Blog: 2016

Friday, 12 August 2016

International Youth Day - Celebrating our students achievements


International Youth Day is a United Nations event held annually on 12th August to celebrate young people’s success and initiatives in the global society. It’s also a great way for them to get involved and help encourage active participation in helping the rest of the society.

‘Young people are not only our future - they are our present. Our planet has never been so young, with 1.8 billion young women and men. They are the most connected, the most outspoken and the most open-minded generation the world has ever seen.’ This is what Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO tells us in a recent message.

In 1999, August 12th was declared ‘International Youth Day’ by the United Nations. 17 years later people across the globe highlight the importance of young people in shaping our global future. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a message: 'On International Youth Day, I urge others to join this global push for progress. Let us empower young people with the resources, backing and space they need to create lasting change in our world.’

Each year there is a theme, designed to engage and support young people in discussing issues essential to global development, this years theme is “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production”.

A survey of our current students shows that more than 50% are under the age of 25 compared to that of 25% in 1990, a huge increase of young learners. We also have students based around the world working their studies around all kinds of employment, whether full time or part-time. Students come from all walks of life to learn with NEC.

At NEC, we’re proud of our students achievements and so today is a perfect opportunity to celebrate our young learners as well as shedding a light for other people thinking of becoming a student. We have gathered a few case studies to emphasise just how important our students are and how far they’ve come.

Nineteen-year-old Elliot from Nottinghamshire studied government and politics, history and law A levels with NEC, taking his A2 exams last summer. He achieved top marks: A and A* grades in all three subjects, and was subsequently accepted to study law at Cambridge University’s Robinson College.

In just two years, home-educated Susie has been awarded a grade B in her IGSCE exams in Biology, English Language, Maths and Physics. But that’s just the start for 16-year old Susie. Now, she’s studying for her IGCSE in English Literature and is on the road to fulfilling her ambition to be a full-time writer.

Home-educated Isobel was taught maths by her father, but she chose four more IGCSEs from NEC to study at the same time. She opted for English language, geography and biology, seeing them as key subjects, as well as child development, which she thought would help prepare her for motherhood later in life.

These are just a few of our admirable students who work very hard to get into college and university and even follow their ambitions like being a writer. This is why it’s important to celebrate and recognise our students success.

You can find out more about our students by reading their stories. You too will see the superstars that they are. You can also find out more about our range of courses on our website.

If you’d like to get involved with International Youth Day head over to the United Nations website to find out more. Let’s start celebrating education and young people’s achievements.

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Friday, 05 August 2016

Vocational courses or A levels - what’s in it for me?

NEC Marketing and Communications Officer Kirsty stands in front of a selection of materials for NEC distance learning courses
Above: NEC Marketing and Communications Officer Kirsty stands in front of a selection of materials for NEC distance learning courses

A recent article published in TES: reported “Students enrolling for A levels is set to increase by around 4,000, against a decline in enrolments to vocational programmes.” These statistics were taken from University Admission Service - UCAS.

In this week’s blog, Marketing and Communications Officer - Kirsty Inman reflects on the benefits of vocational courses based on her own experience of studying a BTEC National Certificate in Travel and Tourism.

‘I have never been  natural academic  especially  when it comes to exams, which is why I thought I’d benefit more from taking a vocational course which didn’t include exams but was coursework based - a learning style I was more confident with.

The BTEC National Certificate that I studied was equivalent to two A levels and I am proud to say that I achieved a double grade Distinction, something which I didn’t think I would have been able to achieve if I had taken the more academic A level route. I’m not saying vocational qualifications are easier, (a lot of hard work was put into my course), they just have different learning approaches.  It was important to me to feel comfortable with a course I had chosen and it  helped me onto the correct career path.

I didn’t get that magical C grade in GCSE Maths but the vocational programme, included a Level 3 Applications of Number qualification (equivalent to GCSE’s). I found this really useful and it made me more confident with Maths - acting as a bit of a refresher’.

After I studied the BTEC I decided to find a job but because the Travel and Tourism industry is very competitive I didn’t succeed in finding a job related to that industry but one that was working as a temporary sales assisstant. During my Travel and Tourism course I realised I was passionate about marketing which was one of the sections I learned about so I decided to take up a career in marketing. I have been a marketing professional for over four and a half years and I decided to further my education in marketing. I studied a Level 3 Apprenticeship in Marketing and Communications and an Introductory Certificate in Marketing. This gave me the confidence to find my feet in my marketing career and to continue to progress.

