Thursday, 28 June 2018

Breaking News! Crammers Announced for August - NEW English Literature!

We're excited to announce that, starting August this year, Dreaming Spires Revision is offering daily crammers for not just CIE English Language exams (0500), but now the CIE English Literature exam (0486), too!

Both courses will be offered on a daily basis during the fortnight of 13th-24th August, and registration is now open, so grab your place before we're full.

Check out the "Upcoming Courses in English Language" tab for days and times for the 0500 crammer.

Check out the "New Courses in English Literature" tab for days and times for the 0486 crammer.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via the contact form in the right-hand menu (PC), or email me at dreamingspiresrevision<at>gmail<dot>com

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Another last-minute point about the Question 3 List

Students are making a hash of this question, probably over-thinking it.

They can also under-think it ... by not reading the question!

Almost every time, Question 3 on Paper 2 wants a list based off the insert that has been GENERALISED from the specific example in the insert.

Many years ago, candidates were asked to read the insert and pick out points about characteristics of fictional detectives. Another one was about difficulties and obstacles to building the Panama Canal. Another one was about declining bee populations, and still another about Houdini.

I've just been marking mock exams where the insert was about Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, but the question wanted to know what was the allure of Wild West shows in general.

So where students were saying who Buffalo Bill was, and that his show once played for Queen Victoria, they weren't answering the question about how these shows in general were capturing imaginations of the populace: details like theatrical stage hold-ups, races, re-enacted battles, huge entourages, shooting exhibitions, etc, were all the focus of the 15 points.

While we're talking about 15 points, remember that you can't put more than one point or detail on the same line - if you were to put races, hold-ups, and rodeos on the same line, guess what? You just wasted your line because you got no points while losing the chance to get three points had you separated them on a line each.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

A Plea about Descriptive Writing

Please, please, please, please, please ...

Are you listening??? 

Good. I'm going to say this just one more time.

So even if the exam task for descriptive writing asks you to include thoughts and feelings, it doesn't mean to digress into interior monologue about how you felt about something, about your thoughts, your flashbacks, your back story, what you hope to find in the future.

In order to REVEAL your thoughts and feelings in a DESCRIPTION, you overlay value to the objects you choose to focus on, you add atmosphere to the moment.

How about an example? A long time ago, there was a descriptive task about being on a cable car that suddenly stopped.

Here's how you DON"T show your thoughts and feelings for a description:

We were stuck sky-high on a cable car and I was hoping that someone would come get us soon. My phone's battery was dead, though, and the lady next to me seemed to be about a hundred-thousand years old and probably didn't have one of her own. I thought about shouting down to people to call the police, but they were whizzing past so fast on their skis that it didn't seem like I could have a hope of catching anyone's attention.

This is a story. There's very little in here that would count as description even if it is revealing your thoughts and feelings, so you'd be in the mark scheme band that talks about "some relevant descriptive content" and "tendency toward narration".

Instead, you want to DESCRIBE the scene you are viewing from your stopped cable car, and if you're feeling scared, include details with an atmosphere of fear or being uncertain.

The cable car swayed side-to-side, and bounced up and down in a rhythm that was like my heartbeat - not a duh-DUMP, but a feooowwwr-RUMP, feooowwwr-RUMP. It was as though we were slicing through the frigid air in slow motion, and the effect on the horizon line - a pale, grey fog of the Tupperware sky meeting a pale-white fog of the snowy slopes - was both unsettling and disorientating.

Or what if this temporarily disabled cable car was suspended above a theme park like Alton Towers, and maybe it's a fun adventure. Then your images and atmosphere will be carry with them a different atmosphere.

The cable car stopped right over the Lazy River in the kiddie part. The ribbon of bright, clean turquoise water stretched away and around a little island of soft turf dotted with miniature palm trees. In the middle of the island, in a thick tuft of grass, a mother duck - white, yellow beak - marshalled her little peeping troops down to the bank of their morning bath. She led from the front. Her broad breast swelled as though proud of her seven soldiers that followed behind, their waddling march somewhat suggesting a drunken state. Occasionally, they would stumble into each other, peeps changing into something that approximated a real quack, but once they slipped into the river, their clumsiness was gone. Sheer grace, like ice skating on glass.

