Sabeen’s Physics IGCSE…

Sabeen just found out that she got an A* in her Physics IGCSE (UK 16+ exam).

Aged 10, she’s the youngest girl in the 30-year history of the GCSE to have achieved this!

But, and if you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know this, Sabeen is no genius – in fact, she isn’t even particularly naturally talented at physics – she just used a technique that you too can use in your work and life.

Essentially, it’s the same technique Tiger Woods used to become great at golf, Albert Einstein leveraged for his physics, and Jeff Bezos used to become the richest person in the world.

So, Sabeen did the 2-year course in 5 months – studying around 3 hours a day, 7 days week – she put in enough hours per day which rapidly increased her rate of learning. 1.5 hours a day for 10 months wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

For the most part, Sabeen just did past-papers – practising what she wanted to become good at – and looking up stuff on YouTube when she was stuck. And that’s another part of it – she had the drive to go figure things out. If you aren’t driven, nothing will work.

But at its basic level the technique is incredibly simple – to become great at something focus intensely on it – and actually do it rather than observe.

IGCSE Maths result…

Sabeen, who’s still 8, got the A*!!! That puts her in the top 6% of UK 16 year olds for maths.

She is probably the youngest girl in the history of the GCSE to get an A*. There have been two of boys that have done it when they were 7. And there could be a couple of kids that haven’t publicised their results.

And very honestly, it really wasn’t very hard work.

Anyway, a great result, and we’re all overjoyed!

Accounting GCSE – don’t do it!

Great news! Maryam and Danyal both got A*s in their Accounting iGCSE’s, but it was close. Edexcel iGCSE Accounting is flipping hard, as Isabelle realised mid way during the course. The A* ground boundary is 90% and the papers are not easy. Maryam and Danyal managed 93% and 94% respectively – it’s by far the closest they’ve got to not getting A*s in all their iGCSE’s to date.

I can’t find stats on percentage of A*s for Accounting iGCSE, but A* rates do vary wildly between subjects. 6.5% of all GCSE’s are A*s, but it’s 40% for Latin, 3% for Business Studies, less than 1% for Engineering, and if memory serves me right, low for Accounting. I assumed that the disparity is because of the type of schools that do each subject – for example only the posh public schools do Latin, but I now think that is only part of the story – the other part is that some subjects, such as the Accounting, are simply much harder than others. So avoid them. It leaves us in a bit of a dilemma for Sabeen as Accounting is the only useful subject our dynamic duo have studied in their GCSEs so far.

So Maryam has got the 5 A*s that we wanted her to get and her GCSE’s are now history. Danyal still has 2 to go. Sabeen is about the start the journey.

A quick update on the A-levels – Maryam and Danyal are doing shockingly well with their physics. Bear in mind that it’s meant to be a 2 year course – they started work 6 weeks ago and are getting B’s in past papers in 40% of the assessment. We’ve covered the material in the other 60% too, but have’t done any past papers on them yet, so they are perhaps 4 weeks away from getting B’s in their past papers over the entire syllabus. 10 weeks to be getting B’s in past papers in an A-level?! I find that incredible – but it has all been about leveraging the power of intensity – they’ve been studying physics for around 3 hours per day, after all.

However, the Physics A-level seems to be an outlier – Maryam has been working for her Biology A-level for 6 months now and she’s not nearly ready for the exam. Physics is all about understanding principles and so if the child is fairly intelligent, has a strong foundation in maths, and is taught well (ahem, that’s me!), they can pick things up very fast.

The power of intensity…

I have this American friend who learned to speak conversant Malay within a few months of coming to Malaysia. In Malaysia very few expats learn much Malay because everyone speaks English. We’re spoiled.

My friend told me that according to a study he’d read, which I’ve never been able to find on the internet, the pace at which you learn a language is exponentially related to how much time you spend per week. So if you have 2 Malay lessons a week, you’d learn more than twice as fast compared to if you have 1 Malay lesson per week. Have 5 lessons a week, and you wouldn’t just learn 5 times faster than if you have 1 lesson a week, but you’d learn perhaps 15 or 30 times faster. So he said the secret of his learning Malay was by having lots of lessons per week.

Whether such study actually exists, the recommendation he gave makes sense. The longer the gap in between the lessons the more forgetting between lessons and the more you have to spend re-learning what you learned in the previous lesson. And it explains why people learn languages so slowly from regular lessons. I learned French for 10 years, averaging 2 lessons a week yet I did not reach a level where I could comfortably talk to anyone in French. But people who migrate and are forced to speak the local language, who probably speak around 1-2 hours a day, are typically beyond conversant within months.

