A Little Bit of Extra Padding

Have you ever been in that position where someone says to you that your ideas are good but you need some more development in there? You need some padding in there to set out and develop those ideas more.

In one sense this is an insult for it is saying that your work, for whatever reason, simply does not cut it. On another, it is saying that by doing this, you can get better grades in your exams and be more successful. So what do they mean when they say such things? Well, here are a few tips for you to assist you with ‘padding out’ an answer.

Imagine for a moment you are in a ‘valley of dry bones’ experience with your writing in the exam. No matter what you do to write a description of a place you know well it is simply not happening for you. No matter how hard you try, you cannot get started, or you get going and then, horror of horrors and you find yourself drying up after ten minutes of the 25 or so you are supposed to spend on this task.

What do you do next? Panic? Turn and run for the hills, believing you will never get that C grade? Well, I think the answer lies in your ability to plan your piece of writing and this all happens in the opening 5 minutes of the task. Imagine this is your task then, to write a description of a place you know well.

Now imagine drawing some form of plan, or diagram, for yourself, something that represents all the areas you want to cover. Imagine adding numbers to that plan to ensure you know where you want to move from and to, in order to make the writing easier. When that is done, as your plan states, you are ready. But you have to do this in 5 minutes from reading the task set for you. You have to then do it all over again for the final task in the exam.

Life is never easy eh?

So, you want to pad out something in description. The trick is to first, get down all that you can in writing, but then to add detail as you go and in order to do that, one has to employ one’s nose a little. How odd, you think, but what I mean is this; use the senses, all 5 of them, of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing and as you do so, do not forget to add a few extras in for good measure, whatever comes to mind. If you like, add extra ideas in at this point to make the writing fluid and ultimately readable. Above all, in the exam, SHOW OFF and write your head off. Have fun if needs be.

Here are a few silly examples as to how you can take something so trivial and mundane and make it into something that is radically different.

Example = adding adjectives

Mary had a little lamb.

Mary had a little, brown lamb.

Mary had a little, brown, fluffy lamb.

Mary had a soft, little, brown, fluffy lamb.

Now add more ideas…

Mary had, by the throat, a little brown, fluffy lamb.

And a few more ideas… maybe even some humour

Mary, who by this time, had lost the will to live, suddenly grabbed by the throat a little brown, fluffy lamb and prepared to throttle it.

Or to put it more succinctly ….. begin with the place in this old exam task

York is a tourist trap. [then add some data]

The city of York is known the world over as a tourist trap.

Make the sentences more complex

The idyllic and historic city of York in the north of England is known the world over as a popular tourist trap for many.

Add a little more detail in there to make it more complex

The sun sets smoothly over the idyllic and historic city of York in the north of England, which is known the world over as a popular and romantic tourist trap for many a honeymooning couple.

Then add something else to such a complex sentence ….. a setting

The sun sets smoothly over the idyllic and historic city of York, in the north of England, which is known the world over as a popular and romantic tourist trap for many a honeymooning couple. During winter, this is a special place; cold and dank but at once, still attracting many folk from across the world to its sights and Medieval city ruins.

Then begin to actually ‘describe’

The sizzling sun sets smoothly over the idyllic and historic city of York, in the north of England, as the summer day comes to an end. York; the one place which is known the world over as a popular and romantic tourist trap for many a honeymooning couple. During winter, this is a special place; cold and dank but at once, still attracting many folk from across the world to its sights and Medieval city ruins. During summer however, the place comes alive with a hive of activity, becoming somewhere where one can accidentally bump into the rich and the famous as they all take in the delights of such a quaint and beautiful place that rests on God’s own earth.

Suddenly, your brief description of a place has some style, some pizzazz. Now it begins to stretch into the higher grades.

Now consider the following, written by a 12 year old in 2 one hour tuition sessions. Can you do this in the exam?

The Seasons of Cliffe [a real place]

The village of Cliffe, near Selby, in North Yorkshire, is so desolate in the winter. The sky is grey and dull; it’s like someone has taken a black and white photo of the village. Everybody has frowns on their faces and nothing will cheer them up until the sun comes out to shine its bright, welcoming light on the village. This is when everyone comes out to enjoy the sun’s rays of heat in the summer.

