19 May 2016


I hate revising. I hate it so much that the only way I can do it is to approach it systematically. I generally do well in exams, though whether this is because I work better under pressure or because my revision method is foolproof or just luck, I know not.

About three weeks before the exam, I begin to panic. It doesn't help that the further into OU study you get, the less time you get between your last TMA and your exam. This year, it's three weeks. At level 2, it was around a month. At level 1, it was around six weeks. I usually have at least a week off after submitting a TMA, so it takes a bit of adjustment to get on with it. Getting on with it is the only cure for panic, I'm afraid.

First, get hold of some past papers. You will get one 'free' with your module, and you can download more from the OUSA. Now, study that paper. Not the questions; the structure. How many questions are you expected to answer? Do the questions refer to the whole module or specific blocks of study? Basically, do you have to revise everything?
I have not yet had an exam where I have had to revise everything. Now, sometimes tutors will advise you to revise everything anyway, but balls to that. Personally, I think it's better to have really in depth knowledge of a few things than a broad knowledge of everything. You might have more choice in answering questions, but you're not going to get good marks if you only skim revised. Where there's a choice, I choose to revise the blocks I liked best. If you REALLY HATED the block on law, for example, you're not going to enjoy revising it.  The chances are, you studied the blocks you enjoyed best the most thoroughly, and revision will be a refresher rather than a re-do.

So, now you have an idea of what you need to revise, and you can make a plan. How long do you have? A month? A week? Three days? Well, you must work with what you have. Divvy up what you need to revise into manageable chunks. Honestly, I cannot endorse revising until you crack up and go blank in the exam. You need to aim for a few hours a day, broken up into chunks. Currently, I'm revising for four hours a day, in half hour segments, with a big break for lunch. The very nature of OU study means you have other stuff to do, so make your revision plan realistic. If you've got children at home every day, or a full time job, or whatever other commitments, you are not going to be able to productively revise for eight hours a day.
But don't go too far the other way. Yeah, it might be fun to go and binge watch the whole of Peaky Blinders, but you're not gonna get any work done if you do. That is classic displacement activity. Recognise it. Shun it (she says, writing her second blog in two days).

Now get on with it. I don't know how you revise. Some people favour mind maps. Some people like flash cards. Some people like to tell their children all about what they're studying while the children stare blankly back. My preferred method is to summarise each unit onto one sheet of A4, then summarise those A4 sheets onto record cards, then get my husband to test me on them. I save the testing element for the last couple of days before the exam, because nothing new is going to go in at that late stage.
I also do practice papers, but rather than write out whole essays, I just write bullet point answers. If you're doing sociology, psychology or history, linking up theories across the module is usually fairly important, so try to connect up all the theories in your head. Practice papers are useful for this. If you've not done exams for ages, do a few full length answers under the time limit allotted by the exam, to get you used to writing quickly and concisely.

Don't worry too much about perfect answers. If you can clearly remember a theory, but don't know who said it, then writing "One theory suggests" is valid. It's not a TMA: you're not expected to know everything. Of course, if you DO remember, then put it in. Don't let forgetting things in revision prey on your mind - of course you don't remember everything. It's what you DO remember that's important.

Remember the person who is marking your exam needs to be able to read it. If you're very out of practice handwriting, practice. I have nerve damage in my writing wrist/hand which means I have to do physio for a good month before the exam to stop it clawing up (it does anyway).

Plan exam day. Where's your exam centre? How are you getting there? What do you need (it says in the examination arrangements booklet)? What ID are you taking with you? What snacks? I always take polos and a bottle of lemon water, because that is my Exam Survival Kit and I'm not changing it now. Make sure you give yourself time for breakfast, and aim to be at the exam centre about half an hour before kick off. At my exam centre (Peterborough), we all mill about in the café until the OU moderators come and round us up around twenty minutes before the exam. I have arrived after this round-up before, and it's totally thrown me, arriving to an empty room.

Plan a treat for after your exam. A series of books you've been dying to read for ages? A video game? The spa? Getting absolutely bungalowed? A holiday? The cinema? ALL THE FUCKING FOOD IN MARKS? Yes, you will need a treat afterwards. Eyes on the prize.

Now go and revise and stop procrastinating!

18 May 2016

Education. Not employment.

When I was a child, my dad was obliged to work for most of August, which meant our family holidays generally took place in May or June. We were pulled out of school en masse (there's seven of us), and returned, slightly sunburnt, a week later. The school probably complained a bit to my parents, but gave us consent to go and we didn't suffer for it. Quite the opposite, in fact. My childhood holidays are some of my happiest and most vivid memories, moreso against the backdrop of my primary school experiences.

Now, of course, this is forbidden BY LAW and also THE COUNCIL. If you take your children out of school in term time, you and their other parent can be expected to be fined £60 each per child. In my family's case, that would have meant a £840 fine, doubling to £1680 if my parents hadn't paid within three weeks. Most people don't have seven children, so for an average family with two children in school, that's a £240 fine.

Compare that to the cost of a holiday in term time vs a holiday in August. Here's a handy price comparison for a week's holiday, for a family of four. The first price is the second week of June. The second price is the second week of August. 

CENTREPARCS ELVEDEN:  £1138 vs £1878


BUTLINS SKEGNESS: £382 vs £1234




LEGOLAND RESORT (two nights, midweek) : £889 vs £1121


(Prices correct on 18th May 2016, identical accommodation compared)

Suddenly, that £240 fine seems a fair price to pay for an affordable holiday. Or a tax on parenthood. Whichever.

The government have become obsessed with attendance in schools. My eldest son got sent home from school yesterday and isn't allowed to go back in until Friday because he had a small episode of diarrhoea and is now absolutely fine (and driving me mad). But every week, the newsletter tells us to send our kids to school even when they're ill, because apparently teachers will send them home if they're not well. It shouldn't be a teachers' responsibility to either judge the severity of a child's illness or to have to shepherd a load of unwell children through the day. More to the point, it should be a parent's prerogative to decide when their child is too poorly for school.

Primary schools do not employ children, yet the rules of employment seem to apply more and more to kids. Too much sickness: BAD. Too much holiday: BAD. They can't SACK the children for persistent absence, but they can persecute the parents, fine the parents, make the parents harass doctors, and take the parents to court. 

The jargon of the board room is even filtering down to the taught content. I flicked through the sample KS2 English SATs paper earlier. What is the relative clause of a sentence? What is a prepositional phrase? I don't know and I studied English Language at A Level. Do 11 year olds need to know what an antonym is? What's wrong with saying opposite? What's the active voice? What's a determiner? 
I was stunned last year when my six year old told me about split digraphs. He meant 'magic E' as taught by Wordy and Look and Read. I suppose Magic E is too rave culture for the modern Department of Education. 
Jargon is most commonly used as a signifier of special knowledge, to exclude others and exalt the group who understand it above others. A good example is medical jargon, frequently used to talk about patients without them understanding it, as well as to give status to the medical profession. After all, a fracture of the 5th metatarsal sounds a lot more interesting than a broken little toe. Jargon is frequently used in office conversation to try and improve the status of relentless administrative meetings. "Let's touch base, yeah, before the close of play" sounds like something interesting, something...productive, unlike "we need a meeting before you go home". Jargon is endemic in academia, which is perhaps part of the problem.
English is now taught to little kids in linguistic jargon. Now, there's some stuff like synonyms that don't really have a simpler form. Verbs and nouns are just that. But the present perfect tense? When parents - well educated parents with relevant qualifications - don't have a fucking clue what children are being taught anymore, then perhaps it's time to have a rethink and stop treating children like they're in higher education, or work, already.