The E word – the book about how to pass exams

E for Exam

I have to say that I feel a little self conscious writing about a book that I have written, yet it has taken up such a large part of my life for the last four years, I cannot let its publication go without saying something.

The E word is a book about exams and how to pass them, and part of my motivation to write it came from the simple observation that success or failure in the exam room was becoming increasingly important. Increasingly important because unlike in the past, when there were jobs and opportunities available regardless of your academic record, this was not the case anymore.
My daughter was 11 at the time and was just about to sit her first really important set of exams. It seemed then and is becoming a reality that this was the start for her of 10 to 15 years, perhaps even longer, of sitting exams! That is a huge chunk out of someone’s life, and for my daughter and many others it was also the first time that her success and failure would be so ruthlessly measured.

There was also this somewhat elitist attitude to rank people in accordance with their exam record, pass and you are in the club, fail and you are not. And from there it gets worse; people begin to plan out your whole life based on what you did on a piece of paper for 3 hours. In some instance elevating you to the highest position, with comments like “he/she will go far”, “very bright, they have a great future ahead”, which is fantastic, but not so motivational if they say “not cut out for an academic career”, “not really bright enough”. It was as if the exam result was a crystal ball that people stared into to predict your destiny.

And based on what, the performance in an exam, and the result you get…….

This is not an argument to change the system nor am I suggesting that we do not need exams; it just brought home to me the importance of passing and the implications of failing.

But I had another motive; my job is to get accountancy students through their final level professional exams. To do this we use a whole raft of techniques that together with a lot of hard work by the students had proved very successful over many years. I was convinced that the techniques we used at this level could be of benefit to anyone who has to sit an exam. So I thought I would write them down and find out.

Run Forest run
Although not explicit in the book, there is a theme on which it is based and one that is important to me. In the film Forest Gump, Forest, the main character (Tom Hanks) is born with learning difficulties, he has an IQ of only 75 (90-110 is normal) yet despite this he manages to excel and ultimately achieve success, because of hard work, determination, clarity in his objectives, oh and with a little luck.

And that’s what this book is about, anyone can be successful, you have to play with the cards you have been dealt. To pass exams, intelligence (whatever that means) is just one factor. Everyone has it in them to pass, you just need the right mental attitude, knowledge of how the exam system works and techniques that will improve your performance.

And if you don’t have them, then buy the book………please

Available for £10.00 from all good book stores, or by following the link to Kaplan publishing

Just in case you forget the many ways that you can eat shrimp
Bubba: Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There, uh, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole… shrimp gumbo, panfried, deep fried, stir fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp… shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich… that’s, that’s about it.

Mr Motivator – Inspiring tales from Inspiring people

Everyone needs to be inspired to keep their motivation as high as possible, especially when the exam is getting closer. It’s almost as if it needs to be topped up from time to time like the oil in a car.

Motivation is a process of moving from what you have to what you want to have, powered by a force that is partly created by the strength of your beliefs. Inspiration is more to do with something that arouses feelings to do well. It is generally created by a person you relate to, who demonstrates attributes that you admire and, to a certain extent, may be envious of. It doesn’t have to be an actual person; it could in fact be a story about a fictional person.

One of the best ways to create feelings to do well, and a technique used by motivational trainers, is to tell stories of people’s achievements, often against great odds. The story then acts as a metaphor for you. The more you relate and associate with the characters the more inspired you become.

Stories can be from many years ago or, in fact, taken from the modern world. Sir Steve Redgrave, five times gold medallist, is an inspiration in many ways, but what I find most impressive is that he remained motivated for twenty years and that, after every Olympics, he had to wait another four years before he could achieve his ambition!

Sir Steve Redgrave
Quintuple Olympic Gold Medalist Rower Sir Steve Redgrave has proved himself the greatest Olympian Britain has ever produced. His Olympic successes began in 1984, when he won the gold medal in the coxed fours and ended in Sydney in 2000. He became the only UK athlete ever to have won Gold Medals at five consecutive Olympic Games. Sir Steve was 38 when he won that final gold and he managed to motivate himself to stay at the top for all that time but what is his secret?

In the many talks that Sir Steve delivers in his capacity as a sports personality, we can get an insight into his thoughts on motivation.

“Sometimes your dreams and goals may seem impossible and so it may prove necessary to break them down into small manageable chunks.”

Sir Steve tells the story of a swimmer, who realised that, if he was to have a chance of winning the 100 metre back-stroke event at the Olympic Games in four years’ time, he would need to cut 4 seconds off his time. A tough task at this level. But the swimmer then broke that into smaller goals: cutting the time back by 1 second per year, or 1/12 second per month, and the goal started to look achievable – and the swimmer won his medal.

However, “You can have your dreams, your goals and your strategy but it’s all for nothing without the hard work. And that discipline isn’t just setting the alarm clock for your early morning training session – but also getting up when it goes off!”

From this we can gain some very useful tips. Firstly, when setting goals, make them challenging but achievable. Make them inspirational, but not so big that they appear daunting. This is achieved by setting small goals that can be achieved, each one a stepping stone towards your ultimate objective or dream.