But in the winter, the rain taps on the windows of each house where everyone is silent and everyday there’s more rain, more thunder and more black clouds that appear in the colourless, frightening sky. Every month nothing changes! The clocks keep ticking in warm, welcoming houses but all the people stand lifeless watching the time fly by as they glare out of their windows. The singing birds have been silenced over three months ago but everyone waits for the first chirp of the birds at the beginning of summer. There’s no sun in the sky; it’s dark and inky while the clouds release their bullets of water.

Winter is horrible in Cliffe until the sun comes out. In winter there is no one at the park. The playing field is lonely. There are no children to run on the grass which now is brown and muddy, resembling the field at the Nass festival [an extreme sports and music event] rather like Glastonbury on a very bad day!

The image of a dead tree is stained on the mind as one looks out of the window only to see the dilapidated plants that once had colour on their petals. It is an image that reflects decay on the mind of anyone who is walking to get the local paper from the shop.

But, in the height of summer, the place comes alive; everyone steps outside to breath in the fresh air. Children start to smile and grin and start to ask their friends to come out and play. The happiness leaks through the village as everyone starts to wake up and takes a stroll to the park, which is now buzzing and alive with children running around on the field.

The swings that were once neglected are now full of children pushing each other through the fresh summer breeze, the dull climbing frame has now transformed into an assault course, full of children determined to get to the top. All this happens while their parents prepare for a barbeque; the scent of the sausages drifts through the air like a glider up in the clear blue sky; there is laughter and excitement as the village enjoys the first day of summer.

Neighbours play loud music as they wake up to enjoy the sunny days ahead of them. The birds tweet to signify that it is going to be a good day. The trees are raw with colour and all the cheerful people enjoy a sunbathing session in the scolding hot sun.

The flowers that were once a blank canvas are now exploding with intense colour in their petals as they devour the shimmering, glowing light from the sun as the effect of photosynthesis of the flowers kicks in. But it all ends very swiftly as the season shifts into autumn and the days go by.


Claire Francis – Exam Question

Here is a student example of work in answer to the AQA set recently about Claire Francis. Enjoy. Can you do better?

Throughout the text Claire Francis’ feelings and thoughts are continuously changing, a bit like the sea on which she sails. To begin with there is a strong feeling of misery as when she looks for clean dry clothes every time she puts her hand in “a locker it came out wet.” No one likes wearing wet clothes and if you do it just makes you cold, miserable and puts you in a foul mood for the rest of the day.

Although she remains a bit down a sense of surprise comes over here as she is amazed at how the boat can withstand such a battering from the sea and weather. As the boat is constantly under stress as the “terrible juddering crash as the bow hits the water,” which would not just make Francis surprised at how strong the boat is but it would make anyone wonder. As well as a sense of surprise it feels like she also has a sense of panic and fear inside her as she lays there on her bunk “in a state of mental paralysis.” She is trying not to allow the thoughts of the worst case scenario to enter her mind.

Although she tries not to let negative thoughts enter her mind she lets positive one in and hopes for the best, as she “allowed [herself] to become excited at the sight of clear sky ahead.” This shows she has a positive mind set and always hopes for the best at the worst of times. Even though she hopes for the best the worst still appears because to her dismay “the wind blew as strongly as ever.” This shows that anything like this can ruin your day and possibly the whole trip, unless her dreams of bright, clear blues skies were to come true.

The CA From Hell

Imagine doing a poetry Controlled Assessment and not doing that well on it. You had to write about 2 or 3 poems and for whatever reasons, it got by you. The end result is a lower grade than the rest of your other grades. This can happen and is so demoralising and if you are in a school setting and not FE, your only option is a resit of the CA but AQA state that you cannot do the same title again.


This places your teachers in a somewhat impossible position, somewhere that this lad would refuse to put himself if made to. Let me explain with a true story. Someone I know well took their GCSEs a couple of years ago. She did not do that well on one CA, so her teacher, in what the Bard would call “chop logic” made her do one that to me, was far harder.

Where is the logic in that?

