During our Easter holiday course, the year 5s were learning about 3D and spatial Non-Verbal Reasoning. We were learning how to draw 2D elevations (plan view, side view and front view) from a given 3D shape, but we were also trying to figure out the 3D shape and draw it using only the given 2D elevations. This is much more complex and is not a question type which appears in the 11 plus papers however doing these types of questions helps the child to fully understand the properties of 3D shapes which in turn helps them answer questions which are in the 11 plus such as the CEM style papers which include questions on 3D and spatial Non-verbal Reasoning.
The Olympic Runner is about a runner who is unfairly stereotyped by critics. Rhyming-couplets are used throughout the poem to reflect the steady and fast pace of the runner. There is also a subtle use of irony that makes the poem particularly effective – see if you can spot it.
This poem is a useful teaching tool for KS3 and GCSE students, because it is both fairly easy to understand and uses many structural and language techniques. The non-literal elements are also easily understandable.
The Olympic Runner
The sun beat down so hard it burnt his back,
His feet ate the dust as he ran the endless track,
The wind gave him wings and the miles flew by,
He was gunning for gold, for victory he’d die.
Critics had a field day when he entered the arena,
They could have knocked him down with a feather,
“Sideways you can’t see him through a 50-cent coin,
Bones on a cold carcass make up his manly loin.”
“His feet so long he will surely fall flat on his face,
Legs stretch down like two bamboo poles in place,
From the land of famine he gets not his daily bread,
If he wins, we’ll eat our hats,” in mockery they said.
As he touched the finish line, the crowd went wild,
Cheers heard across the land by every man and child,
His heartbeats so erratic they were beating out of time
If he could take a shot at his critics it’d be no crime.
Sweat streamed down, pooled like rivulets on the floor,
A warrior back from the battlefield, battered and sore,
Standing tall as a Brobdingnagian, the anthem sung
The joy so sweet, he could taste it on his tongue.
He was so tired he felt he could sleep for a year
The cynics struck dumb, had no cause to jeer,
‘A man in a million’ were the headlines that day
“Not a mere man but a giant in spirit,” they say.
By Jacinta Ramayah
During one of our holiday courses, we were working through a Non-Verbal Reasoning paper one section at a time, marking the section and then going over the questions the children got wrong. Now, it was a reasonably tough paper and it was the first full paper these year 5 children had attempted.
All was going well and the children were getting scores reflecting the difficulty of the paper, their individual ability as well as how far they were through the 11 plus course.
We reached the third section (Non-Verbal Reasoning series), marked it and totalled the scores out of 12. It was at this point where one of the top children in the class broke down, put his head in his hands on the table, and began to cry. He had scored 1 out of 12. Nothing would bring him around for us to continue with the class and go over the section.
After a couple of minutes of trying to console him, I began to talk to the child sitting behind him who happened to play chess and tennis for the county. I knew the other child was listening at this point albeit with his head resting on the desk.
“How long did it take you to get your first decent serve?” I asked.
“Two years,” he replied.
“How long did it take you to win your first game of chess?” I asked.
“About 3 months,” he replied.
I then asked the class, “how long do you think it will take to get a decent score in a Non-Verbal Reasoning section? Longer than 6 minutes right?”
The whole class agreed.
You are never going to master something instantly and there will be at least a few occasions where it will be difficult and quite a few where you will make mistakes. Learn from these difficulties and mistakes and try not to let it bring you down or put you off even trying as this is where the learning actually takes place.
The moral of this story is if at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again.
We have all heard the saying ’practice makes perfect’.
Well, that saying is not exactly true- it needs some further insight and explanation.
Take for example, writing your name.
How do you know that what you have written is correct?
When you first learned to write, you had to be told that in English, we write from left to right. You had to be told what the letters were and you were taught to make the connections between those letters to make sounds and eventually create words.
Now imagine that you had only ever written your name once in your entire life. Would you remember how to do it so many years later? You would be able to write your name but would have to think about it. It would not be instinctive, automatic and natural.
The same is true of most things, whether it is mental agility or physical exercise. The brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised in the same way that you would exercise your body.
Nothing is easy
Unless you know how,
What was not easy then,
Might seem quite easy now.
What is hard when you’re three
Isn’t hard when you’re four,
By the time that you’re five,
You will know even more.
It’s not practice, but deep practice that makes perfect. So what is deep practice?
Deep practice is effectively breaking down the components of practising anything, whether it is learning to play tennis or your times tables.
The first step is to break it down into small, manageable pieces.
The next step is to focus ONLY on those small pieces and repeat the practice of them.
The final step is to review what your mistakes were when practising and correcting those until the process ‘feels’ natural.
Do you struggle with exams? Find your mind wandering? Doodling over your notes?
