How to Choose the Best University for You

Would you agree that finding the right university can be challenging? In the UK, there are approximately 130 universities offering academic courses, so many of us can feel overwhelmed by such an abundance of options. You will find some tried and tested techniques below to help you find the best university, whether in the UK or internationally.

Finding your preferred university options is a project in itself. It is a bit like planning a trip. The more you investigate the route, read about the sights in advance, and ask people who have already visited, the more successful your trip will be. So let’s get started…

Researching University is Key

Begin with a three-step approach: researching alumni, faculty and university rankings. If the university provides an opportunity to connect you with alumni members, take advantage of it. Talk to former students about their university experience. Ask them about what they enjoyed most and what they wish had been different. Do not forget to explore the list of faculty members who teach at the university. You can browse their profiles online and find out what academic projects they have been involved in. Being taught by remarkable academics is one of the things which will make your university experience most rewarding.

Meet Face-to-Face

Universities like to represent themselves at student recruitment fairs. It gives them an opportunity to meet face-to-face with aspiring candidates. Shortlist a number of your university choices based on your research. Keep in mind that first impressions are paramount. You really want to make sur all your interactions are positive, professional and polished. Take a business card of the admissions, marketing or student recruitment officer you have talked to and do stay in touch with them if you have further questions.

Explore the wider city or town you will be living in. Are there inspiring events taking place outside of the university you are considering? Oxford, Cambridge and London provide a lavish range of events like no other UK cities. There will be plenty of things to do in most major cities of course, as you’d expect. Conferences, festivals, science and academic events offer vibrant opportunities to be involved in and enhance your student experience. Whether you are interested in art, literature, dancing or science, there will be no shortage.

Finding your best university is also similar to planning a trip. The more you investigate, the more likely you are to make the right decisions. Ask lots of questions. Research online and face-to-face. And enjoy the journey.

A report published in April 2019 by the Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision, ‘Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness’, suggests that many young people are not gaining the right skills early in life. In relation to the issue of lifelong learning, it also asserts that when they grow older, people are unable to access the training they need to stay employable in a changing workplace.

This problem is even more concerning given the fact that the UK has an ageing population – and that many of today’s employed are expected to be working into their 70s. The key challenge to arresting this trend is to design an effective system that gives everyone the ability to perpetually learn and be able to keep their skills relevant, throughout their life. Lifelong Learning is the summary description of this system.

Technological development presents one of the key challenges in lifelong learning. With technology developing at pace and a shortage of young people choosing to pursue STEM subjects, how do we remain competitive in the global economic market? And how do we ensure that our ageing workforce keep the skills needed to stay employable?

If workplace satisfaction is one indicator of how employees feel about their lifelong learning prospects, Acas reported back in 2012 that employees are more dissatisfied with their jobs and work-life balance in the UK than in most other European countries. Out of 20 European countries that responded, only 6 were more dissatisfied than the UK, according to statistics reported in the British Social Attitudes survey, led by NatCen Social Research. Similar research made in more recent times has shown that little has changed. If anything, our workforce may have become more unhappy.

So, what steps can be taken to help aid lifelong learning and improve job satisfaction? Lindsey Rix, Managing Director of Savings and Retirement, Aviva UK, is quoted as saying that those aged 45 to 60 represent nearly one-in-three of the company’s UK workforce; but perhaps more pointedly, that  this is also the fastest-growing age-group working for them.                     Aviva launched a mid-life MOT in October 2018, allowing the company to invest in the population’s continued development, enabling them to retain their critical skills and experience.

Lifelong learning is about creating a society where everyone regardless of income or background can enjoy every stage of life with the knowledge and learning they require to adapt to a changing world. Tactics including regular reviews and planning for on-the-job learning present an opportunity to impart important life skills, for the present and the future.

To conclude, then, lifelong learning is a concept that organisations must take seriously to enable our country to thrive in future years.

Beginnings are exciting. People are filled with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. They walk with motivation and a spring in their step. They dream about an exciting future and feel energised by their aspirations. When embarking on new learning courses, they picture themselves studying with discipline and rigour, and feel invigorated by going back to being a student.

The initial sparkle of enthusiasm, however, does not last forever. Your motivation might start to dip after a few days, weeks or month. You might wonder if you have over-committed yourself or if you are on the right path.
This article will help you develop skills of self-motivation. It will be particularly helpful for those who have already embarked on a learning journey and are looking for ways to to re-energise.

