The Importance of Extra-Curricular Activities

By | Coaching in Education, Schools subjects advice, Study advice | No Comments

Extra-curricular activities have been an integral part of school for a long time. As well as helping children develop life-long interests in the activities themselves, they also foster important soft skills, for example, taking part in sports may promote perseverance, resilience and grit as well as team-work. These soft skills are highly prized by businesses and also by universities, as exemplified by the selection criteria to study Medicine at the University of Oxford, which includes “ability to work with others”, “communication” and “empathy” as personal characteristics that are sought in applicants. These activities and skills should be showcased in the Personal Statement and Reference, parts of the university application, as well as your CV or, perhaps, an e-portfolio.

Different university courses require different skills, as well as specific grades in A-level subjects. The non-academic requirements for undergraduate Law at King’s College London state that the admissions tutors are looking for “applicants who have participated as fully as possible in school, college or community life, making the most of the opportunities available to them and also demonstrated some experience of society beyond their immediate environment”. There are many reasons why universities like to recruit students who excel in the extra-curricular: they hope that the candidate will contribute to the life of the university, the student has already demonstrated commitment and tenacity – skills that can be transferred to their course and they make for more interesting students to teach.

From a school’s perspective, a child’s whole education is important and extra-curricular activities are a way of allowing students of all abilities to develop and explore their interests: a vital part of their personal growth. It is during their formative years, that children’s inner template of the world develops, and encouraging students to volunteer in the community during their school years, for example, will imbue them with the value of such activities in later life. At the more instrumental part of the spectrum, in this competitive world, if two candidates have the same grades at A-level or degree level, extra-curricular involvement can be a way to distinguish between the two candidates and can also contribute to the student’s USP (Unique Selling Point) i.e. why they should be chosen and how they can add value to the organisation.

There are many activities in which students can get involved, both in and out of school: the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Young Enterprise, volunteering (there are numerous organisations that can facilitate this such as the Jewish Volunteering Network and Do-it) at local old age homes, St John Ambulance, work experience, mentoring younger students, language exchanges, school clubs and societies, such as Debating, and youth groups to name but a few. Furthermore, to demonstrate initiative, the student can set up their own club or society, such as starting a school newspaper or organising a fundraising event.

Of course, there is a danger in taking on too much – it is just as important not to “burn out” and to make time for leisure. Also, make sure enough time is made for academic studies, the results of which also open the doors to employment and university. In order to get the balance right, it may be a good idea to have “personal development” conversations with your children to both encourage them to participate but also to prioritise which skills they would like to develop, so that their extra-curricular engagement is focussed. Possible skills to develop include initiative, creativity, interpersonal and organisational skills, leadership, sense of responsibility, teamwork, public speaking, time management and research.  You might want to work backwards and consider which skills are vital to demonstrate for a particular university or employment route.  Alternatively, if career plans are vague, just encourage your child to try out a variety of activities to find out where their strengths lie, which may result in clearer career ideas.

Students are at an exploratory stage of their life, and they might find that the activity they start does not suit them. It is then possible to discuss either stopping this activity or finding a way to persevere in a positive way, if there is good reason to do so. You may find it difficult to speak to your teenager about their personal development, in which case, call in the services of a professional.

Natalie Lancer is a personal development expert and founder of and MyUniApplication. She can give you expert guidance on extra-curricular activities, 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’s top tips on extra-curricular activities

  • Decide what skills you would like to develop and think about which extra-curricular activities would strengthen these
  • If an activity doesn’t work out, consider if there is a different way to approach it or whether you should stop that one, and take up something else
  • Make time for leisure and studies as well as your extra-curricular activities
  • Start researching universities courses/employment routes early to give yourself enough time to make an informed decision about which skills to evidence
  • Speak to a personal development professional for impartial and current advice

How Israel is enthusing Britain’s teenagers to become the next generation of scientists

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

Since 2010, I have been providing university advice to students and their parents through my business Before that I was a secondary school teacher, Head of Science and Assistant Headteacher and published author in university guidance. I have advised hundreds of students with their university applications, helping them to choose a course and university and to write the all-important personal statement. I currently hold the post of Director of Higher Education at Immanuel College.

Parents often tell me that they wish their son or daughter to study Management or a business-related course. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industry, despite massive government investment, has fallen out of favour with some of my clients as a feasible industry in which to work and, ultimately, make money. Although the number of students studying STEM subjects at university, has increased (in 2014 it was 98, 000, an 18% rise since 2003), the number of STEM graduates entering STEM jobs had declined dramatically (from approximately half in 2001 to a third ten years later). However, the STEM industry offers amazing and worthwhile careers and fundamental scientific research has spawned many modern inventions such as the internet and microwaves.

