# Category Archives: Hints and Tips

General thoughts on teaching…

At the end of any kind of test, it’s important to check your work. Checking in English is relatively easy because you just have to look out for mistakes with spelling, capital letters, punctuation or other grammar. However, checking in Maths is much harder because there are so many different types of questions. So what’s the answer?

Well, you could always repeat your working for every single question, but that means any test would take twice as long! You don’t have time to do that, so there must be another way. In my experience, you should learn a few different ways of checking that are simple and quick to use.

If you have a mental checklist to go through, it should help you avoid silly mistakes.

# Instructions

Have you read all the instructions on the front page? They might contain important guidelines about how to do the exam. For example, you might be told to show your working for every sum—even if there’s no mark scheme, which would usually mean there’s just one mark for a correct answer.

# Units

The easiest and quickest way to check your answer is to make sure you’ve included the units! It may be true that 25 x £1.60 is £40, but you won’t get the mark unless you put in the pound sign…

# Numbers

Have you copied down the numbers correctly in your sums? You’ll never get the right answer if you’re asking the wrong question…!

# Multiplication

There are a couple of ways of checking a multiplication sum.

## Last Digits

1. Multiply the last digits of both numbers together.
2. Make sure the last digits of that number and your answer are the same.
• Eg 3,792 x 26 must end with a 2 because 2 x 6 = 12, and 12 ends with a 2

# Rounding

1. Round both numbers to one (or two) significant figures.
2. Multiply them together.
3. Make sure the number you get and your answer are roughly the same size.
• Eg 3,792 x 26 must be roughly 120,000 because 4,000 x 30 = 120,000

# Geometry

Sometimes, drawing a diagram of a problem can help you check your answer. For example, if two angles of an isosceles triangle are both 20° and you need to find the other, you can make a rough drawing of the triangle and check to see if your answer is likely.

If you can’t remember if the internal angles of a triangle add up to 90°, 180° or 360°, say, your diagram will tell you that the missing angle has to be obtuse (between 90° and180°). That means it must be 140° (180° – 2 x 20°), not 50° (90° – 2 x 20°) or 320° (360° – 2 x 20°).

Angles around a point add up to 360º.

• Eg if two of the angles are 45° and 30°, the other one must be 360° – (45° + 30°) = 360° – 75° = 285°.

Angles on a straight line add up to 180º.

• Eg if two of the angles are 45° and 30°, the other one must be 180° – (45° + 30°) = 180° – 75° = 105°.

Alternate angles are equal, ie the angles under the arms of a ‘Z’ formed by a line (or ‘transversal’) bisecting two parallel lines.

• Eg if one of the angles is 45°, the other one must also be 45°.

Corresponding angles are equal, ie the angles under the arms of an ‘F’ formed by a line (or ‘transversal’) bisecting two parallel lines.

• Eg if one of the angles is 45°, the other one must also be 45°.

Complementary angles add up to 90º, ie any angles that combine to form a right angle.

• Eg if two of the angles are 45° and 30°, the other one must be 90° – (45° + 30°) = 90° – 75° = 15°.

The internal (or interior) angles of a triangle always add up to 180°.

• Eg if two of the internal angles are 45° and 30°, the other one must be 180° – (45° + 30°) = 180° – 75° = 105°.

All three sides and all three angles are equal in an equilateral triangle.

• Eg if one side is 3 cm long, the other sides will also be 3 cm long. The internal angles of any triangle add up to 180°, so all three angles must be 180° ÷ 3 = 60°.

Two sides and two angles are equal in an isosceles triangle.

• Eg if one of the two equal sides is 3 cm long, the other one will also be 3 cm long. If one of the equal angles is 30°, the other one will also be 30°. If the ‘odd’ angle is 30°, the other two must both be (180° – 30°) ÷ 2 = 75°.

No sides and no angles are equal in a scalene triangle.

• Eg if one side is 3 cm long, no other side can be 3 cm long. If one angle is 30°, no other angle can be 30°.

The internal (or interior) angles of a quadrilateral add up to 360°.

• Eg if two of the internal angles are 45° and another one is 135°, the other one must be 360° – (45° x 2 + 135°) = 360° – 225° = 135°.

# How to Write a Newspaper Article

In the good old days, 11+ or 13+ candidates were simply asked to do a comprehension and write a story in their English exams. However, the creative writing papers have changed recently, and candidates might have to do a wide range of creative writing tasks, such as writing a diary entry or a newspaper article. This post should help you understand the basic format of a newspaper article enough to write your own in a convincing way.

# Format

The picture above shows a typical article taken from the online edition of The Daily Telegraph. It happens to be from the sport section, but it follows a similar pattern to most articles, whether they’re in news, opinion or any other section.

