Procrastination positivity: making changes

By | A Level, Career prospects, EdTech, Exams, GCSE, History, How to Use your Brain, How you learn, IB, Online Tutoring, Random Facts, Revision, Study Tips, Tech Tips, Technique, Tutoring, UK Schooling | 178 Comments

As any student knows, procrastination is a fine art. The possibilities for things to do seems endless when you are faced with a work deadline. Yes, that particular task which should be at the very top of your priorities is just a bit…unappealing at this very moment in time. Maybe later.

A real problem with procrastination is that for each individual, it manifests itself in several deeply ingrained habits. Some delve into the cat-video galore that is the internet. Others tackle tasks of lesser priority because they are less threatening or easier to undertake. Some even retire to their bedrooms for a quick ‘procrasti-nap’.  Personally, I am a big fan of the ‘procasti-tidy’ (you ensure your work environment is spotless; perfect for sitting down and further avoiding your essay). Yet no matter how many nonsense neologisms we dream up about this perennial work-place problem, many of us still struggle to find the source of procrastinating behaviour, and a way to stop it or at least channel it into something positive. ‘Procrasti-positivity’: let’s see where this takes us.

As noted in a 2010 study ‘The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination’ (Andreou and White), procrastination is traditionally characterised as behaviours grounded in ‘irrationality, self-deception, akraisa, irresoluteness, vague goals, hypocrisy and fragmented agency’. Underneath all the jargon, this definition implies that procrastination occurs because we are hapless individuals with little sense of direction. This is, I feel, a fairly unforgiving synopsis. Historically renowned procrastinators such as Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables and Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, are examples of individuals with brilliant minds which had the tendency to wander but nonetheless produced huge volumes of high quality work. George Ainslie’s theory of the causes of procrastination takes a different perspective. Ainslie writes in ‘Procrastination: The Basic Impulse’, that it results from ‘a temporary preference to defer costs and is thus a species of impulse’. In Ainslie’s words, procrastination ‘needs no great pleasure to drive it and no activity to instantiate it. It is just the venerable sin of sloth’. The ‘venerable sin of sloth’ may sound hyperbolic, but is a rather fitting attribute for your typical student. Netflix and a duvet often have a far more immediate draw than thumbing volumes of Rousseau or battling a maths equation.

Personally, I feel that procrastination derives from a sentiment that ‘now’ is never the best time. We will be less tired tomorrow; we will feel better for resting. We will be more productive. However, we need to face the reality the tomorrow may never come. Bite the bullet today and explore these methods to tackle procrastination, or to make it more productive:

  1. Employ implementation intentions: In short, make an action plan of when, where and how you intend to begin your work. Do this when the work is set, before that initial burst of motivation becomes redirected elsewhere.
  2. Leveraging: This strategy encourages you to employ self-discipline and to consider consequences. For instance: ‘If I do not do this work now, I cannot go to the cinema with my friends on Friday night’. This makes it far more likely to consider the consequences of your procrastinating behaviour and should motivate you to get stuck into your work now to avoid future punishment.
  3. Have someone to hold you accountable for the work you are meant to have done. Whether this is a study buddy, friend or parent, ask someone to put positive pressure you on to complete the task, i.e: ‘I would love to spend time with you this evening, but only if you have started this work’

Still procrastinating? Here are some ways to be ‘procasti-positive’:

  1. While cat videos are indeed a joy to behold, unless you are undertaking research in the correlation between humorous cat videos and endorphin surges in the brain, browsing these videos is unlikely to be productive. Use the internet to aid, rather than hinder, your research. There are a great number of fun and interactive study sites such as Schmoop, Sparknotes and GCSE Bitesize where you wind down and learn at the same time.
  2. If you are desperate to leave your desk, see if there is anything else you can do which is relevant to what you are researching. Exhibitions at the local museum, library or art gallery? Are there any films or documentaries you could watch which could deepen your understanding? More often than not, these kinds of activities spark more interest than a text-book and will make facing up to the set task more enjoyable and interesting.
  3. Allocate time for procrastination. Several studies have indicated that the most effective study sessions are those with frequent, but structured, rest breaks. Work on your task for 20 minutes, then have a 10 minutes break. Work for a further 30 minutes, then have a 20 minute break. Then try and work for 45 minutes and give yourself a longer break.  Give yourself time to relax, so that you do not end up relaxing when you intend to work, and vice versa.

Try to implement these techniques next time you are stuck in a loop of procrastination-stress-cramming. They may just work!


Written by Anna Shepherd

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Essays: how to plan, structure and write an essay

By | A Level, EdTech, Exams, GCSE, History, How to Use your Brain, How you learn, IB, International, Online Tutoring, Revision, Social Learning, Speed reading, Study Tips, Technique, Tutoring, University | 236 Comments

“Prose is architecture” – Ernest Hemingway 

Essays: whether you love them or hate them, they are an inescapable aspect of school and further study. The aim of this post is to demystify the process of constructing a ‘well-structured’ essay.

