Is Oxbridge right for you?

By | Career coaching, University advice, University student's advice | No Comments

Everyone knows that Oxbridge – which means Oxford and Cambridge – are top universities, but does that mean that they suit all high flyers? What are they looking for, and more importantly, what are you looking for, in your higher education experience? Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication demystifies the Oxbridge application process for us.

One of the key things that set the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge apart is the way they teach. Work is set and discussed in tutorials (which are called ‘supervisions’ at Cambridge) which are led by the subject tutor. These can be in a ratio of one to one, i.e. just you and the subject tutor or maybe up to four students and the subject tutor. Although these tend to be in an informal setting, such as the tutor’s college rooms, there is nowhere to hide in the tutorial – you really need to have done your work and contribute to a feisty discussion in the tutorial. Some students will relish this – but this is a far cry from school. Work is not spoon-fed and regurgitated a few months later in an examination. So if you are able to think on your feet and can explain your views to others, as well as study independently and cope with the pressure of one or two essays a week to present, then Oxbridge would suit you well. Furthermore, both Oxford and Cambridge have amazing sports facilities and well-funded extra-curricular activities in which you can participate, which also attracts applicants.

Something to bear in mind is that Cambridge and Oxford universities do not offer all subjects and very few combinations are possible. So if you are keen to study Politics with Spanish, for example, this is not actually possible at either university. You may have to study Politics with something else, or Modern Languages with something else. Consult the course pages on the university websites to check what subjects are on offer. If what you want to study is not an option, then either you can tinker with your choice or decide not to apply there – you have to weigh up whether what you want to study is more important, or where you go to university. Remember, there may be some solutions of which you are unaware such as the possibility to study a language informally in the Language Centre.

Once you have worked out what you want to study, you need to make sure you can demonstrate your commitment and interest in the subject. This is most likely to be through reading about your subject. There are book lists and other resources readily available on the Cambridge website. Be sure to keep a note of what you read and lectures to which you have listened, so you can discuss them in your Personal Statement.

Something else to bear in mind is that as an Oxbridge student, you are a member of a department and a college. You live, eat, make friends, use the library and have tutorials at your college so it is like a mini-university, within the larger university. The best way to decide what college to apply for is to visit some and speak to current students. You cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year, so you also need to choose which university best suits you. A large factor will be the course content as even courses with the same titles will have different structures and modules. If you do decide to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, remember the application deadline is earlier – October 15th, and you may well have to sit an extra examination, for which you will need to prepare. If you meet their initial criteria, you will be invited for an interview with subject specialists. They offer you a place based on consideration of all aspects of your application, including your teacher’s references, GCSE scores, predicted A-level grades, personal statement, admissions test and your performance at interview. After all your research, you may decide that Oxbridge is not for you. We are so lucky in the UK to have so many top universities – Oxford and Cambridge are not the only ones, so shop around and find five universities that will suit you.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Can you see both sides of an argument?
  • Are you open to changing your opinions when presented with new facts?
  • Do you like coming up with innovative ideas and discussing them?
  • Do you have motivation and enthusiasm for your chosen subject?
  • Do you like reading and thinking critically about what you have read?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then Oxbridge may well be for you!


Natalie Lancer is an expert in mentoring Oxbridge applicants and can advise on subject choice, personal statements and interview technique. She can help you choose a college and prepare for the admissions tests. She will discuss a strategy with you to help you maximise your chance of success. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513. www.myuniapplication.com; www.natalielancer.com.


 

Getting the most from tutoring

By | Career coaching, Study advice | No Comments

The tutoring industry is burgeoning but how can you tell a good tutor from a bad one? And how can you make sure your child gets the most from the sessions? Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication asks Leah Warren, Director of Watling Tutors (www.watlingtutors.com) all about it.

One way to tell a good tutor, says Leah, is from the types of questions they ask about your child. They should ask what level they are working at and what is being covered at school. It may not be necessary to spend the entire first session doing a ‘strengths and weaknesses’ assessment; instead, your tutor should ask to see examples of work, which you could scan and send to the tutor in advance. They need to have a clear grasp of what your child is struggling with in order to create a bespoke work plan to help your child.

It is important that the tutor is familiar with your exam board’s specification as different exam boards have different expectations.  For students going for an A* at A-level, make sure the tutor knows how to move from an A to A* answers. Leah explains that for English, this would mean introducing the student to a wide variety of texts and criticism. Similarly, make sure the tutor knows how to move the student to a Level 9 for GCSE.

