Everything you wanted to know about IB

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is a two-year curriculum for high-achieving high school students. The IB Diploma Programme is the most widely offered IB program in the United States. 945 high schools are authorized to use and teach the IB diploma curriculum.

Why should I consider the IB Programme?

International Baccalaureate programs are offered and recognized worldwide. The idea is that students in a variety of different countries will learn the same curriculum during high school. When it comes time for students to apply for college, institutes of higher education will know exactly what an applicant’s high school curriculum entailed. They’ll also know that the student has met college entry requirements.

Within the United States alone, over 1,600 colleges have policies that recognize the IB coursework that students completed in high school. For some institutions, qualifying grades on IB exams are enough to bestow college credit, while at other institutions, qualifying grades may not provide credit but may allow students to skip ahead past introductory-level classes.

Classes are offered at two levels: standard level (150 hours of instruction) and higher level (240 hours of instruction). In a given year, students must take three or four higher-level classes, and the remainder must be standard level. The classes generally cover the same material, but higher-level classes may delve deeper into some of the covered topics or include topics that are beyond the scope of a standard-level class. For example, Language A: Literature at the standard level covers 10 literary works, while the higher level covers 13.

In addition to taking classes from the six core subjects, students are also required to complete three other requirements:

  • The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a course that requires students to reflect on what it really means to learn, how we as a human race learn, and how we know what we know. It culminates in a verbal presentation and a 1,600-word essay.
  • The Extended Essay is a 4,000-word essay on a self-directed research project. Students have the freedom to choose a topic that interests them, provided it is related to one of the six core subject areas.
  • Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) is required but not graded. Students perform a variety of projects involving creative thinking, physical activity, and/or volunteer service. The IB curriculum intends for students to develop both inside and outside of school.

At the end of the school year students are subject to an exam period, during which they are tested over everything they’ve learned in each of their IB classes.

Exams are graded from 1 to 7, and exam grades for classes in the same subject area are averaged so that at the end of exams, students have a score ranging from 1-7 for each of the six subjects. These are added together to give an overall IB score. The TOK and the Extended Essay may add a combined 3 points to a student’s total score. The highest possible IB diploma score is 45, but students who earn at least 24 points, do not have any failing scores, complete the entire curriculum, and meet other eligibility requirements are granted an IB diploma. A score of 1 is a failing score; students with a 1 in any subject will not earn an IB diploma.

Does it make any difference in terms of university entrance?

The key element in a university application, is for the admissions tutor to be able to assess the level of academic attainment that the applicant has achieved to ensure that the university’s minimum criteria are met in the appropriate areas for a particular course of study.

The admissions tutor will also be seeking to understand how the applicant has grown in a wider sense and his or her developing attitudes towards independent learning, social responsibility, team work etc.

The beauty of the IB Diploma is that it covers all of these aspects and offers credit for them against clearly stated criteria for success in obtaining the diploma. Some argue that the IB Diploma requires the student to develop a stronger sense of time-management which is also considered good preparation for university study.

You can’t go past the most obvious point in the IB’s favour – the international aspect.

The IB Diploma Program is recognised by all leading universities, which instantly puts you on the world stage and contextualises your application.

Regardless of where you sit your IB exams, the results mean the same thing, and they’re understood by admissions officers.

However, it’s important to understand that recognition doesn’t necessary equate to value. and IB means more to US universities than it does to UK universities, so how much this “pro” weighs for you will depend on where you want to study.

Crafting Your UCAS Personal Statement: A Journey of Self-Expression

Posted by Amy Lobl:

Hello there, future scholars! We hope you are ready to perfect the art of crafting the perfect UCAS personal statement. This document is your chance to shine, to stand out from the crowd, and to prove why you’re the ideal candidate for your chosen university course. With a maximum limit of 4000 characters, let’s break it down into a four-part essay and ensure your story is not just remarkable but memorable.

1. Introduction: Your Captivating Opener

Begin your personal statement with a captivating introduction. Imagine you’re telling a story, and you want to grab your reader’s attention right from the start. Maybe it’s an anecdote about your childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist, or a thought-provoking quote that inspired your journey. Remember, this is your chance to make a lasting first impression.

2. What I Studied and Achieved

Now, it’s time to delve into your academic achievements and experiences. Discuss your passion for the subject you’re applying for. Highlight relevant courses, projects, or extracurricular activities that have fueled your interest. Share how these experiences have shaped your understanding and why you’re ready to take your knowledge to the next level. Universities want to know that you’re not just a student but a dedicated scholar.

