True Grit – Passion and persistence

True Grit“They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit.” So says Mattie Ross in the 1969 film True Grit staring John Wayne. But what exactly does the young Mattie Ross actually mean, what is grit?

Well maybe Angela Duckworth can answer this, she is the author of a book called, Grit, the power of passion and perseverance.

IQ, EQ and Grit

Many will be familiar with IQ (The Intelligent Quotient). It was developed by Alfred Binet around 1911. Not to measure intelligence so that individuals can demonstrate superiority over others, but to identify under performers so that remedial action could take place. Then in 1995 Daniel Goleman wrote about the Emotional Quotient (EQ) or Emotional Intelligence. The idea that individuals can recognise their own, and other people’s emotions, discriminate between different feelings and use this emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour. This idea has enjoyed some success and helped people shift their focus towards valuing something other than simply being clever.

Grit in a way makes a similar point. If we took at a group of highly successful individuals, what qualities would they have, what would it be that made them so successful? Would it be intelligence, maybe a high EQ or is it something else. Angela Duckworth found that it was grit, which she defines as having a passion and persistence for long term goals.

Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’

Gritty people work hard, but they are doing this with a long term goal in mind.  They also find their work meaningful, important and interesting.

I’ve never interviewed someone who was truly world class in what they do, who didn’t say in the first five minutes “I love what I do”.

You can become grittier

To learn how to become “more gritty” we need to bring in Carol Dweck. A professor of psychology from Stanford University. Dweck coined the phrase a growth mind set and identified two groups of people. One those who believe their success is based on innate ability, a fixed mindset and two, those who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness a growth mindset.

The logic being that you are more likely to develop grit if you have a growth mindset. This is because if you fail, rather than giving up, you see it as a learning experience and continue to work hard towards your long term goal. Dweck even uses the term doggedness, often described as someone who has an obstinate determination or persistence.

Grit and exam success

I would argue that examination success has far less to do with intelligence and more to do with grit. This is not to say that passing an exam does not require intelligence just that along the way most will face some form of failure and having a growth mindset together with a large dollop of grit is more likely to result in success.

Think about the following:

  • You don’t have to be the cleverest person to pass the exam
  • It is possible to learn most things – if you work hard
  • It’s a marathon not a sprint – failing an exam can be a setback but that’s all, pick yourself up and carry on
  • Be clear what your long term goal is – three years to pass an exam is a long time but your goal is probably much longer. Passing the exam is only part of the journey
  • You may not at first find the work meaningful, but almost everything you learn can be interesting

Find out your grit score

If you would like to find out what your grit score is then click here, it will take less than a minute and you get immediate feedback.

John Wayne also said

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.

A growth mindset perhaps.

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“You never fail until you stop trying.” – Toms story

The young Tom

The young Tom – inspiring us even then

I am not sure when I first met Tom but it was certainly early on in his studies. Tom was not your typical accountancy student, he was slightly older and perhaps more reflective, the two points may be related. Students studying for professional accountancy exams are probably around 25 and focused very much on looking forward, not back.

Tom started his exam journey in November 2009, his first 2 papers went well and he passed them first time. You need to pass 10 exams broken down over three levels if you want to become a member of the Chartered Institute of management accountants (CIMA).  Boosted by this Tom decided to sit the next 4 papers all at once, something he now thinks was a mistake, he passed just the one. By the end of 2011 however he had passed the other 3. That was 6 papers and two levels complete, Tom was back on track.

“Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.” – Margaret Mead

2012 was not a great year for Tom on a personal level which almost certainly had an impact on his performance in the exam room. As a result the whole of that year went by with only one exam success. Between 2012 and 2013 Tom sat one of the remaining papers three times and the other one six times, to quote Tom, that’s six, count them 1…..2….3…..4…..5…..6….. He finally passed that paper in November 2013.

It’s probably worth pausing at this point, how would you feel if you sat an exam twice and failed, let alone 6 times. At this stage your biggest enemy is your own mental attitude. You begin to question your ability, your intelligence and even your choice of career. On top of this is the boredom and stress of having to study the same exam over and over again, trying to do something different, fearing if you don’t you will get the same result. And of course as many of you will know when you are studying your life is on hold, making decisions about work, family/friends is difficult as you need to put your studies first.

