Category: General

Moving on….

The last time I changed jobs was in July 1997 after three hectic but happy years teaching at the Perse School in Cambridge.  But with a new position to take up in January at a different school in Cambridgeshire and having now passed the 20 year mark here, I feel like I am hurtling on my final lap towards a finish line in a couple of weeks.

Things now are very different from the heady days at the end of the Millenium.  I was probably at least two stone lighter in 1997 for a start….  No Facebook, no Twitter, no Snapchat, dial up Internet but no wifi, no Sky Sports, no texting…. What did we do all day?  But the last 20 years have been an amazing experience and I feel privileged to have worked with and indeed taught so many outstanding individuals.   I have made memories in my schoolroom, on the sports pitches, at Queens Club, in Dubai and in tutorials that will last a lifetime and I know I have spent the last two decades in a very special institution and one I will continue to hold dear.

But my overriding thoughts at the moment are most certainly looking forwards, not back and I am massively excited at the thought of a fresh professional challenge in 2018.  There are lots of people I will miss terribly in the New Year but I also know there is a vibrant, friendly and supportive community at my new school and I am looking forward to running a department.  And moving back to live in Northampton full time after 25 years away does feel like coming home……  I can’t wait!!

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Well done!

Well done to everyone who has now finished their 2017 IGCSE Biology course.  I hope paper 2 was to your liking (it seemed pretty typical to me) and all the hard work you have put in over two years has finally paid off.  I guess that many Y11 students will be almost finished so it is nearly time for you to have a long, relaxing summer break.  I wish you all the best of luck when the results come out in August.

Can I ask for one small favour before you switch off schoolwork completely?

If you have time, please can you leave a comment below with any tips you have as to things you have done in revision that really helped you.  I imagine you have learned a great deal about how to motivate, organise and maximise your own learning over the past few months so why not leave a short comment to inspire/enthuse/help those that follow you……?

My page settings require me to approve any comment before it appears so don’t expect to see your comment straightaway as it may take an hour or two before it becomes visible.

But I hope you all have a brilliant summer and I wish you the best of luck!

Final advice before iGCSE Biology paper 1 on Tuesday

Well we are nearly there….. 24 hours to go until the main IGCSE Biology exam (worth 120 of the total 180 marks).  I hope you are all excited and looking forward with optimism to being able to show the examiner how much you understand from the extensive specification.  What should you be doing in this final 24 hours?

The most important thing is that you all get a good night’s sleep tonight.  Please do not stay up late cramming -it does not work! The evidence base for this is completely clear: you will perform better tomorrow with a normal night’s sleep tonight.  So please stop work an hour before you intend to go to bed, relax for an hour watching TV or socialising and then go to bed……

This afternoon you should want to look over a paper or two to familiarise yourself with the kinds of questions and the mark schemes.  I would have a final look again at the summer 2015 and summer 2016 paper 1B scripts.  Look at your answers and the kind of ways you lost marks.   In particular focus on the longer answer questions (for 4,5 or 6 marks) and look at the mark schemes.  Often there are marks available for saying obvious things but only if the correct vocabulary is used correctly.

Remember the PMG list of banned words:

Amount (oh no, please don’t ever write this in an exam – think – do you mean mass/volume/concentration?)

Level (do not talk about the level of something, you always mean “concentration” and concentration is a noun that actually means something!)

Substance – what substance are you talking about?  oxygen? glucose?

Gases – in questions on gas exchange or transport, please do not write about “gases” – say which gases you mean!

Nutrients – not really a banned word but one that needs very very careful use…..  A nutrient is a food molecule, for example glucose, an amino acid or a lipid. Nutrients like these are transported dissolved in blood plasma in mammals but if asked about it, don’t use the word but actually state which molecule you are talking about.  None of these nutrients are absorbed into the roots of a plant.  Plants absorb mineral ions (nitrate, phosphate, magnesium, potassium etc) through their roots into root hair cells by active transport.