Perhaps the biggest problem in UK STEM today, is the lack of women represented.  Next week  the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) which runs PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) will publish a report which highlights a huge gender gap (13 percentage points compared to an average of one percentage point) in attainment scores between 15 year old British girls’ and boy’s performance in science literacy. This puts the UK in the bottom five of the 67 countries that take part in the assessments. However, various statisticians have questioned the validity of the methodology and analysis of these tests. Comparing Science GCSE results yields a different story: girls outperform boys in Science GCSEs. Whatever measure is used, it is clear that not enough girls do Science A-levels, which means that they do not go on to do STEM degrees, and are therefore not well- represented in the STEM industry. According to various studies, girls’ self-esteem and confidence affects how they view their abilities in Science, affecting their take-up of STEM subjects post-GCSE. Furthermore, there is a persistent image that study of STEM subjects is for boys not girls. Any way to challenge such outdated stereotypes would give a welcome boost to girls’ uptake of STEM A-levels.

I was invited to the Seventh Annual ZF (Zionist Federation) Science Week last month. On 29th January, ZF treated 31 schools (over 660 students) to a free day of Israeli medical science lectures at the Institute of Education in London. The lecture hall was packed with diverse groups of sixth form students. The aim of the day was to highlight the importance of basic research in Science and to demonstrate that Science has no borders. The lectures were based on topics introduced on the A-level Biology syllabus. The first lecture was given by Russian national, Triana Amen, who is researching aging and rejuvenation at the Hebrew University. The second lecture was given by Dr Fahed Hakim, a paediatrician researching the importance of sleep on a biochemical level at the Technion in Haifa. What was notable about these first two speakers was that that they were not Jewish, and how proud they were of their Israeli universities and research teams. The third speaker was Professor Illana Gozes who spoke about the ADNP gene sequence in Alzheimer’s disease, autism and schizophrenia. Most importantly for encouraging girls into STEM, two out of three of the speakers were women and were excellent role models for the sixth formers present.

Of course, you do not have to be female to be inspired by the event. The students were aware of how attending such an event might inform their university choices. One student said they were not sure if they wanted to study Biology or Psychology at university, and this conference helped him explore possibilities. Another student said that she attends numerous lectures and will describe some of them on her UCAS form, when she applies to university, evidencing her interest in her chosen subject. Another student, who does not intend to go to university explained that the lectures helped to contextualise her Biology A-level studies, making them more meaningful to her.

It was truly remarkable to find Israeli scientists giving up their time to visit the UK to enthuse British teenagers of all backgrounds about the wonders of Science and to encourage them to study Science at university. Perhaps, our British scientists, and in particular, our female scientists, can learn a thing or two about marketing their subject from their Israeli colleagues.

Group coaching PhD student writing habits by Paul Ramsay

By | Coaching in Education, Practitioner's Advice

The ubiquitous cry from PGR and PhD students is the wish they had started writing their thesis sooner.  Both the lure of the lab or the fieldwork to generate more data, and the remorseless obsolence of literature demanding constant reading update, distract from and/or justify avoidance of the commitment to write ”just yet…”. Compounding this are the sometimes bruising encounters some students have with their supervisors: the ‘just write’ injunction can acquire near-paradoxical qualities in the mind of such students with the effect that scholarly identity and confidence in capability are detrimented. And for international students there is the added factor that identity as student researcher is mediated through a linguistic barrier that manifests itself with an intimidating immediacy when they write. The combined effect of these factors triggers interferences that, whilst they are uniquely the product of each individual’s habitus and cultural capital, produce the common result of writing avoidance.

In my experience, a group-coached approach to these interferences has proved successful in terms of not just productivity per se, but also the enhanced confidence and motivation to rise to new writing challenges. As part of the University of Portsmouth Graduate School programme, since 2009 I have run several writing groups each year.

These small groups (each no more than 10 students) have one simple goal: to instil the habit of writing. This apparently simplistic approach belies the need to apply all of the qualities of individual coaching to this context. If we take Biggs &Tang’s ‘what the student does’ constructivism, we need to add the notion of ‘what the coach is’ into such a pedagogy to ensure we are, to paraphrase Hiefetz and Laurie, maximising higher degree student well-being not comfort. The purpose is to facilitate ‘triple loop learning’ (Hargrove) to move towards transformatory, higher order goals which, by exploiting the generativeness of peer-based writing, reading and discussion practice and experience, include the growth of identity, reflexivity and self-reflexive appreciations.

A group meets for 6 sessions during which each group member commits to submitting a piece of writing to each session deadline, reading and commenting others’ submissions, and then in the session discussing the impact each piece of writing has on them, its positive features and constructive recommendation for improvement. A key feature of this is that the focus is not on topic or subject content, nor on grammar-type issues. The group is critically interdisciplinary thus the movement for the group members is to start noticing and appreciating the qualities of the text in hand, for example its awareness of audience, coherence and cohesion. Work is not expected to be complete, indeed it can be very early draft, and the agreed word limit is a maximum of 3000 words.