Here are the basic elements that you need to copy in your own article:

1. Headline. This says what the news item actually is and will usually have only 5-10 words in it. This one’s a little longer, but it still leaves out one or two words, in this case the ‘a’ in front of the words ‘shock call-up’. Articles such as a, an and the are normally left out of the main headline, as are auxiliary verbs such as being and having. For example, if the headline was in the passive, it would read something like ‘Josh Tongue handed shock call-up’, not ‘Josh Tongue is handed shock call-up’. Notice also that it’s in the present tense—even though the event obviously happened in the past! That’s just a convention or habit, but you need to do the same.
2. Subheadline. This explains the main headline in a bit more detail. This is generally a bit longer, so the rules are slightly less strict on leaving out words. Notice that the word ‘an’ makes it into this one, but there’s no ‘the’ before ‘nets’.
3. Byline. This tells the reader who’s written the article and where it was written. In this case, it’s just the journalist’s name and location, but columnists sometimes have a mini-biography.
4. Date. This shows the date and time when the article was published.
5. Picture. You probably won’t have to draw a picture, but you might possibly have to show where it goes in the article and say what would be in it. In this case, it’s just a picture of Josh Tongue bowling at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
6. Caption. The line under the picture usually repeats the headline again in different words, and there’s usually a credit for the photographer who took the picture or the agency that provided it. In this case, you can see it was Philip Brown via Getty Images.
7. Lede. The first paragraph is called the ‘lede’ for historical reasons that aren’t important now! It usually repeats the headline with a bit more explanatory detail, including dates, locations and a bit of background.
8. Other paragraphs. There’s no set number of paragraphs for a newspaper article, so you’ll need to check the question to work out how much to write. However, most newspaper articles include the most important information at the top of the article and less important details further down. These usually include a mix of the following:
• Background. This is not part of the actual story, but it helps explain what’s going on. For example, in the second paragraph of this article, we find that ‘Tongue has never played at Lord’s before’.
• Interviews. The usual sources journalists use to back up a story are interviews with the people concerned. In political stories, you might find quotations from both sides of a controversial argument. In this case, all we see is a short quotation from Chris Woakes, who ‘spoke of a “dark” summer in 2022’.
• Statistics. Another way to confirm a story is by using numbers. This is common in articles about economics. However, in this case, we find that Woakes ‘averages 61.2 with the bat and 11.3 with the ball’.
• Anecdotes. Journalists often try to ‘hook’ the reader or generate an emotional reaction by telling a story. In this case, we hear how Woakes ‘was sidelined by a knee injury and wondered if he would add to his 45 Test caps’.

# Conventions

Every newspaper has a ‘style guide’ that helps journalists decide how to write the story. These cover all kinds of grammatical points, including such things as how to capitalise words or where to use commas. Here are a couple of common usages:

• Use people’s full names (and titles) when first mentioning them in the article. After that, just use their surnames. In this article, for instance, it’s ‘Josh Tongue’ in the first paragraph but ‘Tongue’ after that.
• Use ‘elegant variation’ to avoid repeating people’s names too often. It can get a bit repetitive to use people’s names all the way through an article, so it’s normal to think of different ways to refer to them. In this article, Chris Woakes is referred to as the ‘seasoned international and Lord’s specialist’.
• Treat what interviewees say as quotations rather than speech. That means you don’t need to put a comma before the spoken words, as with the word “dark” in this example. It also means you have to put the full-stop after the speech marks and not before.
• Don’t write in the first person. Unless you’re supposed to be a columnist writing an opinion piece, you shouldn’t use the words ‘I’ or ‘me’.

# Sample Questions

1. Write a news article about a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption or tsunami.
2. Write a sports report about a football match.
3. Write an article about the importance of saving the planet.
4. Write a restaurant review.
5. Write an obituary for a famous person who’s just died.

# How to Hyphenate Words

How not to do it…!

Hyphenation is not the most important thing in the world, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here are the three rules you need to obey if you want to get it right.

1. Hyphenate in between syllables. Syllables are just the different sounds in a word, and you can count them. For instance, happily has three syllables because there are three different sounds (hap-, -pi- and -ly). Putting the hyphen in between syllables just makes it easier to read. This also means that you can’t hyphenate words that have only one syllable. Sorry, but you just can’t…!
2. Start the second part of the word on the next line with a consonant. Again, it just makes it easier to read if you start the second part with a consonant. Hence, the word ‘cleaning’ in the picture should be hyphenated before the ‘n’ and not after!
3. If there’s a double consonant or two consonants in a row, put the hyphen in between the two. This almost always makes the word easier to read because it breaks the word in a ‘natural’ position. For instance, the word ‘railway’ naturally breaks into ‘rail-‘ and ‘way’.

And that’s it…! Here are a few sample questions to test yourself on.