3. What You Love to Do Outside of Studies and Achieved: Your Unique Interests

One of the most exciting aspects of your personal statement is showcasing your interests beyond the classroom. Remember, something you might think is ordinary could be extraordinary in the eyes of an admissions officer. Do you speak more than one language fluently? Have you devoted your time to volunteering, rescued an animal, or travelled and lived overseas? These experiences reveal your character and the qualities that make you a standout candidate. For instance, if you’re applying for a program in architecture, mention how your attention to detail shines through in your passion for photography. If it’s medicine, highlight your teamwork skills gained through volunteering at a local clinic. In engineering, discuss how your ability to remain composed under pressure was honed during a robotics competition. And for business, showcase your excellent listening skills through your involvement in a debate club.

4. Summary: The Grand Finale

In the final section, bring your personal statement to a graceful close. Summarize your journey so far, connecting the dots between your academic pursuits and your extracurricular experiences. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the program you’re applying to and explain how your unique qualities align with its requirements. End with a forward-looking statement about your future ambitions and how this university course will play a pivotal role in achieving them.

Remember, your personal statement should truly reflect you as an individual. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Embrace your uniqueness and let it shine through every word you write.  In conclusion, crafting a personal statement for UCAS is a powerful form of self-expression. It’s a chance to share your story, your passions, and your dreams with the world. Make every word count, and ensure that your statement demonstrates the qualities expected in your chosen program. Now, go forth and write your personal statement masterpiece—you’ve got this!


Addressing the Decline in Children’s Literacy: The DoE’s Reading Framework

In recent years, there has been a concerning trend in declining literacy levels among
children, and the latest data from SAT performance markers only reinforces this issue. The
numbers paint a stark picture: only 73% of children now meet the expected minimum
standard in reading. While standardized testing provides an approximate measure of
decoding and fluency, it serves as an important indicator of the challenges our young
learners face. In response to this worrying trend, the Department of Education (DoE) has
taken steps to flesh out its reading framework to support children in improving literacy from
ages 7 to 14. This article delves into the latest data on children’s literacy and explores the
DoE’s non-statutory guidance in its reading framework.

The Importance of Literacy:
Fluency in reading is not merely a skill; it’s a gateway to success in education. A child's ability
to learn academic vocabulary and comprehend complex concepts hinges on their capacity to
decode and understand new words. Literacy is the cornerstone upon which a pupil's future
academic journey is built.

DoE’s Response:
Recognizing the critical role of literacy, the DoE has amended its reading framework to
empower teachers to nurture literacy development among children. The guidance
underscores the idea that learning is intrinsically tied to literacy development. Children who
struggle with literacy past year 1 can experience withdrawal, anxiety, or behavioural issues.
However, many schools find themselves ill-equipped to provide adequate support for such
children, and secondary teachers often lack the specialized training required to teach
children to read effectively.

The DoE Reading Framework:
The DoE’s reading framework offers a comprehensive approach to address the challenges in
children’s literacy. This non-statutory guideline advocates for best practices in early reading
and aims to provide children with the best possible start in their literacy journey. The
framework focuses on three core areas of reading: phonics, comprehension, and reading for
pleasure, recognizing the pivotal role these aspects play in fostering confident, fluent, and
competent readers.

Key Recommendations:

Reading Aloud: Prioritizing reading aloud in reception and year 1 with daily Storytime
sessions can create a nurturing reading environment.

Diverse Stories: Selecting stories that reflect children’s lives and experiences, as well as
those that help them understand the experiences of others, encourage empathy and
broadens their perspectives.

Building vocabulary: Choosing books with challenging words and encouraging discussions
around them helps extend a child’s vocabulary. Stories that evoke a range of emotions
foster a deeper connection to reading.

Challenging Texts: Planning texts that challenge vocabulary and exploring cross-curricular
opportunities to link them can make learning more engaging and meaningful.

Repeated Phrases: Multiple readings of stories, initially for enjoyment and later for
vocabulary exploration, ensure active participation from children.

Passionate Teachers: Teachers who have a genuine love for books and stories, and keep up-to–
date with the latest releases, and guide children in finding stories suited to their interests
can inspire a lifelong love for reading.

Phonics Emphasis: The DoE continues to emphasize the importance of a systematic
synthetic phonics scheme as the primary strategy for teaching children to decode words

Addressing the decline in children’s literacy is a pressing concern, and the DoE’s revised
reading framework offers a ray of hope. By prioritizing early reading practices and
emphasizing the crucial role of teachers, parents, and communities, we can collectively work
towards reversing the trend and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to become a
confident, fluent, and competent reader. Importantly the research about the correlation of
early reading ability success in reading shows children have a positive life trajectory, leading
to good academic and psychosocial outcomes whereas hampered reading skills lead to less
desirable outcomes. Literacy is not just a skill; it’s a gift that opens doors to a world of
knowledge and imagination.

How to prevent student procrastination

To stop procrastinating on your studying or schoolwork right now, you should identify the smallest possible thing you can do to make progress on it, and then modify your environment to make it as likely as possible that you will do it.