If the school are not setting enough homework to develop your child’s skills then encourage your tutor to set work every session. To get the most from the tutoring sessions, encourage your child to do the homework and look at it as a formative exercise, i.e. it helps the student identify with what they need further help.

Don’t be afraid to ask the tutor about their track record, but do be aware it’s not all about A*s – it’s about the value they have added. For a student projected to get an E, a B grade is a massive achievement, more so than moving from an A to an A*. Ask for references and other parents’ testimonials about the tutor.

It is important that tutoring is a positive experience for your child. Check there is rapport between the tutor and student. Of course, verify the tutor is DBS checked. The tutoring session should be a safe space where the student can feel they can ask any questions and be supported.  Until the student is 8 or 9, they can probably only concentrate for 40 minutes. Beyond this age, one hour works well. Make sure the tutoring takes place in a quiet place, away from any interruptions. Also, in each session, the tutor should give clear direction to the student about how to move forward. This might mean they give notes, examples or set things to learn. Older students shouldn’t be afraid to be clear with their tutors about what they do and don’t understand and what methods help them learn.

It is important to cultivate an open relationship with the school, teacher, parent and tutor – tutoring does not need to be a secret. Remember, we all want the best for your child. When the teacher writes a report on your child’s progress, it would be helpful to show this to the tutor so they can address points directly.


Natalie Lancer is an expert in mentoring students and can advise on GCSE and A-level subject choice, UCAS personal statements and interview technique. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513.  www.myuniapplication.com; www.natalielancer.com.


 

Getting the most out of internships

By | Career coaching, Schools subjects advice | No Comments

From about the age of 15, it is important to start accruing some work experience. Work experience can be for any length of time, from one day to several months. Work experience serves several functions. Firstly, it gives you first-hand knowledge of the working environment such as the importance of turning up for work on time, developing new skills and professional relationships and strengthening your CV. Most importantly, it gives you an idea of what type of work suits you in terms of your interests and abilities and also the working environment. Your placement may help you realise that this is not the field for you, or conversely, it may confirm that this is the sector you want to enter.  For this reason, it is a good idea to have carried out varied work experience, to have reflected on it and to maximise the learning potential from each placement.

Getting the most out of your placement or internship begins with researching the organisation and what they are offering thoroughly.  Look at their website – see what type of work they do and if they offer work experience. You may have to fill out a form and go for an interview. However, you don’t just have to apply for advertised internships. Approaching organisations ‘cold’, or even better, if you know someone who works there, is a good idea and shows you have initiative. Remember, if you ring up the organisation you will either speak to a receptionist, or get put through to Human Resources.  Make sure that whoever answers the phone knows you are appreciative of their time and their help to get you to the right person.  You can get work experience at any type of organisation – large or small. At a large company, you may have a more structured experience and be with other interns. At a small company you may well get more hands-on experience.  You can even ask for virtual work experience – completing projects at home to fit around your studies. This will save the organisation finding you desk space but you can still get feedback and attend meetings.

Be clear how long the internship is for and what hours you are expected to work. What type of work is involved and what new skills will you learn? Is it paid? It is reasonable to ask for expenses and they may give you lunch tokens, pay for travel or offer other perks. Whether you are willing to work for free depends on where you are in your career. As a 15 year old, you are after any experience, but if you have more qualifications, remember you are supplying them with skilled labour. Are you assigned a mentor? Even if you are not, try to speak to the person who is supervising you for five minutes every week, and ask what you are doing right, how can you improve and what you can do to help them further. Find out what it is they are looking for in an employee and live up to that – it may be that they offer you further internships or a job! Make yourself as useful as possible which might include suggesting work you could do for them (if you can tailor it to your interests and skills, you may find it more rewarding).

Be prepared to be taken to meetings and make sure you network – meeting many different people who you may approach in the future for work or other internships. Add them to your LinkedIn account (and if you haven’t got one – sign up for one – it is a useful way of keeping track of the people you meet professionally).

Take time to reflect on your experience each week. Ask yourself what you have gained from the last week, and what specific skills you have enjoyed cultivating and using. Do you see yourself in this job in the future? If you do, how can you increase your chances of employment? Are their specific qualifications that you need? Ask your colleagues what path they took to secure their jobs. What other jobs use these same skills? Can you try these out? If you are not learning anything and not enjoying the internship, then consider leaving. Remember – this is cheap or free labour for the organisation but a learning experience for you. Even if you leave, you have learned something valuable – this type of work is not for you.  Finally, at the end of each week, set yourself some learning objectives for the following week and review these at regular intervals.

