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Archive for December, 2009

Top Exam Tips Part 2: GCSE Languages

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

In our last post on boosting your child’s exam chances we looked at some GCSE Maths tips. Today it’s the turn of a subject area that many mums and dads find no less scary – modern foreign languages.

How can you help your child revise for a modern foreign language GCSE – say, French or German – if you don’t speak that language, or your skills are so rusty as to be non-existent?

One way you can make a difference is by helping your child learn and revise vocabulary. A strong vocab is one of the big determiners of success in a language GCSE. Some ideas:

• If you’re testing your child from a word list that he or she has learned, ask for the meaning of the words out of list order.

• Remember to test both ways: “what’s le pont in English?”, “what’s the German word for apple?”

• Mix and match lists, or encourage your child to keep a long-term vocab book (which school might insist on, anyway). Often, kids will only remember the words in the most recent list, so being tested on vocab that’s been learned throughout the GCSE course is really good revision.

One pitfall you need to be aware of is gender. Just about every European language divides nouns (the names of things: apple, table, bridge, Jim, Annie, love, hate and so on) into genders: masculine and feminine in French, Italian and Spanish; and masculine, feminine and neuter in German and Latin.

(English is unusual, because gender usually only crops up in third person pronouns – he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its. In other languages the effects of gender are further-reaching.)

The important point to remember when you’re testing kids’ vocab is that it’s completely pointless them knowing a noun unless they also know that noun’s gender – because the gender will affect the way that sentences are constructed around that noun.

So, for example, it’s no good your child knowing that the French word for house is maison, unless he or she also knows that it’s a feminine noun – la maison.

Luckily, in most languages your child might learn, the gender of a noun is indicated by the definite article that goes with it – that is, the word for ‘the’. If you’re testing vocab, don’t accept an answer that doesn’t have a definite article! For example, don’t accept Glas as the German word for glass – it should be Das Glas. Common definite articles are le and la in French, der, die and das in German, el and la in Spanish and lo, il and la in Italian.

(If your child is studying GCSE Latin, things are a bit trickier, because Latin doesn’t have a word for ‘the’ or ‘a’. Instead, learners have to memorise the gender of each noun separately.)

In French and Italian words that begin with vowels usually have elided articles, where the word for ‘the’ is run into the main word – l’ananas (French), l’ostrica (Italian). When you come across a word like that, make sure your child also knows its gender separately: “l’ostrica – feminine”.

Of course, vocabulary isn’t everything, and there are some aspects of a foreign language that only a native speaker or an expert can teach your child. If you’re in the Manchester or East Cheshire area and you feel a bit of extra help is needed, feel free to get in touch for a no-obligation chat about how one of our modern foreign language tutors might be able to help you.

Top Exam Tips Part 1: GCSE Maths Help

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Are your kids ready for their GCSE exams? Or are they finding some subjects, like Maths, a bit challenging? Although we’re in the run-up to Christmas, now’s the time to be getting their heads around subjects they are struggling with.

This is the first in a series of posts in which we’re going to offer some tips on working with your child as they deal with three key GCSE subject areas: Mathematics, Languages and Science.

First up is Maths. If you found your GCSE or ‘O’-level Maths complete torture, you’re not alone – but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your own kids a helping hand. Even if you’re not much of a mathematician yourself, there are some things you can check and discuss:

1. Do they always read the question properly? This is one of the biggest pitfalls in all GCSE exam subjects, but it can be a particular trap in Maths – and it’s often a problem for the sort of confident child who whizzes through work at high speed. Remind your kids that one of the secrets of success in a GCSE Maths exam is to be thorough and methodical!

2. Show all working – you can still get marks for wrong answers. GCSE Maths often involves solving lengthy problems that need a lot of calculation. It’s perfectly possible to get all the working right, yet end up with an incorrect final answer because of a small mistake at some stage. However, long questions are usually worth several marks: even if your child gets the final answer wrong, there will still be some marks up for grabs if the earlier stages of the working are correct. So it’s really important not to skip stages and always write down all the working out. Again, skipping ‘obvious’ working out is a particular danger for brighter kids.

3. If you can’t finish a question, don’t panic! The trick is to get as far as possible – even if your child can’t complete a question, there will still be marks available for half-completed solutions. Remind your child that in an exam situation, it’s far more important to devote time to answering the questions you can do than to agonising over the ones you can’t.

4. Don’t just understand the Maths – understand the way the exam works. This is useful for both you and your child, and an area where a Maths tutor can make a real difference. For example, in a question worth 5 marks, only one is usually allocated to getting the answer right, with the rest awarded for the quality of the working out. You child can be taught to make tactical decisions about which questions to focus on, maximising marks in the exam.

5. Revise with and without a calculator. Even in exams where calculators are allowed, your child can save precious time by doing basic arithmetic in his or her head. It’s also useful to be able to estimate answers to check that a mistake hasn’t been made when using the calculator. All in all, a good head for sums isn’t all your child needs to be successful, but it will come in really useful.

6. Know your calculator. This is another great time-saver. Understanding some of the more complex functions on a calculator can be a big help at GCSE. The ‘memory’ function, for example, may save precious time in the exam hall.

7. Practise! It’s important to remember that Maths – at least at GCSE level – is a practical, applied subject. It’s not about learning facts, but developing skills. Your child’s school may provide him or her with plenty of past papers for practice purposes. You can also get hold of good Maths revision guides – ask your child’s school or tutor of advice.

Finally, if your kids seem to be struggling – or aren’t on target to get the grades they deserve – there’s no substitute for expert help. We represent a range of GCSE Maths tutors in the Manchester area, and we’ll be happy to match you with a specialist tutor who meets your child’s needs. If you’d like a no-obligation chat about how 1-2-1 Home Tutors can help your child with GCSE Maths, get in touch today!