Blog: 2017

Friday, 17 February 2017

The importance of time management in exams

This week’s blog is written by NEC team member Carly, who recently sat a GCSE exam and learned a valuable lesson.

Our NEC tutors tell us often that managing your time is the key to success when studying an online, distance learning course. You’re responsible for your own timetable, so giving yourself enough time to fit your study in around other commitments is essential. Because you can start at any time, you also need to think about the bigger picture: is there enough time to complete the course between now and when you plan to sit the exam? If you need to spend 10 hours a week studying, do you have that time available? Have you factored in time off when you go on holiday?

Managing your time is an essential life skill that learning at a distance can help you to develop and it really comes into its own when you have an exam. I learned first hand recently that time management can make or break your exam success.

I decided, after many years, that I would retake English GCSE which I didn’t get a great mark in the first time round. I’ve been embarrassed by this for years and finally took the plunge after seeing so many NEC students do it. Like Victoria, who re-took GCSE Maths and told us after she successfully completed the course, ‘At last, I have put to rest the distress that had been with me for so many years of my failure to pass O level maths.’

Going into the exam room I was confident, I knew my subject matter like the back of my hand and there was no reason that I shouldn’t get a good grade this time round. No reason, that is, until I failed to manage my time properly during the exam.

Two hours seems like a long time when when the invigilator says ‘you can start now’, but it flies by. Particularly when you know the subject and have a lot to say. I made the mistake of getting distracted by the first question, it was a really nice piece of writing and I found a lot to comment on, but before I knew it most of my time had elapsed. I’m confident that I did really well on that question, but the remaining three were left with very little of my time.

My advice is to really take notice of the time that the question paper says to allow for each question, even note down the time that you should have finished next to the question. Don’t fall into the same trap: if you have until 11am to finish Question One, keep an eye on the clock and be realistic about what you can achieve in that time. You may have a lot to say, but will it gain you extra marks?

There are several practice papers available, use them and make sure you stick to the time limits, giving yourself an extra five minutes is not helpful in the long-run. Practicing for exam day will give you a good sense of what to expect and what is possible in the time allowed.

I managed my time much better in the second paper, finishing on time and giving each question a fair chance. I could have written much more for each of the questions, but I concentrated on the main points and did not let myself get distracted. I finished with just enough time to read through my answers and correct a rogue spelling mistake.

Whether better time management in the second paper will be enough for me to get a decent mark overall remains to be seen, but I did learn two valuable lessons which I hope will help you.  Firstly, you can be an expert on a subject and still fail the exam, practice makes perfect and the exam paper even suggests how long you should spend on a question. The second lesson I learned was listen to your tutor. After all, they are experts who are on your side and really want to see you succeed.

If you want to study for a GCSE with NEC, remember you can enrol before the end of February for a 10% discount off your course fees for any GCSE subject. Visit our Special Offers page for full details.

You can also find out how we can help you take your exams, including guaranteeing an exam place at one of our partner centres and entering you for non-exam assessment (NEA), by reading our Exam Information page.

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Friday, 13 January 2017

A crisis averted for distance learning students

Photograph of Dr Ros Morpeth OBE, Chief Executive of NEC
Above: Dr Ros Morpeth OBE, Chief Executive of NEC

In our blog this week CEO Ros Morpeth gives us an update on non-exam assessment (NEA) and the successful campaign that has led to NEC’s nomination for the Times Educational Supplement Further Education Marketing & Communications Campaign of the Year Award. This blog follows our previous blogs about NEA, 'Why NEC is campaigning for a public exam system that works for everyone' and 'Barriers need breaking down for private exam candidates'.

What was the issue?

People who are studying GCSEs and A levels through a distance learning provider achieve exactly the same qualifications as a student taking the exams at a mainstream school or college. They take their written papers alongside other students, sitting in the same exam halls, as private candidates. Subjects which have an element of non-exam assessment (NEA) — such as coursework for English or history, or practical assessment for the sciences — have always posed a particular problem because of the requirement to verify that the coursework is the student’s own work. When coursework was first brought into the curriculum, NEC worked closely with the exam boards to offer a secure system for authenticating the NEA for distance learners. This solution was based on a split entry arrangement whereby the NEA components were handled by NEC and the student took the written papers at a local exam centre.

In 2016 the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which is the overarching body for the awarding bodies, issued a regulation which stated that both the written papers and NEA components must be undertaken at a single centre. NEC spotted immediately that this would make it impossible for distance learning students to enter for qualifications with NEA because an exam centre would not be in a position to authenticate or mark coursework from a student they had not taught.

Why we took action

The courses affected included important and popular subjects such as A level English Literature, English Language, History, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and GCSE English. This presented a major crisis for students studying these subjects and would be grossly unfair.

People often choose distance learning as this is the only route left for them to achieve the qualifications they need. Students come from all walks of life and could be serving in the forces, in prison, being home-educated or looking to change their career. Everyone deserves the opportunity to study what they want to without disadvantage and NEC has been at the forefront of making sure they can for more than 50 years.

How we did it

NEC initiated a campaign to raise awareness of the situation. In July, I wrote to Justine Greening MP, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Education, outlining the issues and proposing possible solutions. A copy of the letter went to the chief executives of the exam boards in England and Wales, Ofqual’s Chief Regulator and representatives of organisations that support widening access to education.

Daniel Zeichner, NEC’s MP, supported our campaign by asking questions in Parliament, challenging Ministers to have the new procedures reviewed. Coverage in the TES, the UK education magazine read by nearly half a million people each week, spelt out how the changes would put up yet another barrier for adults and young people who take GCSEs and A levels under their own steam. UCAS went public on the issue in the TES, stressing that private candidates play a key role in widening participation in higher education.

A positive outcome

We are delighted to report this has resulted in a solution: the JCQ and awarding bodies have helped us ensure that distance learners can study a course with NEA elements and enter for their exams through their distance learning provider.

Ofqual and the exam boards’ willingness to work with us, and the support of individuals and institutions who know that it’s quite simply unfair that anyone who wants to improve their qualifications should have barriers put in their way, are the reason for this positive outcome.

How it works for students

If you are planning to enrol on a course which has NEA you can be confident that NEC will ensure that your coursework or practical endorsement will be assessed along with your written exam papers.

NEC is an approved exam centre (this is the key part of the agreed solution) and as an NEC student, you'll enter through us for your exams and NEA. A transfer of candidate application will then let you sit the written exams at a centre of your choice. This ensures your NEA will be assessed along with your written papers, and solves the issue of exam centres being unable to authenticate NEA for private candidates.

Don’t forget, the deadline for booking exams at one of NEC’s partnership exam centres is fast approaching. If you would like us to take the hard work out of booking your exams, get in touch before the 20th January deadline.

Dr Ros Morpeth OBE
Chief Executive of the National Extension College

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