For example, if you need to study for an exam, the smallest possible step that you can take toward doing this might be to open your notes and go over just the first paragraph that you have written down. Once you realize that this is all you need to do, you can start modifying your study environment to help yourself achieve this, for example by going to a room with no distractions and leaving your phone outside.

Improve your planning:

  • Set concrete goals for yourself. For example, instead of a vague goal, such as “study for my upcoming exam”, set a concrete goal, such as “on the week of my upcoming exam, go to the library every day after I finish my last class for the day, and spend at least 2 hours studying”.
  • Break your tasks into small and manageable steps. For example, if you need to write an essay, you can start with steps such as figuring out the title, creating a rough outline, and finding five appropriate academic sources. Note that if the project in question is large, then you generally shouldn’t worry about figuring out all the steps to it from the start. Instead, start by identifying only the first few steps that you need to take, and then identify new steps as you make progress, to avoid feeling overwhelmed or getting stuck.
  • Set intermediate milestones and deadlines for yourself. If your instructor hasn’t done this already, or if they’ve only set a single major deadline at the end, setting intermediate milestones and deadlines for yourself will help you plan ahead, be accountable, and feel more motivated to make continuous progress.
  • Identify your productivity cycles. Students vary in terms of when they’re most productive; for example, some work best in the morning, while others are more focused at night. You should take this into account, and schedule your study and work to times of day when you’re least likely to procrastinate.

Improve your environment:

  • Change your environment to make it harder for yourself to procrastinate. For example, if you tend to procrastinate on writing essays because you keep browsing social media, turn off your internet connection on your computer before you get to work.
  • Change your environment to make it easier for yourself to get started. For example, if you know that you’ll need to study for an exam tomorrow morning, organize all the relevant study material on your desk or in your bag before you go to bed.
  • Change your environment to make it easier for you to keep going. For example, if you know that you’re likely to lose concentration if you get distracted while studying, go study in a quiet room and leave your phone outside.

Change your approach:

  • Start with a tiny step. For example, if you need to write an essay, help yourself get started by committing to only write a single sentence at first. This can help you push yourself to get started on tasks, and often, once you do so, you’ll find it easy to keep going.
  • Start with the best or worst part first. Some students find that starting with the most enjoyable or easiest part of an assignment helps them get going, while others find that getting the worst part out of the way first helps them avoid procrastinating over time. You can use either approach if you find that it works well for you.
  • Add a time delay before you procrastinate. If you can’t avoid procrastinating entirely, try committing to having a time delay before you indulge your impulse to do so. For example, this can involve counting to 10 before you’re allowed to open a new tab on the social media website that you usually use to procrastinate.
  • Use the Pomodoro technique. This involves alternating between scheduled periods of study and rest. For example, you can study for 25-minute long stretches, with 5-minute breaks in between, and a longer 30-minute break after every 4 study sets that you complete.

Increase your motivation:

  • Make studying feel more rewarding. For example, you can gamify your studying, by marking down streaks of days on which you’ve managed to achieve your study goals, and potentially also giving yourself some reward once you reach a sufficiently long streak.
  • Make studying feel more enjoyable. For example, if studying in your room is uncomfortable, try going somewhere more pleasant, such as the library.
  • Visualize your future self. For example, you can visualize yourself being able to relax after finishing an assignment, visualize yourself being rewarded for getting a good grade, or visualize yourself having to handle the issues associated with not studying enough.
  • Focus on your goals instead of on your tasks. For example, if you need to work on an assignment that you find boring, then instead of focusing on the assignment, try thinking about your academic goals and about the reason why you want to do well on that assignment, such as that you want to get a good grade in the class so you can have a stronger college application.

Change your mindset:

  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes. For example, if you’re working on an assignment, accept the fact that your work likely won’t be perfect, especially at first. Furthermore, you can decide to start by just getting some initial answers written down, and then go over your work at the end to check if you need to make corrections.
  • Address your fears. If you’re procrastinating because you’re afraid of something, try to identify your fears and resolve them. For example, if you’re afraid that your writing won’t be good enough, you can say to yourself that your goal is to just start by getting something written down, and that you can always improve it later.
  • Develop self-compassion. Self-compassion can help reduce your procrastination, as well as various issues that are associated with it, such as stress. It consists of three components that you should promote: self-kindness, which involves being nice to yourself, common humanity, which involves recognizing that everyone experiences challenges, and mindfulness, which involves accepting your emotions in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Develop self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to perform the actions needed to achieve your goals. It can help you reduce your procrastination, as well as associated issues, such as anxiety. To develop self-efficacy, try to identify the various strategies that you can use to successfully study and complete your assignments, and think about your ability to execute those strategies successfully.

You’ll probably need to use multiple techniques in order to reduce your procrastination, but even just a few should help. Start with just a few techniques initially, to avoid getting overwhelmed, and then you can add more techniques over time, based on your progress.

If you suffer from an underlying issue that causes procrastination, such as ADHD, depression, or lack of sleep, you will likely need to resolve that issue first, using professional help if necessary, in order to successfully overcome your procrastination.

