Blog: March 2018

Friday, 23 March 2018

Get ready for exam success

Desks and chairs in an exam hall

With the Easter break fast approaching, summer exams for GCSEs and A levels are just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to plan your revision schedule and we’ve put together some top tips to help you get started.

1. Make space

Fitting study around a busy schedule can be a challenge. Make the best use of your time by creating an organised study space. With quick access to everything you need – you’ll work much more efficiently.

2. Plan your approach

Create a revision timetable by working out how many topics you need to cover and allocating revision sessions to each one.

Revisit the learning outcomes of your course to focus your mind on the key issues. Consider which areas you feel more or less confident in and prioritise your revision time accordingly.

3. Banish distraction

So, you have a plan... now comes the hard bit. Getting started can be difficult and distractions are rather tempting. It’s a struggle, but try to avoid Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social channels whilst studying. Keep your phone in a different room, where you can check it during a break.

Try to motivate yourself by focusing on why you’re doing it, breaking a task into smaller chunks, setting targets and rewarding yourself.

4. Use every trick in the book

Revision is all about committing information to memory, so you can apply it to different scenarios in the exam. Here are some common ways of learning and retaining information:

  • Keep it simple: use bullet points, lists, headings and mnemonics
  • Mix it up: use diagrams, quizzes, documentaries, pictures, audio, flashcards, posters and apps
  • Do it your way: write notes in your own words to make them easier to remember
  • On repeat: re-read, chant and recite your notes

5. Think critically

Don’t just write reams of revision notes – test yourself as you work. Do you understand what you’re learning? Are there any areas that need more research or unresolved questions? Think about any patterns or themes in the information you’re working with. Why are they there? What other ideas support them – what do you think?

If you do identify areas that you still don’t fully understand, please contact your tutor or our Student Support Team, for assistance.

6. Understand the task

Every year exam boards publish examiner reports which outline exactly what they are looking for when they mark papers. They also detail what they don’t want to see.

By accessing the exam board reports you can identify key strategies for gaining higher marks. Learn and practice these strategies and provide examiners with exactly the type of answer they are looking for.

7. Question time

Once you’ve learnt the facts, start to apply them by completing past papers – at least two weeks before the exam. Familiarising yourself with how questions are worded and structured will help you to identify exactly what is being asked on exam day.

8. Build models

Using revision notes and past papers create a series of model answers and practice these in different ways:

  • Planning answers in brief
  • Writing full answers in timed exam conditions
  • Drawing mind maps to capture every point
  • Discussing answers with your tutor or via our forum

9. Review and improve

Once you finish a past paper, reflect on your responses by going through the marking scheme. Think about areas for improvement and use the scheme’s model answers to identify any gaps in your knowledge.

The more past papers and questions you tackle – the more confident you’ll feel on exam day.

10. And finally, take a break

A tired brain isn’t effective, so take regular breaks and don’t sit at your desk for hours on end. Get out, take some exercise, eat and sleep well.

We’re here to help

If you have any questions or need guidance to help with your revision, 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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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

'Teachers shouldn't confiscate pupils' phones: they're vital for learning.'

A hand holding a smartphone

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor and business coach, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer in the world of web design before embarking on a career in education. Her enthusiasm for education and the integration of technology into the classroom prompted her to further develop her knowledge in this field with a Masters in Digital Media, with a particular focus on the future of education. This blog post is the second of two about the impact of technology in the classroom and looks at what technology means for teachers. The first post can be found here:

Impact of technology on teachers

It's the 21st century, a time when research, such as Buckminister Fuller’s ‘Knowledge Doubling Curve,’ has led to estimates that people’s knowledge is doubling every 12 months from generation to generation (Carolyn Gregoire writes in her article for the Huffington Post ‘Is Human Intelligence Rising With Each Generation?'); yet we still hear news such as ‘Iran has decided to ban teaching English to its students from FEAR of losing its culture, or Apple controlling its consumers by slowing down older iPhones.’

There has been some debate around teachers confiscating pupil’s phones, banning them from the classroom and asking whether they’re vital for learning. A professional lawyer told me recently that his word of the year is focus, this got me thinking. It got me thinking about the generations to come who have fewer opportunities to truly master the skills of people who are highly successful today, because of technology like mobile phones and computer games.

We are at the beginning of a revolution where future generations will be increasingly immersed in technology. Technology is growing in ways and speeds even the inventors can’t comprehend, let alone prepare students for. Technology which is likely to become obsolete by the time students are ready to embark into the world of work. This blog is not about whether mobiles phones should or should not be confiscated, but it is about an opportunity to look at things in a different way – to ‘Think Differently’ as one major computer company put it.

With these realities, each generation is learning about technology from its children. Are we not? Instead of confiscating, banning or trying to restrict mobile technology in the classroom, could it be better to address fears head on, by looking at the behaviour and teaching our students about the skills needed to get ahead? In my opinion, this can only be done by working with students to create opportunities for mobile technology to be utilised on projects and by making learning more like the real world, something that Vicki Davis offers her students and shares with other teachers at

If we asked students do they wish to be ‘successful’ I am sure 90% would have a vague idea of what success would look like, with others having no idea at all. Times are increasingly changing. People are moving from opportunity to opportunity to expand their lifestyles. In my opinion it is an ideal time for educators to teach the skills that lead to success, regardless of what that success might be for the future of our students.

Success comes from learning how to create a deep, laser focus’ says Richard St. John ‘and mobile phones are designed to be distractive and disruptive.’ Richard spent over a decade teaching students what leads to success. ‘Focus’ is one of the eight traits he talks about that are common in successful people, regardless of their environmental and social background.

