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.

Enjoy!

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!

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

A New Series About Exam Tips - The Last Mock Exams You'll Need

We're getting really to the end of the revision period: D-Day is just around the corner.


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 a recent Paper 3 from November 2016.

To my mind, these are the most straightforward sets of papers I've seen in my experience as an examiner and tutor, and should provide your student with a boost of confidence that, yes, they can do this!!!

Thank you to the IGCSE Centre for uploading a huge supply of past papers for students to practise. If the link doesn't work, just let me know via the contact form to the right.

0500_w15_in_21.pdf - https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0BzumkDfi9230OHljR09iZkk4M3M
0500_w15_qp_21.pdf -
https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0BzumkDfi9230OHljR09iZkk4M3M

0500_w16_in_31.pdf
https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0BzumkDfi9230dHdMWGpXSVF3ZXM
0500_w16_qp_31.pdf
https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0BzumkDfi9230dHdMWGpXSVF3ZXM


And perhaps all that's left to say is best of luck to all those CIE students out there who are sitting their English Language exams within the next fortnight. 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZUG4GKkdEk

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.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

A New Series About Exam Tips - Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Getting that good night’s sleep the night before an exam — impossible, right? Well, here are some ideas that might help.


It looks so easy, doesn't it?

One of the things that will help get to sleep is eating foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan, since these will in turn help your body manufacture the sleep hormone, melatonin. These include dairy products like cheese, yoghurt, milk, as well as nuts, seeds, meat, and even tofu.

On the other hand, bright flashing lights and back-lit screens from television, tablets, and other electronic devices have been shown to suppress melatonin production. They emit "blue light" which your brain interprets as daylight, so turning these off nice and early - say, 5 pm - would be a good idea if you’re wanting to get to sleep early.

Electronics can inhibit sleep hormones

To my mind, though, one of the key things to do is start a regular bedtime routine in the month before the exam period. It doesn't take long for your body clock to shift and expect earlier bedtimes, especially if you couple that with early rising. Just by making it a habit, you'll be more likely to be tired when it's time for bed.

Here are some other things suggested by a sleep specialist called Dr Adler:
  • Avoid caffeine after noon the day before the event/exam.
  • Light exercise can be helpful, but don’t overdo it.
  • Don’t overeat the evening before.
  • Listening to relaxing music can be helpful; hard rock might not be a good choice.
  • A shower or bath is sometimes helpful (try adding lavender oil, too!). 
  • If you can’t sleep, don’t try to fill the time with further studying. It can be helpful to go to bed even if you don’t think you are going to be able to fall asleep. 

If you don't know it by now,
you're not going to. Go to bed!

Finally, here’s the best tactic of all - simply don’t worry about it. Yes! Don’t worry!

How can I say that? Well, studies show that an occasional bad night isn’t really that big of a deal, and you can actually function just fine if you don’t manage to sleep the night before your exam.

Paradoxically, keeping this in mind may actually help you to sleep after all, since the pressure is off in terms of that good night’s sleep.

A New Series About Exam Tips - Tell Me About Pens

Here's a question that was recently posed on one of the exam chat boards: what's the best pen to use for the exams.


Beautiful but not really practical!

With the English Language exam, it's really important that you have a a nice strong line with a fine nib and no bleed through.

I've just been marking my crammer students' mocks, and those with a weak line are very hard to read. This will necessarily hurt a student's grade, because much of what an examiner is looking for is fluency of expression. If instead he/she is having to decipher each word, the fluidity of the sentence is compromised.

On the other hand, a pen that bleeds through is equally bad. Exam scripts are now scanned into a computer for examiners to mark on the screen, and if a student has bleed-through on the script, it's also really hard to read (and they're hard enough on the computer as it is!).

Basically, the more clarity with a student's answers in terms of handwriting and pen choice, the more likely the script will avoid unnecessary limitations on its clarity and fluency.

For all these reasons, I recommend the finest line such as a 0.4 mm because letters are formed more clearly. This black Stabilo Fineliner is my favourite:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/cn/Stabilo-Point-88-GB-8810-46-Fineliner-Pack-of-10-Black/B01BCE27BC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490279642&sr=8-1&keywords=stabilo+fineliner+black

(this is not an affiliate link!)

Whichever pen you decide to use, your student needs to start using it as soon as possible, and as much as possible. Not only is it important for getting the "feel" of it, but people so rarely write these days as opposed to typing on a keyboard, that certain muscles need building up in the hand before spending two hours writing with a pen.

Think of it as another kind of training that you need for the exam!


The lost skill of handwriting!