All of these elements challenge the beliefs that students tend to hold about the act of writing and the writing they generate – both in terms of how critique lands with them and how they defend aspects of it.

Does it work? Not for everyone, but commonly the individual outcome is well represented by these reflective words of a second language PhD student: “The most important habit I got from the writing group was the writing process itself: writing something, and then leaving, then going back to it, tweaking it, amending it, and rephrasing it with a more critical eye. And then, that was it: there is a recipe for good writing! It is commitment and perseverance. The process of coming back to a text can take several loops but it is worth the satisfaction you have when it is pleasant to read to you and especially to others.

Mums are back in business

By | Career coaching

Many women choose to create new paths when they have children, using their experience to set up on their own. This gives them the flexibility and hopefully the income they crave. I experienced this first hand. After ten years as a BBC producer and two children, I decided to go part-time. Somehow, working part-time felt like I had been demoted and I started to feel there was something missing. I noticed a gap in the market for many new parents who were at work. I saw them returning to work but still struggling with weaning, with sleepless nights or with childcare issues. Within a short space of time, I founded Parents Matter, which provides corporate clients with in-house seminars for working parents on a huge range of topics. Staff members were invited to leave their desks at lunchtime and immerse themselves in a parenting topic delivered by an expert speaker. Ten years down the line, Parents Matter has expanded to Employees Matter (, offering a full range of seminars and webinars for all staff. Parenting seminars are still an integral part of my business offering, but in addition to that we offer sessions on resilience, work-life balance, stress management, bereavement and many other topics. In 2014, Employees Matter ran more than 250 seminars across the country, involving corporate banks, law firms and management consultancies. While the BBC gave me invaluable experience, I love being my own boss and seeing my company grow.


Meanwhile, Heather Trefusis has taken a similar approach by forming a new copywriting, editing and proofreading service called The Writing Works ( `I’d always wanted to have the freedom that comes with working for yourself and felt that even more keenly once I became a mum; she says. `I do feel I’m lucky enough to have the best of both worlds now because I have lots of time with my little boy but also get to keep doing the work I love. Heather worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years and has been lucky enough to write for some of the country’s biggest brands. But when she had her son in 2013 she decided it was a good time to ‘go it alone’ and set

up her own business. set certain days aside to work when my son is being looked after by his grandparents; says Heather, but the challenge I find is that on the days when I’m not “working”, if I need to make phone calls to clients or send emails, these small things are not always easy to do with a toddler around. `I like to respond to clients and to new enquiries promptly, but I often have to wait until his nap time to do so. I guess that’s the difference. If you’re employed part-time, you can just switch off on non-working days:


Louise Leach, who owns Dancing with Louise (www.dancingwithlouise., has built a business teaching dance and fitness, including tap, ballet, Zumba, hip-hop, Strictly Ballroom, musical theatre, drama and breakdance. Her pupils range from toddlers right through to retirees. `I was in a girl band and hosting a radio show following a stint on ITV’s Popstars in 2001; she shares. ‘I then wanted my focus to be on family life and not a career in showbiz. That is when Louise opened her first branch of the dance school back in 2002. She now facilitates more than 100 classes per week with more than 20 qualified instructors on her books. `The flexibility to be my own boss and, for example, go away when I want to and stay at home if a child is unwell without having to answer to anyone or let anyone down is immeasurable:


Past experience is also a common theme that empowers mums to set up on their own. `So many of my friends were asking me to sell their bits on eBay as a favour for them as they didn’t know how to use it, says mother Deborah Roberts Mendoza. Deborah previously worked for bereavement charity Grief Encounter, and many people gave her things to sell for the charity, which gave her the experience she needed. Her Hidden Chest of Treasures (http://www.ebay. store started off taking anything and everything but is now far more selective about what

it takes. Having started off primarily selling clothes, the company now sells furniture, kitchens and bathrooms and a range of other goods on its customers’ behalf. Deborah says: life is a constant juggling act. I have to arrange to get to a client, go through everything and/ or measure as well as dealing with all enquires and keeping people up to date. You can get a phone call at any time and don’t really have a switch-off period, especially as so much is done online now:


Natalie Lancer  offers coaching for adults who want to go for a promotion, change career, go back to work after maternity or upskill. She loves the diversity of that work that she does: I am very fulfilled both in terms of being a professional and a mum: However, she recognises that not everybody has a clear-cut idea of how to change careers or set up a business when they have children, and that often it takes a while to get the wheels in motion. ‘Businesses take time to get clients so, if possible, don’t give up your day job, but start your business on the side; she advises.