When the internship is over, write an email or letter to thank all the people who helped you in the organisation, giving them your contact details. Make sure you note down their contact details for future reference. Ask your supervisor or Human Resources for a reference that you can keep on file. This might be useful when you apply for other internships or jobs, and can be incorporated into your reference for university applications. Remember to add the work experience to your CV together with a brief description of your duties and responsibilities at the organisation.


Natalie is a career coach and can help with all aspects of the job and internship application process, including writing CVs and covering letters. She also offers one-to-one practice interview sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513.  www.natalielancer.com


 

Make a great job of that interview

By | Career coaching, Corporate coaching, Life coaching, University advice | No Comments

Natalie Lancer from Lancer Coaching explains how to prepare for an interview.

Getting an interview is a massive compliment – the organisation has decided that they like what you have to offer on the basis of your application form and that you match their requirements. There are many different types of interview – maybe you will have to give a presentation about a topic, or perhaps it is a panel interview where different people ask you questions.

With a little thought, you can think what questions are likely to come up. Go back to the job description and person specification and write a question for each item. For example, an item from the job description might be “Contribute to collaborative decision making with colleagues”. A reasonable question to expect, therefore, is “How have you contributed to collaborative decision making in the past and how would contribute to this process in the future?”. Jot down a few bullet points for each question. It might be helpful for you to structure your answer according to the acronym ‘SPAR’ – Situation, Position, Action and Result. This involves starting by describing the context, what was the situation and challenge. Secondly, what was your position and what did you do personally to effect change? Thirdly, what action was taken and how did you come to that decision. Finally, what was the result – was it a success? Were there setbacks?

After you have written your own questions based on the job description and person specification, it is time to consider some more general questions, such as “Why do you want to work here?” and “Can you tell us about current developments in this sector?”. This requires some research – start by looking at the organisation’s website. What is their mission statement? What do they think they have to offer? Make sure you read some current information about your sector, such as trade journals, newspapers, information from professional bodies if relevant (see their websites) and up-to-date books. Ask your local book shop for recommendations. You need to demonstrate that you are fully aware about the organisation and the sector.

You may be asked a question along the lines of “What do you have to offer us?” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses”. To prepare for this, it may be helpful to consult a friend about your aptitudes and motivations. Be sure to prepare a clear answer – write some bullet points. When detailing weaknesses make sure you explain how you overcome them.

It is very helpful to have a practice or mock interview. This can be with someone in the field (use your network to find someone) or a careers professional. Not only will you be able to rehearse your answers but you will get some feedback about how you come across and if there are gaps in your knowledge that you can plug.

Plan what your are going to wear. Dress formally, even if you think the interviewer will not. It never hurts to be overdressed – it shows you have made an effort and that you are professional – but you will look silly if you are underdressed. Plan your journey and make time for the inevitable delayed trains. If possible, visit the site of your interview in advance if you are not familiar with the area.

Before the interview itself, go through your application form again. Go over your examples of prior work and make sure you can talk about them. Arrive early – you will look efficient and it gives you time to have a coffee or go to the loo without panicking. Turn off your mobile – don’t leave it on silent. Smile when you walk in, shake hands and wait to be told to sit down. Maintain eye contact.

When answering questions in the interview give yourself time to think. Do not answer with the first thing that pops into your head. Wait two seconds, consider your answer, and briefly think about why they have asked you that question – what are they really getting at? What are they trying to test? Make sure you frame your answer in a way that attends to their underlying reasons. Ask for clarification if you do not understand the question.

Also, think about your body language. Don’t cross your arms as it looks defensive. Instead sit with your arms open or on your lap and lean forwards to show interest. When you speak it is a good idea to gesticulate with your hands as it adds expression – but don’t overdo it. Don’t bite your nails or fiddle with your hair. Often we exhibit certain mannerisms when we are thinking. It may be worth getting someone to video you when you talk to see if you have some unconscious mannerisms that are unflattering.  We speak much more quickly than we realise – so slow down! Do not speak in a monotone –moderate your voice by using highs and lows.

They may say “Is there anything you want to ask us?”. Do ask about something interesting that came up in the interview, but do not ask something that you could easily look up on their website. Don’t bring up salary until you get an offer!

Finally, remember that you are also evaluating them and the job. Having spent some time with the interviewers, are you sure you would like to work there? Are the organisation’s ethics in line with yours? Were you treated well? Were employees you came into contact with happy? Do you like the environment of the office?

