What’s the point of exams – what do they prove?

With many students in the middle of exams right now, working long hours, making huge personal sacrifices and putting themselves under considerable pressure, perhaps we should stop, take a moment to reflect and ask ……….what’s the point of exams?

Why are you doing this, what will it prove when you do pass, what will passing give you that you don’t have now?



It’s not about knowledge

If you pass an exam, you have proved that you knew the answers to questions set by the examiner at a particular point in time. To be precise you have only really proved you knew enough answers to get a pass mark, in some instances this might be less than half! But you have not proved that you understand everything about the subject or that you could work unsupervised in practice, knowing what to do is not quite the same as doing it.

This is not to say that examinations are easy, they are not or to underestimate their importance, it is just to be a little clearer on what exam success means.

Higher level skills

By passing an exam you are demonstrating many other skills, for example;

Motivation – You have proved that when you set your mind to something you can achieve it.

Concentration – For some people, concentration comes easily for others it might involve removing all distractions by locking themselves in a room. Whatever method you used, you have learned how to cut out distractions and focus on the task in hand.

Prioritisation and Time management – Undoubtedly you have had too much to learn and too little time to learn it. But if you pass the exam you have proved that you got the balance between an endless, or at least what appeared endless set of demands and the overall objective just right.

But most of all exams give you….

A great sense of achievement – You set yourself a target and achieved it.  It is a statement to others that you worked hard and have succeeded. It will remain a tangible and permanent reminder of success that can never be taken away.

Self confidence – It will build self esteem and help you develop a type of confidence that only comes from being successful in a chosen field. Others will congratulate you and as a result, treat you differently.

Choices – it will open doors to opportunities that simply would not have been possible without the piece of paper that says “Congratulations, you have passed”. Exam success will give you choices, it will change how others look at you but perhaps more importantly it will change how you feel about yourself…

So if you have been working hard keep at it, you may not be proving you are the greatest mathematician in the world, but if all goes to plan the end result will make up for all the pain you are going through right now, honest!

But just in case…..everything doesn’t work out check out these Famous A-level flunkers

Motivation – How to want to study

2012, another year and an opportunity to set some New Year resolutions, but how many will you keep, and why won’t you keep them? It’s not because you don’t want to, it’s not because they are not important. But somehow you just don’t want them enough; you lack the motivation to make them happen.

Just imagine if you woke up every morning jumped out of bed and said, “I can’t wait to start studying today.” How much would you learn if that was the way you felt? Well, that’s what it would be like if you were motivated. The interesting thing is that motivation can be learned, just like anything else. With the right techniques you can improve your desire to want to study.

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Zig Ziglar

What is motivation?

Motivation can be thought of as the wants, needs and beliefs that drive an individual towards a particular goal or perceived outcome. It will generally result in affecting a person’s behavior: they will do something as a result.

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.

Tony Robbins

Motivation is about setting goals

If motivation is about being driven towards a particular goal, then, to be motivated, you must set a goal or outcome in such a way that it invades your thoughts and affects your actions. In principle, then motivation is about goal-setting. You cannot be motivated if you don’t want something.

In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.

How to set goals

The process that you go through in order to set goals is important, below is an easy to follow guide as to what questions you need to ask to set motivational goals.

1. What do you want? State the goal in positive terms, what you want, not what you don’t want.

This needs to be something you want, so, saying “I don’t want to fail my exams” needs to be changed to “I want to pass my exams.”

2. What will you accept as evidence that you have achieved your outcome? – Make it real

  •  Ask – How will you know that you have this outcome? What will you see, what will you hear, how will you feel? or

So if your objective is to pass your exams, perhaps you would see yourself opening the letter and it showing a clear pass, you hear yourself shout “yes” and you feel so proud or maybe just relieved.

3. Is achieving this outcome within your control? –  Must not depend on others

  •  Ask – Is this something which you can achieve? Or does it require OTHER people to behave in a certain way?

