Staying Focused: Dealing with The Winter Blues

It's winter. The mornings are dark. The nights are dark. At this time of the year it can be difficult to stay focused but with exams just a few months a way this is the time of year that can really make a difference. I'll outline here a couple of ways to fight those January blues and make these winter weeks work for you!

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Firstly, keep in mind the big picture. It might feel like a grind: leaving the house in the dark, beavering away at school for six hours, coming home in the dark. It's easy to forget that you are building toward something. To avoid feeling like this is pointless, and that you are wasting your time, always have in mind the purpose of what you are doing.

Secondly, this is a relatively short period of your life. A few months of solid effort is all it takes to obtain real results that will benefit you for the rest of your life. It might be a struggle at times but it will be worth it to push through. In no time it will be the summer and all of this will be behind you - and when summer comes you will feel an awful lot better knowing that you gave it your all.

Finally, keep track of your progress. Pay attention to mock exam results at school. Give yourself little tests here and there. Grades will go up. Your knowledge will grow. If you put the work in, you will see the improvement. There is no single, more inspiring thing than seeing that your work is paying off. When you get a good result, recognise it, and give yourself a pat on the back!

These three small strategies will help guide you through until the spring, when the sun comes out and the end will be in sight! As always, if you have any questions or need advice you can contact me by email, social media and all the usual channels.

Jake

The importance of repetition (and how to make it easier)

It is an unfortunate fact that a large part of learning is repetition. You have to see things and do things again and again in order to remember them permanently, and the same goes for schoolwork. This might sound boring, but there are several things you can do as a student to make tackling this more palatable.

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In general, for content to sink in you have to engage with it. There is no point staring at at an open textbook for an hour - it would be more effective to spend 5 minutes doing one of the exercises and then walking away. Here are some different ways of engaging with material:

  • Make your own notes. The best way to do this is by reading a page of a textbook while trying to memorise it, then close the book and summarise the page in your own words on paper or flashcards. Then look back into the book to make sure you got all the key points and fill in the gaps.
  • Do questions. This is the best way to test and refresh your knowledge. Start off by finding some questions in a textbook or online, and answering them using your notes. Work up to tackling questions without any notes, using only your own memory.
  • Record yourself! Now that audio and video recording technology is so easily available on smartphones, we can use this to mix up our learning. Record yourself explaining a topic and then you can listen while you are walking to school or waiting for the bus.
  • Have someone else challenge you. Get a parent or friend to look in your notes and ask you questions or explain topics. 
  • DO NOT just sit there passively watching YouTube videos. Many of my students have reported to me that this is how they spend their revision time, but that is no good. Online videos can be really useful, but you have to be active when watching them - be making notes, thinking of anything you don't understand and doing questions on the topic afterwards

Try to mix and match the methods (and come up with some of your own!) to bring novelty and variety to your learning. Keeping yourself interested is the best way to make your learning time efficient!

For more advice on this or for Maths and Science tuition, contact me on the website or on social media.

Time Management Outside School

As we approach the end of the first week of school for most of us, now is a good time to think about how we manage our time during the term. Time spent in school is pretty well managed by a timetable, but how can we make the most of our time outside of school?

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Before I begin I want to be clear that I am NOT a fan of spending hours and hours working outside of school. I think we should spend a short, efficient amount of time consolidating what we have learned.

Here are my tips:

  1. Prioritise! Make sure you do the most important work first. This could be the biggest piece of work, or the one with the nearest deadline. In general, if something is weighing on your mind, tackle it. Don't delay it, do it now. Getting into this habit will leave you feeling much more comfortable about managing your workload.
  2. Work in short efficient bursts. Work sessions should last no more than 25 mins before you take a 5 minute break. This means 25 mins of solid concentration without looking at your phone, but then do what you like in the breaks. This makes the working period very productive so that you can get the most done, and learn the most, in the shortest amount of time. One or two of these sessions should be enough to get most pieces of homework done.
  3. Don't work for too long. Studies have shown that concentration and the ability to retain information dramatically drops after extended periods of work. This is great news! It means you have an excuse to quit working and do what you enjoy after an hour or so. Just use the above two points to make sure you get the most out of the time that you do spend working.
  4. Do SOME work every day. Even on days where you have no homework, just spend 10 minutes doing something useful. Pick one example question from a textbook and try and tackle it. Look through your notes and make a flashcard. At the very least just glance at your class workbook to keep the content fresh in your mind. I'm not saying this to pile on work - 10 minutes is hardly asking for a lot - but one of the biggest limits to student progress that I have personally witnessed is forgetting about a subject for an entire week until the next lesson. This causes the student to forget the progress they made last time and makes it harder for them to learn in the next lesson. Keep your brain active and keep the content fresh.
     

Using these VERY simple tips, your time spent out of school will be more efficient and will also help the time you spend in school be more productive.

For more information feel free to contact me through my social media channels or contact me about one to one lessons here!

Jake

Back to School Prep!

With less than a week until the return to school it's time to think about a couple of things that students can do to ease the transition back into school life.