Teaching and developing skills that empower students to become independent-learners and take ownership of their passions, desires and imaginations would allow for an education system which grows and morphs as technology continues to change the world of work and the future of education. Students would themselves equipped with skills that will serve them throughout their life. Skills that are purposeful and meaningful.

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Tuesday, 06 March 2018

A lesson in innovation: Ángela Ruiz Robles

"Ángela Ruiz Robles with her Mechanical Encylopedia"
by ITU Pictures / License: CC BY 2.0

As a distance learning provider, the NEC was founded on the aspiration to widen access to education. Doing things differently is part of our DNA and innovative thinking has been required from day one.

From looking at how new technology can enhance distance learning to exploring different pedagogical methods – innovation continues to drive us forward. Once in a while it we like to reflect on how others innovate in education – to see if there are lessons to be learnt.

Last week, an article in the Guardian highlighted how a street in Madrid has been named after Spanish teacher and inventor, Ángela Ruiz Robles. The street-naming celebrates her contribution to education and innovation in Spain. It is part of a wider initiative in Madrid to bring previously overlooked work by pioneering female artists, writers, scientists and thinkers to light.

Ruiz Robles is remembered for her 1949 invention: the mechanical encyclopedia which can be retrospectively viewed as a visionary forerunner to the ebook.

The mechanical encyclopedia was described as a “mechanical, electric and air-pressure driven method for reading books”. It included audio, a magnifying glass and a light – plus different subject reels that could be swapped out.

Born in 1895, Ruiz Robles was a teacher, writer and lecturer. Whilst her mechanical encyclopedia won prizes and acclaim, it never gained the funding to launch as a product. A working prototype is now an important exhibit at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Spain.

Lesson 1: Innovation comes from passion

Ruiz Robles became an inventor for one simple reason: to help her students learn. She wanted to ‘make teaching easier: to get maximum knowledge with minimum effort’. As a teacher and writer, she wanted to find new ways to engage her students – as well as to lighten their satchels.

Lesson 2: Timing is key

In later life, Ángela returned to her invention project. Although technology had advanced by the 1970s – the timing still wasn’t right and the project reached prototype stage only. Who knows what educational innovations Ángela might have created, had she been working in today’s digital world?

Lesson 3: The long road to recognition

Recognition for Ángela’s mechanical encyclopedia only grew in the decades after her death in 1975. Innovative thinkers often don’t see the impact of their work. For Ángela and a host of other innovative women, Madrid’s street-naming project marks the end of a long road to recognition. It is great to see their vital contributions finally taking centre stage.

More about Madrid’s street-naming project

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Thursday, 01 March 2018

What can we learn from Finland?

The flag of Finland, a blue cross on a white field

A Finnish Education

No inspections, no tests, no uniforms and no fees. A valued teaching profession, shorter school days and starting school at seven. Do all these elements add-up to a world-leading education system? In Finland, it appears they do.

Finland has consistently ranked highly in the PISA tables. Held every three years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

How do the UK’s PISA rankings compare? Well, the results speak for themselves:

  UK ranking Finland ranking






PISA Rankings 2015 (Source)
Distance learning… the Finnish way

At the NEC we deliver a wide range of GCSE and A Level distance learning courses. To deliver national qualifications effectively, compliance with the wider UK education system is a necessity. However, working outside the school system does give us a certain freedom to innovate to create the best learning experience for our students.

By looking at the educational systems of other countries, we draw on ideas and best practice to inform the ‘NEC approach’. Finland offers plenty of food for thought…


We support a diverse range of students. Our courses must have the flexibility to suit a wide range of audiences – from those gaining qualifications for career progression, to pupils being home-schooled or individuals re-training in the armed forces.

Flexibility is key to the Finnish approach. Children don’t enter compulsory schooling until the age of seven. Once in school, the Finnish learning day is much shorter (four hours). Homework is also minimal, because Finnish parents trust that teachers cover enough during the school day – making home a space for children to enjoy other interests and family time.

A focused, time-efficient approach is a necessity for distance learners, who often juggle studying with work and family commitments. For those choosing to home-school, having the flexibility to balance learning with family time – as in Finland – is often seen as a real positive.


As a distance learning provider, innovation is part of our DNA. It helps us to ensure that NEC students have the same opportunity to succeed, as those learning in a face-to-face environment.

In Finland, experimentation and change in education is actively encouraged. The Finnish listen to and act upon new research. In fact, Finnish teachers often establish mini-labs to test different styles of teaching. They then keep what works and discard the ideas that don’t.

For distance learning, this pro-active, experimental approach could bring exciting progress – as technology opens up new ways for us to communicate and educate at a distance.


At the NEC, we are committed to going ‘above and beyond’ to support the learning experience of our students. We structure our resources so that from course administration through to academic delivery – quality support is available. We also have robust quality assurance processes to monitor and evolve how our students experience support.

Placing priority on pupil support is a key aspect of Finland’s approach. With smaller schools than in the UK, Finnish teachers have the time and attitude to focus on going the extra mile to support students when they need it.


At the NEC, we champion the right to access learning regardless of age, background, culture or circumstance. It is interesting to note that equality is also fundamental to Finland’s education system.

With no standardised testing or streaming by ability, the Finnish focus on learning – not competition, rankings or league tables. All Finnish schools work toward the same national goals, with equal access to one talent pool of teachers. The impact of equality in education is highlighted by the fact that, in Finland, the difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world (source: OECD).

As a distance learning provider, it is inspiring to see how equality of access and experience can lead to outstanding results.

Find out more:

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