There's nothing quite like a mid life crisis to make you address the failings of the past!
I was one of the best in my class at maths in junior school. I'm not entirely sure what went wrong at high school, maybe others were just better than me and knocked me off my arrogant perch. Whatever the reason, by the time it came to doing GCSE's the combination of a lack of effort on my behalf and pier pressure from other kids in the class that just made the thought of approaching our maths teacher with his rather unpleasant personal hygiene issues completely intolerable, I was fairly average. I just hadn't grasped certain topics and didn't feel I had anywhere to turn for help.
Result, Grade C. Now that's not a bad grade and many would be pleased to receive it, but I knew I'd under-performed. I asked one of the teachers if I could do a resit and he said nobody ever got better than a C in a resit so there was no point. And that's where it sat for 25 years!
On a number of occasions over that time I thought about studying again, but I was either too busy or missed the enrolment period.
I think for a lot of people a large proportion of what is taught at GCSE level maths is largely irrelevant to every day life. In my job as a timber deck designer and builder I often needed to calculate the size of a flight of steps and although I found methods to manage, I knew that if only I'd got my head around trigonometry I'd have found it much easier.
So I finally determined I'd do it.
I thought about going to a local college, but knew that the rigidity of set class times just wouldn't work for me. I knew there would be a lot I'd find too simple and just be wasting my time on, but also I knew there'd be stuff I'd struggle with. Now struggling isn't a problem if you can be confident that you'll at least be in attendance and can ask questions of your teacher and fellow pupils. I'm married with four young kids and two have special needs. I have commitments with charities I volunteer for, oh, and I run a small business employing several people too! There was no way I could be sure I'd be at every lesson that mattered.
So I had a look on line at several providers and found that ICS Learn seemed to offer the best system for me. With a nominated maths teacher who did twice weekly online teaching sessions that you could join in with or watch later, and repeatedly if needed. Two tutors I could email any questions to, and the opportunity to ring up the maths teacher in office hours if I was really stuck. That, plus a massive list of links that Melissa (smiley maths teacher extraordinaire) put together for every topic so we could find relevant question sheets with answers as well as other online tutorials. Hegarty Maths was particularly useful.
I found the course booklets issued by ICS Learn were very good to work through as well. I printed them all off and put each in its own lever arch file along with a load of blank sheets to do calculations on.
I dread to think how many reams of paper I used printing out question sheets, but I enjoyed working on them.
I've no idea exactly how many hours I spent each week on my studies, some weeks none at all because of work or family pressures, but there was always the video tutorials to go back to when I did find the time.
Melissa advised me that the best way to revise for the exams was by doing the past papers. I really enjoyed that, and the resource of past papers on the the ICS Learn site was brilliant. Not just the paper, but the official marking scheme, which incidentally, I found really good to read the advice to examiners section of, as it helped me to understand both what the examiner would be looking for and what wouldn't matter either way. On top of that there were written answers by Melissa to all the past papers, including explanations, and even a link to videos going through the papers.
I have no doubt whatever that doing the past papers added at least an extra grade to my final mark. It was also the part of the course I enjoyed most I think.
As I am wanting to change my employment in the next year or two, knowing that I can apply myself to something I had previously under performed at, and this time hit my desired target on, has given me great confidence.
Also, as a friend of mine pointed out, with four kids that will need to go through the GCSE mill in the next decade I am now massively better prepared to be a help to them than I would have been living under a sense of failure and inadequacy from my school days.
I took my exams at a local high school and it was lovely to meet another ICS Learn student there.
I stated at the start of the course that my target was an A star and anything less than an A would be a fail. Arrogant? Maybe, but I had my reasons, the ghost of 25 years ago wasn't going to be laid to rest by anything less.
I came back from holiday to find my exam results. I was surprised to see they'd given me a mark for each of the three exams I'd sat. It equated to 91% - Grade A Star. Consider that ghost well and truly slayed!
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