The Question:

The demands of a written essay can vary hugely from subject to subject, but the general approach should always be based on the same principle: answer the question. Many students struggle with the written essay because they lack focus from the beginning of the essay or lose focus as the essay goes on. You need to plan the ‘destination’ for your essay, so firstly read the question carefully. Look out for directive words such as ‘Discuss’, ‘Explain’ and ‘Explore’. Highlight these words, as they indicate what kind of approach you need to take. This need to spot the directive words is essential, regardless of the subject. For example:

Q: (English Literature): “Women are either vacant beauties or destructive seductresses” – Consider if this is true of at least two plays you have studied.

  • Directive: ‘Consider if this is true’: this question directive is asking you to directly address the given statement with a consideration of both sides of the argument. This question demands the production of a counter-argument to the one given. The opinion given is fairly black-and-white. You can often infer from this that you are required to adopt a more sophisticated and nuanced view of the issue at hand. The number of marks indicates that you are likely to need to explore a number of issues in depth.

Q: (Biology): “Explain the process of mitosis”

  • Directive: ‘Explain’: this question directive is more typical of scientific essay questions and it reflects the more objective approach which science takes. You are asked to explain a ‘process’, so this question simply requires a correct and adequate explanation of all the stages of the process with the employment of the correct scientific terms.

Q: (History): “What caused the outbreak of the Vietnam War?” (24 marks)

  • Directive: ‘What caused’: This directive is asking you to consider a number of causal factors leading to a particular event. This kind of question, like the English question, requires some form of judgement to be made as to which factor was the most important, and why.

The Plan:

Once you have read and understood the question, move on to the planning stage. Ensure you keep to 3 main principles for this stage of the process: relevance, selectivity and precision. Ensure you have done all the reading, thinking and planning possible before you start writing. Your essay plan should be so detailed that the writing task should come smoothly and fluently with a maintained focus on a carefully constructed argument. When you are researching for your essay (i.e: reading over a chapter in a book for an English essay), ensure that you are engaging with the material with an analytical eye. Do not just observe interesting or relevant elements of the material, but engage with the material. Why are these elements interesting or relevant? Why are they important? How is this conveyed? Your plan should consist of your essay in bullet-point format under the headings ‘Introduction’, ‘Main Body’ and ‘Conclusion’. Feel free to include sub-headings under this titles to signal each individual point and the focus of each paragraph.

The Introduction:


  • Define key concepts/issues
  • Introduce texts and specific areas of focus
  • State main thesis/argument

The Main Body:

Your essay should show a logical progression and a clear commitment to the question and original thesis. Ensure that each paragraph begins with a clear topic sentence and ends with a clear link back to your main thesis/the question. Your argument should demonstrate a logical progression towards a more nuanced and developed version of the thesis stated in your introduction. Try and replicate the following structure (PEEL)

  • Topic sentence: State issue for discussion (this is your point)
  • Example: Give an example to demonstrate this point. Ensure it is an accurate and appropriate form of textual evidence.
  • Explain: Explain why this example demonstrates your point.
  • Link: Link this explanation back to your main thesis. Clearly demonstrate how you have supported your own thesis using this textual evidence.


The Conclusion:

 The purpose of the conclusion is to draw all the threads of your argument together to demonstrate how your exploration of the arguments put forward has led you to a more developed and nuanced thesis. Re-state this more refined thesis to conclude your essay. Try to avoid writing things such as ‘Finally, in conclusion’. Not only is this a tautology (saying the same thing twice over) but your paragraphing and development of your argument should signal that the conclusion of the essay has arrived without the need to announce it.

And with that we have arrived at our destination! Put this structuring method to the test next time you write an essay task and see what a difference it makes. Happy writing!

Written by Anna Shepherd

Online tutoring: what is it, and why is it preferable to traditional methods?

By | A Level, Career prospects, EdTech, Exams, GCSE, History, How to Use your Brain, How you learn, International, Online Tutoring, Revision, Social Learning, Study Tips, Tech Tips, Tutoring, University | 1,165 Comments

What is online tutoring?

The movement of tutoring from table to tablet has been an inevitable by-product of the new digital age. Thanks to the synaptic speeds of modern internet, we have found ways to speak, teach and learn through increasingly convenient means. At Tute HK, tutors conduct lessons over a video call on our online platform. All students require for a lesson is a microphone, webcam and the willingness to learn. Tute HK has a wealth of online resources for students to benefit from such as past papers and subject-specific power-points. The tutor is able to explain concepts to their student via the microphone and by uploading text and images to an interactive whiteboard which the student is then able to download and save.

Why is online tutoring preferable to more traditional methods?