In fact Tom did consider giving up, but there were two reasons he didn’t. One the support of his teacher, Maryla who remained positive throughout whilst working with Tom on what he needed to do to improve, and two Toms stubborn attitude, his determination and desire to get something good from all the hard work he had put in so far. To quote Tom, “all I kept thinking was I have lost so much because of this bloody course I have to get something positive from it.” When Tom finally passed that paper he felt excited, and as if he had slain a personal demon.

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Ward

With only one paper to go Tom was still to face a number of challenges, and it was far from plain sailing.  Knowing a large amount of detail was essential for the earlier papers, now it was all about the big picture, prioritisation and time management.

He was told that gaining the qualification would open doors … So he imagined an open door, on the other side were green fields, money, cars, holidays, being the boss. This focus really helped motivate him to see it through. He passed his last exam on the 29th of May 2015.

It had taken Tom 6 years, in which he had sat in the exam room approximately 22 times. This is not the story of someone who always knew he would pass, destined for success nor of a naturally gifted student who simply needed the right motivation to bring out his talent. This is about what you can achieve if you are willing to make sacrifices, give everything you have and learn from failure.

Congratulations Tom you deserve your success.

 

Just answer the question!!! – but how?

Last month I looked at the best way to tackle a case study, but case study is only one type of exam, what about the more traditional style of exam question?

The world is full of great advice, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, just answer the question ….all these statements are very clear with regard to WHAT you should do but terribly unhelpful as HOW to do it.

The reason that students fail exams is simple, every examiner since the beginning of time will have made some of these comments.

Students fail exams because?

  • They don’t know the subject – inexcusable and the only reason you should fail
  • They don’t read the questions properly – and as a result  misunderstand what was being asked
  • They don’t  manage their time – so only complete 50% of the paper
  • They don’t write good answers – true this might be due to lack of knowledge but could also be the result of not knowing how much to write

The last three of these can be overcome with the use of good exam techniques. In this blog I want to share with you two simple techniques that I think will help.

How to read questions properly – Tip one, the rule of AND

Below is an exam question worth 12 marks. You don’t need to know anything about the subject so don’t worry.

Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment and the adjusted discount rate, and explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments. (12 marks)

The rule of AND is simple, where there is an AND in the question simply put a line through the AND then make the next statement the start of a new question.

Now read the question

1. Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment. and

2. (calculate) The adjusted discount rate, and

3. Explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments.                                                                                  

There are now three questions and because we have broken it up, it is so much clearer what you have to do.  If we were really clever we might be able to guess how many marks out of 12 relate to those three questions, a tip for another day perhaps.

How to write a good answer – Tip two, Define. Explain and Illustrate

Define Explain and Illustrate is a technique to help you write more using a simple structure.

Read this question

Discuss the proposal to repurchase some of the company’s shares in the coming year using the forecast surplus cash. Other implications of share repurchase for the company’s financial strategy should also be considered. (10 marks)

Firstly Define the technical words. In this example the technical word is repurchase, so firstly we need to say what a share repurchase is.

E.g.  a share repurchase is where a company buys back its own shares and as a result reduces the number of shares available on the market.

Secondly Explain in more detail.

E.g. the share buy back has to be financed in some way so one implication is that it will result in a reduction in the company’s cash balance. It also means that because there are fewer shares, earnings per share (eps) will increase.

And lastly and in many questions most importantly, Illustrate. This could be by way of a diagram an example or by referencing to the question in more detail. The reason this is so important is that this is how you will demonstrate to the examiner that you can apply the knowledge. If you don’t understand something you will not be able to apply it. The application section of the answer will often carry the most marks.

E.g. in the example above it is clear that the company is forecasting surplus cash, i.e. they have more money in the future than they need. Leaving this money in the bank is not considered sensible partly because the level of return that can be earned from the bank will be less than the shareholders require, it can also be interpreted as a lack of ambition on the part of the Directors. Blah blah blah

Depending on the detail provided in the question this final illustration section can go on and on. How much you write will depend on the marks available.

I hope you have found these two tips helpful, if you want more in the coming months just add a comment to this blog and I will oblige.

Epic exam failure – what not to put on your exam paper

And finally a short video showing students real exam answers – funny

Click here

 

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

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