As you can see from my own experience, there are many benefits for vocational programmes. My advice if you are facing a dilemma is to make sure you carry out lots of research into your subject area and identify the pros and cons of A levels compared with vocational programmes. There are many benefits for each but it is down to what learning style you feel more comfortable with. If you’re thinking of going to University - both A levels and vocational programmes count towards earning credits you need to secure you a place.

At the NEC we offer both, with around 20 A level subjects as well as a number of vocational courses in business and management, book-keeping and childcare.

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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Why study GCSEs outside of school?

 Our Learn@NEC online IGCSE Biology course
Image: Our Learn@NEC online IGCSE Biology course

If you’re considering studying GCSEs but not sure how you can study without going to school, then you’ve come to the right place...

It’s that important time of year when you may be considering options for furthering your education or brushing up on other skills but need pointing in the right direction. At NEC, we are here to guide you through the benefits of studying outside of a school to help you make a decision that’s most suited to you.

What are GCSEs and IGCSEs?
GCSEs are the most widely taken qualification in the UK and considered the educational standard for school-leavers at 16. If you’re looking to get into college or university they’ll prove essential, and passes in English, Science and Maths are also required for an increasingly large number of jobs.

You might be thinking - I live in the USA so how do I study for a GCSE? Well, you can enrol onto IGCSEs - International GCSEs which are recognised all over the world. These are perfect for distance learning because they don’t involve controlled assessments and typically don’t feature coursework.

IGCSEs are also popular here in the UK and are widely recognised by employers and education providers in much the same way as a GCSE.

What are the benefits of studying GCSEs at a distance?
Fitting in study around other life commitments can be difficult if you need to attend a college. It’s time consuming and prevents you doing the things you want to do. That’s where distance learning comes into place - students are able to log into a Virtual Learning Environment to access course materials and receive tutor support. This type of learning caters for a wide variety of students who perhaps have disabilities and can’t go out of the house, or for students looking for that extra flexibility to work and study. The flexibility and tutor support are just two benefits of distance learning.

Another benefit is the range of partnership centres that the NEC offer which make it easier for students to take exams nearby. We handle all of the admin side, liaising with the exam centre to make sure you’re entered for the right exams making it stress free. Our partnership exam centres are spread across the UK.

Our students’ reasons for studying GCSEs
There are two main reasons for our students studying for their GCSEs, with 27.3% preparing for a FE/HE course and 20.1% wanting to improve opportunities in their career advancement. GCSEs have also helped our students make decisions on going to university, with around 8% planning to to do a degree at the Open University. Statistics taken from the 2015 NEC student survey.

Here’s what our students have to say:

Catherine Speechley, IGCSE Biology and French
Catherine has what she describes as a haphazard routine, with her hours of work always changing. She enjoyed school, but was frustrated at having to drop some subjects because there was a limit to the number of GCSEs pupils could do. Now in her 40s, she's catching up with the subjects she left behind.

James Barker, IGCSE Combined Science
NEC's location in the UK means many of our students are British residents, but we also have a number of international students for whom our courses provide a means to access education that might otherwise be unavailable. James is one such student, enrolling all the way from Korea to study with us.

Isobel Hughes, GCSEs and IGCSEs
Home-educated Isobel found learning with NEC to be a fantastic way to study for her IGCSEs before moving on to study A levels in a college. Isobel’s father taught her maths himself, but she chose four more subjects from NEC to study as well: English language, geography, biology and child development.

In January 2016, our students achieved a 100% pass rate in their I/GCSE exams so you can be sure of a high standard if you choose to enrol on a course with NEC. To see our fantastic range of subjects, please visit this page.

There’s no need to wait for September to enrol, get a head start. If you enrol before 31st July, you will receive our special Early Bird Discount of 20%.

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Thursday, 21 July 2016

Brexit, a new Prime Minister and your choice of A level subject

 Houses of Parliament, London, UK
Image: Houses of Parliament, London, UK

We’ve seen several high-profile changes within UK politics in the past few weeks including the historic decision to leave the European Union, a new Prime Minister and opposition party leadership contests. This current political climate here in the UK has caused more people than ever to choose to study A level Government and Politics this year.

In our blog this week we shine a light on A level Government and Politics by answering your questions about this subject.

Ben Williams is an NEC tutor for A level Government and Politics. He has a BA in Modern History and Politics, a Masters in Politics and Irish Studies and a PhD in Politics, all from Liverpool University. Ben is also an examiner for two major exam boards and has had a significant amount of academic work published in various books and study guides.

