Thursday, 01 November 2018

A home-educator's journey, part 3: home educating through GCSEs

Today’s post is the third in the series of our home educators journey, following the lives of Anna and Lucy on their NEC learner story. Anna and Lucy are a mother and daughter who are sharing their experiences of online distance learning and home education. This post is written by Anna, highlighting her experiences, so far, learning at home with NEC. Click the links to read the previous blogs in the series "Selecting our course provider" and “Getting started

When we first started our home education journey GCSEs were a very distant thought as my sons were only 6 and 9. However, a few weeks in and my 14 year old daughter, Lucy, decided that she also wanted to be home educated and suddenly GCSEs were at the forefront of my mind. Although I have a teaching background, it is with primary age, so this made me feel way out of my depth.

There was a wide variety of subjects to choose from including ones that were not available when Lucy was at school and a variety of ways that you can study for GCSEs. I soon learned that other home educators were more than happy to answer questions and share their experiences. With this support and lots of reading we came up with a plan that we thought would work best for us. We chose three subjects to complete over a year using a distance learning provider.

"At first I wondered if I knew enough to be able to support Lucy, it turns out there is a lot of support in the home education community from people who are going through the same process"

We were fortunate that Lucy was very motivated and was able to manage her workload herself. We gave some input to help her plan the work over the year and think about when she would need to start revision. Once she had that she happily worked through the courses herself. She would ask for advice if there was an area that she didn’t understand and occasionally we would contact the tutor for extra advice but generally she worked well independently. We found we were able to plan work around her other activities- so she managed to act in a professional theatre production and dance in a professional pantomime during this period. We just altered her workload around the rehearsal schedule.

"We found that being able to focus on just three subjects over one year was positive as she could really get to grips with those subjects. Lucy didn’t feel overwhelmed with juggling lots of subject areas and although the exam period was intense it was relatively short

As this was Lucy’s first experience of formal exams she did feel the pressure towards the end of the process. She was keen to perform to the best of her ability and to achieve results she was proud of. However, this seemed nothing to the pressure her school friends were under and they were still a whole year away from their exams. Her drama teacher commented on how relaxed she was compared to the others in her group who were frequently upset about the pressure they felt under from school.

We did feel very apprehensive on results day. We believed she was well prepared but there was a nagging doubt that we might have got it all wrong! Fortunately when the email pinged into my inbox the news was even better than we had hoped for - I had clearly been a harsh marker on the practice papers because she got a grade higher than we had expected in all three subjects.

"Now we are able to look back over the year we can say it was a relatively straight forward process. You definitely don’t need to be an expert in the subject to be able to support your child’s learning through a GCSE course"

Parts were more difficult such as the decisions about how to study and also trying to find an examination centre. We are finding the second year more straight forward and have made some changes, such as using a distance learning provider that has a linked examination centre. I think overall the whole process was far less scary than we thought it would be. Even if you don’t know the answers to questions you can look them up together and discussion is great for supporting understanding.

Further information and available discounts for home educators can be found here.

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Thursday, 25 October 2018

Sir Alan Tuckett: Education matters for all

Studying at home

Today’s guest blog is written by Sir Alan Tuckett OBE, Professor of Education at the University of Wolverhampton, Honorary Fellow of UNESCO’s Institute of Lifelong Learning, and Past President of the International Council of Adult Education.  He was a trustee of the National Extension College in the 1990s.

Since 2011, the Open University has lost three in ten of its students, whilst in higher education in England overall there has been a drop of more than half of the part-time  (overwhelmingly mature) students, following the government’s decision to transfer grants to student loans.  The market, designed for full-time 18 year olds works (though anyone looking at £50,000 plus debt after a first degree may wonder what ‘works’ means).  For adults it doesn’t.  Meanwhile, in further education a million places in publicly funded adult education have disappeared, as part of the endless austerity measures government has introduced.  This million is, by the way on top of another million lost between 2004 and 2011.  Then there are employers.  Every other European country, with the single exception of Portugal saw employers increasing investment in training for staff following the financial crash of 2007-9.  By contrast employers in Britain have cut spending on training, and the money they do spend is concentrated on more senior staff.  It is not only happening in the UK either.  In the hope of getting better international league table results Saudi Arabia has abolished part-time and distance learning degrees.  Education matters, it seems, but not for adults.

