Blog: May 2016

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Seven ways to kick-start your studies

Study materials, such as notebooks, on a desk

In the autumn, a million young people in the UK will be immersing themselves for the first time in the hurly-burly of undergraduate life on a university campus. At the same time, online and distance learning students will start a new term studying in the peace and quiet of their own home. Two very different experiences of studying. But new undergraduates and distance learning students have something important in common. As well as getting to grips with their chosen subject, they have to learn how to take responsibility for how and when they study.

NEC is working in partnership with UCAS, the university admissions service, on a series of study skills guides to help students successfully make the transition from school or college to higher education. The guides will also give sixth-formers an insight into what will be expected of them if they want to study for a degree. The first four guides, covering how to present an argument, time management, proofing and editing, and academic essay writing, have just gone live on the UCAS website.

NEC and UCAS believe that everyone needs to invest time in learning the skills needed for independent study if they are to become confident students and get the most out of their course. Successful independent learners don’t trust to luck but learn how to study. Here are our top seven ways to develop the habits of an independent learner.

1. Get to know how you study best

Which do you prefer: detailed instructions, or trying things out for yourself? Are you someone who needs solitude while you are studying, or do you like to work with other people around? How well do you cope with your surroundings being untidy? Understanding the best way for you to study will help you plan when and where to study so you can make the most of your time.

2. Understand what motivation is all about

Daniel Goleman, author of a number of best-selling books on emotional intelligence, identifies four elements that make up motivation. They are the personal drive to achieve; being committed to personal or organisational goals; initiative or ‘readiness to act on opportunities’; and optimism to keep going in the face of setbacks. Understanding how self-motivation works will get you started -and keep you going when things get tough.

3. Keep tabs on your time

How wide a gap is there between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it? If you don’t already know, try logging your time in half hours blocks for a week. The chances are you’ll be surprised by how many hours you spend doing things you don’t really consider very important. Taking a cool, hard look at how you spend your time will make it easier to decide on what you can cut out to make more time for studying.

4. Identify key verbs and key ideas

Cut to the chase when you have an essay to write by identifying the key verbs and key ideas in the title before you do anything else. Do it by choosing two highlighting pens in different colours. Use one for the verbs and one for the key ideas. Taken together, key verbs and key ideas will help you focus your approach to planning, reading and note-taking.

5. Brainstorm your ideas

Get started by organising your thoughts. Brainstorming ideas by making notes on your tablet, phone or a scrap of paper makes it easy to sort out strong ideas from weak ones and put the strong ones in a logical order. You can brainstorm whenever you have a spare five minutes - waiting in a queue, on a train or when you first wake up or just before you go to sleep.

6. Be a disciplined note-taker

It’s discouraging when you’re trying to make sense of new ideas, facts and concepts to be faced with piles of disorganised notes. Establish good note-taking habits as soon as you start your course and you’ll feel the benefit all the way through. Good habits include: only taking notes on material you might use, writing down points in your own words rather than copying them and jotting down questions for yourself as you read so you can follow them up later.

7. Draft and redraft

Stop worrying about a perfect final version of your work by writing a first draft, then a second, a third and even subsequent drafts. Forget about spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraphing for now. Instead, concentrate on presenting your material clearly. Then, before you hand your work in and when you’re producing the final draft, spend time on the details.

Want to know more?

To find out how NEC can help you to fit more learning into your life, browse our wide range of flexible distance learning courses – from GCSEs and A levels to professional qualifications in management and childcare. You can also get in touch and speak directly to our friendly team. We can also be found on social networks including Facebook and Twitter!

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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Testing times

What a SATs paper looks like

In primary and secondary schools across England, pupils are being put through their paces. Last week, key stage 1 children (six and seven-year olds) embarked on a series of four national curriculum tests covering arithmetic, reasoning and SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar). This week, it’s the turn of the country’s year 6s (10 and 11-year olds). After seven years of compulsory education, their mastery of reading, writing and maths is under scrutiny. Some year 6 pupils will sit a science sample test too.

GCSE, IGCSE, AS and A level exams also start this month and continue well into next. Imagine doing your driving test and then doing it again and again, several times a week for more than a month. For a million of Britain’s teenagers, that’s what the next few weeks are going to be like.

With schools’ reputation and university places at stake, what is the sensible course of action for parents who want to support their sons and daughters through testing and exams? A straightforward answer is that it depends on the age of the child.