We asked him to share his thoughts on what makes Government and Politics such a popular A level choice.

What interests you about government and politics?

Ever since I was a teenager I have always found Politics to be a fascinating subject! This is because it directly affects every single one of our lives in every single way, even if we sometimes don't realise it. This explains why I studied it at GCSE, A level, degree and at post-graduate level. In fact, I have become something of a political 'nerd' in the process, and many of my friends laugh about my extensive (and often very useful) political knowledge that has built up over the years! The subject's appeal also lies in the fact that it is dynamic and rapidly evolving, as we can see from the many political changes of the past few weeks and months.

What career paths can the A level Government and Politics serve you well in?

A qualification in Government & Politics can open the door for a whole range of jobs, and it keeps your options open in terms of career choice. While it does not necessarily qualify you to be a top politician, it does however provide you with excellent research, writing and broader communication skills, with specific potential to utilise new technology such as social media. After studying Government & Politics, many people go into careers in teaching, lecturing, public relations, journalism, public services and even active politics, and one highly qualified political academic I know has gone on to be a Royal Navy chef!

Why would you recommend government and politics?

It is a fast-moving and multi-dimensional subject that combines the ordinary pressures and demands of everyday life, grand political theory, moving human stories, and much broader and larger-scale issues of international relations and global conflict. It requires us to think of solutions to major long-standing global problems and issues, and also helps broaden our overall knowledge of the ever-changing world that we inhabit.

Tell us an interesting student anecdote…

A level students across all subjects can be highly politicised. On the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq War, the students at the college where I taught at the time walked out on hearing that the war had begun. Half were in favour, and half were against! I also suspect a few just felt like bunking off class!

Government and politics will serve you well in developing a range of transferable skills and preparing you well for higher education.

Our A level in Government and Politics is delivered online through our Virtual Learning Environment, learn@nec. The flexibility of online learning means you fit your study in around other commitments. Perhaps you’ll do some reading on your tablet during your daily commute, or take a short quiz on your phone while waiting for the kids to finish school - the choice is yours! You’ll also benefit from an expert subject tutor, like Ben, who is dedicated to helping you to succeed.

One student that the flexibility of distance learning made a difference to was Ben Witham. Ben studied for an A level in Government and Politics with NEC while working full-time.

‘It secured me a university place through clearing in 2003 and I went on to pass my degree with First Class Honours,’ he told us. ‘Following that, I obtained a Masters, passed with a Distinction and most recently a fully-funded PhD, from which I graduated last year.

'I now work in social policy for a major national charity, sit on the board of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), and teach politics myself at a London university. This whole sequence of events was made possible by my NEC A level, which sparked a passion for politics that has yet to leave me!’

If, like many other people this year, your interest has been piqued by current events in politics and you are considering this as an A level choice, or you have simply been inspired by recent changes to learn more about our government and the world of politics, please do get in touch!

Further details about this and our other GCSE, IGCSE and A level subjects can be found on our website. You can call our Course Advice Team free on 0800 389 2839, or get in touch by email at

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Inspired to study: A month of celebrating adult learning

Festival of Learning #lovetolearn banner

This week’s Blog is written by NEC team member Carly, who reflects on recent events during the annual Festival of Learning which have, for her, served as an affirmation of the importance of lifelong learning.

Working at the National Extension College, it’s hard not to be inspired everyday by our students. My favourite thing about NEC is meeting people from all walks of life, from a single working mother studying for a career as a midwife, to an 80-year-old learning a new language for the first time.

Whether you’re a student, a tutor, support staff or the friend or relative of someone working through a course, you may have seen a lot of celebration in the last few weeks for adult learning.

The month of May has seen the start of the Festival of Learning (formerly the Adult Learners Week). The festival is co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute (formerly NIACE) and brings people from across the country together to promote and celebrate adult learning and the transformative effects it can, and regularly does, have on people’s lives. The festival continues throughout June.

Have-a-go events and taster sessions have been held across the country and people have been joining in with a wide array of activities from learning to cycle to trying digital video production. Awards ceremonies have been held in celebration of the achievements of students, tutors, organisations and projects everywhere.

For all of you, like me, involved in adult education in some way our social media feeds have been dominated by amazing stories, and we have watched our Twitter streams with great interest in what other people would #lovetolearn (incidentally, for me it’s to play the ukulele!).

