Be more like Scrooge – a tale for Xmas

A Christmas Carol was first published by Chapman & Hall (a company that was subsequently owned by Wolter Kluwer who I worked for many years later – small world!) on the 19 of December 1843. It tells the story of a miserly old man Ebineezer Scrooge who following a visit from his dead business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come, changes his whole attitude towards Christmas, money, people and ultimately life.

What is interesting is that Scrooge was not born a miser, there was a time when he was young and in love, he was to be married to his fiancée Belle. Yet because of his desire for wealth, a thirst for money that could never be satisfied and his workaholic lifestyle she married another. This together with the way he was treated by his father and the death of his sister Fran are provided as events that turned Scrooge into a tight fisted, cold hearted and greedy man.

He met Jacob Marley whilst in apprentership probably as an accountant (I started my career in an accountancy practice!) They formed Scrooge and Marley a nineteenth century financial institution; they were bankers who made money from lending to others at very high rates of interest. They cared little for the people they lent money too, only that they turned a profit. One can only assume that modern day bankers never read A Christmas Carol. If Fred (the shred) Goodwin had been gifted this book as a small child, perhaps RBS would never have posted their £24.1bn record breaking loss, and if some people are to be believed the financial meltdown in the UK would have been far less sever, but I digress.


It could be argued that Scrooge was a victim of his upbringing, he could not change, it was who he was and that is how he would always be. Yet when shown key events from his past and present and what would happen should he continue to behave the same, he decided to change. Change his behavior, change his attitude, change who he was, and he did it overnight!

Okay being visited by three terrifying ghosts that vividly portray how your entire life has been selfish and pointless might be considered a drastic measure. But it shows that if you want to do something, you can. If the motivation is strong enough, wherever that motivation comes from, you can do whatever you want.

So as 2010 comes to an end think back over the past twelve months, have you achieved what you wanted, are you happy with where you are now and where you might be going if you continue to do the same things, If not, then change.

You don’t need to make massive life changing decisions as Scrooge did. Small behavioral changes can be just as effective, studying before you go to work rather than after work might help you absorb more and improve your concentration. Start using mind maps and colours when preparing your notes, this will help make them more memorable. Even before you begin to study a new subject take a look at the exam question and have a go at it, you might be surprised how well you do. And if you can’t do it nothing is lost, at least when you come to look at the text you will have an idea as to what to pay more attention to.

See Scrooge after his decision to change

On many levels Scrooge was very successful, he was driven, motivated, single minded, ruthless and rich. I am sure if he went on the apprentice he would win!

But perhaps his greatest s skill was that he was able to change.

Merry Xmas all

Be proud of trying hard

There has been much in the media about schools and education recently and Michael Gove the Education secretary has been making the headlines with comments like “Rich thick kids do better than poor clever children when they arrive at school (and) the situation as they go through gets worse.”   

The Institute of Education tested children aged 22 months and again at the age of six years. It found that on average toddlers with low ability from the richest homes overtook high achieving children from the poorest backgrounds within a few years. The gap widens throughout school, research has found. By the age of 16, children eligible for free school meals are half as likely to get five decent GCSEs as pupils from wealthier backgrounds. 

For the government there are clearly problems here, if you wish to have a society that provides equality and opportunity for all regardless of your background then something is going wrong. However what struck me was the implication that after being tested at 22 months you should be successful at school, because at 22 months you had ability. How exactly do you measure ability at 22 months anyway? 

This is not a story about rich verses poor, and how the rich are using their sharp elbows to force their way to the top. This is a story about how anyone, almost regardless of ability can go onto achieve if they try, work hard, have the right environment, are motivated and inspired. The implication is that this message and these qualities are being provided by the parents of the “Thick rich kids” or they are paying for it outside of the traditional classroom. 

Trying hard

I sometimes think that trying hard or putting in a lot of work is thought of as not as impressive as being naturally talented. Yes it is great to see someone who has a natural talent, performing to the best of their ability, but show me a top sportsperson who, regardless of talent does not have to work hard and put in hours and hours of practice. If you pass an exam you should be proud of how much effort you put in and how hard you worked. The student who has more ability and fails but is happy, knowing they could have put in more work has much to learn.

So please celebrate hard work and be proud of what you have achieved knowing that you got their by working as hard as you could.

No failure……..only feedback

In last month’s blog I wrote about what it feels like to pass exams so in the interests of balance I thought we should look at what happens if you don’t pass.

One good thing about failing is that you are in good company.

Sir Tim Rice, the Academy, Golden Globe, Tony, Grammy award winning lyricist has along with Andrew Lloyd Webber written some of the world’s most popular musicals. They include, Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ superstar, Evita to name but a few. Tim was doing pretty well academically having gained A-Levels in History and French. Perhaps surprisingly he chose not to go to university but instead started work as an articled clerk for a law firm in London, Pettit and Westlake with a view that he would become a solicitor. However after 3 attempts to pass his law exams Tim gave up.

Realising he was a complete failure Tim decided that he would settle for what he had. He spent the rest of his life working for others who were far clever than him. And although many thought he had a particular gift with words Tim never had the confidence to take that gift any further.

Of course I have made the last paragraph up. But how different Sir Tim Rice’s life might have been had he sat back and let his exam failure dictate his future.

