GCSEs: The importance of awareness and organisation

…After speaking to the student and after I had flicked through his disorganised folder, it became all the more evident that the student hadn’t the faintest idea what material he needed to know in order to pass the exam. He looked down at the table and rotated his pencil slowly between his fingers. Exams were barely two months away…

This is an issue I have actually encountered a few times working with children working towards their GCSEs late into the exam cycle. Although exam success is by no means guaranteed, quite a few children do not give themselves the best chance to succeed.

At school, I know that I was especially bad at organisation and was frequently chastised by teachers for my poor level of organisation (especially in A level Philosophy). The reasons I managed to succeed in exams was that I always remembered things well at school and I was always aware of what I needed to know. However, perhaps with better organisation at school, I could have made exam success easier to attain.  

GCSEs are particularly a difficult challenge for children to go through. Teenagers are themselves going through biological developments and mentally changing too. Although some of the major bodily changes have already taken place between the ages of 11 and 15, from 15-16, teenagers have more concerns about the future and are even more likely to be depressed.

Children of the GCSE age-group start to develop their working habits. They start learning about how they learn best, what they want to learn about, how they want to organise their work, how they can use their knowledge in the future and so on. The Government have tried to tackle these issues by introducing students to study skills as an extracurricular add-on. Study skills should not be regarded in this way, but should be pushed early in a child’s development and enforced by those around the child (parents, teachers, tutors etc). Of course, different people have different ways of organising and this uniqueness should be celebrated too, but there are always general ideas that should be consistently enforced and reinforced.  
Although I did not enjoy being lectured weekly about the state of my folders, I have to admit that teachers certainly left an impression on me and I did start to pay more attention. Looking back, I wish those around me had started teaching me earlier about the value of organisation and thinking about what they need to learn. How aware is your child? Does he/she know how to approach studying? How organised are your child’s notes? Under which exam board is your child taking an exam? Does your child know what skills and knowledge is needed? These are just a few of the questions that parents can consider leading up to exams.

Jonathan Strange

The Power of Practice.

 

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.

Practice Makes Perfect

by PookyH

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.

Rupa Harji

RTG Tuition

GCSE English Essay writing success: 7 tips for a better essay

These are the seven key technical tips that will help you write a better English essay for your GCSEs.

  1. Planning

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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Context

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.

  1. Linking

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Consistency

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

Essay technique in GCSE English Language and Literature

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.
Jonathan Strange