If the answer to what do you want was, “To pass my exams,” then, when you get to this point it will become clear that this outcome is not achievable by you. To pass the exam, you need the examiner to consider your script worthy of a pass. So the outcome needs to be refined to smaller outcomes that can be achieved by you. E.g. “I want to practice more questions.” This is within your control.

4. Are the costs and consequences of obtaining this outcome acceptable?  – What do you gain and lose as a result of achieving your outcome?

  •  Ask – What are the advantages of making this change?
  • Ask – What are the disadvantages of making this change?

This will help identify if what you want (your outcome) is really best for you and the balance of your life? If you achieve your outcome, how will your life be affected?

5. And then….. Write them all down

 A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

Ayn Rand

And finally – The E word

Many of my blogs, including this one contains extracts from my book “The E word,” the book about how to pass exams.

You can buy this book now at Amazon.

PS Want to know what the guys from Apple think text books should look like – check out this video

It’s a Wonderful Life – lifelong learning

In 1946 Frank Kapra made what is arguably the best Christmas film of all time, it’s a Wonderful Life. It tells the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) who on Christmas Eve gets drunk after being told that there is a warrant out for his arrest for bank fraud.  In a moment of despair he threatens to throw himself into an icy cold river, believing that this will solve all his problems. He is interrupted by Clarence, his guardian angel (second class) who appears and jumps into the water before him. George is forced to rescue Clarence but does not believe that he is his guardian angel and wishes that he had never been born.

And so the scene is set for Clarence to show George that the world would be a very different place had he not been born. Had he not saved his brother from drowning, stopped Mr Gower (the local pharmacist) giving out a lethal prescription and put his dream of travelling the world on hold to run the local bank (Savings and loan).

George was a man with ambition and drive, he constantly put others before himself, in every way a good man. But as can often happen he found himself in situations that he had not expected, arguably did not deserve, that at the time seemed impossible to solve.

Lifelong learning

We often think that studying is something that you do when you are young and then when you have learned everything by the age of say 25/30, you sit back and relax!  Of course this is not true, learning is a lifelong pursuit. It may not always have an exam at the end, but there are lessons to learn and successes and failures to deal with in equal measure. A Wonderful Life follows the ups and downs of George Bailey and in one way is sad because he never does fulfil his ambition to travel. But he learns so many other things along the way, perhaps most importantly that some of the smaller things you do have a huge impact on others and that when faced with apparent failure or disappointment there is always a solution, and it’s not jumping off a bridge…

So perhaps you didn’t get the exam results you wanted or didn’t get a place at university but this is only a moment in time. It is not the end of the journey; it’s just a different beginning.

Steve Jobs tells a great story about “Joining the dots” how you can only join the dots backwards not forwards. Had he not dropped out of Reed College and wondered into a calligraphy class one day then in Steve’s words “the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

So wherever you are in your lifelong learning class, have a very Merry Christmas.

A lesson for today’s bankers

When faced with the bank collapsing George Bailey put in his own money to save it. A modern day lesson for some of today’s greedy bankers perhaps. Sir Fred Goodwin, please note….

Exam results – what to do if you fail!

August is an interesting month, for some it is the time to take a well earned holiday and so de-stress for others it is the month in which the exam results drop through the letter box or inbox and so a time to get stressed.

I have taken the easier of these two options and so have been on holiday, which for me is always a chance to read a couple of books. One of them was called Talent is overrated by Geof Colvin, senior editor for Fortune magazine. In the book Geof puts forward some interesting arguments as to the role talent plays in the success of people who by many would be considered exceptional, even gifted. He argues not so much that innate talent does not exist, more that successful people, those at the top of their respective tree, Tiger Woods (okay not personally – but he is still a great golfer) Warren Buffet, Bill Gates for example have other qualities, they worked hard, and practised a lot…..

Greatness does not come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades. The key is how you practice, how you analyse the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes.

