for your final exam can be more significant e.g. a trip to a country you have always wanted to visit, or a once-in-a-lifetime experience such as scuba diving or even parachuting!

9. Create other goals

Difficult courses and subjects can wrest from our motivation because it can often feel like they are consuming all our free time. If you manage your time efficiently, you will be able to enjoy other pursuits (leisure, sport, reading for pleasure, etc.). Being motivated is often dependent upon feeling fulfilled with your life in general. You need to fill various baskets (social interaction, family time, etc.) to achieve a sense of completeness.

10. Find inspiration

If you are in secondary school, the book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful Teens, can be highly motivational. Habits mentioned by the author include being proactive, beginning a task with the end goal in mind and prioritising tasks. Older readers will likewise find a wealth of helpful books and online resources which provide core character traits shared by successful individuals.

11. Be true to yourself

It is important to set goals and to aim to achieve great things, regardless of what those around may be doing. If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, says author Sean Covey.

12. How you behave affects how you think

A lack of motivation stems from not thinking that we have the capacity to achieve success. By adopting habits of successful people (consistency, proper time management, setting goals, etc.), we can begin to feel more successful, which is bound to affect our exam results in a positive sense.

I hope that you have found these tips useful. If you would like to share the things that you do to get motivated for exams, we would love to hear them.

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Exam tips: Beating the Blues

We all know how stressful exam time can be. Fear is a powerful emotion, and the fear of exams can cause your mood to spiral downwards, especially when we think that we may fail.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide some tips on how to get your stress under control, so that you can do your very best in your exams.

Beating the bluesBeating the ‘exam blues‘ isn’t as difficult as you might imagine, and the following tips will help you see the sunnier side of this challenging period of your life.

Take regular exercise

Cardiovascular and strength training workouts alike enable you to recover from stress more quickly. They also promote the production of endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Exercise also reduces levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which, when present for too long at excessive levels, increases the risk for depression and mental illness, and can even lower one’s life expectancy.

The link between elevated cortisol levels and depression is especially strong in teenagers. Another way to keep cortisol levels down is through socialising – you’ll be glad to hear.

Find peace and relaxation 

Practices like yoga, Tai-Chi and meditation have traditionally been used to promote relaxation and mental clarity. They can be particularly helpful during exam time because they require a great degree of concentration; simply remaining in a challenging yoga pose or completing the slow, graceful movements of Tai-Chi definitely require you to be in the moment.

Meditation likewise requires you to clear your mind of unproductive thoughts. It promotes relief from stress, which, when experienced in a chronic state, can cause a slump in your mood and your motivation levels.

If you are interested in this, why not checkout if there are any classes near to where you live.

Seek out positive company

People who are anxious, gossipy or negative can influence your outlook on life and stop you from viewing exams as just one step towards a more fruitful future. When a big exam is forthcoming, it is important to think of what happens when they are finished: the rewards you will reap, the free time you have, the extra time you will have for family and friends.

Talk it through

Dwelling on negative thoughts is not productive and will darken your mood. Find someone you trust to talk to – maybe a family member or a friend, tell them about your frustration and share your concerns. Talking with someone understands you, can take a huge weight off your shoulders. They can help you regain perspective and help you find a way of coming to terms with your concerns.

Do what makes you happy

Do you like nothing more than sitting in a cinema with a bucket of popcorn in your hands? Is your definition of sheer joy racing down a mountain or your bike? Or is your most appealing thought that of curling up by the fireplace with a good book? Often, our lives are filled with too many tasks, duties and sacrifices, and not enough moments of bliss. If you have found your own personal oasis, escape to it, if only for a few minutes a day.

Improve your diet

Fill your diet with foods that will boost your mood; avoid those which contain high levels of trans fats, sugar and salt. These foods often cause your blood glucose to rise quickly, causing your energy levels to dip soon afterwards.

Rather than promote sluggishness by consuming one or two large meals a day, aim to consume five smaller meals a day, filled with healthy, low-glycaemic index fruits and vegetables. The latter will release energy into your body in a much slower, more constant way, so you feel physically and mentally equipped to tackle all the study goals you have set for yourself on a daily basis.

For those who feel that natural anti-depressants would help, St. John’s Wort (referred to by health guru, Leslie Kenton as probably the best herbal anti-depressant nature has to offer). Various clinical studies have proven this remedy to be at least as effective as typical anti-depressant drugs. If it works for you, this could be an excellent way to banish the blues and stay motivated to achieve top marks in your exams.

Consuming enough Omega-3 fatty acids may likewise be a good way to battle depression. These fats can be found in foods like walnuts, wild salmon and other fatty fish.

Before you embark on using any natural products, we would recommend that see your family doctor first, mentioning any natural remedies you wish to take, to ensure they are suitable for you.

Make sure it is just a case of ‘exam blues’ and not depression

Anxiety or depression affects nearly one in every five adults in the UK. Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression. We all suffer from the blues once in a while but if you suspect you are actually in the midst of a full-blown depression, you should seek your doctor to obtain a diagnosis.

Some signs that you may be suffering from depression include the loss of interest in people, things and activities you used to enjoy, a strong sense of hopelessness, sleep problems, changes in eating patterns, unusual irritability and suicidal thoughts. The latter is a wake-up call that you need urgent help. You should also be aware that depression and anxiety often occur concurrently.

Anxiety can manifest itself in panic attacks, which are highly unpleasant and a source of great fear for sufferers, who sometimes feel like they are having a heart attack or who can feel extremely dizzy and even faint.

We hope that you have found this article useful. If you have your own tips on how to beat the exam blues, please feel free to share them with us – we would love to hear them.

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The stars that shined after failing at school

Rapper Plan B recently hit out at schools and business for letting youngsters down. He believes there’s not enough support for kids that fail at education, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Simon CowellIn some respects he was lucky. After being excluded from mainstream school he wound up in a pupil referral unit where he changed his attitude and turned his life around to get some qualifications.

Now he’s a successful performer and uses his profile to improve the chances of youngsters like him.

Plan B – real name Ben Drew – told Victoria Derbyshire on Radio 4 Live: “If you’re a school in the league tables, you don’t want to be taking on troublemakers. It makes the stats look bad at the end of the year.

“My head of year told me that at the time, he warned the school will look for any excuse to get rid of me. It made it really hard for me to want to behave myself because I was just another statistic.”

However, history is littered by stories of people, like Ben, who succeeded in spite of how they did in mainstream school, not because of it.

Simon Cowell is now one of TV’s most powerful forces, but he left school with just two O Levels. His first job was working in the mail room at EMI Records.

Russell Brand didn’t manage to get any A Levels and was expelled from the Italia Conti Academy for taking drugs and bunking off yet is now widely celebrated for his sharp mind and often quoted when he says important things.

Lord Alan Sugar famously dropped out of school because it wasn’t very interesting to start selling car aerials and electrical goods from a van. Now he’s hugely successful in business and on TV’s The Apprentice.

Sir Richard Branson left school with no qualifications at all having struggled due to dyslexia. He’s now gone about as far as it’s possible to go.

Sir Philip Green left school at 15 to start a shoe importing company, now he’s head of a global fashion empire and reportedly worth £3.3billion.

Sir Winston Churchill did badly at school, failing the entrance exam to the Royal Military College twice. He went on to become one of the most notable leaders in history.

Thomas Edison was described by a teacher as having an “addled” mind. Eventually he was home educated and grew up to invent the light bulb.

Albert Einstein was disruptive in class and couldn’t read until he was seven. He was expelled from the Rotterdam Academy for bringing a rabid skunk to school. His teachers said he’d never amount to much.

Image: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

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