Blog: 2017

Friday, 21 April 2017

Help for revision blues

Following on from our previous study tips post, for today’s blog we’re sharing some thoughts from our magazine on why preparation for exams should focus on more than just knowledge — advice which is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Enrolled NEC students can also find a scanned copy of the original publication on learn@nec.

Copy of 'Help for Revision Blues' from NEC's magazine

Would you run the marathon if your last race had been the under twelve’s egg-and-spoon? Would you fly solo without taking training and advice from an experienced pilot? Would you give  alive performance without rehearsals?

I’m sure the answer is ‘no’ to all three questions. You;re a sensible person. But you would be surprised at how many exam candidates go into the exam room without training, practising and rehearsing.

Most students recognise, at least in theory, that they should be doing the dreaded revision. The trouble is that this is seen as being a matter of cramming your head with facts, theories, equations, lists, vocabulary, formulae, all adding up to that elusive thing — knowledge.

Of course you need to know a lot by the time you go into the exam room, but it is just as important that you have the skills to demonstrate your knowledge to the examiner. The formulae is not Knowledge = Success but Knowledge + Skills = Success.

Think of an exam as a performance. You are the performer: the examiner is your audience. Like any performer, you want to give off your best. Like any audience, the examiner wants to see a good performance and to applaud it (in this case, by giving high marks). Remember, examiners get much more fun from awarding high grades than from failing people. They really want you to do well. They are looking for opportunities. Lots of them. What would you like to see in a script if you were an examiner, waffle? No. Short sentences that make the point clearly? Yes. Long quotations that are accurate but not quite the point? Nio. Short answers to short questions? Yes. A good snappy opening sentence? Yes. A non-committal meandering conclusion? No. Calculations and tables that are clearly set out, with lots of white space? Yes. Cramped-up scrawl that needs a magnifying glass to read it? No.

Clear and concise

The crucial point is that all these questions are to do with skills, not with knowledge. Yes, of course, a good understanding of your subject helps when it comes to writing short punchy sentences, but lots of students with excellent knowledge skill write waffle. And lots who don’t have much knowledge make the most of it by presenting it clearly and concisely.

I could know all the words for playing Hamlet, but I’d give a terrible performance if I didn’t learn how to deliver them effectively and practice the skill. I could learn all about the theory of flight, and even know the function of every switch, dial and button in the cockpit but I’d crash the plane if I didn’t practice how to use them and build ujp experience until I’d mastered the skill of flying.

Very few people enjoy revising for exams but it’s a lot worse if all you do is cram knowledge into your head. What is more important is that it is also less effective. It’s much more interesting to practice writing opening sentences, making essay plans, designing tables and layouts, and writing short sentences and concise summaries than it is to re-read those notes for the fourteenth time.

Revision is as much to do with skills as with knowledge. Lots of knowledge goes nowhere without skills. Lots of skill helps to make the most of the knowledge you have, combining the two is a sure-fire winner.

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Friday, 31 March 2017

Taking your exams this summer? Follow our top 10 revision tips

A student lounging on a red sofa and revising from a book of study notes

With Easter fast approaching it’s the time of year when students across the country are preparing for their upcoming exams.

If you are sitting exams this summer and worried about the amount of revision you’ve done so far don’t panic! It’s never too late to start revising, but the more time you can give yourself the better your preparation will be and the more confident you’ll feel in your exam.

These tips from our Student Support Team on the actions you can take will help you to make the most of your revision time.

  1. Looking at your subject syllabus and working your way through the content is a good starting point. It will give you a good overview of the course content and the topics required for your exams.
  2. Drawing up a revision timetable will make sure that you are fully prepared for your exams. Remember to include extra time for anything unexpected that might come up and avoid last-minute cramming the night before your exam.
  3. Actively engaging with your learning materials and using different ways to study will make it easier to remember content. You could try:
    • reading material out loud;
    • learning using flash cards;
    • discussing the course content with family and friends and getting them to ask you questions about it;
    • drawing colourful maps and sheets - using colours and images will help you to memorise facts.
  4. Looking at your materials and revision notes will help you to remember, so make sure you include time to revisit them more than once.
  5. Finding somewhere quiet to study where you will be uninterrupted will help you revise. The library or your room are the best places.
  6. Exercising increases your productivity by reducing tiredness and stress. By increasing your heart rate your brain gets more oxygen, so go for a bike ride, a run or to the gym, or even just take the dog for a walk!
  7. Familiarising yourself with exam questions and exam techniques is really helpful. Make sure that you do plenty of past papers, check out revision guides, and understand the key terminology you will need to use in your exam.
  8. Making summary notes will help you learn and remember.
  9. Rewriting notes from memory helps to memorise the information and highlights where more work and revision is needed before your exam.
  10. Rewarding yourself is important. It’s not all about studying. Set yourself study goals, give yourself breaks between study times, and when you’ve met some of your goals spend time with friends and family.