A few hours after the interview, write down your impressions, the questions asked and your answers. Do you wish you had answered anything differently? Jot down your amended answers. These will be useful for you when you have another interview.

If you do get the job – well done. Consider if you actually want it! If you do not get the job, remember you cannot control the employer’s decision. You do not know who else was interviewed, and how well they fitted the job description and organisation. There can be many reasons why you did not get the job that have little to do with you. The experience was valuable and a stepping stone to your winning interview.


Natalie is available for one-to-one practice interview sessions and can help with all aspects of the job application process.  For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513.  www.natalielancer.com


The effect of university on personal growth

By | Coaching in Education, Life coaching, University advice

The idea that university is a place of personal growth is not a new one, but with tuition fees set to rise this academic year again, it may be wise to back up this claim with some empirical data. What personal growth occurs at university and why is it important?
Natalie Lancer has been studying the phenomenon of personal growth at university for her PhD in Psychology at Birbeck, University of London. Twenty undergraduate students at UCL volunteered for the study and they were each given six personal coaching sessions by professional executive coaches over the academic year 2014-2015. They were interviewed four times over the year about their personal growth.
Personal growth was individual for each student and what they learnt varied according to what they had experienced in life so far. However, the growth that occurred can broadly be described by several themes. The most pronounced growth was in focusing on their long term goals. They formed clearer personal goals about career and what they wanted out of life in general and were able to take positive and specific steps to fulfil them. This included making a short film and successfully applying for television internships for someone who had identified wanting to work in Film and TV. He had previously considered himself to be ‘not good enough’ but by building up his creative portfolio and helping to run the TV station at university, he gained valuable experience as well as confirmation that this was the sector in which he wanted to work. As his self-belief grew, so did his talent and positive mindset which shone through in his application and interview.
Others who had lacked confidence in the past identified that they grew in physical or psychological well-being. Many found that their analytical approach to situations and dilemmas had changed in that they felt more confident in their own decision-making. They all reported growing in competence and ability in a variety of skills including academic and organisational. Their university experience broadened their horizons, from an appreciation of different cultures to the realities of budgeting. They all gained a greater understanding of interpersonal relationships whether that be with their families, friends, professional contacts or romantic partners.
The coaching itself was seen as motivational and helped them with many areas including time management, life plans and positive outlook. All but one of the students reported that the coaching greatly accelerated what they would have learnt about themselves anyway which meant they were able to set things in motion much earlier on and reap the rewards from this head start of growth. This, in turn, meant that they had a more enriching university experience and they were able to leverage this with greater impact in terms of careers and personal development during and after university. In other words, they felt that they were more successful in landing a job that played to their strengths or finding a fulfilling relationship as a result of their ‘speeded-up’ university experience provided by coaching.
Some students had more profound experiences where a gain in confidence enabled them to excel in ways that would have seemed impossible previously. The emotional ‘baggage’ we carry around from years of people telling us that we are not good enough, for example, is like a fetter on our potential and capabilities. By engaging in new experiences, and showing themselves that they could do it (whatever the ‘it’ was for them), the students were able to blast these fetters away and reclaim their confidence, and tangible evidence of their new found abilities.
The students were given the option of continuing their coaching into a second year, allowing a further year of analysis and evaluation to take place, which the majority of students chose to do. The results of this will be available on the dedicated website edecentre.org (Educational Development and Evaluation Centre) in the coming months.


Coaching for students is increasingly offered by universities. However, it is not, as yet, widely available. If you think you would benefit from private coaching sessions with an experienced coach, please contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


What can coaching do for me? 