Revisit your Motivation’s ‘Why’

At the start of your journey, you are crystal clear about your ‘why’. You might want to get a promotion at work, find a new and exciting job or move on to higher education. As you progress with your studies, it is easy to forget about your rationale of studying, though. Take a couple of minutes each day to remind yourself of your ‘why’.

You could brainstorm new reasons for sticking with your studies. Have you ever considered setting up a business one day? Would you love to dip your toe into the field of teaching? Are you aiming to become a role model for young people coming from difficult backgrounds?

Create a Motivation Vision Board

Once you have nailed down your reasons for studying, you can create a visual representation of your future plans. Rest assured, you do not need to be creative to do so. Set aside an hour, find yourself a bunch of colourful pictures which represent your future goals and attach them on a large sheet of paper. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You could think about your study goals, career aspirations, your personal life objectives or any other life area. Keep your vision board on your desk or a place where you would see it daily. It will be your useful ally reminding you each day of your fabulous future.

Reward Yourself

Most people do not excel at recognising their successes. They get engrossed in overcoming hurdles after hurdles after hurdles. They don’t even stop long enough to pat themselves on the back.

There is a reservoir of reasons why you could benefit from celebrating your achievements. When you acknowledge that you are making positive progress, you feel happier. You feel invigorated by taking steps towards your desired destination and come back to your next task with renewed enthusiasm and energy.

Think about dogs for a moment. While undergoing training, they receive small but frequent treats which motivate them to jump through higher and higher hoops. With the treats, they are happy to push for bigger and better heights. Similarly, we need to reward ourselves with small treats to develop better self-motivation. You could go for a brief walk in the sun to break up the day and get some fresh air.

You might meet up with a friend after a long day of study and enjoy some thought provoking conversation. Or you may prefer to engage in your favourite hobby, be it painting, pottery, gardening or golf. The opportunities are endless. Make sure that you build in regular rewards in your schedule and see your motivation soar.

In the UK, children start studying a foreign language at the age of 11. Yet by 14, many have given up on the subject completely. Why? Well, research suggests a big factor is that students perceive good grades to be less attainable in languages compared to other subjects. However, this need not be a reality for your child. After all, the ability to speak a second language will provide a great boost to their confidence and future career prospects. So, how can you help them prepare for their foreign language oral exams?

The good news is that there are many interactive tools available to support your child in learning to speak a new language, enabling them to have fun as they go. Here are my top picks…

1. Gus on the Go

Gus the friendly (and incredibly cute!) owl makes learning languages a fun experience in this this app, which features 10 interactive lessons, engaging vocabulary reviews and games. It’s available in 28 different languages.

2. Netflix’s Language Learning

Netflix’s Language Learning is a Chrome extension which allows learning of language from films and series of programmes. The ability to compare a translation with the audio (sound) and written word means your child can absorb a lot in a quick timescale. It also enables learning at their own pace and provides time to digest more challenging phrases.

3. Memrise 

With the Memrise app, your child can practice specific words or phrases at a time, loosely connected by topic areas and focusing on practical words and phrases. The ability to watch videos of native speakers will help your child to master pronunciation, especially for those difficult words.

A major plus point of Memrise is that it makes language learning fun, with a focus on learning through gaming, known as gamification. The use of memes to help memorise vocabulary is also helpful.

4. Duolingo

One of the most popular language learning apps, Duolingo was created by native speakers and again uses gamification to make language learning fun and addictive. Users earn points for correct answers in a race against the clock. The app is available in 24 different languages.

Online learning platforms, media and apps can provide excellent support for children preparing for oral language exams for their GCSEs and A Levels. They make language learning more accessible and easier to take at your child’s pace. And perhaps most importantly, they provide a fun and light-hearted learning environment suited to their learning style preferences.

At present, GCSE English Literature exams does not allow students to take their textbooks in with them. The AQA exam board requires them to have learned the following:
• A Shakespearean play
• A 19th century novel
• A modern text
• 15 poems belonging to the anthology of Power & Conflict or Love & Relationships

That’s 18 texts – and other examination boards have similar requirements. Students are expected to have an in-depth understanding of each, be able to analyse them and remember quotations. This raises the question, is the exam a test of skills or memory (or both)? And which should it be?