The answer is that there is none. Instead, the teacher, or the department, or even AQA, made her do one that had the following title: How are the men responsible for the demise of the women in each of the three texts you have studied?

The texts to be written about were: Havisham, by Carol Ann Duffy [post 1914 poem], My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning [pre 1914 poem] and then 5 scenes from Romeo and Juliet [from the English Literary Heritage], arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play.

Now, I hate and loathe it when a teacher uses this play against a student or students to set them up for a fall. I doubly dislike it when there are SEN students in the class, of which she was one of many. So when a teacher or organization does this, it makes me want to chain myself to the railings of Number 10, shouting “Power To The People” at the top of my voice.

It is just plain WRONG on every level.

For a start, it is a sexist title, aimed at aiding the girls in the class at the expense of the boys. SHAME on all those who choose these titles. Then it is only made accessible by 5 chopped scenes hastily copied and pasted together [and in this case without page numbers] to make for a scene of confusion and carnage when my eyes descended upon it in a home tuition session, which I still continue to offer locally.

But then, there is the difficulty factor.

Yes, you can know all about the writer’s views about the treatment of women at the time, about language techniques used and about how the format [poem/play] impacts on the writer’s message. But that will only get you so far. You then need confidence the size of a cow in order to be able to link all that together and your teacher [and she knows who she is] knows you are dyslexic and therefore going to struggle in pain through this.

This is tantamount to child abuse in my estimation!

So, enough ranting and how does one write the damn thing? Well, it is not as obvious as it seems. Firstly, if it was me I would make some notes on the PC under the following 3 headers.


I would do as asked and find as many links, similarities and differences between the texts. But that would only help me so far. I would need someone to write one as an example, so as to show me how to go about this doozie of a question.

Well look no further for the rest of this blog piece does just that. It is by no means perfect but it aims to show that these three elements can be put together in a straightforward manner.


April 2015

How are the men responsible for the demise of the women in each of the three texts you have studied?

In each of the three texts studied there is one common theme and that is the idea that women are objects to be owned, admired, looked at from afar and ultimately rejected when they fail to obey.

In Havisham, by Carol Ann Duffy, a poem written in the modern era, the reader sees how Duffy writes using modern English words from the perspective of a character from a Charles Dickens novel who has been previously at the altar on her wedding day. Rather like her recent poem from the mouth of King Richard III, this again is a monologue of sorts, airing Miss Havisham’s views as she lives out her reclusive life in solitude.

It is a modern poem set in an ancient setting in the sense that the 1850s seem so far away from the realities of the modern world and as she is a character out of Great Expectations, it is clear from the poem that the attitudes to women were as objects to be traded, loved but owned, objects that mainly came with dowries which were a sum of money and paid by the father of the wife to be. It was a payment made to the groom’s family to take her off their hands and as such, women at the time were expected to marry early and if they were not married as they aged, then their worth lessened and their value went down.

This is clearly shown in the poem as Duffy has Havisham airing her views, for she is now a bitter old woman who cries out to the “beloved, sweetheart, Bastard” that jilted her at the altar. Such language uses antonyms, or opposites in meaning. “Beloved” and “sweetheart” are terms of endearment, but “bastard,” in any context, is insulting and is nowadays used as a firm insult from one person to another, so although Duffy is airing her views, she is doing so in a very modern fashion. She does so and reveals a Miss Havisham who uses such language in the context of the poem. She is definitely not being very lady-like but she also reflects Duffy’s own sexual orientation as she berates the man responsible for her demise.

Along with this, those three opening words are spoken alliteratively, with the repetition of the three consonant sounds which are strongly felt, reflecting the feelings and emotions that exist within her heart at the time. Clearly, the triplet usage, as in the opening line, allows the reader to really feel her venom as she almost tries to emulate a stutter, or crying sound at the end. These triplets, along with the use of the rule of three in the opening three words makes this first person narrative or thoughts from the woman in the novel come to life before the reader in an exciting manner. It appeals to the modern reader from the beginning and keeps the momentum up as it continues.