Expertise: Online tutoring enables your children to receive optimum academic support no matter where you are in the world. Our bank of talented tutors at Tute.HK is primarily made up of university students, both undergraduate and postgraduate. Many of our tutors attend top UK universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and UCL. This enables students to access the skills and expertise earned by our tutors at these excellent institutions, all from the comfort of home.

Practicality: Online tutoring also has several practical advantages; tutoring via the internet eliminates expense costs (such as travel) incurred by face-to-face tutoring, and can take place any time, any place at the convenience of tutor and student. Online tutoring is therefore incredibly time efficient, as tutors are able to squeeze in an hour’s tutoring before their morning lecture, while their pupil may wish to take their lesson right after school. In this way, the time difference between the UK and Hong Kong is often surprisingly favourable to the respective lifestyles of UK-based tutors and HK-based students. Our advanced online platform facilitates overseas communication between students and tutors at no extra cost.

Wider learning: The online platform is not only the hub of individual lessons, but also of live webinars run by academics and wider learning programmes which expose students to a wide range of extra-curricular subjects. Students are even able to playback their online lessons at a later date, enabling them to utilise their past sessions for revision purposes. The appeal of online tutoring lies in the incorporation of the individual student focus retained from traditional forms of tutoring, with revolutionary new technology to enhance and broaden the learning experience.

Education is evolving. Ensure your child’s education is adapting with it and sign up with Tute HK here. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with our latest news and bright ideas!

written by Anna Shepherd


How to Prepare for University

By | Career prospects, International, Revision, Technique, University, Your Brain | 198 Comments

You’re starting university in the autumn and freedom beckons. However, it’s going to be a big change, and you need to take steps to smooth this transition.


Forget academics. Obviously these are important, and you should keep your attention on those too, but they are not the big difference when you move to university or college. You can study, you know how to revise, you’ve been acing those tests for years! Continuing your studies – even though this will be more independent and focused – is not a problem.

The immediate problem is independence. Moving away from parents or guardians, you should now be mostly self-reliant in looking after yourself as well as your grades, and that means cooking, cleaning, finances, health, and worst of all – laundry.

Of course you will have help: universities have massive support networks (especially if you are in halls or college), there are lots of other people in the same position who will help out, and your parents or guardians are but a phone call away (thank you, internet!). However, in the lead up to starting your first year of university, we strongly recommend you *try* to master at least some of the following:

  • Cooking! Well, this one is obvious, you still need to eat. Even if you are in halls, there’s a chance you don’t get 3 meals a day, and all halls will have a kitchen attached. If you’re not in halls, you will need to cook for yourself most of the time. Get a friend or family member to show you how to cook your favourite recipes, or at least meals that are quick. Buy a student recipe book or peruse the web: good sites include BBC Good Food and Student Recipes for learning about cheap eats. Just remember that you will be cooking primarily for just you, so try to make things that are quick, unless you have loads of fridge space and can keep left overs for several days. (*Warning* Fridge etiquette is extremely important when sharing kitchens. Make sure you come up with a system early so as not to ruin someone else’s day.) Lastly, always keep pesto in the fridge. It goes with everything and hides terrible plain cooking with its deliciousness.


  • Finances. Boring, but necessary. When you know what money you have, you need to work out how you are getting it (if student loans this can be in monthly or termly installments), and how much this works out per week/month/day. Bear in mind that the first fortnight at university will be unusually expensive, as you have to pay fees for any extra clubs you want to do, pay sign up costs for the gym, and just generally get everything in order for your university life. But once those are paid, you need to know exactly how much you have to spend, and this is easier to stick to the smaller you go. Check out banks and bank accounts too: most have a good student rate where you can get a cheaper overdraft if needed.
  • Cleaning – this very nearly takes the title for worst chore. Just invest in some decent cleaning products at the start of the year, and accept that it has to happen on a regular basis. Once a day is impressive, once a week is good, once a month the absolute minimum. Obviously washing up and other basic cleanliness should happen every day.


  • Health. People seem to forget about this one, and if you’re living at home or near home then it’s not much of a problem. However, if you’re moving significantly away then you need to ensure your health and wellbeing. You need to register with a doctor, find a suitable dentist nearby and make sure your insurance is up to scratch. Most universities will have a student health service: look into this as they get full very quickly.
  • Laundry – get a really big canvas bag to transport everything back home at the end of term so your parents can do it. Just kidding – the best thing to do is know what detergent you like (particularly if you have sensitive skin) and get the biggest container of it money can buy at the start of term. If you are lucky enough to have a tumble dryer, this will heavily contribute to your electricity bill, so perhaps get a drying rack instead.


Your university will give you guides and information on student life, but these are a few skills that you will need to learn before you start. Master them early, and you’ll find the transition a whole lot smoother.

How To Use Your Summer

By | How to Use your Brain, Uncategorized, Your Brain | 305 Comments

Summer is coming.

