Half term shenanigans

So the iGCSE is done and dusted, the Shakespeare paper has been tackled this morning and pupils will be breathing a sigh of relief up and down the country… Not quite so for the GCSE lot, who have English Language still to go – cruelly placed as it is, just after half term.

How do you maintain that exam focus over a week of holiday?  Yes, of course, you stick to your revision timetable, and you try to remember to eat well, and, if you’re like me as a teenager, you lock yourself in your room for a few days at a time only to reveal yourself, mad-doctor-haired and more than a little smelly, desperate for a shower on about Wednesday afternoon.

crazy-professor-28436930The most important thing you can possibly do though, no matter where you are in your exams and no matter how many you still have to go, is to give yourself a day off.  A whole day. Preferably (and I know that in terms of your social life this is tantamount to suggesting you run through the school shouting the national anthem while wearing a bear costume) while turning your phone/laptop/brain-chip that connects you to your friends off.

I can hear people scoffing.  But you’ve just spent the last few weeks living, breathing and dreaming exams.  You’ve been in school every day or revising at home, you’ve sat in the same spot in the exam hall staring at the head of the same boy in front of you through hour upon hour of test and you’ve spent your break times and lunch times conferring with your friends about which bits were easy and which bits were hard, probably winding yourself and each other up about all the silly little mistakes you might have made but won’t know about for sure until results day.  You need to just…stop.  Have a day off. Spend it outdoors.  Spend it with your family but tell them they’re not allowed to mention the E or the R words.  (That’s ‘exam’ and ‘revision’ not ‘Emergency Room,’ though probably best to avoid a trip there too.)  Go to the seaside, engage in some mindless window shopping, play with your little brother, walk the dog, read a magazine, watch the news and remember the real world out there, go to the park, go swimming – do whatever it is that you used to do back in the days when you were ‘normal’ and not thinking about Geography Unit 2 when you woke up in a sweaty panic in the middle of the night.

Have a day off.  Your books will be there tomorrow.  And when you’ve had a good, old-fashioned exhausting day of playing out, (which no one is ever too old for, by the way) sleep well, set your alarm for a decent time and get going on that revision.  It’ll be worth it.

Favouritism

047d039e0bdfdda1503c03154f3b8966It’s no secret that teachers don’t have favourite pupils.  It’s unprofessional, cruel to the other children in the class and generally not fair as, of course, all children have the right to be treated equally,  But what I – and I suspect most teachers – do have, are pupils that stick in the memory, even ten or twenty years down the line.

In my first job I had a Theatre Studies class with one particular student who was so incredibly talented that he made me cry during his examined performance.  I taught a boy in an A level English class who used to bring me poems and bits of novels he was working on.  I had a girl in one GCSE class who struggled a great deal but worked so hard that she got an A* through sheer force of will – and she did AS English a year early, at the same time as her GCSEs, and got an A.

All of these pupils from ten years ago, and many from more recent schools that I’ve worked in, stand out for me from the hundreds – thousands? – that I’ve taught.  But what I absolutely love about tutoring is that now, all my pupils are memorable, and for all the right reasons.  Every tutee that I see is here because they want to learn.  They want to improve.  They’ve taken the brave step of acknowledging that they need help with some particular aspect of their learning – even if they’re not completely sure what that is and they need me to help them figure it out – and they’ve arrived, pen in hand, ready to go.  Some of them are very shy, some are confident, some seem confident but are actually incredibly nervous.  I’ve tutored pupils whom schools have refused to teach – who have all turned out, by the way, to be bright, sparky, impressive young people.  I’ve tutored pupils with SEN who are floundering in classes of 30 at school, and who have sat with me, drunk copious amounts of tea, given it their all and done the unthinkable – passed a GCSE that ‘everybody’ said they would fail.  I absolutely love tutoring because every student that comes through my door leaves again more confident and motivated, better equipped to face their difficulties and feeling ready for the next step.  So no, I don’t have favourites.  It wouldn’t be fair.  They’re all brilliant and I remember them all with a fierce pride.