Taken together, there is a perfect storm affecting opportunities for adults to take up learning.  Statistics can be dry, but every one of the places lost is an opportunity lost.  There is powerful evidence – not least from the government’s own publications – that classes can make a difference for people recovering from mental health issues.  But you can’t make use of them if they are not there. There is evidence, too, that keeping on learning helps secure independent, healthy adult lives.  But the disappearance of classes for older people triggered the University of the Third Age movement to organise opportunities for themselves.  The same motivation inspired Michael Young to set up the National Extension College more than fifty five years ago, to enable people who can’t get to classes offered at the same time each week to get a second chance education.  That initiative was followed by the Open University, and between the two hundreds of thousands of people’s lives have been transformed. 

One such story, that of Derek Fry, was celebrated in the Guardian earlier this year, through his friend’s obituary.  Derek left school at fifteen and went to work as a laboratory assistant at Leeds Fireclay Company.  He went to night school to do O and A levels, signed up for teacher training at 24 and was one of the very first of the Open university’s students following up a passion developed in early childhood for astronomy.  As a result of Derek’s second chance in education he was able to pass on that passion during a fifty year teaching career.  More than a dozen doctoral theses were dedicated to him, he was inducted as a member of the Institute of Physics in 1997, and everyone he taught felt inspired.  His is a story that shows that learning leaks – what you learn in one place inspires others.

And the cuts outlined at the start of this piece represent millions of similar life stories stymied by short sighted cuts.  This is all the more extraordinary given the expected impact of artificial intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution on working life in the years ahead.  The case for investing in adult learning has never been stronger, as the House of Lords economic committee noted earlier this year.  But I am not holding my breath on when words will be followed by actions.  And that is why the example of Michael Young’s creativity in setting up the NEC, of Eric Midwinter and colleagues at U3A, or the imagination of the Australians who started the men’s sheds movement are so critical.  We can’t afford to wait for the public decision makers.  We have to follow their inspiration and invent and maintain new forms for adults to engage with learning.  That will ensure that today’s  Derek Fry gets his or her own second chances in the years ahead.

If you are feeling inspired by Sir Alan Tuckett work or Derek Fry’s passion for astronomy perhaps you would be interested in the launch of our new GCSE Astronomy course where you will explore the universe, make a planisphere, learn what a Copernicus crater is and so much more! 


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Wednesday, 05 September 2018

A home-educator's journey, part 2: getting started

Studying at home


Today’s post is the second in the series of our home educators journey, following the lives of Anna and Lucy on their NEC learner story. Anna and Lucy are a mother and daughter who are sharing their experiences of online distance learning and home education. This post is written by Lucy, highlighting her experieces, so far, learning at home with NEC. To read the first blog of the series "A home educator's journey part 1:selecting our course provider" click here.

Further information about home education can be found here.

Navigating NECs online learning platform 

This year I enrolled on NEC’s GCSE Maths and GCSE Sociology and will be taking the exams in Summer 2019. The first thing I had to do was navigate around the NEC website and get to know how the website works. This was simple to do and information was well set out. The tutors recommend that you make a timetable for the year, so if you are going to take your exam you know you will get through all the course materials with time to spare for revision. It is quite hard to do this because you have to plan for next year and it can be hard to think that far ahead.  However, now I have my plan I find it really useful because I know what I’m going to be doing on what day and I know for sure that I will get through the course and have plenty of time for revision. It is also helpful for the tutors because they will know if you’re staying on the right track and they know when to expect assignments. After you send your timetable to your tutors they will check it and if they think that it needs to be tweaked they will send you feedback.

Meeting the tutors

Shortly after starting the course, my tutors sent me a message introducing themselves and sharing tips they have to make sure I get the most out of the courses. I also had an introductory call with my maths tutor.  She explained the course in more depth and answered any questions I had. My initial thoughts on the tutors were that they are very kind and helpful. They also reply quite quickly to any messages I send them. When I was confused on how to do one of the maths problem I messaged my tutor and within an hour she replied and she said if it still didn’t make sense she would call me and explain it further. They also message you every now and then to make sure you’re enjoying the course and to see if you have any questions.