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March of the Mumpreneurs

By | Career coaching

Last Wednesday (19th November 2014) was the first  proclaimed Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, so it seems apt to reflect on the Mumpreneurs – the unsung heroines of the 21st century. No longer having to decide between a career or children (circa 1980) or as career women who slot their babies into their work (think putting babies into work crèches circa 1990), the Mumpreneurs slot their work into their lives, kids and all. They are there for the kids when they come home from school, never miss a school play or sports day, and work on their own terms in between the school drop off and pick-up.

These mums have always been successful career women working, for example , for the BBC, law firms, in retail strategy, advertising, art directing for magazines and teaching. Fed up with the daily commute, asking for permission to pick up a sick child at school and missing out on attending their child’s teddy-bear picnic, these women decided to go it alone.

I am a career coach , advising adults and students on their next move, whether it be university study, mums going back to work,  changing career or going for a promotion. Having spent seven years as teacher, which culminated in becoming Assistant Head of a comprehensive school in West London, the birth of my baby gave me the impetus to set up my coaching business, Lancer Coaching, for both employees in companies and individuals. I also deliver leadership training and write books about coaching and education. What I love about my work is the variety it brings and that in between clients or telephone calls, I can put on a soup, take my daughter to nursery or be at home for a delivery.  I wanted to find out what other businesses mums had started, their motivations and how it worked around their lives in practice.

The first mum I interviewed was Belinda Lester, mother of 2, and founder of Lionshead Law. She was previously a partner in private practice specialising in employment law. Realising that billing by the minute was unpopular, she came up with an innovative solution – to offer the same service for fixed fees and monthly retainers, removing the nerve-wracking financial uncertainty that enlisting legal help so often entails. Her clients know that they can call her anytime, (“always here for you” is her company’s tag-line) but they might be on speakerphone if she’s en route to collect her children. This doesn’t make her less professional or good at her job. This makes her a real and approachable person just like them.

Jo Goldberg, of Gold Consulting, was a management consultant who was also disillusioned by the cold billing process at her accountancy firm. She decided she wanted to work in a more caring sector and got a job at a Jewish Charity. Having learnt many new skills over a five year period at the charity and realising that her working hours did not suit the school run, she decided she could offer advice about a specialist area – trust fundraising – as a freelancer. She, along with her associates, train employees in charities and offer strategic advice to help charities maximise their income. She loves the diversity of her role, meeting new clients and forming new relationships through networking and her post as the Treasurer of the Institute of Fundraising Trusts and Statutory Special Interest Group. Jo explains that the challenges of her work are that you have to be very organised both in your family and work life so that you are prepared for those times when you aren’t working because your kids are off school.

My journey then led me to Lucy Barnett, who wanted to create a company that would fit around her baby – and so RSVP Lucy was born. Using her talent as a former magazine Art Director she designs bespoke barmitzvah and wedding invitations. Deploring the “white square with silver writing” invitation, she offers a creative, modern alternative.

Leah Warren set up Watling Tutors, an academic tuition agency that combines her teaching and marketing experience. After having her first baby, she wanted to avoid her daily commute but also to utilise her skills. Leah points out it is the flexibility and scalability of the business that contributes to its success. She can scale down her marketing or rev it up according to what is going on in her life.

Julia Obrart drew on her experience in merchandising for big high street retailers and founded, an online boutique for children aged 0-8, with her husband. They launched after the birth of their second child and offer affordable but different clothes to those available on the high street. Julia runs the business and harnesses social media to market her products. She points out that she doesn’t have to pay for childcare and she works when she wants.

Finally, I interviewed Zoe Sinclair, who was a producer at the BBC for eight years. She realised that it would be helpful for parents going back to work to have some kind of support. She developed the idea into Employees Matter, a company that provides lunch-time top-notch speakers about parenting, stress, work-life balance and caring for the elderly to companies such as banks, law firms and management consultancies.

What is remarkable about these women, is that they are all earning the same or more than what they earned before and they have a real sense of achievement. The mumpreneurs have redefined career success.  It is not how far you can be promoted or how much money you can earn. It is how well you have achieved work-life balance. If you want to discuss how you can utilise your skills and get your ideas off the ground – you might want to contact a coach, who is a mum just like you!

Natalie is available for one-to-one coaching sessions for individuals of any age. She also does corporate coaching.  For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at or 01923 85 0781.

Dissertation without desperation

By | Coaching in Education, University student's advice

Many undergraduate courses require students to write a dissertation in their final year. The exact length and specifications varies between departments and universities, but as a rough guide, these are in-depth pieces of work between 8,000 and 10,000 words long. Sometimes it is possible to submit work in an alternative format, such as website or video.  Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication explains how to tackle your dissertation.

