Thursday, 3 January 2013

Revising for Maths Exams - Get a Higher Grade with these Tips (Part 1)

With my own A-level Maths exam coming up in a week and a half, I have been doing a lot of revision with classmates and independently during the holidays.
I find that Maths is a subject a lot of people find it difficult to revise for because it is bit different to other subjects. There aren't many 'facts' to learn (besides the odd theorem of course!) and some say that it is more of a 'skill'.
The revision aids commonly used for other subjects may not work as well for Maths. On top of that, making Maths notes can be tricky, too.
In this post, I will share some ideas on revising effectively for Maths exams, which hopefully may help you to increase your score or grade. :D

Past Papers
 I cannot stress how important these are!! They are useful in most subjects but even more so for Maths.
What you will find is that there are only so many ways for the examiners to ask questions so a lot of similar questions are repeated over the years.
Doing past papers in exam conditions allow you to get used to the style of questions and to practice your time management i.e. the speed at which you answer questions.
Believe me, you don't want to run out of time!

Mark Schemes
Also, looking at the mark scheme when you mark your paper allows you to appreciate where and why marks are awarded. Some exam boards are very picky about certain things so its important to know what they are.
Apart from that, you obviously know where your strengths are and where you are lacking so you know which areas to focus on.
Plus, you get a grade which is a good indicator of where you are at. Make sure you are completely honest with your marking - being generous may cause more harm than good.  And remember that, the more papers you do, the better your grade will get, so don't be discouraged by a low score!

That's all for today, but keep an eye out for the follow-up. You can subscribe to this blog by email too on the side bar on the right.

Did you find these tips helpful? What Maths exam(s) are you revising for? Let me know by commenting below.

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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

How To Take Notes - Linear

So far in this series, we have looked at pictorial notes and Cornell notes.  Today, I am going to focus on linear notes and their advantages and disadvantages.

What are linear notes?
These notes are the most common type. Almost everyone has used them at some point. They are, as the name suggests, notes taken in lines.

How Do You Make Them?
These notes are very simple. Nothing fancy. They involve a basic top-down approach which is how we write most of the time. To give them more structure, you could add headings.


  • Nothing fancy, no methods to remember. You can just get straight to it.
  • They make the most of the available space on the page so your notepad may last longer
  • They are probably the least effective way to take notes. The brain does not work in straight lines nor does it learn that way. The brain learns by patterns and associations, so it would make more sense to organise our notes that way. 
  • The notes are just lumped together. There is no way of quickly extracting information and adding to the notes later. 
  • Revising from them is a traumatic experience. In all seriousness, no-one wants to have to plough through whopping great big chunks of text, especially when the subject matter itself is complicated. To revise effectively, you need to be able to break down the information and sort through it. Linear notes aren't in the correct form to do this.
However, a good way to use linear notes is to take them when you are in a hurry e.g during class or a lecture. You then review them afterwards by putting the content into a more accessible format, such as pictorial notes or a mind-map. This makes you form connections between concepts and consider the meaning and relevance of what you are learning.

What do you think of linear notes? Which note-taking method do you currently use? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Work Less To Get More Done

Have you ever spent entire days or even a holiday working on a project, only to get very little done? It's frustrating to invest so much time into something to get very little out of it at the end.

So, what can you do about it?
Ironically, by working less you can get more done.

It may sound strange but consider it: if you know you have an entire week to write an essay you are likely to slack and think "I've got ages to do it, it can wait." You think this for the rest of the week until it's Sunday evening and it still hasn't been done. That's when you go into panic mode and really get into gear. And somehow, you get it done in one go.
That's because you are more likely to focus and put in the effort when you are under pressure. And what is the main creator of pressure? Deadlines of course! 

To get more work done, you need to create deadlines for yourself to create some pressure for yourself.  You can do this by setting a personal deadline for the next day or saying you will do half your essay but you can only work until 7pm.

Scheduling other 'unmissable' activities such as meeting a friend or part-time work/volunteering during the holidays can create more rigid deadlines for yourself.
If you have somewhere else to be (and someone is depending on you) you are more likely to stop working at the allotted times.

Scarcity makes things precious.  If diamonds were as widely available as socks, they wouldn't be quite so valuable, right? It's the same with time -  the less time you have, the more valuable it is.

So when you feel like you have too much time, create less of it (and increase its value) by working less and watch your productivity soar.

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Monday, 31 December 2012

How To Take Notes - Cornell Notes

This post is the second in my series on note-taking. If you haven't already, take a look at my post on pictorial notes here.

What Are Cornell Notes?
Cornell notes is a system devised by a university professor at Cornell University which is more structured than other approaches to note-taking I have come across. It is a very organised way of making notes that can accurately record in-class discussions or lectures and be used as a revision aid afterwards. Despite this, very few students have actually heard of them.