What has this got to do with exam failure?

If you looked around your class and picked the best, brightest, most talented students, I bet they passed their exams. And the reason you failed was because you are not good enough, you are not talented!

Well here is the bad news, what Geof Colvin and in fairness many others have found is that it is often not down to talent, it is down to hard work and practice, and we are all capable of that. If you believe that your poor exam results were because of your lack of innate abilitiy then you are wrong. You are in fact creating what is called a fixed mindset, you begin to believe that you can’t affect your performance and so don’t try. What’s more it’s not all that good to believe you are naturally talented. Research has proven that if you believe that you do well because you are talented, when faced with failure you are more likely to give up. If you believe that you did well because of hard work and then you fail, you carry on but just work harder next time.

So what should you do?

Geof goes on to say that it is not just practice that matters but how you practice, you need to practice deliberately. He calls it deliberate practice and it should;

  • Be designed to improve performance
  • Be repeated a lot
  • Enable you to get feedback continuously
  • Be highly demanding mentally
  • Not be much fun

But what satisfies the above criteria…….. yes practicing using past exam questions. So if you were not successful in your exams, find out when you can re-sit then;

1. Take a deep breath, get out your notes from last time and draw a mind map or review the one you did for revision, sometimes it’s best to make a fresh start. This will remind you of what you have to cover and get you thinking about the subject again.

2.  Analyse the past exam questions (including the last exam) and find out what is examined the most then identify the areas you need to improve.

3. Start to practice these past questions using the answers for feedback, and no it may not be much fun but then you now that.

Failure – the only way to learn

Here is a great video by a guy called Derek Sivers, Derek is a professional musician and founder of a company called CD baby in the US. He makes an argument as to why we need failure because it is a major factor in how we learn and grow.

Final thought

I know at the moment that failing an exam can feel like the biggest disappointment in the world and that it may seem that your career is over before it really got started. But it is what you do next that really matters

As Michael Jordon once said “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying”

Inspirational true story…Never give up!

Congratulations on failing from one failure to another…

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7NfDuDh0Uc&feature=related

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.

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.

Cheating is not the only option

January somehow slipped by and February is upon us and I have yet to post a blog in 2010. I have been awakened from my blogless slumber by the news that 4,415 students cheated in their GCSE and A level exams last year compared to 4,156 in 2008, an increase of some 6%. There is of course much condemnation and moral indignation that students would stoop so low. “You are only cheating yourself” is the often used expression.

In China the college entrance exams are thought so important that parents don’t simply drop their children off on their way to work, they wait anxiously outside the exam hall whilst they take the exam. More than 10 million students sit these college entrance exams. For many it is life changing, pass and you will go to university, fail and you are destined for a life of manual work. And with families in China only allowed to have one child, that one child carries the hopes and aspirations of the entire family.

Last year in Sanman County in Zhejiang Province some parents persuaded the teacher to fax through the exam questions, after the students had entered the exam hall. These were then answered by some university students and fed through via wireless ear piece to the students sitting the exam. The Chinese authorities took a hard stance and jailed 8 of those involved for between 6 months and 3 years.

So is this increase in cheating a breakdown in the moral fibre of this generation, is it on the increase because new technologies make it so easy or is it simply that the pressure to succeed is so great that students, and parents will do anything, including cheat.

It may have something to do with all three, but I suspect it is mostly the result of exams creating a Gattaca (The movie that portrays a world organised according to genetic talent) type environment where those that have the exam passing gene are accepted and those that don’t feel they have little choice other than to break the rules.

In this country at least we are fortunate in that although failing exams is not the best career move, it is not the end of the world. True you may not get into the school that you wanted, but you will be able to get into another one. And yes you may have to put your life on hold for another year in order to retake an exam, but you can retake it. So cheating is not the only option, with a little self belief and determination, the future can still be what you want it to be, as they say in Gattaca “There is no gene for the human spirit”

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