By | Career coaching, Corporate coaching, Life coaching

Are you in your final year of uni or have just left? Have you made some career plans? Have you started a job but not finding it fulfilling? Maybe you need some career coaching. A coach is someone who can help you identify your strengths and devise some sort of plan based on your goals.
I have been coaching since 2010 in my two businesses NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. I focus on young people dealing with a variety of issues from increasing their confidence, to career and university guidance.
I am an accredited coach (I am a member of the Association for Coaching) and I have just published Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring (2nd edition) with the renowned coaches David Clutterbuck and David Megginson. The book brings together our expertise on coaching and mentoring in a variety of different settings and organisations.
I devised several original coaching techniques which are showcased in the book such as the ‘Free Imaginative Variation Technique’. This involves writing your ‘dream CV’ populated with potential job roles and qualifications. Now, here is the ‘imaginative variation’ part: ask yourself what you can change or leave out whilst still preserving your ‘dream CV’? Actively experiment by changing and deleting skills, roles, companies and qualifications until you have a clear picture of the core items that must be present for your CV to be ‘ideal’. Identifying what you are aiming for is a great start – many people find it difficult to express their end goal. Next – how to make this goal a reality. Break down these goals into small, practical steps. Some goals seem overwhelming, and it may be that you need a professional coach to help focus on how to make your ambitions achievable.
If you already have a job, rather than leave your current employer, another way to make sure you are doing your dream job is to maximise the value of your role. What is your current job description and what would you need to add to make it more enjoyable or challenging? Use this ‘dream job description’ as a springboard to explore how your role can be developed. Will you need to develop some new skills? What value would these new components add to your organisation? How do you think your line manager would react if you propose that you should do it? How can you get your ideas off the ground?
We often forget who our contacts are and how they can help us (and we help them). The following exercise explores how people we know can develop us further and help us get to where we want to go. Draw three concentric circles, each one slightly bigger than the last on a large sheet of paper. Label them inner, middle and outer. Think about who you know, in whatever context and however loosely, and write their names in the appropriate circle. Your inner circle might include close friends, family and trusted work colleagues. Your middle circle might include people you are in contact with who you value but you are not in touch with as frequently, and the outer circle are acquaintances you could potentially contact but haven’t done so yet. Now ask yourself: What networks or relationships do I want to develop further? For what purpose? How? Can you leverage this for mutual advantage?
The benefits of coaching are now being reaped by students looking to maximise their potential and go into the world of work with their eyes open. This shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, who wouldn’t want professional support to make changes or realise your ambitions?


Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring (2nd edition) by Natalie Lancer, David Clutterbuck and David Megginson is available from Amazon.co.uk. Natalie is available for one-to-one coaching sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513. www.natalielancer.com


How to sell yourself when your work experience is limited

By | Career coaching, Study advice

A frustrating cycle exists when young people apply for internships and work experience: you have to submit a CV and demonstrate experience but the young people haven’t had any work experience yet – that is why they are applying for it now! Natalie Lancer from NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication explains how to overcome this situation.

Most people know how to write a CV and, indeed, there are many pro formas on the internet one can use. The issue isn’t what format to use, however, but what to put on it, as for most young people, it will look fairly sparse. In fact, there are different types of CV. The chronological CV is where jobs are listed most recent first and is the CV most people are familiar with. This is the CV to avoid for students as they haven’t had enough (or any) jobs to list. The skills (or ‘functional’) CV is the one that is the best for students as it draws attention to skills that have been developed rather than jobs.

Skills can be developed in many ways including during school projects, by participating in extra-curricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, attending youth groups, by way of independent study, volunteering experience, hobbies and travelling abroad. I advise students to think about what skills they have, such as IT, interpersonal, analytical, numerical skills, team work, leadership, organisational, creativity etc. Then list the ways they have evidenced this. For example, maybe they were part of a sports team, or were team captain which demonstrates teamwork and leadership skills. Maybe they have written for the school newspaper, created or updated websites or made some “How to…” YouTube videos which potentially demonstrates communication, writing, IT and presentational skills. The “Key Skills” list should form the bulk of the first page of the CV, the second being occupied by Employment History (which can include any work experience or jobs such as babysitting), and Education and Qualifications.

Potential employers take about 2 seconds to decide if a CV goes on the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ pile. There is therefore evidently an advantage of putting key skills at the beginning – the employer is wowed straight away by your skills, and the thought that went into your CV. It is important to note that you will need to tweak your CV for each job/internship you apply for, making sure your skills marry up to those they are looking for. For each CV, focus on five or six relevant key skills. If you find that your skills do not match those that are required, find ways of boosting your skillset, such as undertaking voluntary work or getting involved in more activities, either in or out of school. Demonstrating that you are an interesting person who participates in what life has to offer, makes you an interesting candidate to employers. A focus on your skills will also give the employer a sense of your personality and what makes you an individual.

Other tips are not to include your date of birth – employers may well be looking for expertise rather than experience. Make sure your email address is sensible – create a new one if necessary. Limit your CV to two pages and make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors.

Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can help you create a winning CV and cover letter and give you expert guidance on your A-level choice, university applications, Personal Statement, interviews and dissertations. She also offers personal development sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Natalie’s top tips on writing a CV for young people:

  • Spend some time thinking about your key skills and your evidence for them
  • If you haven’t got many skills, develop some by participating in activities, volunteering etc
  • Update your CV every time you do more work experience/get a job
  • Check your CV thoroughly for spelling and grammatical mistakes
  • Speak to a specialist for advice about which skills to emphasise and how to showcase them, as well as overall guidance for your CV.