Well, summer is here and with exams over and the prospect of the new year still ages away, you can while away the hours doing anything you want. Doing nothing, if that’s what you want. But, depending on what you want to do with your life after school, doing nothing – though relaxing – is not necessarily the best use of your time. School and university holidays are the longest holidays you will have for, to be honest, most of your life, and using them productively will help you when applying to university and jobs. That’s not to suggest that you can’t enjoy your holidays – on the contrary, doing things you enjoy is precisely the point. Here are our suggestions for how to spend your summer:

Develop a skill. This one is obvious! Go to tennis camp and up your rating. Learn a foreign language, either at a school or by visiting the country. Join a theatre company and learn how to write, direct and produce a play. As long as you choose something that you love, or are interested and will likely grow to love, there is no wrong answer. Of course you want to enjoy your summer holidays, so choose something you enjoy!

Ideally, of course, you want to have something that you can use later in life. This doesn’t have to be directly related to your chosen career, necessarily, but something that your chosen career path will look on well. Sports people are widely appreciated for their discipline and teamwork, so being able to demonstrate a high level of skill in a given sport will usually be seen as a benefit – not the gains for future company sporting events! Being able to speak multiple languages is always useful, especially if you want to work in a people oriented role or in a multinational company. The main thing is that you can show that you are developing these skills for your own passion.

Do an internship. This has become increasingly popular over the last 10 years, as employers want to see work experience apparently before you do any work. Not only does that sound impossible, it’s a tricky subject because how do you find an internship unless you know exactly what you want to do, and can find a perfect scheme for your summer. If you know, or think you know, what job you want later, this is a great option. However, beware! Many companies take advantage of interns, using them to make tea, photocopy, get no real experience, and on top of this, no pay. If you are doing this in a workplace you are genuinely interested in – say, working in a newsroom if you want to be a journalist – there may be some merit to it. Certainly most of the day will be less than exciting, but you will get a real feel for the work that goes on, you can build relationships with people there and get advice from them, and if you’re really good at photocopying you may graduate onto more interesting things later. However, don’t do an internship just anywhere just because someone told you to. Unless you can gain something tangible from it – demonstrable experience and skills, pay, contacts – don’t do it for the sake of it.

Work for a charity This is something that looks great on an application (to university or for jobs), but only if you are really involved in it. Admissions tutors can tell if you write about your charity work without any passion or conviction, they see it all the time as people try to game the system. Fortunately, there are lots of charities out there working in a wide range of different sectors, so there is certainly something out there that you will enjoy. Not only will you be able to contribute to your community, you will gain valuable experience and learn people skills and how to manage projects. Smaller charities are particularly good for experience as you will be given greater freedom and control over what you are doing, which will look much better on your CV, especially if your efforts have demonstrable impact. If you’re based in Hong Kong, charities such as Kids4Kids offer opportunities such as Act!on for a Cause where you can propose and run a project yourself – get involved!

Get a job. If you’re legally old enough to work, why wouldn’t you? You gain valuable experience, learn new skills, and you’re paid for it. In the days before internships became ubiquitous, jobs were the important things: they showed you were responsible, reliable and had experience in a workplace. Though internships are fashionable now, university admissions respect jobs on a CV as much as any other way of spending your summer, if not more so. If you have worked in a shop selling clothes for three summers, and worked your way up to being assistant store manager or similar, you are going to be a very attractive university candidate. Even if it is not a glamorous job -although preferably it would be something with some skills transferable to whichever career path you are aiming for – universities respect those who are financially self-supported, so it is all in your favour. Plus, you have money to spend! Which means you can…

Travel! This is a no brainer. Because your school and university holidays are the longest you will have probably until you retire (unless you take some type of sabbatical), travelling and seeing, really seeing, the world will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine without doing it. So make a plan, organise it with some friends, and go. Make sure you take appropriate precautions, but don’t be afraid of going off the beaten track. If you study a language, this is the perfect way to practice! Holidays are great, but planning your own travel route and just going shows an independence that most universities actively desire in a student.

Any other suggestions for holiday plans? Let us know in the comments!


This is what employers look for when hiring recent graduates.

Gamification of Learning -an interactive learning method

By | EdTech, How to Use your Brain, Online Tutoring, Your Brain | 232 Comments

The game is on!

Educational games have been around forever. A quiz is a game, role play helps learning foreign languages, Sudoku hones your logical thinking. Personally my favourite game at school was ‘Gladiators’, a rather grandiose term for trying to correctly answer a times table question faster than my opponent.