I have been lucky to attend a couple of great events which highlight the importance of continuing to learn as an adult and the changes it can make to your life and the lives of those around you.

16th-22nd of May was Learning At Work Week, a chance for employers to involve staff in workplace learning initiatives. Organised by the Campaign for Learning, awards are made to creative initiatives such as winners of the ‘Large organisation category promoting a learning culture’ award in 2015, Barclaycard.

Representatives of Barclaycard attended the reception event for Learning At Work Week and gave an overview of their winning initiative. Thousands of employees across the globe attended their digital learning fayre, a platform created specifically for the event but which has continued to be used ever since.

The reception evening was attended by training providers, employers, technology companies and subject societies came together for the same aim, encouraging employees to carry on learning while working.

MP Peter Kyle also attended the event, talking passionately about his own experience as a second-chance learner, encouraged to get back into learning by a former employer.

As well as the festivals and events that have been going on, summer is also the season of the graduation ceremony. I was honoured to attend the Open University East of England graduation ceremony last week held at Ely Cathedral.

Inside Ely Cathedral before the start of the Open University's East of England graduation ceremony
Above: The stage is set: inside Ely Cathedral before the start of the ceremony

The founder of both NEC and the Open University, Michael Young, saw a need for education opportunities for people who, as he said when launching NEC in 1963, ‘cannot turn up regularly for ordinary classes’. Watching the number of people receiving awards at just one of the Open University’s ceremonies this year really illustrates that this is just as true now as it was back then, perhaps even more so.

Like NEC students, every one of the thousands of graduates this year has their own story to tell. We saw serving members of the armed forces, people with caring responsibilities, full time employees, mothers, fathers, retired people, people with a physical disability all coming together to celebrate their momentous achievements.

The ceremony was almost overwhelming with emotion watching people from all backgrounds, ages and cultures come to an end of this part of their learning journey. Whether it was a Doctor of Philosophy being awarded or a Certificate in Early Education, all of the recipients had hard work and dedication in common.

The roof-raising cheers and applause from families and friends was testament to that hard work, and probably to having more time to spend with their loved one now that their course is complete!

I never completed my own degree and have always dreamed of finishing it one day. Like many of us I keep putting it off, using the excuse of not having enough time. Seeing the number of people collecting their awards and hearing some of their stories I feel inspired to get back to it, I aspire to be one of the people receiving my award on stage in front of my family and friends. If you share my dream I encourage you to do the same, I’ll meet you there!

One thing’s for certain, adult learners everywhere deserve our respect and admiration. You can read about some of NEC’s students on our website. If you feel inspired to learn something new, take a look at the courses on offer or call our helpful course advice team free on 0800 389 2839.

Carly Mason
Sales and Marketing Manager at NEC

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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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Thursday, 21 April 2016

Innovation for NEC A level science students

NEC tutor Jane Blunt testing the electrochemical charge of a variety of colourful chemicals in solution under laboratory conditions

Innovation for NEC A level science students

Back in February we blogged about how you can study a Science A level by distance learning. We talked about the practical work which forms part of the course, and mentioned the new format of A levels, where a practical endorsement can be obtained in addition to your A level grade.

In this blog we explore what NEC is working on to help our learners to achieve the practical endorsement.

We have now formed a partnership with the Open Science Laboratory at the Open University giving us an innovative solution to the challenges of preparing for A level practical endorsement at a distance.

If learners want to gain a formal ‘endorsement’ of their practical skills alongside their grade from a written examination, A level sciences now require a minimum of 12 experimental activities to be undertaken and assessed as part of the course.

Our aim at NEC is to enable learners to prepare and be able to undertake assessments for these practical endorsements if they choose. The endorsements can usually be gained by demonstrating experimental knowledge under laboratory conditions according to Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC). Practical endorsement grades are likely to be required for admission to medical training in most HE institutes and also for degree level study in some disciplines.

The NEC approach to practical experiments

NEC has a long-established and successful system to help learners on a biology course undertake practical experiments using equipment and resources in their own homes. This is not possible for all chemistry and physics experiments as radioactive substances, Geiger counters and other technical equipment is unlikely to be readily available! To gain the practical endorsement however, all practicals must all be taken in a controlled and observed setting.

We are therefore planning the development of a three stranded approach for NEC learners:

  • Online videos are being recorded at the Open Science Laboratory showing how experiments can be performed safely using the latest equipment and excellent laboratory techniques. Results data for later analysis by learners will be supplied as part of the course. See the next section for more on this.
  • Real time access to ‘virtual experiments’ online from the Open Science Laboratory will be able to be conducted individually by NEC learners. These experiments will enable access to high tech equipment (such as electron microscopes) and replicate actual laboratory experience by generating a unique and growing set of results data across a range of variables.