In 1895 aged 17, Albert Einstein failed his first college entrance exam at Zurich Polytechnic.

Sir Winston Churchill, author, artist, statesman, and prime minister of England failed the entrance exams for the Royal Military College not once, but twice.

Sir Tim Rice, Einstein and Winston Churchill all failed exams yet they did not let the failure define them as individuals. They all went on either to try again and succeed (Einstein and Churchill) or as in Sir Tim’s case do something very different. He joined EMI as a management trainee, and through this ultimately met Andrew Lloyd Webber. And that’s the point, we all have to deal with failure, sometime you need to work twice as hard and give it another go, other times recognise that a change in direction is needed. Either way keep going, failing an exam is not the end of the world and in the grand scheme of things means very little. I am sure that when Sir Tim looks back he is probably very glad he never became a lawyer, and so are thousands of music lovers all over the world.

What does passing your last exam feel like?

Passing your last exam?

The blogs on this site are mostly about what I think given the events that take place in the world of education and learning.

So I thought for a change you might like to hear what other people think, specifically students who have just found out they have passed what they believe will be their last exam ever.

I sent out a simple questionnaire to a few students who had just passed their accountancy finals. What I was particularly interested in was, were there any strategies these successful students used or words of wisdom they may have that we could all learn from.

The answers below are not from any one individual and I have amended and interpreted their comments to provide some generic learnings. And just as way of background, most of the final level accountancy students in this straw poll were aged between 23 and 33, are in full time employment with jobs that carry responsibilities that have to be balanced with the demands of studying.

1. Do you think all of the hard work you put in was worth it?

Yes, It was worth it because of the understanding I gained of how business works. I have genuinely learned skills and new ways of thinking from studying at this level and I know that it has played a part in my ability to successfully take on a management role at work.

Definitely worth it, when looking for my last job I’d hit that glass ceiling because I was missing the qualification. I found it hard to get interviews for the level of job I was after. Also if it had been simple to pass without putting in the work, would I have really valued it, so I do feel a sense of achievement and euphoria.

2. What was it that motivated you?

I knew that if I wanted to progress further in accountancy and in my career having a professional qualification would be invaluable. When looking for jobs I had seen how my colleagues and others had progressed into better jobs with higher pay and I thought, if I want this then I would need to qualify. There were many times I felt like just throwing in the towel (let’s just say my record for passing exams is not that great!) but I knew that perseverance would pay off, that each exam I would pass would take me nearer to my goal and eventually I would see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I just kept saying to myself this time I can do it, and one day I will have no more exams, I have come this far and to quit now would be mad.

I always knew I wanted to work with numbers and my dad used to be an FD, so I suppose part of me did it to prove something to him, but I also wanted to expand my knowledge and further improve my CV. I witnessed people having the opportunity to learn and not taking it, I felt sorry for those people that were happy not to grow. I just knew I didn’t want to fall into that category.

I continued because I found I was quite good at it actually! And I like a challenge! I couldn’t start and not finish – I need closure!

3. Did you ever think you would not pass?

I didn’t ever think I would not pass as I don’t see myself as a quitter, quite the opposite, I take things as a challenge, it gives me an even greater hunger to want something more when I know it is difficult for me to achieve. I knew eventually I would pass, but it would just take me longer and would be harder for me to achieve than other students.

I was getting to that point where I did wonder if I’d ever get there, but knew that I needed to get it done, otherwise I’d always be thinking ‘what if?’ I know I would have regretted giving up.

No – is that big-headed of me?! I’m confident and have always been quite good at learning.

4. Did you think you had passed?

I really did not know, I did a self assessment and I knew that I would be on the border and boy was I, it could have gone either way.

I’m still shocked that I passed it this time, as I still believe that I had produced much better pieces of work before, just not what the examiner was after obviously.

5. Describe how you feel just now?

Relief, no more studying ever again, proud finished at last

Proud, thankful, relieved, however a little deflated (fireworks didn’t go off in my honour).

Relieved and a little lost!

What does this tell us about passing exams?

What I found most interesting about the responses, was how important motivation is when it comes to exam success. Firstly, you have to be motivated, you have to want something. This might be a desire to learn, to give yourself opportunities and further your career or to prove something to yourself or others. Secondly you need to stay motivated. You need to find ways of maintaining that motivation for long periods of time, several years in fact. This motivation was maintained in many different ways.

Having Powerful beliefs

• Beliefs that you will pass….eventually
• Beliefs that you are good at something
• Beliefs that if something is difficult it means it is worthwhile

Talking to yourself. Tell yourself that you can do it and that to quit would be mad

Enjoying the challenge, think of exams as being a challenge that you will overcome

Not wanting to have regrets, when you look back, not wishing that you had taken those opportunities

Motivation by fear
As for how they felt, about passing. Relief was the word used most, and relief is a word that suggests that students are motivated more by the fear of failing than the rewards of success.

You thought it was all over – well not yet
And finally a thank you to all of the students who responded and some good news. In 2005 Bernard Herzberg, who lives in east Finchley, north London, started his second masters degree in African economics and literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. The good news is that at the time he was Britain’s oldest student, he was 96, so never say it’s your last exam….

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!