Do you see that the cable car is JUST A CONSTRUCT to get you in place where you have time to observe your surroundings, to respond to them, to dwell on them? I don't have to talk that much about the cable car because the task is just created as a way to let me look around from my vantage point of a non-moving cable car.

The same is true about waiting for someone. Whether in a cafe or a kitchen or in front of a building at lunchtime, the backstory about the person you're waiting on is completely irrelevant! It's just a CONSTRUCT to get you sitting on your own, still, watching.

It's such a cliche in writing circles to emphasise the difference between showing (good) and telling (bad), but it's true, and never so true when it comes to descriptive writing.

Focus on the snapshot of the moment, the focus of a scene, and imbue it with an atmosphere from your objects and what they do or how they emit qualities like darkness, lightness, haziness, quirkiness, jerkiness, waddling, etc.

This is how you show your thoughts and feelings in description.

Friday, 27 October 2017

A Pair of 2018 Crammers Now Accepting Registrations

We're just two days away from the Autumn sittings for the CIE English Language IGCSE exam, and I'm already looking ahead to Spring by opening up registrations for the LIVE AND ONLINE weekly January course as well as the daily Easter crammer to help students prepare for their exams for the summer of 2018.

Dreaming Spires Revision time??? I'm so excited!!!!

We'll be looking at the summer exams from last year, and taking advantage of my years of experience with this exam and what examiners are looking for. 

So why slog through reinventing the wheel when I can point your teens to exactly the way to focus on each question, AND mark a mock for them to help them see where they can revise more efficiently?

This course is delivered live and online, and is open to students from all over the world. We regularly have people attend from New Zealand, India, Singapore, and throughout Europe. If the weekly course doesn't suit your time zone, then let me know that you're signing up for the Easter crammer, and I'll choose the 7 pm time slot instead of 2 pm.

DAILY CRAMMER STARTS 26 MAR, 7 pm to accommodate New Zealand students. 

If there is demand, then I may also offer the daily crammer at 2 pm.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

It's that time of year again: FREE giveaway of a copy of my revision guide

Come enter the Rafflecopter giveaway of a FREE paperback copy of my exam revision guide for the CIE 0500 English Language IGCSE exam.

This guide will walk your student through each question on the higher-tier papers, giving tips, tricks, short-cuts, and advice, while also warning of pitfalls to avoid.

Enter as often as you like - no string attached!

Use this link:

Thursday, 14 September 2017

October Crammer is now taking Registrations.

Do you feel stressed about the CIE 0500 English Language exam that's coming up this Autumn? Come along to our daily crammer and get all the strategies to make you feel more prepared, focused, and confident.

After taking Dr P's crammer course, "Wilfred" felt in control.

Now taking student registrations for the daily course that's starting 2nd of October,  meeting at 8 am because nobody has anything planned then but a few extra zzzzzzs!!!

  • What: Dreaming Spires Revision crammer course for CIE 0500 IGCSE in English Language (higher tier)
  • Where: On your computer - it's live and online
  • When: 2nd-6th, and 9th and 10th October, 8 am daily.
  • Cost: £80 including mocking a mark exam (2 papers)
  • How: Register here to receive details of sending payment
  • Who: Only 20 of you, so don't miss the chance to get live tuition from Dr P, author of "How to Ace the English Language IGCSE", available on ebook and paperback from Amazon.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

About those Pesky Descriptive Questions

Usually, I think descriptive questions in Paper 3 of the CIE 0500 IGCSE are easier than narrative questions, but this year was an exception. I thought they were rather difficult, and invited narrative approaches which, of course, would limit a student's success on it.

Earlier this summer, I was discussing this in a private Skype with one of my students, and we decided to have a challenge.

Each of us would write our version of the descriptive piece based on the actual exam question. His parents joined in, too. Here are the results of that little game that we played, published on the Facebook Page.  

In the next post, I'm going to try to tease out the process I used for tackling a hard descriptive question like this, and make some systematic suggestions should this trend for vague and narrative continue.


PS Why not respond in a comment with YOUR descriptive answer, or pop over to the FB page and add yours there? It would be fun!

FROM FB PAGE: Here's a fun challenge: write a descriptive answer to go along with this question from the Summer 2017 CIE 0500 exam: "Describe the moment when you encounter an animal."

My student, his parents, and I have each prepared one. Why not add your own?