The dissertation is probably the hardest and most rewarding part of your course. This is your opportunity to showcase your interest, knowledge and skills of analysis, not only to your tutors who will mark the work, but to potential employers, who will be interested in these skills too. Your dissertation is an excellent example of your work and originality. If possible, choose a topic with an eye on both your course requirements and what potential employers may find interesting.

You will be assigned a dissertation tutor and will have individual tutorials to discuss the title and structure. You will also be able to submit chapters for them to read and offer feedback on, which you can improve if necessary. Make sure you are clear from the outset how much time you are allocated and how far in advance they would like work submitted. It is up to you to get the most from your tutor. Your tutor will have had much experience in supervising dissertations and may have lots of tips as well as knowledge of what works and what is achievable within your time and word limit. They will also advise how to apportion your words to each section.

One of the hardest parts of the dissertation is deciding what to write about. Over your undergraduate course you have been exposed to new ideas and frameworks within your discipline, and you may be encouraged to explore these further or to apply them to a topic of your choice. It is a good idea to keep an ‘ideas list’ going over the course of your degree. Every time you come across a concept that makes your want to find out more, if only you had the time, write it on this working document. When you come to thinking about your dissertation, you can refer to this list and decide which of these topics to ‘work up’. ‘Working up’ means coming up with a way to analyse the topic, a structure and a direction. Your tutor will help you with this, but to get started see the box below and write down your responses to the headings.

In your dissertation you should be presenting a lively, logical, creative and well-researched argument. In order to do this you need to have read lots of relevant articles and books. Your tutor may start you off and suggest some reading material, but after that it is up to you to use an academic search engine such as Google Scholar to find relevant articles. Both the finding of relevant articles and the reading of them takes time and cannot be rushed. Use the abstract (summary) at the top of each article to check if it is really relevant and worth reading. Keep a log of everything you read and brief notes about the paper. There are many internet based tools that can help you do this which are worth learning to use as it will save you time in the long run, such as EndNote and Zotero. Your librarians will help you with this and your university will provide free versions to use (some of them are free anyway).

Once you have got your head round what the main academics say about your topic, you can decide what approach you should take to designing your study. This is where your tutor will be invaluable. If you are undertaking empirical research (gathering primary data), you need to get ethical approval from your university. You can start writing the Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology before you collect your data. Once you have analysed your data you can write the remaining chapters: the Analysis, Discussion and Conclusion. Break the writing into chunks and set yourself time specific achievable goals, such as “I will have written the Introduction by next Tuesday”. Plan out the whole dissertation to make sure you have enough time to read, write, analyse and proofread.

Unlike essays you may have written in the past, it is advisable to use heading and subheadings to help your reader navigate around your dissertation. Your university will have strict formatting guidelines, such as which academic referencing style to use, whether the work should be double-spaced, the font size and how it should be bound, if at all. Furthermore, there are academic rules to follow such as indenting quotations if they are more than 20 words long to which you must adhere. There are strict rules on plagiarism and dissertations have been failed if they are in breach of these rules. Basically, if you are quoting or paraphrasing someone else’s ideas then you must put their names in brackets afterwards.  Remember, we are interested in how you are using existing ideas and bringing them together in your unique way to shed light on your particular subject matter. Formatting takes time, so make sure you build this in to your planning.

Your work needs to be carefully proofread. The best person to do this is you. After you write you last draft, put it away for a couple of weeks. Look at it again with fresh eyes and you will clearly see any mistakes. Plan your writing to allow yourself two weeks to spare at the end. Presentation is important, and gives your work a professional feel – remember you are showcasing your work to employees too, so it is worth spending time on this. Find out how to submit your dissertation and make sure you don’t leave it until the final day, just in case the internet crashes, or you lose your computer. Finally, make loads of back ups of your work everyday on different memory sticks so that if your computer fails, you have not lost your work.

Natalie is the founder of and MyUniApplication. She can discuss your university and career options in one-to-one sessions and give you expert guidance on your dissertation and job applications. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 01923 85 0781 or at

Working up your dissertation – Write down your responses to the following and you will have a structure to your dissertation in no time!

The Title – don’t worry too much about this at the beginning. Just use a working title – you can always change it. The title should make clear what the dissertation is about in a short and pithy statement.

Introduction and Aims – this should explain what your dissertation is all about. In your introduction you should establish the boundaries of the research, e.g. are you focussing only on Wind Farms in the UK or in Scotland? Explain your purpose, aims, your approach and the significance of the research clearly. You may have specific questions that you are answering or you may be exploring a topic. Explain the structure of your dissertation and an overview of the contents of each section.

It is useful to have a literature review chapter. You will get marks for both breadth and depth. You need to demonstrate that you understand what you have read and why it is relevant to your dissertation and argument. Maybe you can pick holes in other people’s work to show how you can adopt a critical academic stance?