If you have any questions or need guidance to help with your revision and plan for your exams, remember that your tutor and the Student Support Team are here to help you so do get in touch.

We could arrange for your tutor to mark a past paper for you, or for a tutorial to discuss a particular area you need to focus on with your tutor. To find out more about purchasing these services, and to discuss what’s on offer please get in touch on 0800 389 2839.

We have worked with UCAS to prepare a series of study skills guides which you may find helpful with your revision and your exams. You can find these on the UCAS website.

From everyone at NEC, good luck with your revision and with your exams!

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Thursday, 02 March 2017

The books behind A level English Literature

A stack of hardback novels

Today is the 20th annual World Book Day. A day to celebrate all things reading, including the authors, illustrators and of course books. Children across the country are dressing up as their favourite book characters for school: we’ve had reports of the NEC team spotting Willy Wonka, Oliver Twist and Horrid Henry on their way into the office this morning.

This year, we thought we’d celebrate by talking about the wonderful works of literature featured in our A level English Literature course.

Othello, William Shakespeare
If you study English Literature at A level, you expect to come across Shakespeare. Othello is one of the great tragedies, a story of love, hate, jealousy, deception and revenge. The varying and enduring themes keep this classic story relevant, even 400 years after it was first written.

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Written in 1925, this story is about love in Jazz-age New York. A classic tale made popular again recently by the film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio, it explores themes such as decadence, social upheaval and excess and has been described as a cautionary tale for the American dream.

Skirrid Hill, Owen Sheers
This collection of poems can be described as haunting, wise, and tender. They are grounded in sharply but delicately observed detail and deal with separation, loss, division, conflict, the anguish associated with growing up and relationships with the past, along with celebrations of love, sensuality, tenderness, constancy, the beauty of the natural world and the connections which people make with it.

Spies, Michael Frayn
Uncovering secrets in their innocent game-playing, there are plots within plots in this modern psychological thriller. An elderly man reminisces about his life during the Second World War as he wanders down the now modernised London cul-de-sac that he once called home.

All My Sons, Arthur Miller
A modern play set just after World War II sees a man accused of knowingly shipping damaged airplane parts that led to the deaths of 21 servicemen. While only his business partner was convicted of the crime, he was guilty as well. When the truth comes out, it damages even further the psyches of both families' children, who were left scarred by their own experiences during the war.

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Gilman-Perkins
This short story depicts a descent into madness in the mid-nineteenth century. The story of a woman suffering from postnatal depression who becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in the room she has been confined to by her husband.

A View From The Bridge, Arthur Miller
Set in an Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, the central themes in this 1950s play are love, justice and the law, and codes of honour. A gripping and tragic tale of a family living in poverty after immigrating to make a better life for themselves.

All of the above are studied in-depth as part of our A level English Literature as well as a selection of poems from the AQA Anthology. Would you like to learn more about these literary classics? You can find more information about NEC’s A level English Literature on our course page, or by getting in touch with our Course Advice Team on 0800 389 2839.

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Friday, 24 February 2017

Our top 10 reasons to love distance learning

Love is in the air at NEC. Valentine's day inspired a chat in the office about all the things we love about online and distance learning courses. Here are our top ten reasons to love online and distance learning:

1. Enrol at any time.

Motivation comes and goes, so if you have a flash of inspiration in February to get that GCSE Maths that eluded you at school, you don’t want to wait until September to enrol. You can enrol whenever you like on an online, distance learning course.

2. Study whenever you want.

Set classes don’t always fit in with your schedule. If you’re a shift worker for example, you might not have a regular free evening each week. So why not study whenever you like, whether that is 3am or 3pm, you can set your own timetable.

3. Study wherever you want.

Whether it’s at home, at work or while you’re travelling you can study anywhere you like. This makes distance learning accessible to people who otherwise might not be able to study, perhaps a naval officer serving on a submarine or an offender serving a custodial sentence.

4. Choice.

There’s a wide range of courses available online. At NEC alone you can study anything from Art History to Physics. If you’re not looking for qualifications or support, but want to learn more about something that interests you, you might be able to find a free course online.

5. Gain new skills.

If you’re planning on going onto university, independent study skills will be essential. Distance and online learning helps you to develop these in a supported and structured way, so you’ll finish your course with a new set of skills as well as the course!