NEC course material

I have the online materials for both subjects. For the maths course I use the online book for information and then watch the videos and complete the quizzes. There is a PDF file of the online book but I also write down anything that I need to remember and keep them all in a folder so when it comes to revision I will know where everything is and have a set of handwritten notes. If I don’t understand I find watching the videos very helpful because they are short but explain things very well. Doing the quiz helps to apply the information you learnt in the book and video to proper maths problems.

For the sociology course I print the PDF of the lesson and complete the activities on a seperate piece of paper. There are also answers to the activities at the end of the lesson so you can check your answers. Important sociologists and their research, which you have to know for the exam, are highlighted in a blue box. Important words are written in bold and their meanings can be found in the glossary at the end of the lesson. I have found this very helpful for remembering key information and learning vocabulary.

And the learning begins...

I started the courses at the beginning of June and have recently finished my first assignment in both subjects. I think the lessons I completed before the assignment prepared me well for the questions, I also found the feedback from the tutors helpful and they gave me ideas of how to improve my work. In my sociology tutor’s feedback she sent links to useful websites which explain things in more depth to add to my overall knowledge of the material. She also adds an example of a perfect answer and tells me what I could improve on to make sure I get the most marks I can.
I feel like I have made a good start to both courses and feel confident as I move forward with them.

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Thursday, 23 August 2018

You don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE, try studying online with NEC


Did you know that you don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE? NEC courses are studied online, giving you the flexibility to study exactly where and when you like. There’s a wide number of subjects to choose from too, including all of the essential subjects such as maths, English and science, as well as some of the less common ones such as psychology and astronomy.

GCSEs for all

NEC students are not just school-aged, under the age of 18. You might wonder why someone who has left school might go back and study GCSEs again. We recently surveyed our students to find out why they chose to study their GCSEs with us, here are some of the reasons they gave us.

35% were looking to change career or to get a job.

Two of the careers mentioned most often were nursing and teaching. You need maths and English GCSE at grade C or grade 4 or above to be allocated a place. The flexibility of studying with NEC and the tutor support from a subject specialist were the main reasons students chose to study with NEC. If you’re thinking about a career in nursing or teaching, take a look at our free career tracks guides. They’re packed full of practical information for people thinking about becoming a teacher of a nurse.

One such student is Namja Khan. Namja has a degree in maths but still needed to gain a GCSE to go onto teacher training. You can see her being interviewed on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show this morning

15% were planning to go onto further education of some kind

Studying GCSEs online with NEC helped Ben do just that. Ben became unwell with M.E. when he was 13, which caused severe fatigue making it difficult for him to study, particularly if he was having a bad day. He was unable to attend school for almost three years. Ben wanted to return to school to study at sixth form but needed GCSEs in maths and English to be accepted.

40% said that they planned to go into higher education

Julia was educated at home from the age of 15 and always planned of going onto study at university. Being able to study GCSEs at home put her on track to achieving that. She said: "It’s down to NEC that I was able to go to university and study the subject I have loved since being a child. I’m sure my life would have taken a very different course without home education.”

Whatever your reasons for study, rest assured that you don’t have to be at school to study a GCSE. If you’re inspired by any of our students to enrol on a GCSE this Autumn, get in touch with NEC’s expert course advice team. We’ll be happy to help.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

How will I get my A level results?

Studying at home

The summer holidays are a time to kick back and relax. Until this week, that is, if you’re waiting for A level results! A question we’re asked frequently at this time of year is ‘how will I get my A level results?’ We’ve put together some information to answer this and some other questions ahead of results day this Thursday.

I sat exams at an NEC partnership centre, how will I get my results?

The centre will email your results directly to you so keep an eye on your inbox. On rare occasions the email might go into your spam file, so check there if you haven’t received anything.

I sat exams at a centre that I arranged privately.

You should contact them directly to find out how they will send results to you. It might be by email, or by post.

I’m worried I didn’t do as well as I hoped. Will I still get my place at university?

If you’re worried about whether you’ll get into university with your grades or you need to know if you can re-sit your exams if you don’t get the results you want there are lots of places to go for information. UCAS is just one example of where to go, they will be able to help answer any questions you may have about getting into University.

