Tagged: learning

Two days to go before the EdExcel IGCSE Biology paper 2

I’m writing this on Friday evening and the 2018 IGCSE Biology paper 2 is on Monday.  So you are almost there…..

What can you do in the final two days?

  1. Look over the topics that can only appear in paper 2 and make sure you understand them as well as you can.
  2. Look at my post with some guesses as to what topics were not assessed on paper 1 and make sure you understand them as well as you can.
  3. One last work through those topics in the specification where you know your knowledge or understanding is not great (don’t waste time this weekend going over things you definitely already understand!)
  4. Rest properly, get two proper nights’ sleep so you are relaxed and ready to THINK in the exam on Monday.  You will need some downtime this weekend to enjoy yourself and switch off thinking about exams…..

Good luck to you all!  Your study of GCSE Biology is almost over… I will have my fingers crossed that the exam paper on Monday allows you to demonstrate the detailed knowledge and understanding you have built up

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!

Ten Rules of Bad Studying (adapted and plagiarised from Barbara Oakley PhD)

On the back of the document Barbara Oakley used to describe good studying and learning (see previous post) she also described Ten Techniques seen in Bad Learning.  These should “all be avoided as they can waste your time even while they fool you into thinking you are learning”.  You have been warned…

1. Passive re-reading. Sitting passively and running your eyes over a page.  Unless you can prove to yourself that the ideas are moving into your brain by recalling the main ideas without looking at the page, re-reading is a waste of time.

2. Letting highlights overwhelm you.  Highlighting text can fool you into thinking you are putting something in your brain,when all you are doing is moving your hand! A little highlighting here and there is ok but so often I see students who have basically coloured their notes in….  Use sparingly to flag up one or two important points per page, but no more than that please….

3. Merely glancing at mark schemes and model answers and thinking you could do it.  This is one of the worse errors students make while studying according to Dr Oakley.  You need to be able to solve a problem step-by-step (or answer a question one point at a time) without looking at the solution or mark scheme.

4. Waiting until the last minute to study.  Well we are less than 18 hours away from the main iGCSE exam so I hope none of you have done this!  Would you cram at the last minute if you were competing at an athletics event?

5. Repeating solving problems of the same type that you already know how to solve.  I see this a lot in Biology – students repeatedly practising the easy questions on topics they already know they understand. Waste of time!

6. Letting study sessions with friends turn into chat sessions.  Revision with friends can be fun as it allows you to check your problem solving, quiz each other and expose flaws in your thinking.  But there is a risk and that is that the fun can come before the learning and then you are all wasting your time….

7. Neglecting to read the textbook before working on problems/past papers.  I see this a lot too – students dive into past papers from the internet without bothering to read the textbook or try to learn the topics thoroughly. Would you dive into a swimming pool before you learn how to swim?  The textbook is your swimming instructor – so pay attention and work at it.  Past papers are conning you that you are revising if this is the first thing you do.

8. Not checking with your teachers to ask for help.  Teachers expect students to come to ask for help – it is our job to help you prepare for exams after all.  The students we worry about are the ones who don’t come in for help.  Don’t be one of those students.

9. Thinking you can learn deeply when you are being constantly distracted.  “Every tiny pull toward an instant message or conversation means you have less brain power to devote to your learning. Every tug of interrupted learning pulls out the tiny neural roots before they can grow.”

10. Not getting enough sleep.  I have written about this several times before and it is a biggy…. I am delighted Barbara Oakley shares my point of view.    Your brain pieces together problem-solving techniques and understanding when you sleep.  It also repeats and practises what you have put into your mind before you sleep.  Prolonged fatigue builds up toxins in the brain that disrupt the neural connections you need to think quickly and well.  If you don’t get a proper sleep before a test or exam, nothing else you have done will matter.  So please take note and go to bed tonight!

10 rules of Good Studying (plagiarised and adapted from Barbara Oakley PhD)

I was lucky enough to hear Dr Oakley speak at the #TLAB15 conference in March.  She has written extensively about the neural processes involved in good learning and this list of 10 points is an abridged and adapted excerpt from her book “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if you Flunked Algebra)

1. Use recall.  Read a page, look away and recall all the main ideas.  Highlight very little, check your recall frequently in different places and at different times.  An ability to recall – to generate the ideas from inside yourself – is one of the key indicators of good learning.

2. Test yourself. On everything. All the time. Flash cards are your friend.


3. Chunk your problems.  Chunking is understanding and practising a solution so that it can come to mind in a single step.  After you solve a problem, rehearse it.  Pretend its a song and learn to play it over and over again in your mind so that the information combines into one smooth chunk you can pull up whenever you want.

4. Space your repetition. Spread out your learning in any subject a little every day, just like an athlete.  Little and often is the way to deep and full understanding.

5. Alternate different problem-solving techniques during your revision.  Never practice learning a particular topic for too long.  Mix it up and work on different kinds of problems.  Handwrite a problem/question on one side of a flash card and the solutions on the other.  Go through tests and assignments, looking at errors and checking why you made them.

6. Take breaks. Some Biology topics are difficult to understand and few people will get them first time.  If it doesn’t make sense first time, don’t worry, take a break, work on something different and come back to it.  Your mind is very powerful and can work on problems in the background even when your focus is elsewhere.  This is also why little and often is such a good rule for learning.

7. Use simple analogies.  If a concept is difficult, think to yourself – “how can I explain this so a 10 year old could understand it?”  Using analogies really helps.  Don’t just think the analogy, say it out aloud and write it down.


8. Focus. Turn off all beeps and alarms on your phone and computer and set a timer for 25 minutes.  Focus intently for the 25 minutes and try to work as diligently as you can.  When the timer goes off give yourself a small, fun reward.  Chocolate works well for me…..

9. Eat your frogs first.  Do the hardest thing early in the day when you are fresh.


10.  Make a mental contrast.  Imagine where you’ve come from and contrast that with the dream of where your studies are going to take you.  Post a picture or words in your workspace to remind yourself of your dream.  Look at this when you find motivation flagging.

Cambridge Pre-U Biology – a few thoughts

I have now taught two terms of this new post-16 Biology qualification to two year 12 groups.  It is very early to be making judgements on the quality of the course but there is one thing about this course that is over-whelming:  it is MASSIVE….  I don’t know if I am losing track of the pace of my post-16 teaching but I cannot ever remember in 20 years having to rush through so many topics.

The content is pretty standard and comparable to A level I would say, but why is there so much of it?  It irritates me beyond belief to feel that I have to rush in the classroom just to cover the basics of the syllabus.  If the aim is to promote independent learning among students then the sheer volume of the specification has the absolute opposite effect.  My understanding of “independent learning” is not just to let the students do it in their own time with no input/help/feedback from the teacher. I want students to learn independently and to take initiative for their learning but I also want to be able to help/guide/assess their learning and there simply isn’t time to do this properly.

So please Cambridge, when you come to review this specification for the next draft, please can you remove about 25% of the content?  There is nothing “rigorous” about a massive specification:  it rewards a rather dull and limited approach to learning and removes the time needed for a less didactic teaching style.  I want our post-16 biologists to finish their course with a deep understanding of the beauty of the natural world, having had the time to make interesting links between subject areas and with a skill-set as learners that will set them up for the next stage of their lives.  I remain to be convinced that this course is going to manage that.