MIT Open Courses

Higher and Advanced Higher pupils – especially those intending to continue their studies at University in the future – might be interested in the free courses and video lectures available from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – one of America’s leading universities.

Media Studies students might find “The Film Experience” course a useful history of film and cinema.

A host of other courses and materials is available here.

The courses are largely aimed at undergraduate-level university students, but many will be accessible enough to senior pupils. The video lectures are a great opportunity to practise listening and note-taking skills, especially as transcripts are provided.


Discursive Writing Guide

A new resource for National 5 and Higher pupils has been added to the ‘English Resources’ page: a Discursive Essay Guide.

The pdf guides you through the important steps one-by-one and provides tips, advice and ideas. A must for all pupils preparing persuasive folio pieces in the coming weeks!

Attention all new Nat 5 and Higher candidates!!

Returning to school in August is probably the last thing on your mind right now. After a hectic term, you deserve a long and relaxing holiday away from school. It’s important to rest and recharge. Nonetheless, the summer break is also the perfect time to sow the seeds of your future success, allowing you to reap the rewards in autumn.

Click through to find out how you can hit the ground running in your Nat 5 or Higher English course.

(and to find out what any of this has to do with Benedict Cumberbatch…)

Continue reading

From Prelim to Final Exam

National 5 and Higher pupils:

Now that the dust has settled following the busy prelim period, it is time to think about the final exam and upcoming folio deadlines, and put in place an action plan to ensure you achieve your target grade.

All Nat 5 and Higher pupils have conducted a self-assessment of their performance in the prelim. On this sheet you identified the question types you need to focus your revision on, and the ways you can improve your critical essay performance. Keep this sheet handy (at the front of your folder, perhaps) and refer to it when revising/creating your revision timetable.

Before your final exam, you will have to hand in your completed folio.

The final deadline for National 5 folios is Friday 13th March.

The final deadline for Higher folios is Friday 27th March.

Over the next few weeks, supported folio sessions will take place from 4-5pm in the library on Mondays for National 5 pupils, and on Wednesdays for Higher pupils. Sign up sheets will be posted outside the English base. Spaces are limited.

NB: While teachers will be available to offer some guidance, these sessions are a great opportunity for you to focus on redrafting and revising your folio pieces in a quiet environment, using the feedback from your class teacher. If you are someone who finds it hard to motivate yourself to work at home, sign up and get your folios sorted in plenty time!

Higher Prelim Revision Advice

It’s important to rest and enjoy your Christmas holidays. However, if you are a Higher pupil, you should also aim to do a little revision for your forthcoming prelim too. Here are some suggestions for useful activities to undertake:

General Activities

  • Get your folder/notes in order to make revising easier
  • Create a revision timetable, ensuring you allocate equal time to C.R. and C.E.

Close Reading

  • Complete any homework activities that you have missed / not finished
  • Target key question types in past papers (e.g. do all the ‘own words Qs’ for several papers)
  • Use textbooks/study guides from the library/class notes to revise each key question type in isolation
  • Complete an entire past paper under timed conditions and self-mark using the marking key (using the marking key will help you understand what the markers will be looking for)

Critical Essay

  • Re-read your texts (yes, that means the whole play/novel!)
  • Focus on the common question types that often recur in the exam (e.g. In the ‘Drama’ section of the paper, questions usually fall into these broad categories: character, theme, key scene, turning point)
  • Prepare a concise and stylish generic introduction and conclusion for each of your texts that can simply have a short reference to the question appended to it
  • Memorise your generic introductions (and conclusions)
  • Review feedback on a critical essay you have had marked, then re-write it to improve it.
  • Write a skeleton plan (introduction, topic sentences/points and a conclusion) for a range of past paper questions.
  • Do some secondary reading/research about your texts (from Sparknotes, for instance)
  • Collect together the key quotations you are likely to want to use for each text and start memorising them.
  • Write essays under timed conditions using past paper questions. (Practise writing two, back to back, in 90 minutes – this is what you will have to do in the prelim!)

Advanced Higher – Creative Writing Workshop

Creative writing is a form of writing which goes beyond daily routines and opens up a new world of thinking; Kirsty Logan certainly taught the Advanced Higher class this. Kirsty Logan is an award-nominated fiction writer who has deep knowledge and understanding of how to teach students about creative writing. As Advanced Higher English pupils are exploring creative short stories, having Kirsty come in and do a Creative Writing Workshop was a real bonus to the class. Kirsty undertook many activities such as using day-to-day phrases as a springboard to come up with ideas for a story. She also spoke about magic realism which encouraged the pupils to think of everyday situations but with an added twist of magic or excitement. This led all the pupils to go on and create their own unique piece.

All in all, Kirsty was a lovely, bubbly person who hopes to inspire people into seeing the world from a different view in order to trigger our imaginations. She totally engaged the class and is a great role model for encouraging us to do well in creative writing.

Some pupils in the class have been reading her short story collection The Rental Heart and other fairytales, which they have relished sharing. We hope this won’t be the last time we see Kirsty and wish her all the best in her future books and writing.

Molly Macdonald S6

It’s the final countdown….

With exams looming, now is the time for all National 5 and Higher pupils to begin final revision. Here are a few hints, tips and handy links to help you maximise your revision time.