PS Don't let formatting get in the way of enjoying a good piece of description: Facebook is the one taking out paragraphing, not us! Honest!

1. Thud, thud. 

Each quiet footstep was muffled by the leaf litter of the forest path, the different leaves like various dabs of brown paint spilled on the ground. An owl hooted loudly, but not one of the group heard it, such was their concentration on scanning the mossy forest, eerily lit red by their headlights, so as not to scare what they intended to look for. The moss, hanging from one branch, looked like a curtain, hung up to hide their view of what was behind it, but most simply pushed passed it, not even noting its existence. 

Out of the blue, I, at the head of the party, stopped dead, for there, as still as a statue, stood New Zealand’s emblem, a kiwi. The red light from our torches turned the already dark brown of its back into pitch, each feather a stroke of paint. Its long, powerful feet wouldn’t have looked out of place on a small dinosaur, with their sharp talons and thick legs, which instead scratched the earth to look for worms. The bird’s long beak was a scimitar, ready to slice through the earth in the pursuit of its next meal. 

Then, as if it had only just realised that it had been seen, the bird was off like a shot, running through the forest away from the path*, making more noise than the entire party. The bird ran behind a tree, and was lost from sight. A jubilant, exhilarated and quiet “Whoa” was heard, the noise of someone who truly knows the significance of what they have seen.

2. I crouched and peered into the aviary at the chaos of fluttering, chirruping, shuffling, settling and preening that was twenty budgies. The warm homely smell of millet seed filled my nostrils. I tried unsuccessfully to follow all their movements. How I could I possibly single out one bird from so many and so similar? I noticed one who was perched half way back and high up. He was regarding me with one dark shining eye, intently, curiously. I looked up at him and he looked down at me. He bent his head a little, spread his wings, and with a second’s flight he was on the ledge in front of me, close to my face. I kept absolutely still. His chest was vivid apple green with a dash of iridescence, and his head was a sunny cheerful yellow. 

“Hello, little bird!” I welcomed him softly, and slowly inserted a finger between the wires. He gently nibbled it, exploring his way around my fingernail. Having completed this careful inspection, he then fluffed his head feathers up as budgies do when they are smiling, batted my fingertip several times with his beak playfully, and began to chatter and cheep conversationally to me.
I was amazed and entranced. Amid the hubbub of indifferent birds who all remained engrossed in their feeding and feathers, their squawking and squabbling, this one had quietly stepped aside to show his intelligence, confidence, friendly good nature, innocent trust—and handsome good looks. He was different. I straightened up and turned to the breeder who was already smiling with a shared understanding. 

“Could we have this one, please?” I asked.

3. In the San Antonio zoo, the snow leopard is on display. It’s a young cub, but still about five feet long. The cage it’s in is bare with concrete flooring and only about fifteen-by-eight feet, roofed, barred on one end. The only item is a large, purple bowling ball, and the cub is rolling it around in its over-large paws, purring. If it had been a tabby kitten with a ball of yarn, it would have been no more, no less cute.

The crowd who are watching this gentle, innocent scene must number about fifty. We all have our cameras out. We point our lenses to snap pictures, and we point our fingers to giggle at the sweet antics, and those with children are lifting their progeny higher, above the short shrubs in front of the bars, and we all ooh and ahh. What could be more magnificient than this endangered creature, enjoying his ball in such innocent pleasure?

So incongruous, the firm bars like a criminal in isolation set against the kitten-like pleasure of purring, patting, and playing, and I think we all feel a pang of sadness that his playpen is a fifteen-by-eight cell of grey, scrubbed concrete.

A snow leopard in 100-degree heat, trying to find the joy in his heart with a cold, hard, purple-swirled bowling ball.

I feel regret that we have to cage the beast to watch him play.

Almost as if hearing me, the leopard pauses in his game and lets the ball roll to a stop. He blinks at us and lowers his head. It makes me want to pet him and scratch his ears and even rub my hand along his back to make his tail-end rise with the pleasure of a firm stroke.

Then without warning, it roars at us with a deep, long ferocity, almost as though the sound waves plaster our hair back against the wind, and it’s suddenly clear - so very clear - that this is no cute and cuddly kitten: but a compact predator of muscle and killing instinct, and we are perhaps on his mind for dessert!