## Quiz

Hyphenate the following words correctly. (There may be more than one option!)

1. cleaning
2. happily
3. hero
4. barn
5. rolling
6. rhythm
7. backward
8. tiller
9. begin
10. merrilly

# Number Triangles

Number triangles are a useful way of working out how to rearrange a multiplication or division sum.

This is important if you have to ‘fill in the gaps’, for example.

Let’s say the question sets out a bus stop method division sum with the dividend missing. In other words, something divided by 9 is 38. You could work it out ‘backwards’, but it would be much easier to put the values into a number triangle and rearrange it so that the something is simply 9 x 38.

## Method

If you draw an equilateral triangle and write the three values in the right corners, you can just put your finger over one of them to see what you have to do to work it out.

For example, if you know that a = bc (or a = b x c), then you should put a in the top corner of the triangle. That’s because the two other letters are now together at the bottom, forming bc. If you put your finger on the a, you just see bc—which is the formula for a.

It’s the same if you know what the formula for b or c is. All you need to do is put the b and the c in the bottom corners. The a has to go at the top because the formula for b is a over c (in other words, a divided by c), and the formula for c is a over b. That means if you put your finger over the b, you’ll get the formula for b, which is a over c.

The same goes for c. If you put your finger over the c, you’ll get the formula for c, which is a over b.

All that means that one triangle contains three formulas:

a = bc
b = a/c
c = a/b

## Quiz

Rearrange these sums by drawing a number triangle and work out what the question mark stands for. (In other words, turn them into division or multiplication sums that start with “? =” and then work out the answer.)

1. 36 = 9 x ?
2. 108 = ? x 3
3. 4 = 24 ÷ ?
4. 5 = ? ÷ 15
5. 2.5 = 300 ÷ ?

# Problem Questions

‘Problem questions’ are often the most difficult in 11+ and 13+ Maths papers.

There are several different kinds, but they all have one thing in common: they all ‘hide’ the sums that you have to do.

That means the first thing you have to do is work out the actual calculations you’re being asked for.

Here’s an example from a 10-11+ Bond book that I was going through today with one of my pupils:

What is the nearest number to 1000, but smaller than 1000, into which 38 will divide with no remainder?

He couldn’t answer it, so I told him something I always say in these situations. There are three ways of answering a question in Maths:

1. Use a proper mathematical technique.
2. Use trial and error.
3. Guess!

# Method 1

The first method is usually the most efficient and reliable. In this case, you need to do two calculations:

1. 1000 ÷ 38 (ignoring any remainder)
2. Multiply the answer by 38.

The first step should be done using long division and should give the answer 26.

The second should be done by long multiplication and give the answer 988.

# Method 2

It’s all very well saying you have to use ‘proper’ Maths, but what if you don’t know how to do it? That’s when trial and error comes in handy.

Trial and error just means thinking of a number that you think is ‘about right’ and then adding or subtracting from it if the answer is too low or too high.

In this case, there’s no easy answer, but you might round up 38 to 40, and 40 goes into 1,000 25 times. However, that still leaves a difference of 25 lots of 2, which is 50, so the actual total is only 950. If you add on another 38, you get 988, which is the answer.

# Method 3

If you’re doing a multiple choice paper, the worst mistake in the world is to leave an answer blank. It only takes a second to guess A, B, C, D or E, so it’s worth doing because you’ll always have a 20% chance of getting it right—and that beats zero!

The key is to make sure your guesses are at least possible. For example, if the question asks for a number between 1 and 10, don’t guess 12!

For this question, it isn’t easy to guess, but the answers to a lot of questions at 11+ or 13+ level can be narrowed down quite easily to a common fraction or a single-digit number.

As Sherlock Holmes once told Dr Watson, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth!”

# Quiz

1. Mark is 11 and Julie is 9 years old. If they get £80 pocket money shared according to their ages, how much does each of them get?
2. If a dress costs £240 after VAT at 20% is added on, what is the original price?
3. Candy floss is on sale at £2 for three sticks at Stall A and £2.50 for five sticks at Stall B. Which stall is cheaper per stick?
4. A garden measures 10 x 8 metres in total. There’s a lawn surrounded by a path 1 metre wide around the outside. What’s the area of the grass?
5. If school starts at 9.15am and there are four 45-minute lessons in the morning followed by three lessons of 1 hour 15 minutes in the afternoon with an hour for lunch, what time do the children go home?

# Rounding

Rounding is just a convenient way of keeping numbers simple. Nobody wants to have to remember all the decimals in 𝝅 (which is 3.1415926535897932384…), so people usually round it to 3.14 (or 22/7).

There are three ways of rounding numbers:

• using a power of 10
• using decimal places
• using significant figures.