While going through school I found myself choosing more creative subjects such as Design Technology and Music. I loved creating things from scratch, whether it was a new product such as a speaker system in D.T. or a new composition in Music. This is still true to this day.
As I finished my GCSEs and moved on to A levels I found it more and more difficult to memorise and recall facts when it came to revision and taking exams. I now know that this is due to the fact that the right side of my brain is more dominant.
The brain is divided into two equal sides or ‘hemispheres’. We use both sides of our brain on a daily basis. The left side of the brain controls the right side of your body and the right side of the brain controls the left side of your body, however, each side is used for very different tasks when it comes to thinking and carrying out tasks.
The left side of your brain is more logical, verbal and analytical. It handles things like speech, language, facts and mathematical calculations. It also deals with things such as rationality, strategy, details and rules.
The right side of your brain is more creative, non-verbal, intuitive and curious. It also helps us to deal with images, understand context and tone of voice as well as comprehend music.
Neither being more left brain or right brain orientated is better than the other, they are purely two different ways of thinking and although everyone uses their whole brain for different tasks or a combination of both sides for some tasks, the classroom environment seems to favour left sided thinkers more. A large part of exams and learning involve recalling facts, analysing data, logical computations, details and rules. This can leave the right sided thinker feeling quite neglected when it comes to learning and exam taking.
The good news is that once you know whether you are more right brained or left brained, you can use this to your advantage. For example, instead of trying to remember a mathematical equation as it stands, make it more visual. Use things like flashcards, find a way to relate it to an image or story. (‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ to memorise the colours of the rainbow is a good example of this). This will make it much easier for you to remember and recall at a later date.
Once you find out which side is dominant, try doing tasks which use the less dominant side. For example, if you are dominantly left-brained, have a go at some more creative activities. Practically every person has the ability to use both sides of their brain more equally and by doing exercises to boost your less dominant side, you can work your way towards ‘whole brain thinking’
This 30-second test will tell which side of your brain is more dominant as well as the balance between the left side and right. Comment with your results!
My result was L 31 / R 69
Image by Allan Ajifo
These are the seven key technical tips that will help you write a better English essay for your GCSEs.
Many students seem to have little idea about how to plan. Plans need to be logical, structured and indicate the purpose of each paragraph. There are different methods of planning. However, a good plan will keep you disciplined. An essay is supposed to be an ordered piece of writing. Working out timing (how long will you take to write paragraphs) is also a key aspect of planning (you can usually do this before the exam).
- Acknowledging Reader/audience/viewer response
Often students fail to mention how a poem/play/film will affect somebody. When I was taking exams as a student, I remember being egocentric; I would talk about how the language was affecting me, but I would sometimes fail to mention how it could affect a “third person”. Many students forget this. Students have spent many years thinking in terms of themselves. They thus will often use “I” in essays and focus on how something is affecting them. Remaining objective is the key.
- Addressing and explaining the evidence
Students, by the time they take GCSEs, usually know that they need to include evidence. However, they often want to include many examples rather than talk in depth about a single example. They are thus failing to receive marks for deep analysis.
Background knowledge is often the key to understanding why a poem, novel etc has been written in a certain way. For instance, Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney cannot be understood fully unless a student understands the political background behind the poem. A student cannot achieve a top mark without proper consideration of the background.
This is probably one of the more difficult of the skills. Linking involves taking evidence from one part of a poem/novel/play etc and explaining the relationship between it and another part of a poem/novel/play. In a comparison essay, a part of one poem can often be linked to a part of another poem.
- Discourse markers
Discourse markers are words and phrases that maintain the flow of a text. Most children use “because, so, however”, as they have built up the habit over the course of their school life. Key Stage 3 and GCSE children should be using them more frequently and with greater variation.
To achieve the top marks, do all of the above consistently. The top achievers not only do all of the above, they constantly do it.
By Jonathan Strange
Teachers talk a great deal about the importance of exam “technique”. However, this wording is meaningless to students and parents without further explanation. I wish to offer up my understanding of what it means to have sound technique in an English essay. Most mark schemes are also fairly difficult for students and parents to navigate so I will explain some of these ideas in plainer English.
Although I cannot offer any specific data, it seems that most students who are looking for help with English language and literature GCSE have substantial technical flaws. These flaws often, unfortunately, have almost nothing to do with their understanding of English and their competency with the language. There are thus many students who could increase their grade by one or two boundaries merely by focusing on improving their technique.
Essay writing is not a natural ability (though certain people may have more flair); it is something that can be taught and learned. Schools with students who achieve top marks in exams are usually better coached in the technical aspects of essay writing. This is the reality of the current education system. Next week, I will talk about the seven aspects of essay writing which are usually problematic, so please revisit our blog.
