Friday, 27 October 2017

A Pair of 2018 Crammers Now Accepting Registrations

We're just two days away from the Autumn sittings for the CIE English Language IGCSE exam, and I'm already looking ahead to Spring by opening up registrations for the LIVE AND ONLINE weekly January course as well as the daily Easter crammer to help students prepare for their exams for the summer of 2018.

Dreaming Spires Revision time??? I'm so excited!!!!

We'll be looking at the summer exams from last year, and taking advantage of my years of experience with this exam and what examiners are looking for. 

So why slog through reinventing the wheel when I can point your teens to exactly the way to focus on each question, AND mark a mock for them to help them see where they can revise more efficiently?

This course is delivered live and online, and is open to students from all over the world. We regularly have people attend from New Zealand, India, Singapore, and throughout Europe. If the weekly course doesn't suit your time zone, then let me know that you're signing up for the Easter crammer, and I'll choose the 7 pm time slot instead of 2 pm.

DAILY CRAMMER STARTS 26 MAR, 7 pm to accommodate New Zealand students. 

If there is demand, then I may also offer the daily crammer at 2 pm.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

It's that time of year again: FREE giveaway of a copy of my revision guide

Come enter the Rafflecopter giveaway of a FREE paperback copy of my exam revision guide for the CIE 0500 English Language IGCSE exam.

This guide will walk your student through each question on the higher-tier papers, giving tips, tricks, short-cuts, and advice, while also warning of pitfalls to avoid.

Enter as often as you like - no string attached!

Use this link:

Thursday, 14 September 2017

October Crammer is now taking Registrations.

Do you feel stressed about the CIE 0500 English Language exam that's coming up this Autumn? Come along to our daily crammer and get all the strategies to make you feel more prepared, focused, and confident.

After taking Dr P's crammer course, "Wilfred" felt in control.

Now taking student registrations for the daily course that's starting 2nd of October,  meeting at 8 am because nobody has anything planned then but a few extra zzzzzzs!!!

  • What: Dreaming Spires Revision crammer course for CIE 0500 IGCSE in English Language (higher tier)
  • Where: On your computer - it's live and online
  • When: 2nd-6th, and 9th and 10th October, 8 am daily.
  • Cost: £80 including mocking a mark exam (2 papers)
  • How: Register here to receive details of sending payment
  • Who: Only 20 of you, so don't miss the chance to get live tuition from Dr P, author of "How to Ace the English Language IGCSE", available on ebook and paperback from Amazon.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

About those Pesky Descriptive Questions

Usually, I think descriptive questions in Paper 3 of the CIE 0500 IGCSE are easier than narrative questions, but this year was an exception. I thought they were rather difficult, and invited narrative approaches which, of course, would limit a student's success on it.

Earlier this summer, I was discussing this in a private Skype with one of my students, and we decided to have a challenge.

Each of us would write our version of the descriptive piece based on the actual exam question. His parents joined in, too. Here are the results of that little game that we played, published on the Facebook Page.  

In the next post, I'm going to try to tease out the process I used for tackling a hard descriptive question like this, and make some systematic suggestions should this trend for vague and narrative continue.


PS Why not respond in a comment with YOUR descriptive answer, or pop over to the FB page and add yours there? It would be fun!

FROM FB PAGE: Here's a fun challenge: write a descriptive answer to go along with this question from the Summer 2017 CIE 0500 exam: "Describe the moment when you encounter an animal."

My student, his parents, and I have each prepared one. Why not add your own?

PS Don't let formatting get in the way of enjoying a good piece of description: Facebook is the one taking out paragraphing, not us! Honest!

1. Thud, thud. 

Each quiet footstep was muffled by the leaf litter of the forest path, the different leaves like various dabs of brown paint spilled on the ground. An owl hooted loudly, but not one of the group heard it, such was their concentration on scanning the mossy forest, eerily lit red by their headlights, so as not to scare what they intended to look for. The moss, hanging from one branch, looked like a curtain, hung up to hide their view of what was behind it, but most simply pushed passed it, not even noting its existence. 