You will need a chapter on methodology and methods. Have you used a qualitative (descriptive) or quantitative (numerical) methodology and which exact methods have your used, e.g., interviews, questionnaires? How did you choose and design these? Could you have used another method, in hindsight, would that have been more or less useful?

You will then present an Analysis and Discussion of your findings. How do the findings result to the literature review. What new information or new stance have you brought to light? This is where we really hear your unique voice and can see what you have contributed to academic scholarship in your area.

The conclusion is where you pull it all together. You explain how you have met your original aims, the strengths and limitations of the research and possible avenues for further research around this topic.

Most important lesson for year 13

By | Coaching in Education, University advice

Revision tips for the final school year

For those students taking A-levels, Year 13 is your most important year at school. It is the year that you have to really knuckle down to ensure you get the best grades of which you are capable. Natalie Lancer from and MyUniApplication offers revision tips to help you on your way.

Year 13 revision is a marathon and not a sprint. In Year 12, you may have got away with cramming at the end of the year, and doing fairly well in your AS levels. However, this is because questions at this level are based on short answers. If you couldn’t do a question and you left it out, you probably wasted up to six marks. Depending on your subjects, at A2 level, leaving out a question might be worth 24 marks, which could cost you several grades. You are required to write long answers or perform multi-part calculations. You cannot rely on a basic knowledge of the subject.

So how do you approach this? Firstly, make sure you have a number of exam board-specific study guides/text books for you to consult at home. Some books will be more helpful than others for certain sections of your syllabus, or may explain something in a more meaningful way to you. It is important that you know where to look for information and to feel confident in using your books to help you understand your subject fully.

Secondly, download a syllabus from your exam board website and make sure you understand the structure of your exams. Ask your teacher which options they have decided to teach you, where options exist.  Each week, read the topic you are studying at school in advance so that you have an idea about what to expect. This means that when you are in the lesson, you do not come to the topic ‘cold’. You will be able to process what is being said at a higher level and you will be able to remember it more effectively.

Create a system of making notes in the lesson, abbreviating words to help you write faster. Leave enough space in the margins and between each section so that you can supplement it with information from your study guides at home. You may like to write your notes on a laptop if you are allowed, as this facilitates adding notes at a later stage.  At the end of each day, read your notes as this will help you learn them. If you do not understand something, look it up or ask your teacher. Make sure you understand everything as you go along – don’t leave it until the end of the course. The trick is to make your notes comprehensive and well-laid out at the point of writing them so that you do not have to spend time making new notes near the time of your exam.

Start learning the material when you have some bulk time – maybe in the holidays. When you are ready to learn the material, make sure you have no distractions – turn off your phone and your internet. You do not need the internet to revise! Work for forty minutes at a time and then have a ten minute break. During the forty minutes, focus all your attention on being able to recall the material, and understand key terms and concepts. There are a number of ways you can learn the material – write out points on flashcards, create mind maps, develop special phrases to help you remember a sequence of important words or record the notes onto your phone and listen to them wherever you go.

Once you have proved to yourself that you know your stuff, by writing it out or saying it out loud, do a past paper. You should know enough information so that you can write for the full amount of time. Ask your teachers to mark these and to give you detailed feedback. If possible, try to sit down with them outside of lesson time to tell you what worked well and how you can improve. Write the feedback down and next time you do a paper, check the items off the list to make sure you have addressed all points.

In the January before your exams, make a realistic revision timetable so you know how long you have to learn everything. In the weeks running up to the exam, all your energy must be spent on learning your notes and practising past papers. Avoid having late nights – it is important that you are totally fresh for each revision session.  There will be plenty of time to go out with your friends after your exams and your friends will be revising anyway.

Natalie is the founder of and MyUniApplication. She can discuss your university and career options in one-to-one sessions and give you expert guidance on your personal statement and revision techniques. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 01923 85 0781 , 07747 612 513 or at

Natalie’s top tips for Year 13 Revision

  • Buy a selection of study guides/text books for home use
  • Make sure your system of making notes is robust
  • Use different ways to learn the material
  • Practice applying your knowledge using past papers
  • Get and act on feedback from your teacher
  • Make a revision timetable
  • Focus on your end goal – getting the best grades you can
  • If you feel your revision techniques aren’t benefitting you, contact a professional for advice.


Want a first? Try Coaching

By | Coaching in Education, University student's advice

Company executives have been coached since the 1980s. The focus is to increase performance by maximising what the employee brings to their role. The idea of coaching is simple: the coach, who should be accredited by a relevant professional body, should help the client unlock something within the client. Maybe the client has become stuck in some way or needs to make sense of a situation. The coach merely facilities this process, and helps the client to generate their own ideas, goals and solutions, thus avoiding a directive approach.  Coaching is different to mentoring which refers to a more experienced person guiding a less experienced person in the same field, whereas counselling is about making sense of past experiences to illuminate the present.

