If you haven’t already read about how I can help you overcome your struggles with Chemistry and Biology, do that first.
My difficult start with science
I think it’s safe to say that I wasn’t a natural science student. If I bumped into my science teachers from school and told them what I’d done with my life, they wouldn’t believe me. Actually, I doubt they’d remember me as I don’t even think they knew who I was when I was in their class.
Right through secondary school, I dreaded science lessons. I’d picked up the idea that science was far too difficult for me and that only the ‘smart’ people could actually do it. My teachers were more than happy to reinforce this idea and they never missed an opportunity to tell us how hard it was and how they weren’t going to teach us something because we wouldn’t understand it anyway.
Since I had no chance of succeeding, it just didn’t occur to me to try to do well and I left school at 16 with Cs in GCSE double science, and no intention of doing anything remotely scientific ever again.
Realising I wasn’t necessarily crap at science after all
That changed a couple of years later when I was working in the call centre of an electronics company. I was so bored in between calls that I started teaching myself basic electronics using the company catalogue and google.
This made me rethink what I thought I knew about my ability to do science. Maybe it wasn’t too difficult for me after all. By this point, I’d also realised that I didn’t want to work in a call centre for the rest of my life. And science qualifications seemed to be the key to the door for a lot of careers, so I decided to go to college to study A-levels in Biology and Chemistry (and Psychology and French). Getting accepted onto the course was a challenge in itself as my GCSE grades were nowhere near good enough, but thanks to my work experience I managed to convince them to give me a place.
College was a completely different experience to school. I’d dropped the idea that science was too hard for me and, as I’d given up a really boring stable job to study, I was determined to leave college with straight As (no A*s back then). In my head, there was no way I was getting anything less, despite the fact that I was predicted straight Us based on my GCSE results.
The only problem was, I knew nothing about Biology, Chemistry or even how to study.
But in the end, this worked to my advantage. I didn’t have any bad habits or misunderstandings from GCSE and, as I knew I was starting from scratch, I worked really hard to make sure I understood everything. I also did every single past paper question I could get my hands on to make sure I was on the right lines.
One thing that I did get lucky with is that right from the beginning I realised that half the battle with science subjects is learning the skills that allow you to actually do something with the content you’ve learned.
So I spent just as much time working on exam technique and skills such as data analysis, evaluating experiments, maths, drawing graphs and problem solving as I did on learning the content.
And it paid off. I got my As.
On to University and becoming a tutor
After my A-Levels I decided to study with The Open University (where I now teach). My high grades meant I was offered a scholarship at Leeds University but it wasn’t the right option for me. As a mature student, I needed flexibility and to be able to carry on earning money while studying so the OU was my best option.
I graduated with a First class honours degree in Life sciences. I planned to become a science teacher but I wanted to do an MSc first, so I became a private tutor so that I could get some experience whilst doing my postgraduate studies.
After studying Medicinal Chemistry for my Masters, and doing a postgraduate certificate in professional studies in Science education, I decided to give up on being a science teacher and stick with private tuition.
The reason for this is that in my time as a tutor I’d already met so many students who were in the same position as I was at school – given very little help and written off as being incapable, despite the fact that in many cases, the only problem was that they hadn’t been taught the skills needed to pass the exams. I’d had great success with helping these students get the grades they needed and I wasn’t comfortable with going from that to the negative environment of a secondary school
I eventually took up a teaching position with The Open University, alongside my work as a private tutor, where I teach Undergraduate health sciences and science investigation skills.
The most important thing I’ve learned from all of this
After 8 years, after helping over a hundred students overcome their struggles, my experiences as a tutor have confirmed what my own experiences as a student taught me: what you can achieve with self-belief, the right support and a focus on the skills that allow you to use the content that you’re learning, is a million miles from what you can achieve without.