Written in 4 verses, or stanzas, there is an example of a slight rhyme at the end with “cake” and “breaks” but otherwise there is no rhyme used and this is done for effect, to get the emotions across to the reader in a simple and straightforward manner. It is a blunt hammer used to smash the reader in the mind as he or she feels the sense of confusion at first, not quite understanding the meaning but then when the reader knows about the character the feelings change to those of understanding and sorrow, sadness and sympathy.

That third word sets the tone of anger and it is one aimed at the man who jilted her at the altar, the same man who stole her life from her, who ruined her in the public gaze and who made her “hate behind a white veil” for the rest of her life. It is suggestive of the idea that a man may have hurt Duffy at some point for her to choose such a person to write a poem about. Clearly, the man in question is responsible for Havisham’s demise in the public eye and in such a society at the time, this would not have been a regular occasion; indeed such a person then became known as a “Cad” or a “Bounder” for dealing so falsely with the woman he had promised to marry.

In the poem My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, the reader immediately sees the links between the first poem and this one. In this poem, there are two men; the Duke and his visitor. The Duke is showing the visitor a portrait, painted by Fra Pandolf, an imaginary painter who only exists here in this poem, which depicts the image of his now deceased last wife. But the reader is always asking the one, same question: who killed the wife and why did it happen?

This poem is set in more ancient times than Havisham in that the Duke and his visitor seem to be from an older time, which is interesting because as much as Duffy is writing about someone from a time 150 years before she lived, it is possible to say that Browning is doing the same thing. Browning was born in 1812 and died in 1889 and was a major poet of his time, so this could be set in the mid 1850s like Havisham, but is likely to be set in a previous time because the language suggests older, with words like “durst” being a good example of archaisms no longer used in the English language; it is the language of Shakespeare and his time rather than Dickens and Miss Havisham.

Indeed, “t’was not her husband’s presence” suggests the possibilities of this being set in the 1700s or earlier, where the use of rhyming couplets all the way through the poem have an effect on the reader, one that could be one of joy. To write this way is a very difficult thing to do as a poet so to then do so and reflect the attitudes to women at the time; how they were harsher than in Havisham’s time and how they did not have a free will is a very brave and bold thing to do.

This poem shows just how much the plight of women has changed over the years. Women did not get the vote till the 1920s but in times before that they were seen as commodities and the Duke uses the word “my” a lot, along with references to “my lady” as if he owns his wife outright. The language hints in the poem that he killed his own wife, or that he had her killed, or maybe, because of too much of a stressful life in his hands, she killed herself. The Duke says “she liked whate’er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere” suggesting to the reader that he was not very happy at all with her flirtatious behaviour towards other people, most notably the males of the land. This would give him motive to have her removed from his life.

In essence, if he did kill her, or have her killed, this shows that he was responsible, in some way or another, for her demise. What is left is a graven image of a once beautiful woman who still radiates a glow into his life, which maybe now, is a life filled with regret and pain at her passing. It is a slightly difficult poem to read and understand but fairly easy to understand in terms of love, life, death and murder most foul.

Evidently the sense of ownership felt keenly by the Duke is one where he knows his place, his opportunities and how he can exercise authority and control as the head of the household where he lives. This is something that is alien to the modern world of Political Correctness, but at one time and not too far back in history, this was the norm in British society.

This has always been the case and always will be the case in some societies. In British culture back in the late 1590s, there lived a man who constantly sought to fight the ways things were done. William Shakespeare, that monument of English Literature, was the sort of poet and playwright who could write something, change a language immediately and make you go home from watching a tragedy, feeling uplifted because of the nature of love.

In Romeo and Juliet, perhaps his most famous play, the reader, or audience, for it was written to be acted first and foremost, sees two families at war with each other. Written in about 1599, the story is set in Verona, Italy where two families are constantly fighting, warring, killing each other. Into all this, Romeo, who is a Montague, meets a stranger, aged thirteen, called Juliet and they fall in love but she realises that he is a Montague, her family’s worst enemy. They marry by the permission of Friar Lawrence and marry in secret, having their wedding night in secret. He thinks this marriage will unite both families.