Applying coaching to education is relatively recent, more often applied to coaching teachers rather than students. However, coaching in education has been the focus of a recent conference run by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and is also the focus of my PhD and private business, Lancer Coaching. The solution-focussed approach of coaching, with its emphasis on students formulating their own future plans, is in contrast to more traditional, teacher-owned academic advice.

The client takes ownership of the sessions and decides what the focus of each one should be. Possible topics might include getting the most out of school/university, starting a new school, career plans, choosing courses, managing workload, maintaining motivation and managing difficult relationships. An example could be a student, who wants to discuss how to make their goal of achieving a first class degree, a reality.  The coach would help the client to break down the overall goal into subgoals, evaluate options for achieving them and devise a time bound action plan. Each subgoal might be the focus of subsequent sessions. The coach will hold the client to account for agreed upon actions.

Of course, coaching techniques can be used in a variety of settings, and is particularly helpful when helping adults make career choices at transition points such as when women evaluate their options after having children, or after their children have left home. Some people will want to upskill – doing a course, perhaps a Master’s degree, in a new discipline. Others need to make some new connections via their existing networks and be proactive in telling people what they want to do. Coaching is also useful when employees aspire to a promotion and want to think through their strategy.

In my Psychology PhD, I am investigating what impact coaching can have on undergraduate students’ values, sense of self, key relationships, academic performance and life plans compared to those who do not have coaching sessions. I have had an overwhelming response from student volunteers and from volunteer coaches. The students will have six coaching sessions this academic year and I will interview before coaching commences, at the mid and end points and 6 months after the last session. This will help to illuminate whether coaching has any lasting impact.

Have you got some goals that you need some help working towards? Do you think you would benefit from coaching? Natalie is available for one-to-one coaching sessions for individuals of any age. She also does corporate coaching.  For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at or 01923 85 0781.

Your research is bound to pay

By | Coaching in Education, University advice

Well done! You have received your AS results and now you are starting to turn your attention to university applications. But where to start?

You first need to consider what course at university you wish to study. Even if you have wanted to study Accountancy since you were three, I still advise students to look at all options. In fact, a very good idea is to search for the website of a big university you have heard of and look at all their courses from A to Z. There will be some courses that you have never heard of.  For example, many students ask: ‘What is Anthropology?’.  Read through the summaries and shortlist about ten courses. You may realise that you can study a combined course – such as Business with a Language – and may prefer the flexibility this offers. Some summaries refer to introductory books that can you can buy or borrow from a library. If the thought of reading said book leaves you cold, do not study this subject at university! Remember, much of your university course will come down to reading, thinking, analysing and writing.

Once you have a subject in mind, you need to shop around to see which university offers the course in the way that suits you best, and in an environment that suits you.  Make yourself a table to fill in, listing name of university, type of university (city or campus), notes about the course, how well they do at their subject, A-level subjects grades required, and whether alternatives in A-levels are accepted, (such as BTEC Nationals, and at which level). Does coursework contribute to your class of degree, are examinations at the end of the third or fourth year only, or are they at the end of every year? What model of examination suits you? Can you go abroad for a year?  Other questions to ask are how many students who graduated from this degree got jobs and in what fields? And do the universities have links with employers? Is there a built-in work placement component in the degree?

Some students already know they want to study a particular subject (such as Medicine, Engineering or Law). If this applies to you, you should still be asking yourself the same questions above. Speak to people you know who are at university already. A good question to ask them is, ‘if you weren’t at your university, which university would you choose?’.  You could ask a similar question about course choice.

The answers will vary according to your personal tastes and learning styles. There are some big decisions to make and it is worth listening to what other people have to say.

“It should not be understated how important it is to speak to someone who is objective who can advise you” You and Yours, BBC radio 4,24/8/10.  You should not allow yourself to head in the wrong direction simply because you do not know what options are available.

A common question I am asked is whether some degrees are better than others. For example, where does a degree in Golf Club Management get you as compared to Modern History? Again, the answer depends on you as an individual, which is why you need to take steps to explore the options available.  It turns out that that the number of students who are employed after studying Golf Club Management is very high. If you have a very clear idea of what you want to do in your future career, then a highly specialised degree could be for you.

If like many students you do not yet have fixed views about your longer term future, then studying a more traditional subject may leave you with the flexibility to pursue a range of careers once you have graduated.  Most graduate jobs in the UK do not require a specific degree. This is because employers are looking for the skills developed during your study such as team-work, creativity, analysis, and initiative amongst others, which can be honed during any degree The important thing is to do a degree which will generate an enthusiasm that will sustain you for three or four years. If you enjoy your subject, you will find it easy to work hard and obtain a good degree.