 


 

Getting the most out of university

By | University advice, University student's advice

Hello Freshers! University starts in a matter of weeks but after all the excitement of getting in, have you thought about how best to approach your undergraduate studies? Natalie Lancer from NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication offers some advice.

In order to maximise your grades, it pays to be strategic with your studying. In most cases, you ‘just’ have to pass your first year. Although the course tutors may not push you in the second year, it is worth emphasising that the second year may well contribute towards your final degree class (grade).  Cassie, who just graduated from the University of Birmingham with a 2:1, says, “I didn’t realise the significance of the second year grades – if I had got just 2% more in the second year, I would have got a first overall”. After the first year, you are likely to be able to choose modules. Some modules are assessed by examination, some by coursework and some by a mixture of the two. It is worth planning carefully so that overall, your chosen modules’ examinations and coursework deadlines are evenly spaced. By the end of your first year, it will become clear whether your strength lies in coursework or examinations (or both) and you should choose modules which have assessments reflecting your preference. It is also important that you find your modules interesting –talk to the course reps and people in older years to find out more about modules you may potentially take.

Although you have to knuckle down to your work in the final two years, your first year is all about getting acclimatised to university life, having fun, making new friendships and extending your interests. Join societies, get involved in volunteering and go to events – experience as many new things as possible while you have such freedom and everything at your fingertips. Participating in societies is a great way to develop new skills which will be invaluable to showcase on your CV. Go to the Freshers’ Fair to find out about the different societies on offer (and pick up loads of freebies while you are there). Sign up to Jewish Society (J-Soc), of course! Belong to a sports team or try out a new sport – it’s a great way of meeting new people.

Making new friends is easy in the first few weeks of university as everyone is in the same boat. Chat late into the night with people in your halls, go to club nights and events – the people you meet in the queue may well end up as your best buddies! Be prepared to add people to your Facebook –as this is the main way of keeping in contact with new friends and societies. Make sure you manage your money well – work out your food and going out budget and stick to it to make sure you don’t leave yourself short later on in the year. Be responsible when drinking alcohol – make sure you can get back to your halls safely with a friend if you are having a big night out.

The first year is often a “leveller” where the lectures focus on making sure everyone has the same level of background knowledge. Harriet is studying Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham and says, “I had a good foundation of the subject material from my A-levels so I haven’t had to work that hard [in my first year] compared to others, as the modules contain elements from Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Psychology, all of which I took at A-level”. It is vital to make friends on your course so you can motivate each other and help each other to understand the course. The first year prepares you for the subsequent years, so make sure you get to grips with academic referencing and use tutor feedback wisely. You will gain an understanding of what it is they are looking for and how to structure your ideas, putting you in the best place to hit the ground running in your second year. Use your first year to gauge how much work you have to do to get the marks you want and to ascertain that your revision strategies work. By engaging with the first year you will also be able to confirm whether you have chosen the right course. However, give yourself time to settle in to the course before you make any rash decisions. If you are convinced that you have made a mistake, it may be worth changing course rather than spending another two years on the “wrong” course.

Apart from the newness of living away from home (if you are), probably the biggest change is the mode of teaching and assessments. You are most likely to have lectures where you cannot put your hand up to ask a question every few minutes, unlike a classroom. Gordon, who studies Politics at the University of Leeds, advises “If you don’t understand something in a lecture, write your question down so you don’t forget it. Go up to the lecturer at the end of the lecture and ask. But, if you require a deeper explanation, send them an email to book a time slot when they can discuss it with you – there is often another lecture class coming in and there isn’t much time for an in depth response.” The lectures cover your syllabus (on which you will be examined), so try to go to most of them and make time to catch up any notes missed. Lecture notes, and sometimes even videos of lectures, are often posted on the university intranet. Watch the lectures again to help with revision and to augment your notes. Read any recommended articles or books, chase up references that the lecturer suggests and look for more articles on the subject using Google Scholar. Add further notes from these articles to your lecture notes to personalise them – this is key to attaining high marks in your essays and examinations.