Secondly, there are dreams, probably powerful images and future events that you have created in your imagination. Then there are goals which are the short-term smaller targets that you set yourself.

And finally there is your strategy, which is the plan of how your goals when achieved will contribute to your dreams.

But they all mean nothing without the hard work. The day-to-day practice and repetition may be both painful and boring, but is essential if you are to be ultimately successful.

And if you need more inpsiration check this out……Steve Jobs wow

This is an extract from my book the E word, all you need to know about passing exams, which should I am very pleased to say be available in the next few weeks!

Unfortunately success is about hard work and practice

gladwell_malcolm_fThe great thing about being on holiday is that you have a chance to read and so learn more about what other people think. My first book of the holiday has been Outliers (Something classed differently from the main body) by Malcolm Gladwell.   I have read all of MG’s books and find his arguments persuasive and challenging. Although the level of detail can sometimes appear to be a distraction and full of information that on the face of it not relevant, if you stick with it and follow with a sense of adventure, you will be rewarded with a very well thought through, original and thought provoking idea (s).

Although the book is about success and so may help you become more successful, MG has avoided the “I can make you successful” title. It is sub titled the story of success but is more a journey of why different people have been successful and to some extent why others have not. He argues that success is less about your IQ and more about where you are from. It is more to do with your culture, attitude, willingness to work hard and practice, practice, practice.

This in many ways is the classic nature nurture argument. I do have to express a bias here, I love stories that are more about nurture, partly because as you may have picked up from earlier blogs, instinctively I like to think we have some control over our destiny rather than the idea that from the minute you are born your life is pre- determined.

And although it could be argued that MG makes the case that success is very much influenced by your culture and background, therefore making it less to do with the individual and so more predetermined. By explaining how people have become successful it removes many of the myths that people create, “He was so clever, you knew he would succeed”. “The reason he was successful is because he was a genius, if only I was a genius”.

Chapter by chapter and at times with no apparent relationship between them MG builds his argument.

  • The Roseto mystery – a culture is so strong that it resulted in a community becoming far healthier than others.
  • The Mathew effect – if you are successful you are more likely to be given opportunities that intern can lead to further success. That initial success may however be the result of the year you were born in! Check this out BBC news
  • The 10,000 hour rule – from Bill Gates to the Beatles they all have one thing in common, not genius but 10,000 hours of practice.
  • The trouble with genius – two chapters, a higher IQ does not make you more likely to be successful; you only have to be clever enough.  Oh and yes your background matters, having a high IQ does not equip you with all the skills you need for success.
  • The three lessons from Joe Flom – your culture can leave you with a legacy. For some that were successful it was an appreciation of ‘worthwhile work’. Work that was demanding and had a relationship between effort and reward.
  • Harlan Kentucky – a story of how a ‘culture of honour’ can mould the way people behave generations latter.
  • The ethnic theory of plane crashes – how a strong national culture can result in communication problems so bad that the plane crashes!
  • Rice paddies and math(s) tests – Asians are better at maths largely because what they have learned from planting rice! Although their language helps. These lessons have in turn created a successful culture. A culture of attention to detail (planting rice is precise) the harder you work and the harder you work the land, the more reward you get (Rice fields benefit from planting, there is very little fallow – ‘rest’) and there is a clear relationship between effort and reward (Growing rice is so hard that it is difficult to get others to do it. So if you can grow it, you benefit)
  • Marita’s bargain – wheat need a period of fallow to let the soil recover, rice fields improve the more they are worked. Is this the reason Asians work harder and take less holidays? Also it’s what you do in the holiday that makes your grades improve. And it’s not the brightest who succeed it’s those given the opportunity and have the presence of mind to seize it….
  • A Jamaican story – a personal account by MG as to where he came from and why his family were successful and yes it is to do with his background and culture.

I have taken time to summarise each chapter because there were some simple yet powerful messages in each one.  It is also helpful for me in coming to these final conclusions.

And so to the point….When studying you will almost certainly come across brighter and more intelligent people than yourself. People who seem to pick up information with little effort and score higher than you in every test they do, these people are destined for success! You may in turn make yourself feel that in some way you are less likely to succeed because they are so much better. This might result in you working less, feeling that there is little point as you will always be second third or maybe even last.

Working less will almost certainly mean you will achieve less and in turn this will become a self fulfilling prophecy. “See I told you I was not as good”.

The first thing to do is to recognise that you are doing this and the second is to take heart from the main themes within this book, which are:

Hard work and practice (10,000 hours) are key ingredients to success. MG argues that both Bill Gates and the Beatles benefited from practicing their respective skills for hours, days, weeks and years.

You don’t have to be a genius; you only have to be bright enough. MG makes a very convincing argument that higher IQ’s don’t result in greater success. You only have to be good enough…  an average IQ is fine and by definition most of us are average!

And finally it’s not the brightest who succeed, it’s those given the opportunities and having the presence of mind to seize them….So you should seek out opportunities, get yourself into positions where you will be given them and when given……take them.

Studying for an exam is one of those opportunities and with hard work, some self confidence and practice you are more likely to succeed and from that success more will follow, so says Mathew.

The sun is now out and so I must go – hope you enjoyed the blog