As previously discussed in this blog, the key to learning and understanding material is interaction. Simply hearing a teacher talk about surds or the decline of Liberal England or coastal erosion is unlikely to inspire a student to understand, learn and remember the information being fed to them. Without actively engaging with the topic at hand, it is very difficult to learn: we do so best by working things out – either by physically trying them, or by working out the process. This is commonly understood and the reason why various forms of games are included in classrooms around the world. In modern education parlance, it is known as Game Based Learning (GBL) and is defined as ‘a type of game play that has defined learning outcomes’. Generally, it is used in the hope that the game aspect will engage the learner, while they learn the relevant material and apply it to ‘real life’ situations. I’ve yet to be thrown into a times table version of The Hunger Games, but my gladiatorial experience has come in useful in other ways*.


Language learners are particularly flooded with options for Game Based learning. With the easy availability of flashcards for vocabulary, apps that test your reading comprehension and, for those learning Chinese, Skritter tests your calligraphy skills and ranks the top skritters of the Skritter community each month! A joy for anyone who is competitive in their language acquisition.

Essentially, GBL has been around for a long time and has many advocates amongst educators and parents. Its natural progression, in today’s world, is what has become known as the Gamification of learning.


Gamification of learning refers specifically to video games, often to Role Playing Games such as Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, World of Warcraft and Pokemon. The theory behind this movement is that these games possess attributes that encourage gamers to learn vast amounts of information – in order to proceed in their game – and they still enjoy the experience. How then, to apply this success to schooling and education?

The first thing to look at is accessibility. One of the key points for game creators to consider is the balance of game difficulty, also known as dynamic difficulty adjustment (DDA). When you start a game, it has to be easy enough for you to understand what to do and how to proceed. Obviously, you’re going to get to grips with Candy Crush faster than you will with Skyrim, which has more functions and facets in the player experience, so more complicated games will therefore often have a short tutorial on basic functions. But as well as being accessible, it needs to be difficult enough to intrigue the gamer: you have to try something, learn something new, discover a method or a potion or a door that means you have grown as a gamer. If it is too difficult, the gamer is put off by not being able to truly involve themselves in the game; too easy and they are bored because there is nothing to intrigue them.


The gamer must then ‘level up’ – having learned how to do X or Y, the gamer can proceed to the next level which is more difficult: new quests to complete, new skills to learn, and so on. This is the part that educators want to see replicated in learning: the sense of achievement in having progressed, and therefore wanting to progress further. The sense of achievement is to some degree addictive, as well as the sense of pride of having progressed further than others. In both cases, the focus is on the progression, rather than the player’s position in relation to an arbitrary pre-set expected standard (grades). Therefore, regardless of how fast a player ‘levels up’ they have a sense of achievement and are not discouraged from continuing. Note – per previous posts  – that achievement is still key here, but the focus is on how far the player has come, rather than how far they have yet to go.


This is often highlighted as a problem with ‘underachieving’ – note, those with lower grades – students: they are measured by an arbitrary level of what one is expected to achieve. 100% is the ideal amount; anything less than that shows up how much the student hasn’t yet learned, rather than focusing on how much the student has learned. Despite the 0% theoretically representing the starting point, this gives no context for learning outside of that one subject’s classes for one school year. This system of arbitrary level discourages not only the students achieving lower grades but also those achieving high grades: 100% on an exam is not the ultimate achievement in learning. According to current trends in education psychology, students should be praised for their progress and not the end result on exams.


So why is using gaming as a viable method of learning slow to take root? Significantly, because there is a discrepancy between how young people view virtual media and how their parents do. The internet and gaming is generally seen as a distraction and therefore would obstruct real learning intent. The fact that young people, those who have grown up with the internet and everything virtually available immediately, might be able to use computer technology for other reasons is rarely considered.


Another reason is the cost of producing games that follow the education syllabus. While there are many games available online and elsewhere – here is a list of online games available – very few are created with the intention of covering the exact material in exam syllabuses, and therefore are difficult to use for homework or in classrooms. However, many of these games offer some of the expected information, and can be used to great effect as a complementary education.


Basically, gaming is good. Especially games that offer learning as a side dish. Game on.


*Buying eggs, mostly.

Peer to Peer Learning – what’s the fuss?

By | EdTech, How to Use your Brain, Social Learning, UK Schooling, Your Brain | 233 Comments

Briefly explained, Peer to Peer Learning is a term that encompasses many forms of learning where the collaborators are of similar age, and includes other terms such as ‘social learning’, ‘collaborative learning’ (and touches on the more academic ‘social constructivism’). It applies to a situation where two learners of similar age are discussing educational material. This takes many forms and has been around for a long time: both Aristotle and Seneca the Younger make reference to using students to help other students learn.

So why is it so popular now?

Most education systems in the world have evolved along the lines of one teacher dictating to many students. This is, on the surface, the most effective way of an expert distributing his or her expertise to as many people as possible. Students are grouped roughly according to age, although before education was so widespread this grouping was also linked to existing experience and skills: students who could not read would still be placed in a class learning the alphabet even if they were significantly older.

This model is often considered ‘passive learning’, where the teacher delivers a lesson largely as a monologue and students are expected to learn the material simply by listening (with excellent concentration) and remembering.