It occurred to me that the benefits of intensity probably apply outside languages too.

So I decided to try teaching Maryam and Danyal Physics iGCSE with a high intensity. I started teaching physics 3 months ago, one hour every weekday, so had to put Maths A-level on hold. The results have been really surprising. Both recently got just over 50/80, around a D grade, in the basic/core physics paper, Paper 2, the first time they attempted one, without any revision. With even greater intensity I think A*’s in their Physics iGCSE is achievable, in as little as 5 months from the day they started studying physics.

What’s even more interesting is that it’s reasonable to assume that if the kids went on a super-intense course of physics – perhaps 8 hours a day – they’d be ready to go from never having been taught physics before to taking their Physics iGCSE in 3-4 weeks flat. Unfortunately not practical for most, including us, but it certainly does make one wonder how effective the 12 years of physics lessons I had leading to my GCSE Physics really were.

So we’ve now modified our home school once more. We try to make the courses more intense. That means no more 18 months to learn a GCSE or an A-level. It’s more like 5-8 months to go from zero to taking the exam, cranking up the intensity towards exam time. Unfortunately schools are hardwired so school kids would struggle to benefit from this – schools force kids to spread themselves thin – but homeschoolers can take full advantage of the power of intensity.

[An update a month after writing this blog: Over the last month I upped the intensity of physics, so the kids have studied around 3 hours per day. By the way they’re as motivated as I am, in case you think it’s some slave camp at my home. Anyway, as of this weekend Maryam is consistently getting low A*’s while Danyal is averaging A’s, that’s from D’s only a month ago.

I’m impressed but not entirely surprised. It’s taken them around 155 hours from never having studied physics before, 4 months ago, to around A/A* level in their iGCSE!!! Forget 3-4 weeks, the idea of doing an iGCSE in 2 weeks flat seems very plausible!]

Home school 2.0

Since starting home school our original plans for our kids have been tweaked.

We’ve decided to get their GCSE’s and A-levels out of the way as soon as possible, so the kids can focus on their passions. Exams are a stressful part of childhood, for many the worst part of childhood. The hard laborious work, constant pressure, expectations, competition, and public shaming and condescending advice if you get bad grades isn’t exactly pleasant, and nearly all the stuff learned is useless. To this day I occasionally wake up, in a cold sweat, worried that my university finals are around the corner and I’ve forgotten to prepare for them – that’s how stressful they were.

Hopefully Maryam, 11, will have finished her A-levels when she’s 13, Danyal, 9, will be done by the time he’s 12, and Sabeen, 7, should finish when she’s 12, possibly 11. The reason Maryam finishes later is because she started home school the oldest. They’ll only take exams if we feel they’ll get A*s, so if they don’t look like they’ll get the A* they’ll wait until the next exam date.

A significant benefit of doing the exams early is it sounds way more impressive on a CV, so everyone will assume they’re hyper-intelligent, when they’re not.

For those that haven’t read my earlier blogs the odd thing about this all is that my kids aren’t working hard, unless it’s the period leading to public exams. They do work intensively 7am until noon, five days a week, but that is pretty much it – they have very little homework – and so the weekends completely off. The effectiveness of 1-to-1 teaching is what is driving things. Isabelle and myself, for that matter, aren’t working hard either.

Most good schools make 9 or 10 GCSE’s and 3 A-levels standard. We’ve decided on 5 GCSE’s, and 4 A-levels.

We’ve reduced the GCSE’s because when one has A-levels, the GCSE’s become fairly irrelevant. Students do an impressive number of GCSE’s because when they are applying to universities they do not yet have their A-level grades, so universities base their offers on the GCSE grades, but if our kids apply to university, they will have already finished some A-levels.

Another thing that we’re doing different is staggering the exams. Schools make their students do all their GCSE’s at one time, like over a summer. This is just plain stupid. That’s the best way of making students do as badly as possible.

So Maryam recently completed 3 iGCSE’s – Maths, Biology, French. She’ll do Physics in 3 months time, in November 2016, and two months later she’ll do an iGCSE in Accounting (taught by Isabelle, a Chartered Accountant). Getting an A* when she’s going to be spending the prior few weeks focusing on that subject suddenly doesn’t sound so stellar. So after her Accounting iGCSE, she’ll do 2 A-levels in the middle of next year, and a final 2 the following year.

Note Maryam is not doing an English GCSE – compulsory in schools in the UK. I checked up with the top universities and none have it as a requirement.

