Ed/Tutoring Blog Posts

Struggling to get back into school? Not sure what you should be doing? Advice for S4-6 students!

So, the schools are back and homework is either starting to pile up, or you think you have nothing to do… if you are in S4,5,6 then the summer holidays are definitely over.

Although many students have tried to argue that they have nothing to study, this is definitely not the case! There is a whole range of different materials online for you to use in addition to a wealth of textbooks.

Maths – textbook practice, worksheets, practice exam questions!

English – reading that play or book you were meant to finish over the summer, revising the text on BBC Bitesize or finding other resources online (a quick google search and you’ll have lots to be getting on with), practice essays, practice textual analysis, newspaper homework, close reading practice, FOLIO … you’ve always got things to revise for English. Remember you should be trying to read before bed on school nights too – audio books are never a bad thing, Amazon’s audible offers a monthly service at £7.99 a month that I’ve used. No contract and much cheaper than spending £20+ on one audio book. You can listen to a sample of the book before you buy one too.

Other subjects – use the information you have, or find it online. DON’T just stare at it and hope it’ll magically make its own way into your brain. Mind maps, simple lists (I’ve shown some of you what I mean by this – ask if you want me to explain), past paper questions etc.

Remember, if you read something out loud before bed it’ll store in your memory better – particularly helpful for French, English quotes etc.

Review from before summer

Remember, the courses started in June so you now have at least 5 weeks worth of subjects to learn, revise and answer exam questions on.

Your teachers don’t have time to go over all this material again, so it is your responsibility to go over the work, use it and do exam questions on it! Being 15 years old and above, you now need to start taking more responsibility for your learning and that includes getting on with your studying without needing your teacher to do it for you.

Study Plans

A few of the students have looked at me like I’ve cancelled Christmas, FOREVER when handed a study plan during the last 10 days. Nat 5s and Highers are hard work. The advice given at different high schools in the Borders is very varied but the exams are the same! You should all be doing bits of revision from now – in addition to homework. Homework is given to help with your learning so it is required alongside studying.

The way I see it, you are going to work for 40 hours in whatever career you choose for the future. Very few people actually enjoy their jobs, so if you want those 40 hours to be enjoyed, you need to work hard during your S4, S5 and S6 years.

How much studying should I be doing?

A Nat 5 requires at least 3 hours of study per week – that is for each subject!

Higher subjects are hard work and require between 5-8 hours of study each week – again, for each subject!

What about a social life?

While it is really important that you get some exercise, and some down time there is a real problem with S4-6, especially those doing several highers, thinking their social life should operate as before. You are doing subjects that contribute to your future – you need to put the work in for that! Very few people are capable of breezing through subjects, especially at higher level.

Get out and see your friends, enjoy your social lives when you can, but realise that for this school year, and potentially the next few years, you will be working hard studying! It is your long-term future we are talking about. If you are organised and use your time well, a social life can be part of that too.

Some of you have said that you refuse to study at the weekends despite sitting 5 highers, 4 highers and a nat 5 or some other mix which includes 3+ highers. Quite honestly, the only way you are going to do well in your subjects by taking that attitude is working really hard during the week. Even then, after the October holidays you will need to add some weekend studying and increase as you head towards prelims – they are about 18 weeks away!!!

Working while studying

A few of you have part time jobs, this is part of being a 16 or 17 year old – earning your own money. Please DO NOT work any more than 10 hours a week during term time as this seriously affects your grades! Holidays, during the school year, in S4-6 aren’t really holidays either, they are for catching up on work – particularly those of you doing highers, so don’t take on extra work during school holidays, if you can help it.

Don’t dwell on past exam results

I know that exam results haven’t been out long, and they are likely to still be mentioned at home. Please, DO NOT dwell on your exam results, use them as motivation but don’t think about them constantly. If you have parents who keep going on about them 1. remember it’s only been 3 weeks since they came out so they will still be raw about your results, 2. show them this post – parents please don’t undermine confidence by repeatedly referring to the results during this school year, it doesn’t help and is counter productive and 3. YOU, yes you, the teenager reading this  – take responsibility for your own  learning and get stuck into your studying! If you need help with materials, ask! If you need help with planning your time, ask! If you need help knowing how to study, ask! These are your exam results, not your parents’ so you need to take responsibility for them!

You can do this, it just takes hard work, determination and discipline! I’m here if you need a chat, in confidence – of course! You’ll be thankful come exam results day, I promise…


Education – it is about each individual journey

After a week of exam results across Scotland and England for lots of students, it has been an emotional week for many.

From a tutoring perspective, I always find exam results day really stressful as I wait to hear how all my students have done in each of their subjects. Of course, there are always those who do not quite manage to achieve what they had hoped as well as those who ace all of their exams. To help maintain a level of empathy with my students, I decided to sit 3 Higher subjects in 2013/14. Then, in the aftermath of the disastrous SQA Higher Maths Exam 2015, I offered to sit the exam alongside some of my students in 2015/16. So, this time last year I too had just received results. However, I have found this years result the most difficult yet.

It isn’t because I have substantially more students than before and it isn’t as though I’m not used to it after all these years. However, as I progress through my PhD thesis and undertake research projects in the different disciplines I’m involved in, I’ve realised how hard it is for our young people to feel like they are ‘not on the right path’.

The recent #nowrongpath campaign encapsulated the main underpinning of my thoughts. You may not get to where you want to be straight from school, however you will get there – if you are willing to put the hard work and determination in.

Tonight, I’ve heard that one of my tutoring students has been accepted onto their chosen course at university. I’m proud of all that my students achieve based upon their respective aims. This seems particularly special as it is a student who I ‘ve tutored for a very long time. Written off by teachers during the early stage of secondary school on the basis of disruptive behaviour, the background of which was something no young person should have to suffer. However, few took the opportunity to find out what the circumstances were before condemning the student to the ‘unteachable’ pile.

Let’s be honest, this pile should never exist. In Scotland we have the GIRFEC model which means we should Get It Right For Every Child. However, I can’t help but feel that often a spirit of negativity and an inability to see the best in each individual can really affect a young person’s future. This shouldn’t happen and we must do more to prevent young people becoming encapsulated in a downward spiral of inability merely because they go through a difficult time.

Working hard over a long time, having people who believed that the end goal was possible and supporting learning through positivity and determination has helped another student achieve what they have always wanted. Without that support of family, friends and others – this young person would not be where they are today. It is so important that we have an open dialogue with our young people and ensure that they know they have options in life, and different ways of achieving them – if plan A doesn’t work, then there is always plan B, C, D…

I’m a firm believer in it only taking one person to believe in you for you to be able to achieve what you are willing to work hard for.

Today I feel really proud that this wonderful student had the support to make sure their  academic potential was reached as well as becoming the amazing person they now are.

Whether you get straight A’s or go through several different routes prior to reaching your chosen career path – you will get there and there are people to help you – just ask! You are never too old to learn!

Hard work and determination really does pay off – I promise!