You will probably be assessed by a mixture of coursework/essays, presentations and end of year exams. Depending on your subject, you may get three assessments a term for each module you take (maybe six a year) – that’s potentially 18 essays a year. Talia, a Psychology student from the University of Bristol, suggests that you should start your essays straight away and do a little every day: “You often get given the essay questions at the beginning of the module, and you may have a choice of questions so start to read up on the subject that most interests you as soon as you can, so you don’t have to write your essays all at once”.  She recommends sending your tutor a list of bullet points or an essay plan to check that you are on the right track with your essay. Some tutors accept drafts of all or part of your essay and give feedback before you give your essay in – this is an excellent way to improve your writing style and ultimately your grade. You will only be able to make use of your tutors in this way if you have given yourself (and them) enough time. University assessments are quite different to A-levels. Sometimes you are given the exam question in advance, other times you can make up your own essay titles – in fact, your most in depth pieces of work – your dissertation, will most probably be on a topic of your choice. Other exams require you to have studied topics independently – just using the lecture notes will not be enough. For each essay you write (approximately 2000-4000 words) you need to read about 15 peer-reviewed articles and understand the background of your topic, perhaps by reading some selected books. Reading articles will make you familiar with key terms, the academic writing style and how to conduct analysis – all of which will elevate your writing.

There are many support systems in place for you at university. You will be assigned a Personal Tutor who you may meet with termly. They will address any concerns and help you improve academically. Tom says “I kept on getting grading down for not referencing my essays properly. The Personal Tutor suggested I visit the Academic Skills Centre who ran sessions on this, which improved my grades dramatically”. It is also worth vising the Careers Service, certainly by the middle of the second year, as they will help you apply for internships, polish your CV and conduct mock interviews. Applications for jobs and internships have to be done up to a year in advance so it is important to establish key dates as soon as you can.

Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can help you create a winning CV and cover letter and give you expert guidance on your A-level choice, university applications, Personal Statement, interviews and dissertations. She also offers personal development sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Natalie’s top tips on getting the most out of university:

  • Make use of your tutors’ expertise as much as you can – don’t be afraid to email them essay plans or drafts.
  • Choose your modules strategically
  • Visit Academic Support and the Careers Service early on
  • Go out and enjoy yourself in your first year – make new friends and join societies
  • Speak to a university specialist for tailored advice about studying, careers and your personal development

Maximising your success in Years 10-13

By | Schools subjects advice, Study advice, University advice, University student's advice

Success at GCSEs and A-levels is important as it will give you a wide choice in your next level of education. School starts to get more serious when you are preparing for these Public Examinations, and so you may be entering Years 11-13 with some trepidation. In order to maximise your success, Natalie Lancer, from NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication offers some advice.

Preparation for public examinations is a marathon, not a sprint. This is especially true for students commencing the new linear A-levels, where you are assessed on the whole course at the end of the two years, rather than at the end of Year 12. Therefore, it is important to work consistently from the beginning, making sure you understand each topic as you go along. Take time at the end of each week to reread your notes and arrange to see your teacher to go over anything you do not understand. Then, make new notes based on your new understanding which you will be able to reread as you near revision. You want to be able to revise topics that you already understand (and have the notes for) rather than learning something afresh, as this will take up valuable time. Make sure your keep your notes in order with clear divisions between topics so that you can refer to them easily – perhaps in a lever arch file or on your computer – and so that you do not waste time organising your notes when you revise.

It is important to get the most out of your lessons. This means that you need to actively participate and engage with your teacher and classmates. Make sure you ask questions in class if you want clarification – you will not look silly! – chances are your classmates will want to know the answer too.

Equip yourself with the correct stationery (folders, highlighters etc) and also invest in some exam board-specific revision guides and text books. These books have been written specifically for your syllabus and so you can be confident that the information they contain will be relevant. It is very helpful to consult different books as you go along – some books are better than others at explaining different topics. Furthermore, revision guides are concise and useful if you want to read ahead so that you can get the most out of your lessons. However, for revision, use these in conjunction with your own class notes and other text books as they are not detailed enough on their own.

Make sure you revise actively by writing out flashcards and reading notes with a pen in your hand – underlining key concepts. Above all, practise past or specimen exam papers (you can download them from the exam board’s website). Use the mark schemes to assess your knowledge and, just as importantly, to see how the examiners expect you to express that knowledge. You could also try working with your classmates. Each member of your revision group should research their allocated topic and then teach it to the rest of the group, perhaps swapping detailed notes.  Explaining the topic and discussing it with someone else will enrich your understanding.