Out of the blue, I, at the head of the party, stopped dead, for there, as still as a statue, stood New Zealand’s emblem, a kiwi. The red light from our torches turned the already dark brown of its back into pitch, each feather a stroke of paint. Its long, powerful feet wouldn’t have looked out of place on a small dinosaur, with their sharp talons and thick legs, which instead scratched the earth to look for worms. The bird’s long beak was a scimitar, ready to slice through the earth in the pursuit of its next meal. 

Then, as if it had only just realised that it had been seen, the bird was off like a shot, running through the forest away from the path*, making more noise than the entire party. The bird ran behind a tree, and was lost from sight. A jubilant, exhilarated and quiet “Whoa” was heard, the noise of someone who truly knows the significance of what they have seen.

2. I crouched and peered into the aviary at the chaos of fluttering, chirruping, shuffling, settling and preening that was twenty budgies. The warm homely smell of millet seed filled my nostrils. I tried unsuccessfully to follow all their movements. How I could I possibly single out one bird from so many and so similar? I noticed one who was perched half way back and high up. He was regarding me with one dark shining eye, intently, curiously. I looked up at him and he looked down at me. He bent his head a little, spread his wings, and with a second’s flight he was on the ledge in front of me, close to my face. I kept absolutely still. His chest was vivid apple green with a dash of iridescence, and his head was a sunny cheerful yellow. 

“Hello, little bird!” I welcomed him softly, and slowly inserted a finger between the wires. He gently nibbled it, exploring his way around my fingernail. Having completed this careful inspection, he then fluffed his head feathers up as budgies do when they are smiling, batted my fingertip several times with his beak playfully, and began to chatter and cheep conversationally to me.
I was amazed and entranced. Amid the hubbub of indifferent birds who all remained engrossed in their feeding and feathers, their squawking and squabbling, this one had quietly stepped aside to show his intelligence, confidence, friendly good nature, innocent trust—and handsome good looks. He was different. I straightened up and turned to the breeder who was already smiling with a shared understanding. 

“Could we have this one, please?” I asked.

3. In the San Antonio zoo, the snow leopard is on display. It’s a young cub, but still about five feet long. The cage it’s in is bare with concrete flooring and only about fifteen-by-eight feet, roofed, barred on one end. The only item is a large, purple bowling ball, and the cub is rolling it around in its over-large paws, purring. If it had been a tabby kitten with a ball of yarn, it would have been no more, no less cute.

The crowd who are watching this gentle, innocent scene must number about fifty. We all have our cameras out. We point our lenses to snap pictures, and we point our fingers to giggle at the sweet antics, and those with children are lifting their progeny higher, above the short shrubs in front of the bars, and we all ooh and ahh. What could be more magnificient than this endangered creature, enjoying his ball in such innocent pleasure?

So incongruous, the firm bars like a criminal in isolation set against the kitten-like pleasure of purring, patting, and playing, and I think we all feel a pang of sadness that his playpen is a fifteen-by-eight cell of grey, scrubbed concrete.

A snow leopard in 100-degree heat, trying to find the joy in his heart with a cold, hard, purple-swirled bowling ball.

I feel regret that we have to cage the beast to watch him play.

Almost as if hearing me, the leopard pauses in his game and lets the ball roll to a stop. He blinks at us and lowers his head. It makes me want to pet him and scratch his ears and even rub my hand along his back to make his tail-end rise with the pleasure of a firm stroke.

Then without warning, it roars at us with a deep, long ferocity, almost as though the sound waves plaster our hair back against the wind, and it’s suddenly clear - so very clear - that this is no cute and cuddly kitten: but a compact predator of muscle and killing instinct, and we are perhaps on his mind for dessert! 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Last Mocks You'll Ever Need

Ever wondered which were the most straightforward, confidence-boosting CIE IGCSE 0500 English Language exam papers to choose from all the options out there?