After more fighting Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished, or exiled, so he goes to live in Mantua but Friar Lawrence hatches a plan; Juliet will fool her family into thinking she is dead, Romeo will return and they will live happily ever after, but this plan does not work and Romeo dies first by poisoning himself and then Juliet wakes in the tomb and sees him dying and kills herself with a dagger. It is the tragedy that brings these two families together to live in peace from that point on, because of their loss. This is their shared tragedy!

In act 2 Scene 4 the audience observes how the social expectations of women were that you did what your parents said. Juliet is expected to marry The Count of Paris, who is rich. Evidently, her parents have found her a good match and it is true that in the time, when marriage at thirteen was allowed, she could learn to love him, in time [Paris]. This shows Juliet to be weak and feeble in character, but this changes towards the end of this scene. At first we see a typical woman of the era but she is bold and fearless towards the end.

At this point, Shakespeare uses a variety of writing techniques, including the poetic use of iambic pentameter, a ten syllable beat within each line [or most lines] of verse he is writing. In this sense, Duffy, Browning and Shakespeare all adopt a similar approach in their language used. All use verse to share their feelings towards how women are being treated by others in their society. By having a strong willed Juliet at the end of the play, strong enough to end her own life, it shows just how much we need sometimes to stand up for our beliefs and actions.

Romeo is interestingly vague at first. He is happy to “call her mine” but lets her have her way in the planning and execution of their marriage and their plans later in the play. In Extract 1 Romeo and Juliet are happy to get married but Romeo still sees her as potential ‘property.’ He knows that this marriage could end the fighting which is why he refuses to fight Tybalt later and then feels he has to kill him in revenge for his slaying of his close friend, Mercutio.

In the second extract from Act 3 Scene 4, the audience observes how Lord Capulet plans to marry Juliet to Paris but there is a problem, because she is already married to Romeo [a Montague] and her family do not know this. When she refuses, her father issues some strong words: “hang thee, you baggage, disobedient wretch!” Capulet thinks she is offensive to him, just as much as he is offended by her refusal to marry Paris. He is angry at her defiance and is hurling insults at her. He ends up threatening her with being disowned if she refuses his desires to marry Paris. Clearly, he is in control of her life at such a tender age. He has the paternal right to marry her to Paris. No-one can stop him, apart from the church law which states that “what God has put together, let no man put asunder [Marriage Ceremony Liturgy].

This then continues into the next extracts as in Act 3 Scene 5 Capulet calls Juliet his “Headstrong” in a near term of endearment but also with a slight degree of venom, which means she is still defiantly saying no to marrying Paris. Only she knows in that setting that she cannot legally marry Paris, so she hatches the plan with the Friar and Romeo to pretend to end her life. It is a drastic plan that backfires with alarming pain and heartache for all, leading to her real death after Romeo has taken the poison, believing her dead already and in the tomb.

At the end of the play, in Act 5 Scene 3, the audience are treated to a scene that makes for a quite poetic ending to their “woes” where the Prince, the local judge of Verona, tells both Lord Capulet and Lord Montague that they have lost something so valuable together and so, the families begin to live together in peace.

In this final scene in the play, the most sombre of messages is being sent to the audience, who realise that Capulet and Montague have learnt the real meaning of the words “faithful” and “truth” by having their children kill themselves for love. This makes them realise that love is a very important and powerful thing and it is the language of Shakespeare that allows this to happen.

Writing v Typing

There seems to be some confusion in the minds of the students I come across when I am teaching regarding how to write and how to type and this is due mainly for one reason alone, that we use computers nowadays for writing. We use the laptop for Facebook, or the iPad for writing an email.

We see the term “writing” in technological terms and think that how we write when we type has to be the same way when getting one of those weird, arcane things [a pen] in our hands and writing an essay for GCSE English. But you are missing something if you think you can write using the same rules you use for typing.

Consider this picture below….

typed essay

Clearly, this is a typed piece of work [found on Google] and is not about GCSE English, but it does show you that when you get to the end of a paragraph when typing, you do one thing, you press the ENTER key and it automatically takes you down to the next line or two down and you start again. This is the rule we use when typing.

But the rule when we are writing by hand is not the same rule and AQA [as well as all the other exam boards] are assessing you on your hand writing [unless you have special needs provision and can do the exam on the computer].