Granted, being able to memorise can be a skill-for-life. For instance, doctors need to be able to think on their feet and recall information, often with no time to check a textbook. Surely, though, this skill doesn’t need to fall on subjects like English. It leads me back to my original question – is the English Literature exam a test of memory or skills?

In my view, it is both. As a teacher, however, I often see how the pressure to remember everything overshadows the time invested in understanding texts and practising analysis skills.

I’m sure that the thinking behind the decision for the exam to be closed book stems from the idea that it makes it easier for students. Or perhaps there is the idea that they could cheat. But would making the exam easier be a bad thing? After all, it would be making it easier for good reason – the pressure to remember would be alleviated, without compromising on the application of skills and understanding of texts. And, if there is the belief that it could lead to cheating in exams, I ask – how?

Even if students brings an annotated book into an exam, they can’t cheat. They won’t know what the question is, for a start. And they still need to know the book, cover to cover, to know where to look and what to reference. Yes, they may have notes about the writer’s methods but they will still need to analyse this in the context of the question.

In addition, there are questions on unseen poetry and on set texts, that dictate which extract students must place their initial focus on. My opinion is that the exam should allow students to bring their texts in with them. What’s yours?

Hopefully you have not left all of your revision to the last minute!  But even if you have, these tips should help you.

First things first – relax.  You cannot study well or absorb information if you are stressed. It may be last minute, but you are not out of time. And you’d be surprised at how much you can pack into your short-term memory.

Also make sure you take breaks. A common response to last-minute revision is to try and study for as long as possible. But you will remember more if you take regular short breaks and get enough uninterrupted sleep.

1.      Clock Revision

This is a tip that I first saw on TES and although it is described as a teacher activity, it is adaptable.

How it works: split topics into 5 minute chunks and make notes. That way you will only focus on the key areas and, get through  a lot of information in just 60 minutes.

This leads me to an important tip – don’t sweat the small stuff

When you are revising close to the exams, you need to prioritise on the major topics or key areas of each topic. 

2.      Identify Gaps

Instead of revising material you already know, try and identify your knowledge gaps and focus on filling them. It makes last minute revision both efficient and effective.

A good way of identifying gaps, is by using a checklist or the contents page of a textbook and ticking everything you feel confident on. That way, you can easily see areas that need more attention.

3.      Write your own Exam Paper and Mark Scheme

I love this one. The best way to know any topic is to teach it. And whilst you may not have the time or opportunity to actually teach others a topic, you do have time to write your own exam paper. 

In writing an exam paper, you will be forced to think about the topic in-line with the style of questions you will face in the real thing. The most useful part here is writing the mark scheme.

Look at sample material from your exam board and write in their style.  This will help you revise topics and improve your exam technique.

4.      Keep it Visual

A quick, and more importantly an effective way to revise, is by using visual aids like mind maps. 

Think about memory tricks and visual aids to avoid trying to remember large chunks of text or lots of terminology.

Recently in TES news, exam board AQA shared some feedback to teachers about what to avoid. What does this mean for students?

Here is what they said.

  1. Give adequate weight to all assessment objectives

One of the most useful skills you can develop as a GCSE student, of any subject, is to learn how to mark exam answers.

It is the single-most powerful method to understand what the examiner wants from you.

Most exam boards provide past papers and mark schemes for free, through their websites.  Use them.

A great way to learn what the assessment objectives mean, is to do some research. There are many useful YouTube videos that discuss these. You may even find some exemplar work to view – mark it yourself and see if your final grade matches theirs.

  • Practice the more ‘general’ questions

Many GCSE exam questions provide guidance on what to include in answers. Despite this, AQA found students struggled with the less structured questions.

Here is an example of a guided question (English Literature):

How does Priestley explore responsibility in ‘An Inspector Calls’?

Write about:

  • The ideas about responsibility
  • How Priestley presents these ideas by the way he writes

Here is an example of a less structured question:

Compare the ways poets present ideas about power on ‘Ozymandias’ and one other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’.

Neither of these questions are easy. The first does at least tell us what to write about, though. The second is a lot more open-ended and therefore harder. Approaching them needs to be practiced.

  • Make the most of mock-exam support

I am going to tweak this one slightly and translate it to: ‘practice past papers’.