The National Literacy Trust carried out a review of research into the impact of parental involvement with their children’s education. It found unequivocal evidence that the impact on educational attainment is positive, especially in reading. In other words, children whose parents help them learn at home do better at school. A study carried out in 2011 by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 14 countries concluded that active parental involvement with school work in the early years of a child’s education is ‘a significant trigger for developing children’s reading skills’. The benefits are long-lasting: children whose parents had actively supported them when they were in primary school were six months ahead in reading even at the age of 15.

Pink Floyd’s famous dictum to ‘leave those kids alone’ seems to be good advice for mum and dad as well as teachers. Research conducted this year by The National Citizenship Service found that young people consider parents a distraction or even a frustration when they need to get down to some serious revision. Leaving teenagers in peace, ignoring the time they spend on their phone and letting them watch hours of TV may seem counterintuitive to an older generation - but it may well be the most helpful thing for parents to do.

NEC student Angela Parfitt is supporting her children’s education by leading by example. Although she gave up A level French when she was 17, she was inspired to make up for lost time when her son opted to study French at A level, knowing his mum would be able to help him. Doing role plays with him during his mock exams, she thought: 'I could do this!'

Angela has kept up her conversational French throughout her career in conversation classes at work, first at Hewlett Packard in the US and now at the law firm in Bristol where she works in human resources. She postponed signing up for French A level herself until October last year as she didn't want to sit it the same year as her son and risk being given a higher grade than him. She studies whenever she can fit it in, including on Fridays, a day when she isn’t at work, and sitting outside her daughter's ballet class each Tuesday evening.

The very best of luck to Angela, all NEC students and the estimated 50,000 people in the UK who are sitting GCSEs , IGCSEs and A levels as private candidates this year!

To find out more about NEC, our learners and the wide range of flexible distance learning courses we offer, get in touch and speak to our team or browse the course pages at our website.

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Friday, 06 May 2016

An American in Tanzania strides forward in her pre-school career

Rural Tanzania

Far away from the UK, NEC has helped one woman qualify for a second career and start planning a business that will have an impact on a whole community.

American citizen Keziah Mwanyika knows just where she wants her career working with children to take her. She has her sights set on running her own pre-school and nursery in the small town in Tanzania where her husband’s parents come from, on the border with Zambia. She’s been living in Africa with her husband, a film-maker, since and works five days a week as a pre-school teacher. Home for Keziah, her husband and their two small daughters is a tiny apartment in the city of Dar es Salaam in eastern Tanzania.

Many of the foreign parents Keziah comes into contact with through the pre-school work for NGOs dealing with education and health. Recognising that her own experience in those areas was limited, she decided to do something about it and in 2013 started studying for a Diploma in Pre-school Practice with NEC, passing two years later.

A good student when she was at school and university in the States, Keziah had dreamt of becoming an artist. She left formal education qualified to work as a nursing assistant, helping care for people at home, and spending as much time in art classes as she could. Only when she arrived in Africa in 2009 did she begin working with children. She took to it immediately and started to keep her ears open for a way of getting qualified.

She chose distance learning because the classroom-based courses on offer in Tanzania last for up to four years – longer than she felt able to commit to. Once she’d investigated other options available online and in America, she chose NEC because she was impressed by the quality of its courses, value for money and established reputation. A personal recommendation from someone who had studied with NEC while they were living abroad clinched her decision.

How did Keziah’s first experience of distance learning live up to expectations? She liked the straightforwardness of the course materials, relying on her mum in the States to ship in books she couldn’t get hold of in Tanzania. ‘The curriculum is directly useful for my work – much more than I expected,’ explains Keziah. ‘Every single thing I studied I have used in my job. I’m really conscious of my practice having developed as a result.’

What she hadn’t planned on was getting pregnant. ‘I swear I felt morning sickness for the first three months every time I picked up my course! I gave birth mid-way through my studies and for the last 18 months read and wrote assignments with a tiny baby at my side,’ says Keziah. ‘Without the flexibility of distance learning and the six-month extension NEC agreed, I couldn’t have coped.’

Keziah is full of praise for the tutor support she received as part of her course. ‘If you have a tutor you click with, it makes all the difference. What I needed was someone who would answer all my questions, no matter how silly they seemed to me. That’s just what happened with both my tutors, particularly the second.’

Summing up her time as an NEC student, Keziah says: ‘Distance learning is ideal for parents of young children because you can study at your own pace and at any time you want. Many a night I spent studying when my two daughters were sleeping. If I can improve my qualifications, as an American living in Africa, and have a baby at the same time, anyone can!’

To find out more about NEC, our students, and the flexible support we offer through our distance learning courses, get in touch and see how we can help you to fit more learning into your life.

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