How to find motivation

The most effective way to do it, is to do it.
Amelia  Earhart

Motivation can be a fleeting thing.

Sometimes it burns in us with a luminescent fervour –  it can feel so strong that we feel we have to go out there right then and there to do something to put our dreams into action.

The motivation to act is something many of us seek and something that is difficult to find.

But at other times, we can look into the depths of our soul and find that motivation has completely left us. The lack of motivation makes us completely unwilling to complete that homework, revise for that test or do that housework. At those times, we find our hearts are filled with dread and reluctance. Its main symptom being procrastination which involves time wasting activities such as scrolling the pages of Facebook and watching endless YouTube videos.

So what do we do?

What can you do when you just can’t find that motivation to carry on with a project or to get out of bed and start the day?

1. Self-reflection

Focus on your main goals, understand what your dreams are, what do you want the outcome to be? Sometimes focusing on your dreams, on what you ultimately want, can be enough to stimulate you into action. By knowing what you want, you can strive to achieve those goals. Take that leap. Take that first step. What are you waiting for?

2. Tackle the problem

What’s holding you back? Why don’t you want to complete that activity? Try to find the root cause of the problem and then tackle it straight on. For example, if you find that you are reluctant to complete a piece of homework, is it because you find a certain concept difficult? If so, why don’t you find someone to help you understand it better, maybe you’ll find that you actually enjoy the subject.

3. Make connections

Establishing relationships with other people can provide a support network to push you to achieve what you want – especially finding those who share the same vision or goal as you. Communicate with others, share your dream, get others motivated. Use those teamwork skills to work together and get a project done.

Making connections with other people opens you up to new ideas and perspectives, it can develop the way you understand the world and even yourself. Meeting other people and getting to know them, sharing with them your ideas and ambitions can help you find inspiration from others and to also inspire others. You can learn new things, find yourself in new situations and experiences and you can find motivation.

4. Relax

Sometimes our search for motivation can be an effort in vain. At those times, we can spend countless hours waiting for inspiration to hit. It can be even harder to find motivation then because we can feel frustrated by futility and exhausted too. In those times, just relax. Take a deep breath. Stand up and do something else.

Sometimes it can just take time for the motivation to come, but if it hasn’t yet don’t worry. Just relax.

Do you have any other suggestions?

Leave a comment below.


Competitions, Awards & Activities

Fighting for a university place can be tough. Below is a list of competitions/olympiads/challenges etc. that you might want to have a look at and get involved with as it would give you something to put on your personal statement and even if not, it’s really quite fun to do.


Linguistics Olympiad:

UKLO is a competition for students who are still at secondary school, in which they have to solve linguistic data problems.

For all the budding linguists out there, this is a competition that you should really get involved with. Use your skills of logic, deduction, educated guessing etc. to decipher the meaning of words in languages that you have never met before. It is an intellectual challenge and tests your skills; it is really worth considering.

Even if you aren’t a linguist, those with a mathematical/scientific incline might like to have a go at this too, in fact anyone can have a go.


Peterhouse (the oldest College of the University of Cambridge) runs three Essay Competitions in History, Science and English each year for lower sixth students. The top prize in each essay competition is £500 and the second prize is £250. All winners and highly commended entrants are invited to a presentation at Peterhouse in late June/early July. This year’s competition is now live and the deadline for receipt of all essays is 22nd March 2013.

For the Thomas Campion English Essay Prize, please click here:


For the Vellacott History Prize, please click here:


For the Kelvin Science Prize, click here:

CREST Awards:

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) enrichment activities to inspire and engage young people aged 5-19 years

This is a great opportunity to do some independent research, experiments, designing to develop your interest into a particular aspect of science, it could be anything ranging from building a lie detector to monitoring the effect of temperature on the oxygen content of water. There are three different levels, each requiring different hours of input: Bronze level (minimum of 10 hours), silver (min. of 40 hours), and Gold (100+ hours.)

Young Scientists Journal:

Do you like to write? Do you like science? Is there something you would like to write about? Sign up for the young scientists journal and submit your articles which could be chosen and published in their magazine.

Headstart EDT Courses:

These courses come with a fee but they give you the opportunity to undertake a short residential course at universities such as University of Bath, Bristol, Cambridge.