6. A more diverse peer group.

If you have the opportunity to interact with students on the same course as you, this can be a rich and rewarding experience. Imagine a group made up of people from around the world, all with different experiences. Forums are an excellent feature of NEC courses.

7. Take it at your own pace.

You may need to take the course quickly, or life might get in the way, meaning that you’ll need to take break from your studies. The flexibility of distance learning means that you’re in control of the pace of study.

8. You get a second chance.

If you didn’t get the grades you wanted the first time round, online and distance learning gives you another chance. Perhaps maths GCSE didn’t seem important at age 16, but now you’re thinking of retraining as a teacher, it’s essential.

9. Study at any age.

There is no set age to study. At NEC we have students aged from 9 to 86. From law to Spanish, you’re never too old to learn something new!

10. Build your confidence.

If you’ve been out of study for a while and feel daunted by jumping back in. An online or distance learning course can help you get you gain confidence in your abilities.

What do you love about distance learning, has it changed your life? Let us know on social media or comment below.

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Thursday, 23 February 2017

The importance of GCSE Maths

In our blog this week, NEC Maths tutor Sally talks about the importance of GCSE Maths and introduces our new online GCSE Maths course.

Following the recent changes to GCSE specifications, we’ve been working hard on getting our brand new GCSE Maths course ready. We’re really pleased with it and can’t wait to tell you all about it!

But first I’ll answer the question that, as a maths teacher, I’m often asked: ‘Why is maths GCSE so important?’

Maths is something we use every day – often without even realising it. When you work out how much something would cost with the discount voucher you have, add up how much your weekly shop comes to, or figure out how much paint you need to decorate your living room. It’s all maths.

You’ll often find that you need it if you decide to go on to higher education. If you want to change career and get into teaching, nursing and many other things, maths will be on the list of essential qualifications that the admissions team will want to see. This is to gauge your suitability for higher study and in many cases, because maths will factor into the course in some way.

GCSE Maths is also something you’ll often see on job adverts as a requirement. This is one way employers assess whether you’re suitable for the position.

Maths can make a big difference between right and wrong. In a recent case, that was widely publicised, an error in maths had near-fatal consequences. Students at the University of Northumbria were part of an experiment to measure the effect of caffeine on exercise. A calculation error saw two students accidentally given a dose of caffeine equivalent to 300 cups of coffee. Both were admitted to intensive care and eventually given dialysis.

In the case above, a simply misplaced decimal point was responsible for this tragic accident. Both students went on to make a full recovery, but this case really does highlight how maths can and does have a huge impact on us.

A new course for 2017

I love maths. I love the elegant way everything fits together. I love the clever tricks that turn a complicated problem into something that is recognisable and (relatively!) easy to solve. I love the way equations can model sometimes very complicated real life situations. My aim is to pass the passion I have for my subject on to others. I want to support students to achieve their potential through flexible and supportive tuition – appreciating that each learner has different commitments, motivations and ways of learning.

NEC’s new GCSE Maths is an excellent way to learn maths. As well as being the lead tutor, I have been involved in the development of the new online course. The self-contained course guides you through the specification, helping you to understand mathematical concepts by using videos, examples, detailed explanations and most importantly, plenty of opportunity to practice.

You’ll have an expert tutor, like me, to help you by interacting with you in the forums, marking and giving you comprehensive feedback on assignments and answering your questions. You’ll also have the support of your NEC course co-ordinator who will help you through any technical issues and processes such as booking your exams.

Another great feature of the new GCSE Maths is the flexibility between the foundation and the higher levels. Everyone will start off with the topics needed to cover the foundation specification. If they find they do well, they can opt to carry on and do the additional topics required for the higher specification.

I know that not everyone feels the same way as me about maths. For many, the concept of mathematics can seem daunting. If you – like many people – are daunted by maths, please don’t despair. Many adults find the childhood maths they struggled so hard with makes more sense in their adult lives. As adults we solve millions of little problems each day and maths is often really just about developing logical thinking skills, solving problems and looking for patterns and relationships – something that often comes naturally.

Read more about the new Maths GCSE from NEC, or get in touch with the Course Advice team on 0800 389 2839 or email them at

About the Author

Dr Sally Everitt is an NEC tutor for A level and IGCSE maths. After achieving a BSc from Leeds University she went on to do a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education). Sally taught in schools for several years and became deputy head of the maths department. When she and her husband decided to relocate to Yorkshire she studied for a PhD. Sally taught undergraduates during and after this time, teaching foundation and undergraduate courses. She is also an A level examiner.

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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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