Learning the topics is one thing. But understanding an exam question, recalling your learning in its context and writing full-answers in timed conditions, is no mean feat.

The more you practice, the better you will become. If you are starting to time yourself, try and assign yourself 1 minute per mark. So, if a question is worth 20 marks, it should take you no more than 20 minutes to answer.  You won’t be able to achieve this a first but, if you  practice, you will be surprised at how quickly you improve.

Research conducted in 2014 questioned if school pupils absorb information better when they’re taught under specific learning styles and techniques. In 2019, perhaps surprisingly, this topic of which method is best remains a hotbed for contention and controversy.

It’s well known that pupils can excel in certain subjects and may struggle to master others, and of course there’s no shame in finding anything difficult. It has rightly remained the principle of education in good schools to nurture a child’s desire to learn, rather than to relentlessly push them into acquiring top-end grades to the detriment of their wellbeing. Learning is an organic and diverse process and it suffers when enforced under superficial measures.

This said, an array of questions come into play here; can pupils decipher the information they need from blocks of text, or are more practical study methods their forte? Will they improve from class group work, or can they thrive using an online course at home? Do they need images to tackle a subject, or a teacher issuing instructions at every step?

The VAK (Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic) learning model aims to address these queries. A brief summary of each mode is as follows:

  • Visual: Learners who prefer to work with graphs, charts, videos, images or written text.
  • Auditory: Pupils who may instead favour group brainstorming, vocal instructions, reading aloud, and maintaining a dialogue with their tutors and peers to problem solve.
  • Kinesthetic: The mode of learning in which pupils prefer physical activity and external stimulation in order to better understand the topic. They may work better when movement, touch, and listening to music are involved in proceedings.

Each learning method in the VAK model aims to ensure that every child has an access point into learning, breaking down the barriers that prevent them from fully understanding any given topic. A child who prefers visual means can, theoretically, stick to the books and videos while avoiding any physical or listening-based activity. But does it make sense to make the act of learning so linear?

Complications arise when it comes to taking each method and making them applicable to every subject. Can a visual learner use images to really understand playing sport in physical education? Can an auditory learner excel in a silent reading period of an English class? Will their future workplace cater to that singular method alone? When a pupil is confined to a singular way of learning, it may have the potential to create a paradoxical classroom culture and restrict the kinds of information they can absorb in the future too.
Moreover, a research paper in 2004 recorded as many as 71 different learning styles, but the scholars themselves cited that their endeavours were “extensive, opaque, contradictory and controversial” after accumulating their data. Again, this state of argument appears to have changed little to date. While some children did indeed find their studies to be worthwhile under a personally tailored regimen, others criticised the lack of diversity. Do we ignore the things we’re not good at, or do we work to hone our skills?

Children need to know that learning is undoubtedly for them. When it comes to getting started or exam revision, something like VAK is undoubtedly a plus. It’s okay to have favoured ways of doing things, but then again, school is about being flexible and engaging with a never-ending canvas of ideas. There should be a constant circulation of learning styles for children to acquaint themselves with – not only so they can play to their strengths, but also to improve on methods of learning that they’re not so well versed in as well.

We understand that waiting to find out your exam results can be an extremely nerve-wracking experience. It is important to know that feeling some kind of stress is a completely natural reaction. But, if it becomes persistent, if it never gives you a moment’s peace, it is important to take action to stop those nerves from affecting your health and well-being.

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Group has looked at ways you can reduce your stress to prevent it from affecting your physical and mental health. Some of her suggestions are as below.

It’s Good to Talk

There will always be someone you can talk to when you feel worried about your exam results or your future. Whether it is a parent, carer or friend, you should discuss your thoughts and emotions with them when you feel troubled. A parent might be able to help you challenge your worries by providing you with evidence that your thoughts are not a balanced view. For example, they will be able to reassure you about how much revision you did and how well you have performed in past exams.

You may want someone to lend an ear or distract you with a quick chat or offer of advice. By taking the time to access this emotional support, you have the opportunity to let off steam and is so doing prevent your feelings from boiling over. There are also supportive charities like Child Line and the Samaritans who can be contacted anonymously over the phone or through web chat.