Consider now, the picture below….

hand written work

You need to see 3 things in this piece; how the paragraphs differ where they start, from the first picture, how there are no lines missed and the ticks on the work. It matters not what the work is actually about, or if it is a story, but what matters is that a rule is being followed by the writer. AQA Mark Schemes that are available online [type “aqa past papers 4700” into Google and see] show that “indented paragraphs” get you an A*, A, B or a C. They are not evident in a D grade piece of work, so the marker or teacher should not give you a C if you write like we type or vice versa.

So, no more hand written essays or stories or letters where there are lines missed!


Not Just Any Old Burger Flipper

I asked a student to copy the style of the piece of work I did here in this blog and to write about his best and worst meal, based on his experience to date. What follows is his work. Note as well that he is still only 15 years old at the time of writing and it follows the rules for typing, not hand writing an exam answer out.

The Best And The Worst Meal

The nastiest meal ever does not have to be the worst tasting! It could be the greatest tasting thing on the planet, but just cooked desperately badly. This was the case with those gravely cooked beef burgers from the home of terrible cooking itself, Burger King.

Not only was it the home of the supposed burger “King,” itself a euphemism for downright, foul tasting, venomous food, but also it was the home to the worst chefs in the world! Chefs? A chef is a trained animal. These morons cannot have been trained in anything but the culinary arts of the Demon worshipper!

It was not so much the taste of chewing on a half used rubber that put me off, but the fact that it was that cold, they might as well have just served me one straight out of the depths of their endless, bottomless freezers. Although the burger was cold, the Coke was warm.

I wished it was the other way around!

There was no sizzling sensation as the juices poured out of the meat. There was no char-grilled marks on the thing to suggest a cooked piece of cow. It simply looked like a stone slab that had been painted. To touch the thing with a fork was out of the question. It may have just got up and bit me back! Oh, and the smell, well there was not any!

But it was just like someone had had it sitting on the window sill all day, letting the carbon dioxide just bubble on out. What can I say though? Even though it was the worst cooked, synthetic and distasteful meal I had ever eaten, at least I can give them a golden star for filling a hole in my stomach.

It was by far the worst experience in my eating life to date, but the best one simply walked all over it because of how beautiful it was and because it was cooked by chefs who knew what they were doing for a living! There is probably not a name for this beast, but it is the best tasting piece of food I have ever consumed.

My family and I had taken a holiday to the steamy, tropical island of Madeira, and although it was only 15 kilometres in length, it was home to more chefs who knew how to cook than the whole of the USA.  There were several versions of pasta on offer to devour, each of them having their own unique properties.

The feel and sight of the oils of the fish as I picked them up and placed them on my mound of already gathered, classic, Madeiran pasta, was just so beautiful to see. Alongside lay a freshly grilled lamb chop with the juices still oozing out and the sounds of the grill it had just left were sizzling behind me as I carried on walking and continued to devour the rest of this tropical cuisine.

There was no food there that lacked in flavour, beauty or elegance. It was simple yet very effective at filling the body with energy and this was probably done using no sugar, which was a change. The way that every time I went back to fill my plate, new platters of fresh, new and even alien like foods were there, ready for me to devour them.

The food there was clearly cooked by well qualified chefs who had been trained and were dedicated to their profession; not just any old burger flipper with a GCSE or two.

The main and most fascinating part of the meal had to be the sweet. All the bright, tropical colours of the traditional fruit salad, the sweet tasting Walnut Mousse and most of all, the classic Brownie and Ice Cream. The way that everything could be eaten one after another and still tasted magnificent was truly amazing.

For those reasons and many more, such as the setting and weather, that meal has to be put up at Number One on the chart of my best meals.

Matt Barber
Y11 GCSE English

Luck Is For The Ill Prepared – 10 Steps To Great Revision

How do you revise for an exam?

Let’s say it is Geography. You may try to read everything, shorten it down, use memory aids and eventually go completely nuts trying to keep all that information in there. So, let me show you some ideas about how you could do this [for every subject].

1. Read everything – go over your notes about certain things. In English terms, look at the terms in GLOSSARY OF TERMS on here. Read them, digest them, understand them and how they are used. Look for them in everything you read from now to the exam. Notice them and how they are used by the writer.