I am feeling really anxious, any tips?

Look after yourself. It’s important to try to get a good night’s sleep but if you’re struggling to drift off try reading a book you really enjoy to take your mind off the next day. You could even try doing a bit of meditation to help relax your mind and body. There are some great apps out there like Headspace and Calm that guide you through letting go of your thoughts and focussing on deep breathing.

I’m away on results day, what can I do?

If you’re results are being sent by email, make sure you know where you get internet access wherever you will be. If you need to collect your results, let the school or college know that you’ll be away and see if you can arrange for someone to collect them on your behalf.

What are the pass grades for A levels?

A* to E grades are a pass.  A* to C grades are considered a good pass.

Will I get my certificate on results day?

Your certificate will be sent to you in November, on results day you’ll receive your statement of results.

What next?
Whatever the outcome, you’ve worked so hard getting this far so why not arrange a night in with friends or go out for dinner to celebrate finishing your A levels. Studying for any qualification takes a lot of steam and motivation which is why you should be proud of getting through it.

We wish you all the best of luck for your exam results and hope you get the grades you want. If you’re an NEC student please share your results with us by emailing

Let us know how you get on and what’s next in your learning journey at @NationalExtensionCollege on Facebook or @NEC_Home_Study on Twitter #ProudNECStudent

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Thursday, 31 May 2018

A home-educator's journey, part 1: selecting our course provider

Studying at home

Today’s post is both a guest blog and an NEC learner story. Meet Anna and Lucy, a mother and daughter who are sharing their experiences of distance learning and home education. This post is the first in a series of blogs that will follow Anna and Lucy’s journey while they learn at home with the help of NEC.

Selecting our course provider

For us, one of the joys of home education is the freedom to choose how you study. If you choose to take the path of formal study and opt for GCSEs there are still a variety of ways to follow the courses. The choices are wide and you need to consider the level of support you need, your confidence level in going alone, your own family circumstances and the financial aspects.

Some of the options available are;

  • Distance learning courses
  • Tutor led sessions either in person or online
  • Working through the course syllabus and textbooks on your own

We are about to start our second year of GCSE study and we will be using NEC for two subjects, covering the courses in a year. As we come towards the end of our first year of GCSE study we have been able to reflect on strategies that were effective and what needed to change.

In our first year of GCSE study we were still very new to home education and nervous about diving into GCSEs alone. We, therefore, opted for two routes to study-a distance learning provider (not NEC) and tutor led courses. We felt that using a combination of a distance learning provider and a tutor would provide the support Lucy needed as she worked through the course materials and to mark assignments so we could see how she was progressing. It also gave her the opportunity for self-study which was needed as I was often busy working with her two boisterous brothers. The tutor led groups offered her the opportunity to pursue her interest in drama which can be difficult as a home educator.

After a wobbly start, when the whole prospect seemed quite overwhelming and I needed to support her in managing the workload, Lucy showed that she was able to self-study well and consistently gained good marks in her assignments. The distance learning courses allowed us the flexibility to study at times that suited us- we could work around Lucy’s commitments to her tutor led groups and her many dance lessons.

However, she did find the course materials, from the provider we had chosen, quite dry and we had to supplement with some other activities to alleviate the tedium of working through the huge paper file. She was keen to try something different for this year. Although I have gained confidence in my abilities over our first year as home educators I was not quite brave enough to just work through the syllabus and textbooks alone. Having three children with different interests means we have very busy lives managing all their extra curricular interests and I was concerned that I would not be able to offer enough time to support Lucy if we chose this route.

We came across NEC through social media and downloaded some of the courses that she was interested in. Lucy liked the way the materials were set out and felt motivated and excited by the courses. We liked the fact that there is tutor involved who can offer feedback to her work and access to an online community of other learners. Another factor that influenced our decision was the fact that the exams are booked through NEC so we are certain of having a place to sit the exam when we come to it. This can be particularly problematic for language courses, as we discovered this year, and we are pleased to not have to deal with the stress of finding an examination centre when it is time to book her examinations. The way that NEC works gives us the flexibility that fits with our lifestyle. We do not have to be home for a certain time for online lessons or travel to a centre to meet with a group. Lucy can study when the time suits her around her other activities- this can be early in the morning, in the evening, short or long sessions. This gives us the freedom we wanted to follow her other interests. We are looking forward to starting the courses and will be blogging our journey to GCSEs using the NEC.