How To Make Cornell Notes
 It involves splitting your page into three sections:
  1. Notes - this is where you record the information you want to retain. Be sure to keep them short and to-the-point, with plenty of space around each point. There is nothing more off-putting come revision time than a dense slab of words.
  2. Cues - I prefer to place short questions beside the corresponding notes so I can 'test' myself quickly and easily. Formulating questions on your own notes are a great way to make you really consider which points are most important and what you need to know about them.
  3. Summary - I think that this is the most innovative aspect of the Cornell notes system. Most people don't consider writing a summary for each separate page of notes - even if they are on the same concept. This really forces you to look over your notes and understand them because you have to condense your notes, whist retaining the main ideas. The summary is especially useful for quick skimming when you are short of time.
  • Uber-organised notes
  • Two ways to revise from them: answering questions and quick review
  • Forces you to revisit your notes after making them, so you are more likely to retain the information
  • Having to rule across your entire pad of paper! (as an alternative you could simply print this template)
  • Having less space per page for actual notes.
What do you think of Cornell notes? Do you already use them? Leave a comment below.
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How to Take Notes - Pictorial

How to take notes is a question students ask very frequently. Unfortunately, it's something we are never told or taught. It's something we are just expected to know and be good at. Since notes form the basis of our study and revision, it's important to get them right.
This post is the first in a series on how to take notes.

What are Pictorial Notes?
Put simply, they are notes in the form of pictures. Not works of art, but simple line drawings. You can use colours to code for different objects/areas in the drawing or you can go right in with your biro. Depending on your subject, they could be annotated diagrams or cartoons. There's no right or wrong way.

Taken by me!
How Can You Make Them?
  • From writing in a textbook or your own notes for example. Here, I used them to turn two wordy paragraphs into two little drawings that communicate the ideas more effectively. Although images are the main focus, don't be afraid to add labels and annotations - just keep them short and snappy.
  • From speech. So if your teacher or lecturer is explaining the structure of... I don't know... the human eye, you can draw it as they talk. Diagrams are a good way of communicating ideas quickly. It may also be quicker than copying down their dialogue word-for-word.
  • From memory. This can be a good way to test your understanding of a concept, especially for visual learners. You can then compare this with your existing notes, allowing you to identify any gaps in your understanding.

  • Can easily summarise wordy paragraphs into a simple image
  • Makes things like anatomy easier to understand
  • Great for visual learners
  • Not suitable for all subjects and concepts - I wouldn't be able to use it to make notes on a poem, for example!
  • If you hate drawing you might not find this useful...
Do you use this note-taking method? Are you going to try it out? Let me know in the comments section.

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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Frustration Busters

So, you're hunched over your desk (as you have been for the last three hours) trying desperately to think of a way to begin that essay which is unfortunately due in less than 24 hours. You're frustrated because you can't think of anything and then you become frustrated that you're frustrated because it makes it harder to think which makes you even more frustrated because you can't think and you're running out of time and....
 In this kind of situation there is no point in forcing yourself to continue. It's wasting time instead of being productive. You need to relax before any work worth handing in can be done. But everyone says relax or calm down or whatever. The question is how? You don't have time to waste going to the gym or meeting a friend or watching TV. So what can you do? Well. here are some suggestions:

  • Make yourself a drink or snack. I know you've heard this before. Everyone says it. But that's because it actually works. And who doesn't like food? Just try to choose something remotely good for you. (No, strawberry-flavoured lollipops DO NOT count :D)
  • Get up and exercise. Yes, that's right. Believe it or not, exercise can actually invigorate you and get you all pumped and ready to go. However, I would not recommend this if you are in a public place i.e. the library. People will give you funny looks. 
  • Try some concious free stream writing. This is really effective to use before studying as well. Find out more here.
  • Switch tasks. Do you have any other important tasks to complete? Switching to a very different subject can help e.g. from English Lit to Maths ( if you're weird like me and study both at A-level) These subjects require you to use different skills and parts of your brain, so you can rest the overworked parts. Think of it like switching exercises during a workout so you don't overwork or pull a muscle.
  • Do something easy. Are you good at solving simultaneous equations? Do a bunch of them. Do you frequently beat the high score on Angry Birds? Or maybe you have a special talent for balancing spoons on you nose. Whatever. Just do something you are good at for 5 or 10 minutes just to remind yourself of your own amazingness. Then, when you sit down to tackle that horrid essay, you have your brilliant self-belief to get you through. After all, what is Larkin compared to the master of spoon-balancing?
So next time you find yourself going crazy over some work (hopefully not too soon!) try out these suggestions and tell me how you get on.
Good Luck!
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Concious Free Stream Writing - A Way to Clear Your Mind

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to get work done or how long you sit there and try, you just can't seem to get down to it. This is one of the worst things to happen to a student, I think. You could have all the time, all the resources etc.  but if you can't actually make use of these then there is not much point, right?
In my experience, when you aren't tired/hungry/on your phone/watching TV/on Facebook the cause of this is stress or your mind focusing on other things.
Now, you've probably had lots of advice on how to focus and get rid of stress.
Some bits of advice don't work for everyone and others are downright patronising: "Why are you stressing over that Chemistry exam? Chemistry's not that hard. My sister/brother-in-law/imaginary friend got an A in that. And anyway, you can retake it, can't you?"
Anyway, what I have recently discovered to combat a lack of focus is concious free stream writing.
It is basically written diarrhoea.
*Awkward silence*
Seriously. What you do is write/type whatever is on your mind. I start with the words "I feel ___________ because..." and just go for it. Spelling, grammar and neatness no longer exist. Don't pause or re-read what you have written because it will disrupt the flow. It doesn't matter if what you have written is complete gibberish. It's probably a good sign.
Try timing yourself to write as much as you can in 5 or 10 minutes. You can do this before you begin working as a kind of preventative measure. Then, once you're done, you can return to work with a lovely clear mind.
I find that it's pretty good therapy.
Just make sure you burn/delete/re-cycle the evidence afterwards. You don't want your mum or room-mate thinking you're crazy.
Even if you are.

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