Overall, to stop procrastinating on your schoolwork, you should identify the smallest possible thing you can do to make progress on it, and then modify your environment to make it as likely as possible that you will do it. In the long term, you should also figure out the causes of your procrastination, and use relevant anti-procrastination techniques, like setting concrete goals, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and giving yourself permission to make mistakes.


How to help students stop procrastinating

When it comes to helping students overcome their procrastination, for example, if you’re a teacher or a parent, there are three main approaches that you can use:

  • An externally led approach. This involves using relevant anti-procrastination techniques to reduce students’ procrastination, without actively involving them in the process. For example, this can involve setting a series of intermediate project deadlines for all students in a course.
  • A student-led approach. This involves letting students overcome their procrastination with little to no external guidance. External guidance in this case might include something as minimal as mentioning the problem of procrastination and telling students about a relevant resource such as this article.
  • A joint approach. This involves giving students external guidance while also encouraging them to take an active role in their attempts to stop procrastinating. For example, this can involve going over relevant anti-procrastination techniques with students and helping them choose and implement their preferred ones.

None of these approaches is inherently superior to the others. Accordingly, you should decide which one to use based on factors such as the number of students that you’re trying to help and the type of relationship that you have with them. For example, if you’re a teacher trying to help 200 students in a college course you will likely need to use a different approach than if you’re a parent trying to help just your kid.

Almost any type of relationship can be beneficial when it comes to helping a student overcome their procrastination. For example, if you’re a teacher, you’re likely in a good position in terms of your influence over the student’s academic situation. On the other hand, if you’re a parent, you’re likely in a good position in terms of your influence over the student’s home life.

Furthermore, you can reach out to other stakeholders who can help. For example, if you’re a teacher, and you think that a student’s parents might be able to help them stop procrastinating, you can reach out to them and discuss the situation.

In addition, an important factor to keep in mind is how independent the students in question are. In general, the more independent students are, the more they should be involved in the process of overcoming their procrastination, since this can increase their motivation and make the process more effective, while generally leading to more self-development and growth over time. This also raises the importance of giving students a sense of control, even if you’re the one guiding the process, which can be especially crucial when it comes to avoiding procrastination that’s rooted in issues such as resentment, rebellion, or lack of self-confidence.

Finally, the following is a list of specific things that you can do to help students stop procrastinating:

  • Explain to the students what procrastination is and what it looks like, and help them understand that they engage in it themselves.
  • Show the students why procrastination can be dangerous when it comes to factors such as their academic performance, their career prospects, and their mental and physical health.
  • Explain to the students what causes procrastination, and help them identify the causes of their own procrastination.
  • Point students in the direction of resources that can help them deal with their procrastination, such as this article.
  • Tell the student about relevant anti-procrastination techniques—which are listed in the previous section—and help them pick their preferred ones.
  • Implement the previously mentioned anti-procrastination techniques on behalf of the students, for example by breaking apart large tasks into manageable steps and setting intermediate deadlines for each.

Overall, you can help students overcome their procrastination in various ways, such as by helping them understand that they’re procrastinating in a problematic manner, helping them identify the causes of their procrastination, and helping them choose and implement relevant anti-procrastination techniques. The specific approach that you should use depends on factors such as how autonomous the students in question are, how many students you’re trying to help, and what kind of relationship you have with them.

Improve your memory with better note taking

If you think you are forgetting information as quickly as you are hearing it, even when you write it down you possibly are. We lose about 40% of all new information given to us within the first 24 hours of reading or hearing it. This means that learning how to retain information is essential to your exam success.

The most effective note-taking skills involve active rather than passive learning. Active learning places the responsibility for learning on the learner. Research shows that for learning to be effective, students need to be doing things with the material they are engaging with (reading, writing, discussing, and solving problems).

They must also be thinking about the thinking “metacognition” the process involved in engaging with the material. This means that, while students are learning the content, they should also be thinking about how they are learning it. What is causing confusion? How does your thinking change about this topic as you are learning? What has worked well for you in learning this topic that you should do next time? What hasn’t worked so well so you don’t make that learning mistake again?

There have been many studies and not surprisingly it has been found that note-taking is most effective when notes are organised and transformed in some method or when a teacher provides excellent notes to start from.  An effective note-taking strategy requires effort. Half the battle for students is helping them understand the reasons for needing to take and interact regularly with their notes.

Students often tell teachers they have excellent memories and don’t need to take notes because they can easily recall information. But research says this is not the case.

The goal of effective note-taking is to help recall what has been learned and retain that information over time. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus 1895 conducted some of the first experiments on memory and recall and spaced learning. He developed the “forgetting curve” which shows how information is lost quickly over time if there is no strategy or effort to retain it.