About the writer

My name is Anna and I have been a home educator since January 2017 when my youngest two children left school. Prior to this I had been working as a primary teacher specialising in special needs. I was increasingly disillusioned with the education system and this, combined with the fact that my middle child was finding school hard going, led us on the path to home education.

Lucy is my eldest child and has been home educated since April 2017. She had previously attended the local village college. She had been generally happy in her early primary school days but in the later years she was less motivated by school and once she started secondary school we saw an increase in her stress levels that was not acceptable to us. Once her brothers were home educated Lucy saw that it was something that was attractive to her and she decided to join us in April 2017. She wanted to start GCSE work straight away as she was at that point in her school career and she started on three iGCSE distance learning courses to take exams in the summer 2018. She also studies GCSE drama with a group and French as part of a small group with a tutor and will take those examinations in 2019. She also completed her Bronze Arts Award in her first year being home educated and is now working on her Silver Award. Lucy decided that she wanted to take Maths and Sociology GCSE courses to add to her qualifications. Distance learning courses have generally worked well for her this year so we decided to go for this option again though the NEC.

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Friday, 04 May 2018

NEC’s Art Techniques course

A painting depicting trees in a field

This week’s blog is written by Jane Horton, tutor for NEC on the Art Techniques course.
Jane introduces the new edition of the Art Techniques course, which she has been responsible for revising and updating. Here she explains why it is good to explore your creativity and what sort of exciting changes have been made to the course. Jane studied art history and art at postgraduate level and has been involved in art education on and off all her working life, specialising in open and distance learning. Jane is also a practising artist and illustrator.

What does the new course look like and why should you study it?

This course is a great starting point for anyone who feels they really want to grasp the nettle and have a proper go at drawing and painting. Work your way through this course, with helpful feedback from your tutor, and you’ll end up wanting to take it even further. This course has always been popular with NEC students but we felt it needed to be refreshed and brought up to date. The good news is that this updated course is just about to be launched and you could be one of the first to enrol.

Anyone studying this course will find themselves just as challenged as previously but will find their path through the course a little clearer and simpler. You’ll still cover all the basics, of line, tone, shape, perspective, and colour. And you will practice a range of themes that will stand you in good stead on your artistic journey. The new version of the course includes more focus on women artists. It’s always important to look at the work of others when learning about art techniques, and it’s essential to add in some examples from wonderful female artists which the old version of the course was lacking.

If you take one message from the course it should be to draw all the time, every day if possible. Your observational and drawing skills improve as if by magic if you do this. Included in this blogpost are a few examples of my quick daily drawings and paintings which form the core of my practice. This daily practice has formed the basis of a shift in focus of my art practice and a satisfying move of direction. Perhaps doing this course will change your life and move you in a new creative direction?

Black and white drawing of two people seated at a cafe table, one smoking a cigarette

As a tutor and an artist myself, I hope this course will help you to discover your latent artistic skills and develop them. It can provide the basis of an interest that will fill the hours, and mean you will never be bored. After all, you can pursue drawing with the simplest of tools: a sheet of paper and a pencil. You might want to take this further on completion of this course as well. You could sign up for more courses locally, or even an art degree, either online or at a college. But first, get out your drawing and painting tools and enrol on this refreshed Art Techniques course. Follow each exercise carefully and you will really improve your drawing and painting!

If you would like to know more about this course, get in touch and speak to our Course Advice Team. You can email us at, call us free from any UK landline on 0800 389 2839, or send us a message via our website’s Live Chat. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.

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Friday, 27 April 2018

Getting it right on exam day

You’ve spent months preparing for exam day and it’s almost here. We’ve put together some top tips on how to approach these final hours in a calm and effective manner.

1. Give your brain a workout
Your brain is an important muscle. When you aren’t studying your course content keep your brain active by completing crosswords and number and word games.

2. Concentration is key
When your Tutor is providing feedback, or when you are reading content that you will need to remember for the exam, remember to concentrate. Concentration is essential to ensure you retain information.