Haikus rise at dawn

Haikus rise at dawnhaiku
through the dreamer’s protesting
yawns and make her sing.

Creative writing has long been part of the GCSE English syllabus in some form or another and some A level options allow students to write creatively too, but lots of adults shelve their creativity and inwardly decide that they weren’t ever very good anyway, so there’s no point in carrying on writing now they’ve got jobs and children and inlaws to contend with.  If you, like me, have exercise books full of slightly angsty teenage poems tucked away in the attic, make some time to dust them off and start writing again – you may be surprised at what’s tucked away between their cardboard covers and within your mind!

What do you gain from writing creatively?

  • Peace and quiet to do it (tell the kids that Mummy’s got to do her homework)
  • An outlet for your feelings
  • An excuse to use beautiful stationery
  • Space to explore your imagination
  • A chance to question yourself about your ideas and emotions
  • A new way to look at yourself

Put simply, creative writing, even the most fantastical of it, in some way reflects life.  Tell a story and you understand a little more of yourself and of the world around you.  It’s worth investing in.

I’ll be running creative writing workshops for adults very soon – get in touch for more details.

When exams go wrong…

exam-stress-cartoon

Sometimes, after months of hard work, hundreds of timed essays, a carefully planned revision timetable and more coffee than is good for you, it goes wrong anyway.  The exam board suddenly changes the question style, or you sleep really badly the night before, or you’re ill, or you just panic – and it feels like the end of the world, because you put in all. that. work. for. nothing.  Add in the pressure of having to get up tomorrow and do an entirely different exam, or, worse, college places hanging in the balance or university applications looming, and some students find themselves facing very real – and very upsetting – stress.

So what can you, the student, do about it?  Nothing – and everything.  Nothing, because what’s done is done.  In that sense, you need to do your utmost to put it behind you as soon as possible because you don’t want the upset to affect tomorrow’s exam, or tonight’s revision for that matter.  Shake it off, go for a run, play a computer game, have a long bath – do something that will take your mind off it for the next hour or so.  Then put the offending books out of sight (but don’t bin them!), get the next lot out, and crack on.

(Parents often find that whatever they say in this situation is entirely wrong – however lovely you are about it, a very distressed student may well interpret your concern and care as an indication that either you didn’t think they were clever enough in the first place, or you don’t understand how upset they are, or why.  They’ll realise you don’t mean any of these things eventually, but in the immediate aftermath, it may be best to offer hugs while they’re crying and to just listen to their fears with plenty of tea and cake on hand.)

And then, as I said, you can do everything.  You can use this upset to fuel your determination to get through the rest of your exams.  Once they’re over you can talk to your teachers and make a plan for next year – maybe a resit, maybe not.  Maybe your coursework result will be enough to pull you through.  Maybe your chosen university will accept you even if you drop a grade.  Maybe an AS resit will be far easier by the time you’ve done a whole year of A2 work.  There are lots of maybes out there, and they don’t involve punishing yourself.  If you want to resit, great, do it with bells on!  If you don’t, make a new plan.

Because here’s a secret.  Exams are, really, totally, enormously important.  While you’re doing them.  Next year, this lot won’t matter so much.  And the year after that, they’ll hardly matter at all.  Your SATs are the most important exams you’ll ever do…until your GCSEs.  And your degree is the most important qualification you’ll ever get…until you can write on your CV that you’ve got X years of experience in the job.  There is ALWAYS a way forward.  There is ALWAYS something new around the corner. There is ALWAYS a next stage.  And yes, right now, your exams are important, and it would be foolish to say otherwise. But one day, a few maybes away, noone will give two hoots what you got in your A levels because they’ll be far more interested in you being able to explain an example of how you once overcame adversity, and they might even give you a job if they like your answer.  Or, maybe, you’ll be the one conducting the interview.  Maybe maybe maybe…

Revision Blues

So, how do you approach that enormous pile of files and books?  Put them under your pillow and hope the information magically gets into your brain while you dream?  It’s one approach, but I can’t guarantee it’ll work… What I can guarantee though, is that starting is the hardest and most important bit.  Here are some ideas on how  to get going.