However, it’s very unusual that this happens. Firstly, there very few teachers who would be able to hold the attention of a large class, even those exceptional students who are able to listen for an entire hour without any active engagement elsewhere. Secondly, it is just about impossible for the teacher to have any real gauge of how well the class has understood the material. Even if questions are asked, usually there are few students willing to answer, and these are the most confident and often most able. The other students, who perhaps need their understanding checked more carefully, provide little feedback to the teacher.

Despite this passive learning format, the phrase ‘I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand’ – often misattributed to Confucius – is widely considered a useful truth for those who teach and learn. Peer to peer learning is the epitome of doing and therefore understanding in the classroom: it focuses on active participation from students, forcing them to address the problem at hand rather than simply memorizing the answer. Since education became a right rather than a privilege – in certain economies at least – education theorists have researched pedagogy and methods in teaching, with the general conclusion that active learning is much more effective than passive.

The Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky introduced the concept of the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’: the area of skills that the learner is unable to do unaided, but can achieve with guidance, ie teaching and instruction. His view was that the purpose of education was to ‘draw out’ – see previous posts on educare/educere – the abilities of the child; to lead them along their individual learning path. For a child to discover new skills and methods – with guidance – peer learning is an invaluable tool, where discussion of ideas and development of answers is fed by social interaction and peer feedback. The increasing use of peer learning – group discussions, group projects, preparing an informative speech – in the classroom reflects this.

Of course, another form of peer tutoring that is common in later years is ‘cross-age’ peer learning or ‘peer tutoring’. This can apply to pupils in the same grade or year where one has significantly higher marks than the other, or to a senior student tutoring a junior student. The difference in ages is marginal and the students are broadly at the same stage of life, thus the term ‘peer’ still applies. The barriers that exist between a pupil and fully qualified, adult teacher do not apply, and students tend to learn in the same ‘active’ way as other peer learning. The major distinction between this peer learning and others is that it is usually more formal; often students are participating in a school-run scheme (similar to the ‘Big Brothers’ or ‘Big Sisters’ in the US), or money is exchanged. For parents who wish their child to have help outside of the classroom with someone who understands the material – and the student’s situation – but cannot afford to pay a qualified teacher to help, this is a useful compromise.

With the advent of the internet there are suddenly thousands of people and resources to share knowledge and information; inevitably this leads to a huge spike in the numbers of people pooling their knowledge – essentially, peer to peer learning. Wikipedia is probably the best known of these, but YouTube tutorials, Italki language sharing, even Yahoo questions all qualify – although some are more reliable and reputable than others. Video tutorials, as are commonly found on YouTube on a myriad of subjects – from DIY to art history to how to climb the property ladder to how to create the perfect smokey eye – are gaining ground in a traditional education subjects. Type any academic question into a search bar, and there will be hundreds of responses from other students who have already studied that topic or teachers who teach it to choose from. Technology is breaking down geographical and financial impediments to learning.

Peer to peer learning is not a new idea, by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is only recently (within the last 30 years) that any significant research has been done on the effects of peer learning as opposed to more authoritarian teacher learning; and only very recently (within the last 5-10 years) that so large a number of people have had the resources to connect with so many of their peers. With evidence to suggest that peer education is an effective form of learning, and the wherewithal to utilise the vast numbers of potential peers out there, it is hardly surprising that it is gaining ground in education policies worldwide.

Maths, Carol Dweck and the Growth Mindset

By | How to Use your Brain, Mathematics, Social Learning, UK Schooling, Your Brain | 273 Comments

The growth mindset theory, for those who don’t know, is essentially that you can ‘grow your IQ’ through constant use, new practices and repeated innovation. This is in contrast to the idea that intelligence is a talent one is born with: the idea that students – children particularly, as it affects their attitudes towards learning and themselves – are either bright or they’re not.

This perception is inherently damaging for both results of the argument. The students that consider themselves intelligent cannot cope when they struggle facing a new problem, and can consider it failure to ask for help. The students that consider themselves stupid resign themselves to not understanding and giving up on trying to work through the problems.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the concept of ‘maths brain: some have, some don’t’. This thinking is patently wrong: ability in mathematics is directly related to practicing mathematics. A student struggling with mathematics needs to learn to solve the problem, take that as many tries in as many different ways as it will. Essentially, it is this ability to make connections and creatively solve problems that increases one’s ‘intelligence’: in this case, facility with mathematics.

Of course, another reason to vehemently exclaim in disgust against the idea that ‘maths brain’ exists is that mathematics involves a range of skills: algebra, geometry, statistical analysis and arithmetic all require different skills and ways of thinking. A student who manages top grades in algebra might meet their Waterloo in geometry. The skills required for different aspects of mathematics mean in order to succeed a student must constantly try, fail, adapt, try again and eventually learn. The students who give up at the first fail are the ones who think they ‘just aren’t good at maths’, and therefore don’t improve their mathematical – and other – intelligence. And for some reason, it is totally acceptable to say ‘Oh, I’m just not a maths person’ .