Some degrees require you to have studied specific subjects in Years 12 and 13. Hopefully, you already knew this when you chose your subjects, but if not, it is not too late to pick up another AS in Year 13, or to study for a further A-level next year before university. Increasingly, universities are offering foundation years for students who did not make the grade at A-level, or for students who studied the ‘wrong’ subjects for their chosen course. However, this adds a year to your studies, and it is best to choose wisely from the outset.

Now you are armed with important information for the next part of your journey: your application, and in particular your Personal Statement. You know what course you want to study, four or five places that you would like to study it at, the structure of their courses and topics covered. You have read an introduction to the subject. You will have to strike the right balance between explaining why you are interested in studying your subject, what relevant skills and knowledge you have developed already,  and what other steps you have taken that demonstrate your enthusiasm for studying your course.  Your Personal Statement should also give universities some insight into your personal interests and hobbies. Remember, the same Personal Statement is sent to all five universities. You need to copy and paste it into the on-line UCAS form. It will take some weeks to finesse your statement, and you should share your ideas and drafts with people you trust to help you through the process.

Most universities no longer interview students, so your Personal Statement will be the one and only opportunity you have to sell yourself. If you do get called for an interview, make sure you are properly prepared.  You should know what sort of questions to expect, and you should have thought about the most important things you want to tell the interviewers.

For guidance, mentoring and advice on all aspects of university applications go to and call Natalie Lancer on 020 8211 4800.

Natalie’s top tips for university applications

  • Research the different courses on offer, and find out how they are presented by the different universities
  • Think about your learning style and which university best suits you
  • Read some books about your chosen subject
  • Get writing your Personal Statement as soon as you can
  • Get professional, objective advice to help you select the right subject and university for you and make your application stand out. Contact


A result! How to get your university of choice

By | Coaching in Education, Study advice, University advice

How did A-Level results day go for you yesterday? If you met the conditions of your offer, your first choice will have accepted you, of course. But it may be that you exceeded your offer and you would like to consider doing a different course. You have up to five days to swap on to another, without your original place being jeopardised, using the process of Adjustment in UCAS. However, many courses requiring higher grades will be full.

If you didn’t meet the offer of your “firm” choice, your “insurance” choice will have accepted you — if you met theirs. But do you want to take up your insurance place? Some students think about re-sitting exams, but many universities accept only results that were gained over two years of study, not ‘three, so do check to see if there is any point in this strategy.

If you feel that your exam results don’t reflect your actual performance in the exam, it may be a good idea to get your papers re-marked. Your school will arrange this for you. It is important to realise that your exam results may go up or down as a result of a re-mark and so you should only request a re-mark if you are sure you feel you deserved more.

The re-mark can take up to 18 days depending on the exam board. However, even if the re-mark meets the university offer, that university may still not be able to give you a place. But it may offer you one on a similar course or the one you want the following year. To maximise your chances, let your university know that you are having the exam re-marked and notify it of any grade changes by August 31.

If your grades do change for the bet-ter and you have accepted your insurance offer or another offer in Clearing, you will have to ask the university to release you so that you can accept-your original offer.

Some universities will accept you even if you missed a grade. When you log into Track on UCAS, you may see that your chosen university has con-firmed your place, despite your lower grades. If not, you may need to call to negotiate your place. It may be that the university cannot allow you on to your preferred course but that there are others on which it would be happy to offer you a place.

You can also shop around via Clearing, the process universities use to advertise and fill their spare places. The list of unfilled places is on the UCAS website and published in The Telegraph. Places available change daily, so keep checking. Phone the universities in which you are interested; tell them your grades and see if they will give you a place. You may be inter-viewed over the phone by an admissions tutor.

Are you flexible about what course you study as long as you go to your chosen university, or would rather see if other universities can offer you a place on a similar course? You are not limited to the subject for which you originally applied, as long as you meet the entrance requirements for the course you are now applying for. Your nerves are bound to be on edge, so get some support. UCAS offers free advice and your teachers can help too.

In most cases, getting a good degree is what is important. The subject may be of less relevance, depending on the field you want to go into. That said, to get a good degree (normally a 2:1 or above), you need to be able to remain interested and motivated for the whole of your course, so don’t take a place on a course if you are not really inspired by the subject.

Natalie Lancer is the founder of and MyUniApplication


  • Make sure you have access to a quiet room with a reliable phone and internet connection
  • Ask for a re-mark if you think your grade could go up but be aware it may go down
  • Inform your university what is happening about your re-mark to maximise your chances of them holding a place for you
  • Find out what courses are available on Clearing and consider a variety of options
  • Don’t make any decisions lightly—speak to a university guidance specialist