1) Make sure you know when your exam is, and plan out your revision time between now and then using a revision timetable. Don’t spend more than 45 minutes on any one topic. You will gain more from repeated chunks of revision spread out over days and weeks, than one mammoth, all-day session. [SQA Exam Timetable 2014]

2) Prioritise your revision time. If your close reading grades are already strong, spend more time on your literature texts – or vice versa. If both areas need work, make sure you split your time equally. Now might be a good time to dig out your Prelim Self-Assessment sheet and decide where your time would be best spent.

3) At this point in the year, ‘reading over your notes’, highlighting, and making study cards are likely to be of very limited benefit. Focus your time on the things you will actually have to do in the exam: reading close reading passage and answering questions, or writing essays.

4) Timed practice is essential to improve your pace for the exam, but be sure to take the time to reflect too. Don’t just churn out essay after essay, answer after answer, without looking at how to improve. Use marking keys, study guides, essay checklists and sample essays to help you identify your areas of strength and weakness, and aim to improve these in your next timed practice.

5) Spend time re-reading your literature textsnot your notes or key quotes, but the actual texts. To write a strong critical essay you must show understanding of the whole text and its wider themes. Re-acquainting yourself with the literature is essential. Look for new ideas/connections that you hadn’t seen before. It may be months since you last looked at some texts in their entirety (especially plays and novels), so now is the perfect time to go back and read them through again. Once you’ve done that, you may wish to investigate some online revision guides for your texts, looking for new perspectives/ideas. See the links on this blog for literature study guides.

6) Revisit work completed in class this year. Complete any unfinished questions/essays/homework. Try re-writing and improving essays you wrote earlier in the year.

7) Identify the question types that recur in the critical essay paper. (For example, there are often questions on ‘character’, ‘turning point’ and ‘theme’ in the drama section of the paper.) Then prepare general essay plans that can be adapted. A good plan should include your line of argument (a series of linked points that answer the question) and a range of supporting evidence from across the text. You could also write and memorise a generic introduction for each of your texts.

8) Target those close reading questions that need most improvement. You should also bear in mind, however, that ‘own words’ / ‘summarise’ questions and ‘language’ questions (imagery/word choice/sentence structure) make up the largest proportion of the paper. Conversely, ‘link’ and ‘context’ questions rarely appear more than once or twice in any single paper.

9) The final close reading question in the Higher exam is an easy opportunity to pick up 5 marks. Have a quick look at it before you read the passages so you have an idea of what to look out for. You may find it useful to practise summarising the main idea(s) in a passage in preparation for the final question. To improve your ability to summarise key ideas and follow a writer’s argument, you should also continue to read quality non-fiction writing/journalism from broadsheet newspapers or quality magazines.

10) Finally, make sure you reward yourself for effective study. Exercise, sleep, healthy eating and relaxation will all help you to perform well in an exam. Nerves are normal and a little adrenaline can sometimes be helpful on exam day; crippling anxiety or stress is not. You will know best whether you’ve prepared fully for your exam. If you’ve put in the necessary effort all year, and are ready to give the exam your best shot, then you have nothing to worry about. If you know that there is more you could do, then head back to step number one, and get revising!

For further expert advice, and access to study tools, past papers and useful links, check out:

You can do it!

Higher / Nat 5 Folio Checklist

Over the next few weeks, National 5 and Higher pupils, you should be putting the finishing touches to your writing folios. Here is a 12-step checklist to ensure that your essays are ready to go on deadline day:

1) Are you within the word limits? (Nat 5 = 1000 max / Higher = 650 min – 1300 max)

2) Have you included your word count at the end of your essay?

3) Do you pieces have appropriate/interesting titles? Format your title a few point sizes larger than your essay font size, and make it bold or underlined, and centre it.

4) Do both pieces have your name at the top of the front page, or under your title? (Don’t put your name at the end of your essay.)

5) Are your essays paragraphed and left-hand aligned?

6) Are your essays in 12 point size?

7) Are your essays in Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial typeface?

8) Are your essays 1.5 or ‘double’ spaced? (This will make it much easier for your marker to read.)

9) Are your essays printed in black ink?

10) Have you: used the spellchecker; proofread your essays on screen; printed them out and proofread in hard copy; given them to a friend or family member to proofread; then proofread it again yourself? Remember you have had 8 months to work on your essays – the marker will be intolerant of technical errors in spelling, punctuation or expression. Check every sentence, every word, every comma!

11) Does your discursive/persuasive/argumentative essay have a list of all the sources you consulted, laid out in exactly the right way? If you don’t know how to lay out your sources, click here: How to Reference Sources and Avoid Plagiarism.

12) Finally: is your folio an example of the best work you can produce? It should demonstrate the very pinnacle of your writing talent – do yourself justice and put in the effort that your folio deserves!

S4 Course Outline

In order to help both parents and pupils understand the changes to the S4 course, the department has added a S4 Course Outline on the ‘For Parents’ page. It details the difference between National 4 and National 5, explains the key changes from the old Standard Grade to the new Nationals 4 and 5, and offers advice about how best to prepare for success with the new courses.

We hope pupils and parents find this helpful.