3. Repeat after me...
Repetition ensures your brain can retain information. The earlier you can start repeating key statistics and data, the easier it will be to recall more detailed information for your exam.

4. Don’t pull an all-nighter
It’s tempting to cram in as much last-minute study as possible, but getting enough sleep the night before your exam is really important. Aim to get a full eight hours of quality sleep. This will actually help your brain to retain all the information you need for your exam. Wake up refreshed and ready for action.

5. March on a full stomach
Start your exam day with a hearty breakfast. Research has shown that eating breakfast has a positive impact on exam results – so tuck in. A high protein choice, such as eggs or yoghurt is perfect for keeping you alert, whilst carbohydrates like porridge will sustain your energy levels over the day ahead. 

6. Drink to think
Try to avoid caffeine, especially if you don’t drink it often – as it can make you feel nervous and jittery. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. This will help you to maintain concentration levels and alertness. Keep a bottle of water on your desk, so that you remember to drink regularly during those important last few hours of study.

7. Move it
In the days leading up to your exam, make time to take some light exercise. Even just a brisk walk will get your blood circulating to your brain, as well as helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and boosting sleep levels.

8. Take a break
In the final hours before your exam, make sure you break-off from studying every 20 minutes. Talk a quick stretch and walk around – this will help to keep your brain oxygenated and attention levels sharp.

9. Be prepared
Avoid any last-minute stress by finding out all the details of your exam – such as location, time and access arrangements – well in advance. That way, you’ll arrive in plenty of time feeling calm and prepared. If possible, try to avoid too much pre-exam interaction with others and focus on the task ahead.

10. Read and re-read
At last, you’re in the exam and have the paper in front of you. It’s easy to leap straight in – but take your time and read each question carefully – circling all the key words. Check you fully understand what every question is asking before you put pen to paper.

11. Plan your time
Look carefully at the marks allocated to each question to understand how important it is and how much work it needs. Plan your time accordingly. Tackle questions you CAN answer first – it will help you to settle in and will boost your confidence. If you get stuck, come back to a difficult question later with fresh eyes.

12. Check and re-check
Use any time left at the end of your exam to carefully check every answer for mistakes or to add improvements. If you have a two-hour exam, then ideally try to leave about 20 minutes for checking – these final changes could be the difference that gets you a higher grade. 

13. Relax
Once your paper is handed in, relax. All the hard work is over and you deserve a rest. Try not to get drawn into post-exam discussions about how others answered each question – it’s too late to change now, so try to stay positive.

We’re here to help

If you have any questions or need guidance to help with your exam preparation, please do contact your tutor or our Student Support Team.

Additional services

From past paper marking to additional tutorials on key areas, our tutors offer additional services to help you prepare for exams. To find out more about these services, please get in touch on: 0800 389 2839.

Further reading

We have worked closely with UCAS to prepare a series of free study skills guides, which provide further information and guidance.

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Monday, 23 April 2018

Writing the perfect essay

The word ‘essay’ is also a verb meaning ‘to attempt’. It still retains something of that meaning in it's commoner sense of ‘a piece of continuous prose (not like a series of notes) in which the writer explores a topic’. As essays are one of the ways in which examination boards test you will need plenty of practice in writing them.

There are many reasons why you need to write essays:

  • The experience of note-taking, planning and writing an essay places you in the position of really thinking through arguments for yourself. Few things concentrate the mind as much as having to produce an essay! It enables you to really engage with the issues.
  • Your essay enables you and your tutor to gauge your progress and suggests what further work you may need to carry out.
Clarifying your purpose

When you first encounter an essay question, ask yourself:

  • What is the key verb? Am I being asked to ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘give reasons for’, ‘analyse’…? Your essay will need to address directly the request in the question.
  • What is the questioner looking for? Clearly this will depend on the precise content of the question, but in more general terms all essays should provide:
    • Evidence that you have done enough thoughtful reading and understood the issues at stake.
    • Evidence of an ability to reason effectively - to develop a line of argument, comparing and contrasting different views on the matter.

Let's consider how you can best provide this evidence.

Planning your essay

Always plan your essay. This is where note-taking is useful. An essay needs to be crafted; it is not just an expression of everything you know about the question. Never begun an essay without having thought through the order in which you intend to lay out the issues. The architect and the carpenter both plan their work first- so must the essay writer.