The rate of forgetting is minimised if students interact (re-read/discuss/write/engage) with their notes within 24 hours. A second repetition for a shorter period of time within a day brings recall back up to 100%. A third repetition within a week for an even shorter time brings recall back to 100%.

What are the most effective ways to take notes?

The Cornell Note-Taking System which was developed in the 1950s as part of a university preparation program is a great example of a method of effective note-taking. It is interactive and involves using the original notes many times over to build a memory of the content, rather than seeing note-taking as just a one-off copying activity. The important features of this system are captured in the image below.

Cornell notetaking method

There are four stages to good note-taking:

  1. Note-taking
  2. Note making
  3. Note interacting
  4. Note reflecting

In note-taking, students:

• Prepare a page to take notes the same way each time. An essential question at the top of the page focuses the learner on the key learning objective that they should be able to discuss upon leaving the class

• Rule the page into two columns, with the first column taking up about a third of the page. The space on the left is for questions and notes that may be added in later as students reflect on their notes. The space on the right is for the student to take notes from the lecture, textbook, laboratory experiment, video, audio, or whatever the source

• Listen and take notes in their own words – paraphrase what they hear so it makes sense to them rather than write down verbatim what they hear/see

• Leave spaces and lines between main ideas for revising later and adding information

• Develop their own consistent system of abbreviations and symbols to save time as they take notes

• Write in phrases, not complete sentences

• Use bullet points and lists where possible

• Learn how to listen for important information versus trivial information

• Take cues from the lecturer or source, e.g. “This is important…”

• Use highlighters and colour to indicate key ideas, changes in concepts or links between information.

In note-making, students:

• Review and revise the content of their notes

• Write questions in the left-hand side near where the answer is contained on the right-hand side

• Connect key chunks of material in the notes pages using colour or symbols

• Exchange ideas and collaborate with other students to check for understanding and test the comprehensiveness of each other’s notes.

In note interacting, students:

• Link all the learning together by writing a summary that addresses the essential question and answers the questions from the left margin. Note that a summary is different from a reflection that focuses on the student’s response to the learning task or content

• Learn from their notes by building into their study timetable regular times for revising their notes for each subject

• Cover the information on the right-hand side and use the questions as study prompts before a test.

In note reflecting:

• A peer, tutor or teacher should provide written feedback to check for the student’s understanding in the initial learning phase

• Students should address the feedback by focusing on one area of challenge they are experiencing in their learning

• Students should also reflect over an entire unit on a regular basis leading up to exams and tests.

Revision Techniques

Not every study motivation strategy is going to work for everyone, but there’s something out there that will work for you. We’ve compiled a list of study motivation ideas to try out when you just need to buckle down and get it done. Don’t forget to book in for our study organisation and motivation workshop.

The Pomodoro Technique

At its core, the Pomodoro Technique is very simple:

Study for 25 minutes
Take a break for 5-10 minutes
Repeat the cycle 4 times
Take a longer break
Of course, there are variations of this technique, and you might find that you like shorter study intervals, or maybe you can only repeat the cycle three times until you need a longer break. No matter how you customize it for yourself, when you know the end is in sight and a break is coming up, it makes studying easier for longer periods.

To help keep track of time and make sure you’re not constantly checking the clock, set a timer for both your study sessions and your breaks. You can make the most of your breaks by getting up and doing something physical that gets your blood pumping. If you use your breaks to watch 10 minutes of a TV show, you probably won’t be very motivated to jump back in.

The Pomodoro Technique also works really well in conjunction with website and app blockers.

Create your own reward system

Choose something that you really want: a box of cookies, a break to go for a run, a trip to the movies, etc. Whatever it is, use it as a reward for completing a study session. Maybe you buy some cookies but only allow yourself to eat them once you’ve studied for an hour. Maybe you decide to go see a new movie, but you can only go once you’ve studied for three hours or mastered 20 terms. Maybe you pick up some candy and pop one in your mouth every time you correctly answer a question or complete a practice problem. Maybe you make your favourite snack, but decide that from now until your test, you can only eat this snack while you’re studying.

Creating shorter reward intervals as in the example with the candy after each question might work better at first if you’re really having trouble focusing. Once you get in the groove or start to find a little more motivation, you can work up to more delayed gratification.

To really put the pressure on and encourage yourself to do well, try creating a reward for yourself that you can only receive if you do well on the exam or in the course as a whole. Having your parents get in on this can be helpful, too.

Structured procrastination

Believe it or not, you can use procrastination to your advantage. Structured procrastination was first created and explained by Stanford University professor John Perry.

If you tend to procrastinate, you likely do easy or simple tasks while putting off harder, bigger tasks. “The procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important,” Perry explains. For this technique to work, you’ll need to think of tasks that are more important or difficult than studying and put them at the top of your to-do list. Then studying–a task that is also important–becomes an easier task and one that you’re more inclined to do as a way not to do that more important task

Most important of all – know what you need to know, otherwise, you could spend time revising the wrong content and this is frustrating, demotivating and pointless.