Not so in Asia. Thanks to beating everyone else out of the water, students from Singapore, Shanghai, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Seoul all have Western media in thrall to their maths skills. There have been many hypotheses floated as to why this is: some lay the blame with the Chinese language as being inherently more mathematical (whatever that means), and others suggest it is ingrained in the culture that maths skills are prized far above anything creative. The answer, according to the theory of growth mindset, is not too far from the culture hypothesis: students in Asia are taught that achievement is directly related to investment of effort . There are of course other facets to the culture argument: the emphasis on education as a priority, parental involvement as common practice, in China the one child policy putting pressure on students to achieve… etc. Essentially, though, all of these derive from the idea that ability and achievement in maths – and other subjects – is related to effort. The fact that this discrepancy appears later in the education cycle – secondary rather than primary level – only enhances this point.

What, then, is the answer when teaching or tutoring someone who does not have this mindset? Explaining that intelligence is learned not made is obvious, but can be incredibly effective. For someone to learn that maths can be a creative growth process, and not simply an exercise in avoiding the wrong answer, can be inspiring. Then, of course, there is the process of actually teaching mathematics: how to make it more palatable, less focused on those right/wrong answers and more looking at the process and enjoyment. Maryam Mirzakhani, a Professor of Mathematics at Stanford and one of the more important mathematicians alive today, uses visualisation techniques in her work. There is evidence to suggest that this would significantly help students who have previously struggled with maths as well. In a school system, where teachers have little time outside of the allotted four hours a week with their students, this could be an investment-effective solution.

Outside of the classroom, without the restrictive time limits, a student can focus on their fundamental understanding of the course. Mathematics is a process, and one that cannot progress to more complicated and interesting problems without mastering the basics. Past those, the focus should be on enjoyment of the process itself: people, but children particularly, are natural problem solvers, and given the skills to connect the dots tend to find a solution. Ideally, being able to find a solution in multiple different ways – using different techniques and therefore increasing one’s ability to solve problems (and arguably intelligence) – would be the ideal situation. But principally a student should enjoy it, and seeing maths as an exercise in problem solving that relates to the wider world will dramatically improve that enjoyment.

How to Cope with Exams Stress

By | A Level, Exams, GCSE, IB, Revision, Technique | 129 Comments

Exam Stress.


As one of the more challenging periods in a student’s life rolls around, so studentkind’s collective blood pressure rises. Further to last week’s excellent guide to revision, here is our less excellent guide to coping with exams. An important topic for everyone affected by the general malaise that is public exams season, and especially those prone to outbreaks of exam-related stress, panic, hysteria and other problems that can be solved by long summer holidays.



Our key points for dealing with exam stress:


  • Look after yourself! Sleeping well is the most important of these, as everything you have ever learnt will magically escape your brain if you do not sleep enough. Diet and exercise are also important: try eating good brain foods like fish and healthy fats, and find some kind of exercise that you enjoy to let off steam.


  • Give yourself enough revision time. For information on procrastination and the effects it has on your productivity, please see this handy guide. If you don’t have enough revision time, you will be beset by the panic monster. Give yourself targets, for instance, by the end of the hour, you will be able to recite the entire digestive system, both chemical and mechanical. Then, at the end of the hour, give yourself a break.


  • Know your exam. This comes from doing loads of practice papers, under timed conditions. You want to know how many questions there are, what the structure is and plan your time accordingly. If you struggle with essay questions, do those ones first. Make sure you know the mark scheme, and where you can afford to be more generous with your time in order to capitalise in the marks available.


  • On exam day: do not panic. Do not attempt to learn half of your textbook in the five minutes before the exam, you will only stress your poor self out even more. Wake up, have a decent breakfast, go over your plan in your head. Ignore other people fretting about what they are going to do: stick to your plan.


  • Keep calm. Don’t get anxious in the exam and caught up in your own head / panic because you’re 3 minutes behind your schedule. If you’re struggling to do this, try some breathing exercises. Balanced, equal breathing does not only relax your body but also increases the flow of oxygen in your brain. Try inhaling through your nose and counting to 4, then hold for 2 and then exhale through your mouth whilst counting to 4. Sounds daft, but it might help.


  • If you are not sure of anything in the exam – times, rules, need more paper etc – ask the exam invigilator. They are there for you, so if you need to check something, put up your hand and ask. Don’t waste time worrying about it.


  • Read the question carefully. This will ensure that your brain fully comprehends it, and you are aware of the implications of your choice. If a section reads ‘Choose one of the following questions’ you therefore know that a) you only need to spend time doing one question, and b) any marks you put down for other questions will be invalid. Also – always check the back page.