A fruit fly seen through an electron microscope (from the Open Science Laboratory of the Open University, 2016)
Above: See a fruit fly through an electron microscope as you may not have seen it before (reproduced with kind permission from the Open Science Laboratory of the Open University, 2016)

Recording new videos

The first videos of Chemistry and Physics experiments were shot last week. These are:


  • Measuring Ka for a weak acid
  • Electrochemical cells


  • Charging and discharging a capacitor
  • Radiation using an X ray machine

Below are photos of the video shoot with NEC tutor Jane Blunt, Professor Nick Braithwaite from the Open Science Lab, and the video team in action:

Professor Nick Braithwaite telling us all about the dangers of x-rays and how to measure the resistance of aluminium foil
Above: Professor Nick Braithwaite telling us all about the dangers of x-rays and how to measure the resistance of aluminium foil

NEC tutor Jane Blunt testing the electrochemical charge of a variety of colourful chemicals in solution under laboratory conditions
Above: NEC tutor Jane Blunt testing the electrode potential of a variety of metals in colourful solutions under laboratory conditions

Further video shoots are planned, and in addition the NEC course team are evaluating the best videos from the Royal Society of Chemistry and other external sources for access by NEC learners.

The Open Science Laboratory

NEC is proud to have Professor Nick Braithwaite as a founder member of our newly formed Curriculum Advisory Panel, and working closely with the Open Science Laboratory we plan to continue to innovate in support of individual learners, schools and other institutions to extend online science education at GCSE and A level in the UK and overseas.


More information

For more information on the A level science courses from NEC you can browse our course pages or phone the Course Advice Team on Freephone (UK): 0800 389 2839 or Overseas/mobile: +44 (0)1223 400200.

You can also leave a comment below, or get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Friday, 15 April 2016

Top 10 revision tips for your exams

Two learners studying notes on a laptop between them

It’s the time of the year when students across the country are poring over books, trying to ensure they are prepared for their upcoming exams.

You might be worried about the fact that the exams are just around the corner and you haven’t done enough revision so far.

But don’t panic: it’s never too late to start revising!

These tips from our Student Support Team will ensure your revision starts out on the right foot.

  1. Get a good overview of the course content and the topics which are required for your exams. A good start is looking at your subject syllabus and working your way through the content.
  2. Draw up a revision timetable for the weeks before the exams.
  3. If you engage with your learning materials in an active way, you will find it easier to remember the content. Use different ways/senses to study:
    => Read the material out loud
    => Learning with flash cards
    => Discuss the course content with family and friends and have them quiz you
    => Use a bit of colour and imagery, drawing colourful learning maps/sheets will help you to memorise facts.
  4. Don’t look at your materials or notes just once. The more often you look at them, the more you will remember.
  5. Find a quiet and suitable study environment. Make sure to find a place where you can be uninterrupted for a few hours. The best places are your room or a library.
  6. Exercise… yes, you read it right, exercise! Physical activity increases your heart rate, which ensures that your brain gets more oxygen. This increases productivity whilst reducing tiredness and stress.
  7. Do plenty of past papers and revision guides. It is very helpful to familiarise yourself with exam questions and exam techniques.
  8. Make summary notes, but don’t spend a lot of time making your notes look pretty instead of learning.
  9. Don’t just read your notes, rewrite them from memory. This will help you memorise the information and highlight where you need to do more work.
  10. Reward yourself and think positive! At the end of the day, it’s not all about studying. You need to make sure to give yourself breaks in between the study time. Why not spend some time with your friends after you’ve managed to hit some of your study goals and had a very productive day.

Remember, if you have any questions or need any guidance while preparing for your exams, please feel free to get in touch with your tutor or the Student Support Team.

We can arrange for your tutor to mark a past paper for you for £25 for one paper, £45 for two and £60 for three. Your tutor will mark and send you feedback on your exam paper to help you focus your revision efforts.

You might also want to add a tutorial to discuss your results with your tutor. There would be a cost of £40 for this and is the ideal solution if there is a particular area you need to focus on.

If you would like to arrange either of these services, please get in touch with us on 0800 389 2839 and we will be happy to discuss.

In the meanwhile… keep your head up, relax and best of luck from everyone at NEC for your exams!

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