Revision techniques
Some useful revision techniques

UK university applications in for a shake up.

The dreaded part of any university application for many students has been the personal statement. Social mobility experts have said that personal statements were “barometers of middle-class privilege”. This 4000 character essay which gives students a chance to advocate for themselves and demonstrate their achievements is going to be removed and replaced. Some speculation is that this may be replaced with a video message from the students although this has yet to be confirmed by UCAS. There are some other interesting changes ahead as well.

The proposed change will affect those applying in 2024 for start in 2025 and is a significant breakthrough in equalizing applications and making them a fairer process for all, the personal statement have been seen by many as the barometers of middle class privilege disadvantaging applicants from poorer homes who are not able to employ consultants to fill in the application form on their behalf. With top private schools employing dedicated professionals to support students through the entire application process including editing and constructing the personal statement. It is little wonder that students with less access to these are finding the system more challenging.  The personal statement is considered important to give students a voice on why they really want to study the course so instead of being open essay style, there will be 6 key areas to complete: Motivation to study the course; Preparedness for the course; Preparation through other experiences; Extenuating circumstances; Preparedness for study; Preferred learning style.

In terms of reform for UCAS and UK university applications these steps are seen as a way of leveling the playing field for all students. Under the research project “reimagining UK admissions” UCAS interviewed over 1000 students and noted that the biggest pain factor for all applicants was the personal statement, there was also a request to have greater transparency on entry conditions and how offers were made. While universities were finding comparing different references becoming increasing difficult as they were so different in approach.

The space for references will be changed in an effort to redress the imbalance by replacing the free text for references with three structured questions for all undergraduate applications which will include, a general statement about the school or college, any extenuating circumstances which may affect the students performance in exams, and a outline of any circumstances specific to the applicant that a university should be made aware of.

There will also be an “entry  grade” report which will give a profile of grades which have been accepted onto entry of a course over a five year period. This will help students understand if their GCSE grades are enough and their A level grades are relevant for their future aspirations. UCAS is undertaking some incredible projects to help students understand the significance of their post 16 choices. Their post 16 career quiz has helped many students understand the relationship between careers and higher education courses.

UCAS is moving with the times and has committed to making ongoing changes not a one-off reform. they recognize that as digital capabilities evolve so these must be incorporated in their application processes. We can look forward to some interesting changes ahead, made through consultation with the stakeholders of which students are recognized as key. One thing is for sure the dreaded personal statement will become more user engaged and less dreaded over the next few years which has to be good news for students of the future.

Why are study skills so important and how do you master them.

How to become a Grade A student


We all want to do well in the future, and you know you need to have a great set of results to make it happen. Hopefully, you are willing to do whatever it takes to get those great grades to get started.

Getting great results is not about the cost of your school, or the size of your brain or having amazing teachers. It is about YOU and your routine. A weekly routine that is repeated until your exams is all that’s needed. It is about consistency, self-discipline and the determination to stick to it.

This routine will make you a straight-A student. As you move through school the amount of learning increases as does the importance of what you need to learn. Everyone starts talking about revision, but what is it? The official dictionary definition is to “see (or read) again”. So the key implication about revision is that you have already pre-learned what you are trying to revise.

The purpose of revision is to be able to remember all the knowledge you need for your exams and to practice the skills you need for your exams until you are perfect. Exams are about remembering information and more importantly knowing how to answer the questions using the information you have remembered to get the maximum amount of marks.

To be revision ready when the exams start you have to put the work in earlier in the year. Then actively planning your revision to use your time really effectively.

The first thing to remember is that no exam will ever test you everything you have learned and not everything is known. So you need to find out what your exam could cover. The list of this is found either in the exam specification or the syllabus and these terms are used interchangeably.

1. So how do you get a definitive breakdown of the knowledge and skills that you need to pass a school level exam, so that you can be methodical in the your approach and ensure that you have ticked off the list and will walk into your exam confident.

2. Make sure you check the knowledge you need as well as the skills e.g essay writing, mathematical formulae, statistical techniques to analyse data. You do not need to print the entire specification, just the part that shows the content and knowledge required.

The main exam boards that you will be studying from are likely to be a combination of the following.

3. Be careful to choose the correct qualification taking note of whether is an International GCSE or not. The first point of your success must be to know which syllabus (exam board specific) that you are following. Some teachers will provide you with this as well, but if they don’t you can download it.

4. On the exam board sites there are also past exam papers and mark schemes. Use these past exam papers like your life depends on them, there are only so many questions that can be asked, so it is likely that similar questions will repeat over the years.

Once you have the list of contents and exam papers you are on the right path for success, If you know eveything on the list by the time you take the exam you will have set yourself up to get a great grade.