Your plans can be in brief note form. But do make them. And remember, even when your time is limited you are unlikely to gain anything by omitting this stage.

Essay structure

One approach might be to think of an essay as a courtroom, in which a case is made, with evidence for and against a proposition. You have the choice to be either a barrister or a judge.

As a barrister your aim should be to make your case as strongly as you can to the judge and jury. To do that effectively you need to lay out not only your own position, but also that of the other side.

As a judge. At the end of the trial a judge goes through the evidence of the prosecuting and defending councils, weighing up the evidence each way. She may then advise the jury on the verdict.

The second approach is often the most useful. In either case you need to be fair to all the alternative arguments. For your case or verdict to be convincing, you have to show that you have dealt with all the relevant views properly.

Once you have decided on your approach:

  • Give your essay a clear, brief introduction, stating what you intend to do.
  • Either -
    • Assign a number of paragraphs describing or stating a case, followed by more paragraphs discussing problems arising out of the foregoing and/or the alternative case/s
    Or -
    • Alternate pro and contra in the paragraphs as you go.
  • Finish with a clear conclusion. You may feel that you have no neat answer to the problems you have been discussing, but you need to review what the main issues were in the main body of the essay.

Whenever you can, give examples to illustrate what you are trying to say. Examples often clarify what's being said and show (if you have thought of them yourself) that you have really understood the problem.


When you write an essay, part of your task will be to describe an argument, problem or position. However you should avoid mere description. Try to analyse. Use your critical intelligence to examine claims, weigh them up, check them for flaws, etc. You'll feel more confident about doing this once you have worked the course materials.

Offering your position

By all means give your reader your own views, but always base them on the evidence in the essay. Never make unsupported claims. Show why something is the case - don't just state it. And never pad out an essay with vague generalisations.


Try and enjoy crafting your essay. It can be a very therapeutic way of informing the reader about all you know on the subject, and when you have finished and are happy with how it reads it can be a very satisfying and celebratorary feeling!

Next steps

Why not download our free study guide on academic essay writing from the UCAS website for even more support.

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Who are the science and technology stars of tomorrow?

Woman working in a hospital laboratory

For years employers have warned that the UK faces a skills shortage in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles. For example, EngineeringUK recently announced that the UK needs 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025.

At the NEC, STEM subjects are amongst our most popular GCSE and A level courses. We recently conducted a survey to understand more about our 2017 cohort of A level STEM students. We wanted to know more about what motivated them to study and their future ambitions.

Our headline results

Subject choice

  • 41% Biology
  • 24% Chemistry
  • 19% Physics
  • 16% Mathematics

Gender divide

  • 52% female
  • 48% male

With women still under-represented in STEM careers, it’s interesting and encouraging to see that our STEM distance learners have an almost equal gender divide – with slightly more female students than male. However, the balance shifts when it comes to individual subject areas:

  • Biology – 68.4% female
  • Chemistry – 53.5% female
  • Mathematics – 34.9% female
  • Physics – 30% female

National campaigns such as WISE (Women in Science, Tech and Engineering) and Geek Girls are seeking to open up opportunities for women to enter STEM careers. It seems the NEC STEM student demographic has a more equal gender balance than the wider UK picture, where currently:

  • Women make up 42% of UK science professionals
  • 11% of the engineering workforce in the UK is female
  • 20% of A level physics students are girls
  • Women make up 17% of UK ICT professionals
  • Women make up 23% of UK STEM professionals


One of the great advantages of distance learning is that it’s accessible and achievable for students of all ages. Our survey revealed that our STEM students range from 15 to 79 years old. However, the vast majority are either in their 20s (52.9%) or aged 15-19 (23.6%) – suggesting plenty of future STEM careers could be in the pipeline.

STEM aspirations

We asked our STEM students about their future fields of interest. The most popular responses were Medicine and related careers (43.8%) and Engineering (12.3%). Overall the scope of fields of interest were diverse and included: Law, Science, Meteorology, Architecture and Computer Science.

“The goal is to blitz these A levels so I can apply to Biomedical Engineering degrees with various universities.” — NEC A level Biology, Mathematics and Physics student

*Data sources: and

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