Nuffield Research Placements (previously Nuffield Science Bursaries):

They provide over 1,000 students each year with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

Students in the first year of a post-16 science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) course are eligible to apply. Placements are available across the UK, in universities, commercial companies, voluntary organisations and research institutions.

The National Science  + Engineering Competition:


University of Birmingham Particle Physics Cascade Competition:

This is a really exciting competition as you get to make a short video trying to explain an aspect of particle physics; this allows you to show how you have done extra reading and research outside of what you are learning in school and it’s a lot of fun, especially because you can work in a team with your friends.

Physics Challenge and/or British Physics Olympiad:

The fact that is it mostly geared to using and manipulating data from unfamiliar situations and not dependent on a GCSE spec is excellent”.

(Teacher, Physics Challenge)

The British Physics Olympiad Experimental Project –

Our newest competition, the Practical Project was introduced in 2007. It was developed in response to the decreasing amount of practical physics available to students in school. An interesting problem is posed, to be investigated using common household and school equipment. The project is written up in the style of an academic paper.

BOSCH Technology Horizons Award:

The Bosch Technology Horizons Award is an essay-writing competition for 14 to 24 year olds in the UK.


Biology Challenge and/or British Biology Olympiad:

Encouraging an interest in biology beyond the school curriculum.

Stimulating curiosity about the natural world.


UK Chemistry Olympiad:

The RSC organises the selection and training of the UK team for the International Chemistry Olympiad competition.

Cambridge Chemistry Challenge:

There is an online version which you can view by visiting the website with monthly problems that you can try and solve. In June there is a written paper open to year 12 students in the UK.

Salters’ Chemistry Camps:

Sixty students participate in each Camp.  Four students from each school may apply from Year 10 (or equivalent in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).


UKMT Maths Challenge:

The levels vary depending on your age group: Primary, Junior, Intermediate, Senior.

The papers contain 25 multiple choice questions. Of these, the first 15 are more accessible whilst the final 10 will provide more food for thought.


Visit the Joint Association of Classical Teachers website for a list of competitions related to Classics:

Economics/ Business

Young Enterprise:

World Bank International Essay Competition for Youth:

Young Economist of the Year Essay Competition:

Poly U Global Student challenge:

Schools’ Brightest Business Brain:

Entering essay competitions are a good way to develop your communication skills which is an important skill to have. Being able to articulate your ideas both verbally and on paper will stand you in good stead for university life.


Duke of Edinburgh Award:

The Cambridge Schools Debating Competition:

The Institute of Ideas Debating Matters Competition:

Commonwealth Essay Competition:

Hopefully this will give you some idea of the competitions that you could be taking part in. Have a go!

Keep checking this blog post for updates of other competitions.

Choosing courses and universities

For some of you, it might be the time to start thinking about what university courses you want to apply to and which universities you should choose, hopefully the following tips can help you make those decisions.

Think about your future career

It is important to have an idea of what you want to do in the future, because it ultimately determines what courses you should apply to at university and your life after that. To find the right course for you, you should think about your future career path and if you need help with this, have a look at this post:

There are many things to consider when choosing universities and here are some things that you should think about:

  1. City or campus?
  2. Location: do you want to stay near home or get away? What sort of weather are you looking for? Staying in the country or going abroad to other E.U. countries; or maybe even international?
  3. Course structure and curriculum: have a look at what and how a subject is taught at the university, chances are not every university style will suit yours.
  4. Your own personal learning style: lectures? PBL? intergrated?

So how do you go about finding this out?

Order university prospectuses

If you find a university takes your liking and you want to know more about them, go onto their website which will have lots of information about their courses and/or order the prospectuses. If you ever have an queries about the course or university itself, don’t be afraid to contact the universities and ask, they are usually very happy to help and answer any questions that you might have.

Go to university open days and subject talks

Going to open days is a real eye-opener, because looking at pictures just doesn’t compare to actually being there at the university. This way you can get a feel for the overall atmosphere of the place and you can talk to current students and professors. Sometimes you’ll instantly click, others you don’t but it’s only by going to the open day that you really find out.

Attending subject talks or even just going to the section of the university devoted to that subject means that you’ll find that there are leaflets, posters, information stands and many other things that you can consult to find out more and see if it is the right course for you. Subject talks – especially the really popular ones (e.g. Medicine), require you to book beforehand online, so bear that in mind!