From the information you have collected for each subject from the list above you can now identify your strengths and weaknesses. If you have taken class or module tests and just got through with a mediocre 50% score, take heart it is a pass, but it also means that there is 50% of content that you still don’t know, what happens if its this 50% that is tested in the final paper? You will always have that one teacher who does not inspire your learning, is new themselves and may literally only be one step ahead of you in the text book – it happens, but their teaching level does not have to be your learning level or the final outcome of your exams.

How can you identify your strengths and weaknesses?
Most of the time you will just have a gut feeling about the things you find easy and hard. Get some red, orange and green pens or highlighters. If you are not sure about how you feel about a topic, go back to your notes on that area and have a look at your assessed work see what your marks were and and does this equal the grade you are targeting. If they were below, mark them as red, if they were above mark them as green and if they were equal to your target then use orange.

When you are planning out your revision your priority will be to learn the things you have marked in red: your weaknesses. When you have finished these you move onto the orange ones and then finally you can review the green marked topics. By doing this you will be focusing on your areas of weakness which are the areas that you are most likely to lose marks on in your exam. Hopefully your areas of weakness will change as you work through your revision list as you focus on them they will turn into strengths. Keep revaluating strengths and weaknesses as you go along.

Once you get into revision season time its of the essence. This means that is you are really struggling with something you need to seek help rather then work it out on your own. Talk to teacher or book a tutor and then move onto something else that you can progress on your own.

How important are your GCSE grades?

Do these exams matter?

Your GCSE results are a very important part of your academic journey. The results you get can affect the following:
The sixth form you attend.

Entry requirements for school and college sixth forms vary – ranging from four to five C grades (that’s between a 4 and 5 under the changed GCSE grading system), with perhaps Bs in the subjects you want to study, through to at least six GCSEs at grade A for the most selective colleges.

The qualifications you take next
Some sixth forms may say you can’t do a particular subject unless you’ve got at least a grade A (at least a 6 or 7) in that subject at GCSE. If your grades are mostly Cs (4 or 5), studying A-levels or Advanced Highers could be off limits altogether; a sixth form may offer you a vocational (ie a more practical and hands-on) course such as a BTEC Level 3 qualification instead. Currently, most Universities accept BTECs although these are likely to change in 2023 to reflect the new T Qualification route.

Your eligibility for a university course and the university you apply to
Some of the top academic universities (Russel Group for example) will ask for very high A-level grades – AAB or higher – for most courses.

Because of the assumed connection between your GCSE and A-level results, it’ll be down to you to prove you’re able to achieve top grades. Grades B and C (or a 4 to 6) at GCSE are suggestive of Cs and Ds at A-level – which won’t be enough to get into some universities.

The more competitive the university and course, the higher the number of high-achieving students with top GCSE marks applying.

Your career prospects.
A career-related degree may also have subject-specific entry requirements: Engineering courses such as chemical engineering you’ll usually need A-levels or equivalent in chemistry and maths, and physics for other engineering courses, which in turn means you’ll need to have good GCSE grades in science and maths.

Competitive courses like medicine may ask for a whole suite of good GCSEs. The University of Birmingham’s medical school, for example, specifies ‘normally, applicants must offer A* grades in each of English (either English Language or English Literature), mathematics and all science subjects. Integrated Science (double certificate) is acceptable as an alternative to single sciences. Overall GCSE performance will be considered.’

Social work and Secondary School Teaching won’t consider you without at least a grade C (or 4 or 5) in maths and English language at GCSE.

Nursing and Primary School Teaching requires a grade C (or 4 or 5) in GCSE English, maths and science.

And when it comes to employment right now – for that weekend job while you’re doing your A-levels or a part-time job at uni – your academic grades will go on your CV, too.

Learning through Play

Learning through play is so valid today. Every single child should be encouraged to play and the great part is they do not need expensive toys to do so. In fact, the simpler the toy the better for their imagination. Play fuels curiosity, it sparks creativity and inspires a lifelong love of learning. Children who play pick up all kinds of skills to thrive today and lay the foundations of a happier, healthier life tomorrow.

Play unlocks essential skills, not least fine motor skills. Our world never stops changing and if a child is given the opportunity to think, negotiate, adapt to new rules and try again when things don’t go to plan, they will develop skills that will last a lifetime.

Play is also good for mental health, children who are exposed to lots of play opportunities have more resilience and well-being that they carry from early childhood. We must never forget that when a child receives a gift they will find the box that it comes in equally engaging and I can remember loving large cardboard boxes that through triggering my imagination could be a car, a house, a castle, a spaceship or essentially just a safe space.

Play is for everyone and is how children learn naturally which is what makes it so powerful and why it is so important to make room for play. From an adult perspective, unfortunately, the best play is messy, it is explorative but most of all it is led by your child and is a journey of discovery and fun.

