SAT and ACT preparation

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It’s been a long summer here at Prep in York and I can hardly believe that it’s now October!

Excitingly, I am now offering ACT and SAT preparation for students worldwide who will be taking these tests for entrance to universities in the USA.  As one of the only providers of this preparation (for the English, Reading and Writing aspects of the tests) in the UK, I have been delighted with the uptake I have had over the past month or so, and find that it complements my lower school, GCSE and A level teaching perfectly!  If you are thinking of taking one of these tests and of applying to American universities, please do get in touch for a no obligation chat.

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Easter holiday English tuition

revisionbartSpots during the Easter holidays are filling up fast – existing tutees, please get in touch ASAP to let me know when you’d like your lessons as it is first come, first served during holiday periods.  It’s a very short holiday (more’s the pity, I hear you cry!) and I’m already fully booked on some days.  If you’re new to tuition, please remember that this is the busiest time of the year and there is a waiting list for some slots.  Get in touch soon to make sure you can get booked in.

And on that note, have you made your revision timetable?

The big question: how do I make a USEFUL revision timetable?

Lots of students tell me that they don’t have a revision timetable because they don’t know where to start with making one.  Lots of other students tell me that they’ve made a revision timetable but they don’t use it!

There’s no point in making a revision timetable unless it’s going to be useful to YOU and YOUR learning style and YOUR habits. The first thing you need to do is decide whether you want it to be colourful and beautiful, stuck above your desk, or whether you want it to be accessible everywhere, perhaps on a calendar app on your phone.

Steps:

  1.  Title a large piece of paper with subject 1’s name.  Repeat for all subjects.
  2. Write a list of all the modules you’ll be examined on, and using them as subheadings, write down ALL the different topics you have to know.  Check your text books, your notes, your mark schemes and your past papers so you’re sure you haven’t missed anything out.
  3. On another large piece of paper, draw a table showing how many days you have until exam season.
  4. Fill in your exam modules.
  5. For each subject, work back from your exams.  The fortnight before each exam you shouldn’t be revising anything for the first time, so block out those weeks.  Those will be purely for past papers.  The number of days left between now and then are what you have to work with.
  6. Count the number of topics you have to learn for each subject, and the number of days you have available.  Fill them in – in as logical an order as you can manage.
  7. Remember that looking at a topic once is highly unlikely to be enough!  Give yourself at least three different occasions to look at each topic, a week or so apart.
  8. Most people can’t concentrate on one topic for much longer than an hour.  Be reasonable with yourself.  During term time you can probably do a couple of hours revision each evening.  (You’ll also have your frees at school of course.)
  9. You might want to make a neat copy of the final timetable (or enter it into your phone calendar – especially good if you share it with your parents and want them to be able to see what you should be doing).
  10. If you find you’re not sticking to it, don’t abandon it entirely.  Ask yourself why – what about it isn’t working for you?  Address that.  It is far better to have a timetable that works for you than to just dive into some books when you feel like it and hope you’ve got time left to cover everything you need to study.

And the last step – ask me for help!

Do you really need a tutor?

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This might seem like an odd post for a tutor to write.  After all, I’m a tutor, I’m self employed and I rely on my work to keep my children in biscuits and me in books!  (As well as all the boring stuff like heat, light and a roof.)

But it’s a question that is worth asking.  After all, people have all sorts of reasons for deciding to find a tutor.  Here are a few of the reasons I’ve been presented with in the past, and my thoughts on them…

  • My mum wants me to get an A.
    • This might be a really good reason, or it might be a terrible one.  If your parents want you to get an A but you’re currently a D grade student, then it might be worth having a chat about expectations.  But if you’re getting Bs and you can’t figure out how to move up a few marks, and YOU also care and want to get an A, then that’s a different matter.  Ultimately though, your parents wanting you to get certain grades is only a good enough reason if you are on the same page as them.  If you don’t personally care, then no matter how good your tutor is, you won’t make the improvements you need.  You’ve got to be willing to put in the hard work yourself, and you’ve got to want it.
  • I’m bored in my English lessons at school.
    • Ask yourself why you’re bored.  Honestly.  Are you focusing as well as you need to do?  If you’re bored because you’re messing around then try getting on with your lessons and you might begin to find them more interesting!  But if you’re bored because you find the lessons either too easy or too difficult, then a tutor could be just what you need.
  • My dad thinks I don’t read enough.
    • See the first bullet point.  While I generally think that everyone could and should always read more than they are doing (though make sure you get some sleep and food too!), if you want to be inspired to read more and to get more out of what you read, it’s got to come mainly from you.  I am very happy to help but you’ll need to be positive and proactive about it too.
  • My older brother did really well at school and I’m doing badly compared to him.
    • First of all, you’re not your brother.  You don’t need to compare yourself to him, your parents, your school friends or anyone else.  Remember what I said about the desire to improve needing to come from within?  That’s called real motivation.  You need to be aiming to improve yourself, not to improve yourself compared to your mates.  We don’t publish grades in the corridors anymore – what you achieve is noone’s business but yours.
  • I’m getting Ds and I need a C to get into college.
    • Come and see me.  Bring all your files, a good attitude and a pen.
  • I failed my GCSE and need to retake it.
    • As above.  Let’s get going.
  • My parents think it’s a good idea.
    • Do you?  As a tutor my ideal client is someone who wants to learn, whose parents want him or her to learn, and who has a family and school atmosphere that is conducive to learning.  But if all we’ve got is that you want to learn, then that’s good enough for me.

When exams go wrong…

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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!