Well, my answer is ... THESE!

There's a light at the end of the tunnel!

If you're looking for a last set of mock papers to try that won't crush any confidence that was starting to emerge at this late stage, then look at these two papers.

One of them is a Paper 2 from October/November 2015, and the other is Paper 3 from November 2016.

Here's a link to the papers:

 Just remember: BREATHE! I mean, literally: breathe! It will get oxygen going to your brain, and you'll think more clearly.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A New Series about Exam Tips - Doing Things in the Right Order

No matter how many times I teach my crammer students that a certain CIE question is best answered with five distinct steps, they will still insist on doing the steps out of order or leaving some of them out.

Today, my son helped me make a video to stress the importance of doing things in the right order.

You can find it at this link here:

If there's a recipe,
follow the steps in the right order

At the risk of over-explaining the video, I'm going to describe what's happening in it. (The time-lapse feature means sometimes it's hard to follow)

  1. First, he tries to make porridge by putting the bowl in the microwave -- empty!
  2. Then he puts in the milk, and while I'm getting the oats, he also adds honey.
  3. I give him a fresh bowl, and he pours all the oats into the bowl. I mean, ALL the oats!
  4. So, we take oats back out and pour in only the right amount. (This is important for the specific question, which wants only small selections of text).
  5. Now the milk goes in. 
  6. Then we cook it -- this is relevant to taking time to think about it! 
  7. Finally, the honey goes in, making a nice and scrummy breakfast, and the result gets a 10 out of 10 (My sign that says this isn't readable on the video).

If you're one of my crammer students, you'll know exactly which question I'm talking about (and exactly which super-secret technique I'm referring to), but even if you're not "in the know" on the details, the fact remains: some things just need to be done in the right order!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A New Series about Exam Tips -- Importance of Routine

I'm a huge believer in routines, just for life and living in general. However, when it comes to academics in our household, routine is one of our foundational principles.

Regular times for school help concentration

This is partly because we are followers of the Charlotte Mason method, and Miss Mason's motto was "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." In other words, she includes routine - or "discipline" - in the very basis of her educational theories, and I've found that a regular routine of working on academics together in our home school has a huge impact on our successes or our relative failures.

When we sit down to read our books together every day at 10 am, but kids come ready to learn, to concentrate, to discuss, and to focus. If we fall out of this routine, the kids really struggle to learn on the same level. They get a bit silly, they interrupt, they're distracted. We lose the thread of our books and have to review things that they knew just last week. Somehow, it's all too haphazard to take seriously and to retain.

Not one of our better study days ...

Not just in our studies, but in the children's sports, too. They find that training the same day every day has really helped their bodies to respond to harder, longer, focused exercise, and as swimmers, to build on technique day by day. If they have races and these occur during the same times of day as their training, such as often happens with finals, they are able to compete at a level that they never experienced before, when their training times were less regular.

Training routines in sport gets results,
so why not apply it to revision, too?

And so, we come to exam revision. Having a regular routine for revision means that the body and the mind become accustomed to that subject and that time of day, and the ability to move forward is increased.

There's even an argument to start thinking about mimicking the exam schedule, say, by studying English from 9 am if that's the time when the exam is going to occur.

If you'll have more than one subject occurring at 9 am, then perhaps change from day to day which one you're doing at 9 am, but the important thing is, that exam is going to be at 9 am, and if your teen has never started studying at that time of the morning, he or she will be unlikely to perform at optimum compared to the person who has trained for this moment in advance.

The knock-on effect to setting a routine will include bedtimes (see the earlier tip about getting to sleep the night before the exam), wake-up times, getting used to eating a good breakfast, limiting electronic use in the evenings, etc.

Regular sleep routines are
an important part of revision

The more you can do to mimic exam day in the month before the exam, the better prepared your teen will be in mind, body, and spirit, so setting routines will play an important role in that success.