Ask yourself if this is a place that you could see yourself being for at least 3 years or so.

University choice, and university course are two very important things to think about. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, and when choosing a university you should make sure that it is a place that you want to go to or a place that you wouldn’t mind being at for at least 3 years.

Visit unistats – this is a useful link. You need to register but then you can add the university choices and courses that you are considering to a shortlist and compare their statistics with each other e.g. student satisfaction, job opportunities after graduation, average salary 6 months after graduation etc. It is definitely worth a look at.

League tables

These aren’t particularly important, but they can offer some statistics that might be of use to you.

Do you have any other suggestions? Have any queries? Like this post?

Leave a comment below.

Ways to Revise and Exam Tips

We are all different, and different people have different ways of revising. However, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what the best revision technique for us is,  and below are some suggestions of what you can try. The most effective revision however is usually active learning, and not passive i.e. not just reading through your notes. Reading through your notes should just be something that you do regularly once you’ve started your course to make sure that you stay on top of what you are learning in lessons and that you understand the material being taught; for serious revision it just wastes time.

1. Writing out your own notes:

If you can summarise the chunks of text from your class notes and textbook, that’s a good start. Once you have made your own notes, you could try to condense them even more and put them onto small prompt cards. Then you can look at the key words on the cards and mentally go through everything that you know about it.

2. Group revision sessions:

Some people find this helpful, others don’t. It can be helpful as your friends can explain things to you that you don’t understand and vice versa, similarly, you can test each other, and this makes revision more fun and involved than doing it by yourself. However, try to stick to the subject and don’t get distracted and start talking about other things. You can start a small group at school or college and meet each week at a certain time, electing one member of the group to explain one topic each week and then everyone asks questions etc.

3. Practice answering questions:

Doing past papers is always a great way to revise because you get a flavour of what it will be like in the exam, I talk more about this in:

4. Singing:

What?? Yes, I’m being serious, sometimes I find it really helps to make up your own song to memorise facts or long lists of things for example, the location of the different mountain ranges and rivers in the UK. You can sing the song wherever you are…

5. Post-it notes:

Write the main points such as physics equations or key words and stick them around the house, so when you wake up you get a quick reminder of the main points.

6. Teaching someone else:

If you can successfully teach a topic to someone else, you know your stuff and it really gets your brain working when you have to process the information that you have learnt and regurgitate it in a way that someone else can understand. Often you’ll find that they will ask a lot of questions that you might not have considered before and this experience can teach you a lot.

7. Mind maps/spider diagrams:

These can be as simple or as complicated as you want, what it does is visually map the key areas of a topic. Personally I don’t find these incredibly helpful, but I do find them useful when planning essays etc.

8. Revising whilst standing up:

Sitting down for lengthy periods of time isn’t always the best way to revise. Moving around and being active gets the blood circulating and brings oxygen to your brain cells.

During the exam:

1. Read the question carefully.

It’s a good idea to underline or circle the key words in the question to make sure you know exactly what the examiner is asking, look carefully at any sets of data that they give you especially the units in graphs and tables as sometimes they can catch you out e.g. by putting kW instead of W.

2. Look out for the command words and the number of marks allocated.

The command words really mean different things:

  • Describe: say what you see, not why.
  • Explain: give reasons for your answer.
  • Suggest: you probably won’t have learnt specifically about this but can use your knowledge to come up with a sensible answer.
  • Calculate: numerical working out.

For each mark available, try to make a relevant point using the correct terminology. Also be mindful of the space provided to stop yourself from writing too much.

3. Do the questions you can, if you’re stuck then move on.

Time is really precious during an exam, so that means you don’t have to answer the questions in order, do the ones that you can first, and if you get really stuck on one, move on and come back to it at the end.

4. Always show your working.

This refers to questions that require calculations. This way if you get the wrong final answer, you might still be awarded marks from your working and get error carried forward marks too. Be mindful of any units that you need to use, and the number of significant figures that they want you to round to.

5. If you have time to spare, check through your answers.

Don’t sit around staring at the clock, check through your answers by covering up what you have written and answering it again in your head, then check to see if your answers match.

Hopefully, that’s been helpful to you.

Good luck with all your preparation and in your exams!