The significance of Years 10-13 in terms of exams may make you feel stressed and it is important to nip this in the bud. Air any concerns with your teachers or Head of Year who will help you manage your workload and give you strategies to reduce stress. One way of doing this is to make sure that you have things to focus on other than work – get involved in clubs and societies, sports, music, volunteering or leadership programmes, both in and out of school. Not only will this provide a welcome break but you will learn new skills and get to know and interact with different people. These skills are just as important for your career and development as your academic work.

Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can help you create a winning CV and cover letter and give you expert guidance on your A-level choice, university applications, Personal Statement, interviews and dissertations. She also offers personal development sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Natalie’s top tips on maximising your success in Years 10-13:

  • Make sure you understand each topic as you go along and don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for help
  • Keep your notes in an organised fashion from the beginning
  • Buy exam-board specific study guides so that you can get a different perspective on topics you don’t understand
  • Experiment with different revision techniques, finding the ones that work for you
  • Speak to a professional for tailored advice about studying, careers and your personal development

 

Helping Your Child Cope with Exam Stress

By | Coaching in Education, Schools subjects advice, Study advice

Stress is an inevitable part of preparing for exams – indeed an optimum amount of stress will propel your child to study harder and be enabled to write and think faster in the actual exam.  The key, as a parent, is for you to remain calm and to support your child through this period by encouragement – and definitely not to add unnecessary stress (even if you are stressed by their exams).

Some basic ways to support your child include allocating a specific quiet and light space for them to work in. Keep other siblings away from them and don’t burden them with household chores (the state of their bedroom is not a relevant topic of conversation during exam season).  Make sure you provide healthy meals for them. Every couple of hours you could bring a drink and snack to your child.

Remember these are your child’s exams – not yours. You do not have to micromanage them and such an approach will not help develop your child’s revision abilities. Of course, do take an interest in their exams, for example , make sure you know what exam is on which day, and offer your child a lift if possible.

Stress is generated from a feeling of a lack of control and a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities. Confidence grows by being able to see that one is succeeding. A successful day of revision will breed another successful day of revision, so put in place these strategies early – six months before the exam season. You can help your child feel in control of their revision by suggesting that they construct a revision timetable – mapping out the number of days until the exam season which can be realistically used for revision, and dividing each two hour block into a segment of revision of a specific topic e.g. French irregular verbs, rather than a generic “French”. Ensure all topics are covered – use the syllabus which can be found on line and tick off the topics as they are allocated. You can keep a copy of your child’s revision timetable and ask how the revision of a specific topic is going every so often (no more than three times a week!). Furthermore, in advance of revision time, make sure your child is well-stocked with stationery such as highlighters, paper and files. Ask your child if they would like you to buy revision guides for them (a summary book of the main topics, often written by examiners for the specific exam board). Offer to print off past papers and mark schemes which can all be found on-line – working through these is an invaluable source of revision. It is not cheating to look at mark schemes – indeed it is important to know how the examiners “want” the question to be answered. It is important that your child is aware of the structure of each exam – how many questions need to be answered, how many minutes they should allocate to each question, whether there is a choice of questions and so on. You can help your child to work out these logistics.

The time to be firm is when it comes to using the computer or mobile phones. I suggest removing these from your child while they are revising. Your child should focus on revision for 40 minutes at a time and then have a 15 minute break. Encourage them to get some fresh air during their break and give their phone back for them to catch up on Instagram or Facebook, but then take it away again during the next 40 minutes. Allow your child to go out once a week for a couple of hours, eg to the cinema, but this is not the time for partying and sleepovers. By discussing these ground rules in advance, you can establish what will work for your child together and help them feel in control and understand that you are supporting them.

Above all, remind your child (and yourself) that exams are not the be all and end all. Tell your child that you will love them no matter what the result, and that all you ask is that they do the best they can. In return, you will do the best you can to support them. It is beneficial to sit down with your child to explain why doing the best they can in these exams is important – such as increased career prospects in later years. Your child has nothing to lose by revising, and everything to gain. The revision and exam period is finite, and remind your child it will soon be over, and all the things they were not able to do – such as see friends as much – they can do in abundance in the summer holidays.

Natalie Lancer is an education expert and founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can give you expert guidance on revision strategies and study skills, A-level choice, university applications and the Personal Statement. She also offers personal development sessions for adults. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Natalie’s top tips on managing exam stress

  • Help your child construct a revision timetable so they are in control of their revision
  • Buy study guides and print out past papers and mark schemes for your child
  • Don’t keep asking them how revision is going – limit this to three times a week
  • Make healthy meals and snacks for your child, exempt them from any chores and keep other children away
  • Speak to a revision specialist for practical advice on study skills and supporting your child