The great thing about creative play is that doesn’t have to cost a thing. Children do not need a specific level of ability or a dedicated space and they most certainly do not need an expensive set of toys to learn playfully. Make-believe, telling a story, playing hopscotch, and a game of tag, are all ways children show us how they feel while practising self-control, cooperation and creativity. Often it’s when children are not using expensive toys they express themselves the most. Give your child some pens, old boxes, glue and sticky tape and watch as their imagination runs wild and they create toys on their own. For a child everyday objects are playthings. My son’s favourite toys used to be 3 or 4 saucepans and my rolling pin, he used to bash away believing he was playing tunes to his favourite songs (thankfully Baby shark hadn’t been written then).

Studies show that playful learning helps disadvantaged children catch up to their more advantaged peers – in areas from maths to motor skills. So, when we invest our time in playful learning with our children it can have a broad impact. Play is a lifeline when a child has a crisis and it can bring out the child’s superhero in a crisis. Even just clapping along to songs can create togetherness, and a sense of normality even in countries affected by war and disaster.

Here are some super easy (and cheap) ideas for play.

Home Drum Set – Pans and spoons.
Place the pan’s open end down with lots of different sizes and encourage your child to bump the pans with wooden and metal spoons. They love the noise and you can get them to tap out rhythms’ to their favourite nursery rhymes.

Learning outcomes an understanding of different noises made by different materials, rhythm, motor skills and coordination. Being able to hit the object we are looking at is a learned skill.

Sock Theatre
Have you ever sewed/stuck or drawn buttons on an old sock? Then allowed the sock to be the focus of your story. Kids love the stupidity of their simple friend and will quickly lose themselves in conversation giving it an identity and allowing their imagination to take them to new places. A quick google and you can get all kinds of ideas, they can range from 2 eyes to hair, mouths noses etc. In my opinion, keep it simple.

Home made best friend
Engage and invent adventures with your own sock puppets

Learning outcomes: Storytelling and role play as well as being great for fine movements need to make the puppet move. The fine movement required to wear a puppet helps with dexterity and using fingers to manipulate the puppet improves fine motor coordination. Young children love a game of “peek a boo” and a sock puppet is great for this. Children love to have conversations with their puppets and these verbal interactions encourage language development. If your child is shy, the pet puppet can become their voice. If your child puts on a puppet show it will help to increase their self-confidence. Additionally, skills in storytelling and sequencing stories will develop.

Sock sports winger
You may remember the playground fun of putting a tennis ball in a sports sock and holding one end as you bounce it between your legs, over your shoulder and head off the wall behind. There was something a bit scary and fun at the same time. It took lots of energy and coordination but was super cheap and always full of laughs with school friends.

Learning outcome: coordination and motor skills.

Cloud Dough with essential oils.
A great activity for young children is play dough, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive nasty smelling shop bought one, you can make your own. Either salt dough with flour and water or cloud dough with hair conditioner and cornflour which I love as you can also add essential oils and it is so soft you just want to play with it.

Learning outcome: It develops fine motor skills, it is calming and encourages creativity. Using and making things from the dough enhances hand-eye coordination, strengthens small fingers, hands and wrists teaches dexterity and control.

Cardboard boxes/dens
A big box can be a safe space, with four walls to colour, a car, a spaceship a castle and is literally a play toy for a long time. They can be made into dens which could also include blankets, furniture, sofas etc. Children absolutely love making dens and making up stories of hiding from animals, witches etc.

Learning outcome: Imagination, motor skills, problem-solving, dexterity.

What’s the English Baccalaureate?

I keep getting questions about the EBACC – so here is my answer!

The current English Baccalaureate is not a qualification in itself, but a particular group of GCSE subjects that are usually looked on favourably by universities.
The existing English Baccalaureate – or EBacc – isn’t a qualification. Put simply, it’s a way for the government, and parents looking at school league tables, to measure and compare how many pupils in a school are getting grade C or above in certain academically-focused GCSEs.
These subjects also happen to be the ones most regularly asked for by college and university courses.
You don’t need to have studied all of these to go to university, but having your GCSE mix steered towards English BAC subjects will help keep your options open:
• English
• Maths
• the sciences (including computer science)
• history or geography
• a modern or ancient foreign language.
What the Department for Education? (DfE) says
The English Baccalaureate – though not a qualification in itself – is a measure of success in core academic subjects; specifically English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.
These are subjects most likely to be required or preferred for entry to degree courses and ones that will keep the most doors open. The English Bac aims to reverse the long-term drift away from students taking the likes of history, geography, French, Spanish and other modern languages.
Universities usually look for specific grades in Maths, English and Sciences but these subjects are compulsory for you to take anyway.

It’s up to you to decide whether to take one or more of the optional subjects. On the plus side, taking a mix of these will ensure you can be more flexible in your university course choices later down the line – especially if you’re not sure what you want to do yet.

But if you feel you’re weaker in these subjects, don’t feel that you must take them in order to go to university.