  • Make a plan.  Work out how many days you have until the end of your exams, and then how many revision sessions you can do per day.  If you’re on study leave then you can probably do 2 sessions in the morning and 2 in the afternoon.  You might want to do some evening sessions too.  Keep your sessions fairly short – an hour to an hour and a half is fine, depending on your age and attention span.
  • Get a big bit of paper and draw a calendar on it, showing each of those days and sessions.  Write your exams on it.
  • Go through each of your subject files and write a list of all the topics you need to revise.
  • Work backwards from your exams and put your topics into your calendar.  Use a pencil as you’ll need to rearrange them while you work this out!
  • Remember that one session per topic is probably not enough.  Plan in second sessions to go back over your notes and consolidate your learning.  Also plan in sessions where you can do timed past papers and essay questions.
  • You might not stick to this calendar rigidly, but if it’s there, prominently on your wall, it should help you keep focused on all the things you need to do.

Next, decide your approach for each subject.  Get organised – you need a file where you can find things quickly and easily.  In English you might need time to do any or all of the following:

  • Re-read your texts
  • Learn quotations
  • Study the mark scheme
  • Read exemplar essays
  • Read through your own old essays and preps
  • Read past examiners’ reports
  • Plan essays using the mark scheme to help
  • Write essays
  • Write essays in timed conditions

How do you learn quotations?  Some people find this really easy and others find it awful.  If you’re in the latter camp, try and integrate it into your everyday life.  For each theme or character you need a sheet of plain A4.  Write the name of the character or theme in the middle and circle it, then go through the text and pick out the main, appropriate quotations.  Write them around the page in different colours so they stand out.  Once you’ve done this for the whole text, wallpaper your bedroom.  That way when you’re losing focus during your revision and you glance up to stare into space, you’ll find yourself staring at King Lear instead…  Another good place to put them is in the bathroom.  Nothing like staring at the loo door to help you learn quotations about philosophy and the meaning of life!

So how do you start revising?  Make a plan and then…just start!

Learning styles

“But how do I revise?” is a question I hear several times a year.  There’s no easy answer unfortunately – you are an individual with individual needs!  A good place to start is to decide what kind of learner you are.  Think about your lessons at school, for instance.  Do you learn best by listening to the teacher and then writing down notes?  Or would you forget everything she was saying before it got to paper?  Perhaps you need to keep moving while you learn – do you pace your room while reciting verbs?  Or maybe you need to see the idea in written or figurative form, and then write copious notes of your own? Basically, do you learn best by listening, moving or seeing?  Once you have answered this question, you can use your own personal learning style to help you during your revision.

Auditory learner tips (LISTEN):

  • Go through your notes with someone – ask each other questions
  • Record your notes and then listen to them
  • Talk to yourself while you revise – read aloud and ask yourself questions about the topic
  • Listen to quiet music while you work (although bear in mind some people find this very distracting – know yourself!)

Kinaesthetic learner tips (MOVE):

  • Use flash cards and turn using them into a game
  • Take regular breaks from your revision to go and do something active
  • Fiddle with something like blutack or a stressball while you’re working
  • Think of physical examples of the concepts you’re revising where possible

Visual learner tips (SEE):

  • Turn your notes into colourful diagrams such as mind maps
  • If you’re writing notes in list form, make them interesting to look at, with colours and hilighters to help you cross reference
  • Use flash cards
  • Watch videos explaining the idea you’re trying to learn

Next time:  How to begin your revision

Preparation. Research. Education. Productivity.

PREP: to prepare/to make ready/to get in gear.

  • Early entry exams not go so well?
  • UCAS a nightmare?
  • Thousands of words and no time to proofread them?

Don’t do it alone.  Get PREPPED.

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