Studying is a skill in itself. How to study is a very important skill that very few schools teach. Apart from things like note taking and colour coding, setting small achievable targets is the best way to create that route to your end target.
Setting goals for studying, when done consistently will pay massive dividends. Start this process early with your child so it becomes second nature.
Use this simple 5 step method to help your child achieve throughout their academic journey:
Step 1- Dedicate
Have a dedicated space within your home.
Clear all clutter and distractions from the area. Set it up with all the relevant items needed (writing/rough paper, pencils, highlighters, dictionary etc.). Make the area pleasant so there is no angst about working there.
Step 2- Keep it real
Plan (be realistic!). Become best friends with your schedule.
Work out whether you are a lark or an owl and put together your schedule accordingly. If you work better first thing in the morning, then set your routine for that time. Studying when you are at your best will allow you to power through the mundane and boring stuff that you will otherwise put off, and later regret doing so.
Step 3- Consistency is key
Focus, focus, focus!
Break down to individual components (topics or areas of learning and sub-area within that).
Set each piece of work to last no more that 45 minutes, then take a break and resume. Constantly look at your tasks and whether you are meeting your targets. Evaluate and readjust if you need to.
I know I always underestimate how long I need so I double the time I think I need.
Step 4- What, why, how?
Allow time for creativity.
Make sure you allow down time. Relaxation is an important part of the cognitive function. It gives the brain a chance to process and assimilate information. It also means you are recharged to go again.
Ticking off completed items as a visual chart will prove to give great satisfaction and will also help motivate. Use a rewards system to help motivation, whether it is that second chocolate or a new top.
Step 5- Rinse and repeat
Evaluate – Be honest.
Learn from your past mistakes (the best way to do this is to keep a journal as part of the end of day routine).
What do I want/need to achieve? How will I do it? What are the component parts that make up how I do this? How long do I need for each component?
If you need to go over something that you were not completely sure about, reallocate some time to it, but this time look at where you fell down rather than the whole item again- break it down into smaller parts to isolate what the problem is.
Working through test paper after test paper is not learning.
If you had asked me at the age of 9 or 10 what goals I had set, I would have probably told you that you were crazy, but as an adult, I can now appreciate how important it is to set goals.
Why should you set goals?
The easiest explanation is the analogy of the boat drifting at sea, letting the currents take it where they may. There is no planned route.
When do you set goals?
It is never too late to set goals. It does not matter if they are changed or even not met. The important thing is there is an end goal in mind so that you are working towards a target. This helps create focus and direction.
How do you set goals?
There is no one right way to set goals, but I would suggest you think about isolating particular areas or topics and then thinking about where you want to end up. For example, if it is maths, think about what you currently know and what knowledge level you want to achieve. Then look at the time frame in which you want to do this.
In my experience, the most successful method is the whole-parts-whole method:
Look at it as a whole, break down into bite size pieces and then piece the whole thing together at the end.
For example the CEM 11 Plus Exam:
Think of it as the exam, break down each topic area and the components within that. Then once the learning and revision have taken place, at that point practice the exam. In my opinion, there is no point in doing test after test if the subject knowledge is not cemented in.
Based on that can you answer the following questions?
- Where do you (or your child) need to get to/what do you want to achieve?
- Where are you currently on a scale of 1 to 10?
- What steps do you need to take to achieve 10? (This will probably consist of several different things).
- What are the component parts that will help you get there?
- How much time do you have to achieve this?
- Is it manageable in this time frame?
Look out for our next blog post which will provide a 5 step method on how to help your child achieve throughout their academic journey.
If you would like further information, then feel free to email me and I will gladly respond.
Selective schools have been a prominent feature of our system for a long period of time. Many would be correct in considering them to be particularly competitive, as the demand for places is huge. Depending on the area, children need to achieve on average between 75% and 80% to be in with a chance of gaining a place. 7 out of 8 parents would fail the Eleven Plus Exam. I suspect that with the added time pressure in the exam, the pass rate amongst parents would be even lower.
It is no secret that Teresa May, our current Prime Minister is lauding the grammar schools. She herself is a product of that very system. Therefore, it is worth considering the possible changes that could eventually take place in UK Education. These changes will probably happen over a relatively large period of time or be shelved by the next government. Interestingly enough, there have been discussions between some key ministers and the Grammar School Head’s Association (GSHA), which have shed some light on the future of selective education.
From the discussions, it appears that there is particular enthusiasm for, as The Times have dubbed it, “Super-selective grammars“. In a nutshell, the “brightest 10%” of the general population will be selected for places at these grammar schools and selective testing will be integrated into our school system. Of course, these are merely preliminary discussions, however, they illustrate how we have increasingly turned to the East for educational inspiration (standardised selective testing is the norm in the Orient).