  • Choose questions that suit your revision. You probably know some subjects better than others; in this case, choose the question that you can answer best. Make sure you read all the questions though; there could be hidden parts that you are actually not that sure of.



Make sure you eat properly, especially if it’s more than a two-hour exam. Low blood sugar does not often lead to good grades. Sleeping properly is also pretty key, so try to get into good sleeping habits in the run up to your exams. Other than that…


Dealing with Revision

By | Exams, How you learn, International, Study Tips, Your Brain | 227 Comments

With exams just around the corner, in May and June, hundreds of students across Hong Kong (and the world) are knuckling down to revision. This is a troubled time, where tempers fly and sleep goes on holiday. But there are things you can do to improve your revision sessions, and we have a lot of experience in this area.

Exams are coming meme

So, our top tips for revision:


1 – Start revising a couple of months ahead of exams. It is probably rather late to be giving this advice, but hey! Better late than never. Start as soon as is sensibly possible (nobody starts 6 months ahead of exams, because you can’t actually maintain that level of study for so long).

2 – Make a Revision Plan. This is Revision Plan capitalised – once you make it, it is official and formal and you stick to it. Create it with care, make it look good and clear, use different colours if you like… then don’t touch it again. Once it has been made, don’t waste your time decorating it, or tearing it up and making a new one. Laminate it, and put it in a glass frame if need be – just don’t touch it again.

3 – Set up your Revision Station. Also capitalised. Find an area where you can get down to studying without distractions. If you’re revising from home, make sure this is not on or in your bed. Ideally you want a desk with a decent internet connection so you can check your information / learn more. However, if you’re prone to living 80% of your life on 9Gag, Facebook or any gaming sites, perhaps best to find somewhere without the internet.

4 – Revise. There’s no way around it, it’s tough, and it’s difficult, and you might want to scream/cry/hit something. Measuring your revision by time is not effective – staring at a page of text for an hour does not actually help you learn anything. Set yourself tasks and goals, and try to achieve them in the time limit you set yourself. If you don’t make it, don’t worry: you can come back to the same topic later*.

5 – Take breaks. These should be scheduled into your revision plan, and make them short breaks on a regular basis: for example, 25 minutes of studying Biology, followed by a five-minute break. Then 25 minutes of a new topic, also followed by a five-minute break. If you keep the study sessions short, with a guaranteed break at the end, you can put all your energy for that time into making sure the information sticks in your brain.

6 – Learn to learn. Not everyone can memorise information in the same way, and staring at notes is usually not that helpful. The concept of ‘3 types of learners’ suggests that students can be divided into those who learn best through visual, auditory, or kinetic aids. If you’re a visual learner, then writing out notes with attractive diagrams will help you remember the right information. If you are an auditory learner, you had best listen to, and perhaps recite, your revision. If you’re a kinetic learner, you have to do to understand. A bit difficult with studying academic subjects, but possible – just get moving and explain things to yourself as you go.

7 – Teaching someone else is the best way to make sure you truly understand the material. Partner up with friends studying the same subjects, and allocate different topics to teach each other. Of course, the topics you haven’t taught yourself will be less strong, so you might have to go over them yourself, but it does mean you will be really, really good at some of the topics!

8 – Practice papers! This is principally for those studying for big public exams (IB, A levels, SATS, IGCSEs and so on) but useful for everyone. Practicing the papers means you will know how to time yourself for each question, and you can prepare for the duration of the exam.

9 – Sometimes, weird stuff just works. If you’re studying for an English literature exam, and repeating quotes from Romeo and Juliet on the theme of death in a Russian accent helps you remember them, then do it.

10Procrastination is the devil. The examiner really won’t care that you have a tidy sock drawer, or you can now bake perfect millefeuille. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘productive’ procrastination, it’s still procrastination, and that will not help you for your exams. If you need help staying away from certain websites (the internet is the greatest time-suck of all), get a browser app that blocks the problem sites (Self-Control, Freedom, StayFocused are pretty good). If your poison is TV, just don’t start watching Game of Thrones.


In other news, here are some sites that we think are really helpful for revising: – Science, Economics, Maths – Maths – Chemistry – All subjects, if your school subscribes – Revision planning – All subjects. Student created documents from – All subjects, GCSE level – Languages – Everything


And some useful apps:

Languages: Duolingo, Babbel, Anki, Skritter, Memrise.

General revision: GoConqr



Finally, but possibly most importantly… look after yourself! Get enough sleep, eat properly (Redbull and Proplus do not feature in a healthy eating plan) and exercise. Your brain won’t work properly if you’re not looking after your body, so plan some time to play football, or have a meal with friends or family, and get to bed on time.


Apart from those… good luck!


*Unless you’re really on a roll, or on the edge of a major breakthrough. In which case you might be better off completing that task, and shift your revision plan around that.