Breathe Deeply

When you get anxious, your “fight or flight” response kicks in, where your body releases adrenaline and increases your heart rate. Breathing deeply can help your body to settle down to a more natural state. Imagine, then, blowing into a balloon: As you take a deep breath in, notice your stomach rising as you allow your lungs to take in the maximum amount of air. Then slowly breathe out imagining you are filling the balloon with air. Try and do this three times.

Keep Yourself Busy

Try and ensure you have structure and activities each day. For example, give yourself a project to complete over the summer, look at voluntary or part-time work, organise social activities with your friends and help out at home. If you keep yourself busy, you have less time to sit and dwell on your thoughts. You will also feel better about yourself as you have been able to achieve something.

Getting Good Quality Sleep

We understand that getting a good night’s sleep may seem impossible because of your nerves, but it is important to try your hardest to get into a good routine. Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, and make your bedroom a relaxing space, with any screens turned off at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the hours before bedtime and try to fit in at least twenty minutes of exercise each day – but again, not too close to bedtime.

Form a Plan for Results Day

Think about all the possible outcomes on results day, and jot them down. Then, write a potential plan for each one. For example, if you were to get your expected grades, what happens; If you get lower than expected, what would your next steps be?

This can help you to recognise that there are options and a future for you, regardless of what happens. It can stop yourself from worrying about the unknown, because it means you have a plan for every scenario.

Tackle Your Negative Thoughts

It is easy to gravitate towards the worst case scenario when you’re feeling anxious. Do you believe you failed your exam spectacularly? Do you think you’re going to get terrible grades across the board? There are steps you can take to question and alter these thoughts:

  • At the end of each day, jot down any moments when you felt like this. Write down what you thought at the time.
  • Next, write down the evidence you have contradicting that negative thought. What goes against it? For example, if you thought, “I’m going to fail everything,” think about the hours of revision and preparation you put in for your exams.

Then, write down a healthier way of thinking about the situation. For example, instead of thinking that you’ve failed an exam, you may want to think, “I know it was tough, but I worked so hard that I know I tried it my best. I’m proud of the work I put in.”

Completing this activity at the end of every day will stop you from focusing on potential negative outcomes during this stressful time.

Getting Support

If your stress levels don’t seem to be getting any better, you should visit your GP. They will be able to provide you with the right support you may need at this time.

Essay writing is, for many people, a difficult skill to master. For some of us, in fact, the problems begin almost before we’ve even started. With this in mind, I would like to offer my own top five tips to get you past that first line.

1. Do some reading around your topic in advance of starting

It is better to use few texts well than lots of texts badly. Make notes if it helps you but what matters most is that you digest the information, so that you can build on it in your essay. To write a good essay you need to feel confident enough about your topic to write out a paragraph without stopping to look something up. An essay will always read better if it has been written in a linear manner.

 

2. Begin by thinking about the end point

By this I mean think carefully about what your conclusion is going to be. What is your overall viewpoint? An essay is a chance to put forward a balanced argument for a view you have on a certain topic. Your essay will be more enjoyable to write if you are arguing for a view that you truly believe in.

 

3. Plan your introduction

What are the key concepts that the reader will need to know about to understand your essay? The introduction is your chance to capture your reader’s attention, so keep it snappy and to the point. Any topic can be interesting if it is well written about. If you just want to scribble down some key words and come back to it later that is fine.

 

4. Plan the sections in the main body of the essay

Sit down somewhere cosy and quiet and get the main body planned in one sitting. Libraries are free to use and can provide an ideal workspace away from distractions. You know the key concepts you would like to include and you know your concluding viewpoint. Move on from one point to the next, thinking about how they interact with each other. Each paragraph and sentence should connect to the one before and after.

 

5. Get someone who has little to no prior knowledge of the topic to read through your plan

Your essay should make sense to whomever wanted to read it, not just your teacher who already knows lots about the topic. Ask them a few questions about the topic or the view you’re discussing in your essay to see if it’s coming across in the way that you want it to.

 

BONUS TIP: Do your bibliography as you go along! The feeling of relief when you finish an essay can be ruined when you realise you need to write out a whole bibliography. It will take a lot less time to do if you constantly add in texts as you use them, because you won’t spend so much time trying to find lost details! Make sure you have a guide you find easy to use when writing out the references. There is an abundance of these to be found online, so you have plenty of choice!

 

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