Look over your revision notes a few final times to familiarise yourself with the key words.  Focus your final revision on the key areas that you know will definitely come up:  there will be a genetics question, there will be an experimental design question, the chances are that fish farming and fermenters will be there as usual……..

If you have worked hard for several weeks (and I know many of you have) you have little to fear in the exam from a lack of knowledge.  The thing to fear is losing marks due to rushing, due to not reading the question and due to not giving yourself time to think.  None of you will be rushed for time I promise, so please

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  • read every word in every question
  • give yourself time to think before answering – even easy marks can be lost by rushing!
  • plan longer answer questions to make sure you cover all the key points using the correct jargon – think before you write anything, “what are the key terms in this topic?” – and then make sure you use them correctly in your answer

Good luck!  By the end of tomorrow you will have completed two thirds of your GCSE exams in Biology and that should be a happy thought……

Keep working hard…..

There are lots of you out there revising hard for your IGCSE Biology exams in May/June.  I can see because of a graph like the one below showing page views on the blog in every month from August onwards.  Let’s see if April and May 2017 can break records on PMGBiology and then with a little luck, your cohort of students can break the record for the highest proportion of A* grades ever awarded.

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How to answer multiple choice questions: a quick guide

Many of the students I teach are facing end-of-term exams next week.  And for my Y9 and Y10 students these are multiple choice papers which pose a different challenge to the more usual structured answer format.  So here is a quick PMG guide to help you score the highest mark you can on this kind of paper.  Good luck!

1) Don’t underestimate the opposition!

The biggest mistake students make with these exams is to be over-confident.  The reason GCSE exams no longer contain any multiple choice questions is because it was felt that this type of question is too difficult.  The examiner, by selecting four incorrect responses to every question, is trying to catch you out and the more plausible the incorrect responses, the better the question!  So your understanding needs to be really good to not be tricky by these underhand tactics…. Get revising!

2) Read the question carefully.

This skill is tested even more fully in a multiple choice exam. You spend less time writing answers (obviously), so this allows more time for reading and thinking.  Even with a “mark a minute” time frame, there is time for thinking and planning before deciding on a correct answer.  Write on the question paper, use it for rough work and planning.  And RTQ carefully – with many similar but incorrect answers on the page, it is so easy to decide too quickly what the correct response is and so miss out on marks you could obtain with a little more care.

3) Try to eliminate the obviously incorrect answers:  this will mean you are only focussing your thinking on the possibles.  It also means if you have to guess, you are maximising your odds of being lucky!  But be careful….. This strategy has an obvious flaw so be careful in what you eliminate.

4) Your best chance of getting a question right is the first time you answer it. So I suggest you leave blank any answers you are unsure of on your first go through the paper.  Don’t spend more than a minute on any question on this first pass through the paper.  You can come back to look at the harder questions at the end of the exam.  It is much harder in an exam to spot an error in a question you have already answered, so I would leave answers blank unless I am sure I am right….

5) Keep an eye on the time.  After 20 minutes of the exam, check that you are ahead of the time.  Most multiple choice exams are a “mark a minute” but I know that in our internal exams this isn’t always the case, so check.  

6) Finally, make sure you answer every question.  There is only positive marking in these exams so you should always guess (see point 3 above).  The only way you can guarantee you won’t get a mark is if you leave the question blank!

Take a pencil and a rubber to these exams – both will be useful!  And good luck……..

Comments and Suggestions welcome…..

Dear Readers,

Please feel free to send me any comments/suggestions/improvements so I can make this blog better and more useful to the GCSE students who read it…..  I will be writing some new posts in the Christmas holidays to complete the current IGCSE specification, and perhaps then to address the new material included for examination in 2019….?

But please tell me if there are particular topics you would like me to expand on…. If you don’t understand it fully, then lots of other readers won’t either!

And keep working hard – no short cuts in Biology GCSE…..

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