For Danyal the plan is for him to start his maths A-level after he’s done his Physics iGCSE which he’s hoping to do in November 2016. So he might have finished an A-level or two before he’s done with all his GCSE’s. He’s good at maths (like his father before him!).

We don’t yet have much of a plan for Sabeen but I’m hoping she might be ready for her iGCSE maths next year, in June 2017. We’re kind of assessing her aptitude and interests.

Finally, the kids are continuing to learn their languages and play their sports, as per Home School 1.0, but once they start going for the GCSE’s and A-levels the hours are somewhat reduced, with exams the clear focus. We just want to get the exams out of the way…

Homeschool 2.0

Since starting homeschool our original plans for our kids have been tweaked.

We’ve decided to get their GCSE’s and A-levels out of the way as soon as possible, so the kids can focus on their passions. Exams are a stressful part of childhood, for many the worst part of childhood. The hard laborious work, constant pressure, expectations, competition, and public shaming and condescending advice if you get bad grades isn’t exactly pleasant, and nearly all the stuff learned is useless. To this day I occasionally wake up, in a cold sweat, worried that my university finals are around the corner and I’ve forgotten to prepare for them – that’s how stressful they were.

Hopefully Maryam, 11, will have finished her A-levels when she’s 13, Danyal, 9, will be done by the time he’s 12, and Sabeen, 7, should finish when she’s 12, possibly 11. The reason Maryam finishes later is because she started home school the oldest. They’ll only take exams if we feel they’ll get A*s, so if they don’t look like they’ll get the A* they’ll wait until the next exam date.

A significant benefit of doing the exams early is it sounds way more impressive on a CV, so everyone will assume they’re hyper-intelligent, when they’re not.

For those that haven’t read my earlier blogs the odd thing about this all is that my kids aren’t working hard, unless it’s the period leading to public exams. They do work intensively 7am until noon, five days a week, but that is pretty much it – they have very little homework – and so the weekends completely off. The effectiveness of 1-to-1 teaching is what is driving things. Isabelle and myself, for that matter, aren’t working hard either.

Most good schools make 9 or 10 GCSE’s and 3 A-levels standard. We’ve decided on 5 GCSE’s, and 4 A-levels.

We’ve reduced the GCSE’s because when one has A-levels, the GCSE’s become fairly irrelevant. Students do an impressive number of GCSE’s because when they are applying to universities they do not yet have their A-level grades, so universities base their offers on the GCSE grades, but if our kids apply to university, they will have already finished some A-levels.

Another thing that we’re doing different is staggering the exams. Schools make their students do all their GCSE’s at one time, like over a summer. This is just plain stupid. That’s the best way of making students do as badly as possible.

So Maryam recently completed 3 IGCSE’s – Maths, Biology, French. She’ll do Physics in 3 months time, in November 2016, and two months later she’ll do an IGCSE in Accounting (taught by Isabelle, a Chartered Accountant). Getting an A* when she’s going to be spending the prior few weeks focusing on that subject suddenly doesn’t sound so stellar. So after her Accounting IGCSE, she’ll do 2 A-levels in the middle of next year, and a final 2 the following year.

Note Maryam is not doing an English GCSE – compulsory in schools in the UK. I checked up with the top universities and none have it as a requirement.

For Danyal the plan is for him to start his maths A-level after he’s done his Physics iGCSE which he’s hoping to do in November 2016. So he might have finished an A-level or two before he’s done with all his GCSE’s. He’s good at maths (like his father before him!).

We don’t yet have much of a plan for Sabeen but I’m hoping she might be ready for her IGCSE maths next year, in June 2017. We’re kind of assessing her aptitude and interests.

Finally, the kids are continuing to learn their languages and play their sports, as per Homeschool 1.0, but once they start going for the GCSE’s and A-levels the hours are somewhat reduced, with exams the clear focus. We just want to get the exams out of the way…

iGCSE results!

So Maryam, 11, got A*s in Maths, Biology and French, and Danyal, 9 got an A* in Maths.

We’re obviously really pleased!

We don’t know the grade boundaries but going on the average of past papers, all 4 A*s were comfortable – around 7-10% above the minimum required.

It’s interesting that most UK school children will study biology for around 9 years (in the early years as part of science) before they take a Biology GCSE – and Maryam took 1/6 of that. In my estimation around 30% of kids doing what we’re doing could too, with another 50% taking less than 30 months to get an A*. The remainder 20% probably wouldn’t be bright enough to get an A*, but I think most of them would end up getting A’s. Just my guess – I don’t have any stats to prove it.

Anyway, glad to get this hurdle out of the way…