2. Memorize everything – not really, only kidding. You are not a computer that can locate information like that. Your brain is like mine, a sieve at times. You will forget things and that is perfectly normal, but there are ways to help this.

3. Use memory aids. Mnemonic aids help. Not sure what these are? Well, what are the colours of the rainbow? Do you know? Of course, they are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Or better still, I used RICHARD OF YORK GAVE BATTLE IN VAIN as a memory aid to remember them just then. ROYGBIV to be precise. Got it? By doing this we can learn key things for any subject. An example in English might be REALLY RED STRONG MACHINES AGE! This would stand for Rhyme, Rhythm, Simile, Metaphor, Alliteration! Remember these 5 elements of language and the chances are the exam will be easier.

4. Use a recording device. When I did my finals for my degree, back in 1995, we used things like Walkman cassette players to record our notes. Nowadays, Smartphones can record the human voice. It sounds weird in the extreme to hear your own voice, but live with that and get over it, for using this technique to remember key dates in History can be helpful, along with mnemonics. Record it onto the machine and then play back the last thing before sleep for a few minutes at a time. Do not be worried if you fall asleep to your own voice. Your brain is still active at that point and taking in the notes. This is especially good where there are definitions needed in a written exam piece.

5. Pop Quiz – Ever seen the film Speed? The villain mentions a Pop Quiz in there [I am watching it as I type]. Get someone to ask you questions about something – which character is Lennie in OMAM? [Of Mice and Men]. Who kills the dog in the novella? Why is it that George cannot trust Lennie? Then try to answer them in as full an answer as you can. If you can articulate these thoughts, you should be able to write the answer to them. And do this for 15 minutes a night.

6. Plan your revision – 6 weeks maximum. Do it like this:

a – everything read and noted
b – cut down the elements into shorter chunks of information
c – cut down further into bite sized bits with just the key thoughts
d – then bring in mnemonics to aid memory of elements
e – Pop Quiz and recording
f – Time to be sick – only kidding but that is what it will feel like

7. Time your revision. A good way is to know how long you can last before the brain goes to custard. My time span for concentration is 2 hours before I end up a blabbering wreck. So, I revise from 11-1 and then 3-5 and then 7-9 doing 3 sessions a day, Monday to Saturday inclusive. I have Sundays off.

8. Have a holiday the day before the exam. Now on this one I am NOT kidding. If your exam is on the 2nd June, as I know a few of my students this year have, then on the 1st June, off you go to Alton Towers or somewhere, to enjoy life for once in 6 weeks. You have revised, read, quizzed and worked like a mad hatter at his own tea party and now, the day before, it is time to chill and let the dust settle in the brain. It is like dusting is revising; when you dust a room, particles of dust go everywhere. It takes time for it to settle.

Continuing to dust is not possible, so you let it settle and then clean up. The same is true with revision. All that info being crammed into the head at once is nightmarish, so give it a chance to percolate and then, on the morning of the exam, NO BOOKS in front of your face till the exam. If you are the sort who stands there waiting to go in still reading notes, you will not get a higher grade.

9. Learn to chillax. It sounds obvious I know, but this is a stressful time. Whatever your hobbies are, still keep doing them. You have planned the revision out, done it for 6 hours a day if like me, for 6 days a week and in between that, you have done what you love doing, whatever that is. Or at least I hope you have, for if not, then you will be one sad puppy indeed by exam day.

10. Enjoy the exam! What, I hear you thinking. How on earth do I do that? Well, the English exam, as with any exam, is your chance to SHOW OFF your skills. If you do all the rest right, then this last bit will come natural. Show off and be a show off. Have fun. Make things up. Exaggerate. Lie if needs be. English is a creative art form, so here is your chance to show just how creative you can be, especially in Section B of the Language exam.

At the end of all this, ask yourself this one simple question: Have I done my best on the day of the exam? If the answer is yes, then whatever grade you get is the one you deserve. If the answer is no, then ask yourself why!

“Luck is for the ill prepared” is something my University lecturers said to me, so be prepared!