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  1. Get your kit ready - you definitely don't need to buy a whole new set of stationery, but you do need to make sure you've got all the equipment that you need. Things to think about are: pens, pencils, ruler, protractor, calculator, highlighters.
  2. Get your brain in gear - spend 5 minutes a day getting your brain active. This could be as simple as using a brain training app or looking at a couple of maths questions from the last academic year. This will help you make the most out of your first days back and hit the ground running.
  3. Look over last year's notes - take a couple of minutes for each subject to look over your schoolbooks from last year. Subjects like Science and Maths often use topics like building blocks; the next topic uses skills and knowledge learned in the previous. By glancing at the notes and refreshing your memory you give yourself a better chance of tackling what is to come.
  4. Get your schedule sorted - Going back to school means a chance to start a new routine. In the couple of days before you go back try getting up at the right time for school to reduce the shock to the system when you return. Try and note down the things you need to do and when in your first week back (when to be at school, after work clubs, other commitments) so you have a rough idea of what you will be doing.

These four things take a very small amount of effort but are really worthwhile. They could make going back to school a lot more pleasant and effective!

Exam advice

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Here is a quick summary of the general advice that I have been giving to my GCSE and A-level students:

-Read the question carefully

-Underline any important information

-Use all data available to you

-Before tackling a written answer, think of any keywords you should use

-Check the number of marks and make sure you have written enough

-Don’t panic

-Check numerical answers are reasonable (not too big, not too small)

-Don’t leave anything blank - if unsure, take an educated guess

-Don’t get stuck and spend too much time on one question

-Give plenty of detail

-In description questions, use as many numbers as you can

-Use scientific language - “increased” instead of “gone from”

Make the most of your half term

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WE ARE NOW HALF-WAY THROUGH THE FIRST TERM OF THE YEAR AND THIS GIVES US A GOOD OPPORTUNITY TO CONSOLIDATE WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED SO FAR. WHETHER YOU ARE KEY STAGE 3, GCSE OR A-LEVEL, HERE ARE A FEW POINTERS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR TIME OFF!

1. Do a bit of work every day.

  • Set aside some time (no more than 2 hours) per day to tackle your work.
  • Obviously don’t leave it all until the end of the break, but I also do not recommend cramming it all into a single day near the beginning.
  • Spreading out the work allows you to process the work between sessions so you can review and have a better perspective when you get back.


2. Tackle homework first. 

  • This is something that has to be done, so you might as well get that out of the way first, towards the start of the half term break.

 

3. Leave some more working time in the holidays, after you have done homework, to review the work that you have done this half term. 

  • This is probably the most important point!
  • This process should be more active than just reading through your notes and work - I would personally recommendconsolidating your notes for each subject (from this half term) down onto four sides of A4 (by hand). Then review those four sides of A4 and condense them down into two. Finally repeat this and get each subject down to one side of A4. 
  • Sounds difficult but it is possible! This can then form the basis of your revision notes later in the year. 
  • As you are covering each topic, make sure you can answer questions on it without your notes. Anything you can’t do, go and look at your notes in more detail. 
  • The goal here is to make sure the concepts are understood now, so that closer to exam-time you only have to revise what you already know, and don’t have to start learning stuff you missed when it was covered in lessons.

4. Work efficiently


5. Relax!

  • Make sure you have a couple of days where you do no work. Despite everything that I have just said, it is very important to get some rest.  
  • Working up to exams can be stressful, which can reduce your ability to concentrate and learn. Half term is a good chance to recover and get into a good mindset to tackle the next half term.
  • Sleep, eat and have fun!


Hopefully these tips will be helpful to you! Remember, for one-to-one help with science and maths contact me using my contact form, drop me an email at jake.harris@cantab.net or for general questions contact me with the social media links below.

Good habits for the new school year

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AT THE BEGINNING OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO GET INTO GOOD HABITS THAT SET YOU UP NICELY FOR THE WORK AHEAD. BEING WELL-ORGANISED WILL REMOVE UNNECESSARY OBSTACLES THAT GET BETWEEN YOU AND PASSING YOUR EXAMS.

1. Keep notes in good order.

  • If you use books in your lessons to take notes, make sure thatwhat you write is clear and well-laid out. You don’t want to have to spend time deciphering what you wrote in 6 months time;minimise the effort between you and the course content.
  • For extra notes or if you take notes on paper, use binders! Keep a binder for each subject with your loose paper held inside and properly organised. Again, make that information easy to find!


2. Keep up with the course material.

  • It is important to stay on top of the course for as long as possible. In my experience once you start falling behind the new material is much harder to retain because it builds on older concepts that were not well understood.
  • The first step to doing this is looking at yourself and seriously asking whether you have grasped what is going on. Can you complete questions on this topic independently of teachers or peers? If the answer is no, don’t worry.
  • Ask questions, from your peers and your teachers. Work on some questions independently. Putting in that bit of extra work to stay on top of everything will save you lots of time later.

 

3. Use google calendar to keep track of your commitments.

  • School work is probably on a fixed timetable that you know by heart, but what about other activities that are just one-offs like revision classes or workshops. This tip is just as useful for tracking events in your personal life as well.
  • Google calendar is free and easy to set up.
  • As soon as something new comes up in the future, put in the calendar.
  • Google calendar syncs to your phone to give you reminders of when things are coming up and prevents you from missing out on important events.


4. Work efficiently.

  • This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give.
  • There is no need to spend hours on homework or revision if you just make your working time efficient and effective.
  • Revise without distractions, in a quiet place without music. Work without your phone or tablet nearby, and don’t check your Whatsapp or Facebook while you are working. Scientific research (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/opinion/sunday/a-focus-on-distraction.html?_r=0) shows it can take a long time to regain focus on a task after being interrupted, so remove those interruptions and enjoy all your free time later.
  • For an excellent approach to this check out the Pomodoro Technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com/).


By following these simple guidelines your path to academic success will be smoother and a lot less painful!