## Powers of 10

We use a decimal number system that’s based on powers of 10, so it’s often useful to round values to the nearest power of 10, eg 10, 100 or 1,000. In fact, when we round values to the nearest whole number, we’re still using a power of 10 as units are simply a multiple of one, which is 10⁰.

When you round to the nearest 10, say, you’re just saying which multiple of 10 is closest to your value, eg 23 is closer to 20 than 30, so 23 is 20 to the nearest 10.

But what if it’s halfway between? The number 25 is no closer to 20 than it is to 30, so what should you do? The answer is that mathematicians decided on a ‘convention’ (ie an agreed rule) that you should always round up if the next digit after the ones you need is five or more. That means 25 is 30 to the nearest 10 and not 20.

## Decimals

Using decimal places is helpful for long decimals that seem to go on for ever. If you round to a certain number of decimal places, the number must have that number of digits after the decimal point, eg 𝝅 to two decimal places is 3.14. 𝝅 is an irrational number that goes on for ever, so that’s quite handy!

Every time you round a value you have to check the next digit to see if it’s five or more. If it is, you have to add one to the previous digit, eg 𝝅 to three decimal places is 3.142 as the second 1 in 3.1415… is followed by a 5.

Trailing zeroes should be shown if you need them to reach the given number of decimal places, eg 10 to two decimal places is 10.00.

## Significant Figures (or sig. fig.)

Using significant figures is good for both very big and very small numbers, so a lot of calculator papers in Maths will tell you to show your answers to three significant figures.

If you round to a certain number of significant figures, you start with the first digit that’s not zero and keep as many as you need, working from left to right as the bigger numbers are always on the left, eg 𝝅 to three significant figures is 3.14.

Every time you round to a certain number of significant figures, you have to check the next digit to see if it’s five or more. If it is, you have to add one to the previous digit, eg 𝝅 to five significant figures is 3.1416 as the 5 in 3.14159… is followed by a 9.

Significant figures can be confusing sometimes. If a number starts with one or more zeroes, you have to ignore them as they’re not ‘significant’ (ie important), so you’ll sometimes end up with very long strings of digits, eg 0.000025 is 0.00003 to just one significant figure even though it has six digits!

If you’re rounding a whole number to a certain number of significant figures, all the values after the last significant figure but before the decimal point should be set to zero and any decimal places ignored, eg 1,234,567.89 to three significant figures is 1,234,000.

Values ending in lots of nines can look a bit weird when rounded, eg 9.99999 to three significant figures is 10.0…!

# Pronunciation

English is a funny old language. It’s such a mishmash of imported words and complicated constructions that it was once described as having French vocabulary and German grammar!

Unfortunately, that means the spelling and pronunciation of words are often different due to silent letters or letters that have different pronunciations depending on the context.

Two of those letters are c and g. Both can be ‘hard’ or ‘soft’:

• C can be a hard /k/ sound as in ‘coat’ or a soft /s/ sound as in ‘ceiling’.
• G can be hard /g/ sound as in ‘goat’ or a soft /j/ sound as in ‘suggest’.

The general rule is that both letters are soft before e, i or y and hard before any other letter (or at the end of a word).

However, there are exceptions, especially words with only one syllable such as ‘get’ or foreign words such as ‘ciao’, which is Italian for hello or goodbye and is pronounced ‘chow’.

## Quiz

How do you pronounce the following words?

1. coffee
2. chorus
3. gybe
4. celebrate
5. cellar
6. metallic
7. ageist
8. gild
9. gauge
10. conger

# Working out Values from a Pie Chart

This is a typical question from a Dulwich College 11+ Maths paper that asks you to work out various quantities from a pie chart.

To answer questions like this, you have to be comfortable working with fractions and know that there are 360 degrees in a circle.

So how should you start?

The first question asks for the fraction of the school children who liked tennis.

To work this out, you just need to take the following steps:

1. Put the number of degrees showing the tennis segment over 360 to create a fraction.
2. Simplify the fraction.

The number of degrees is 45, so the fraction is 45/360.

The first step to simplifying fractions is to see if the numerator goes into the denominator, which it does in this case: 45/45 = 1 and 360/45 = 8, so the fraction is 1/8 in its lowest terms.

(By the way, for a complete guide to simplifying fractions, just read Working with Fractions.)

The second question asks how many of the children preferred cricket.

To answer this, you should be able to learn a bit from the first question.

To work this out, you just need to take the following steps:

1. Put the number of degrees showing the cricket segment over 360 to create a fraction.
2. Multiply that fraction by the number of school children in the survey, which is 240.

As with the first question, you need to work out the fraction of the children in the survey you’re dealing with.

In this case, it’s 60/360 or 1/6.

To find out the number of children, you just have to multiply by 240, which is 1/6 x 240 = 40.

The final question asks you to estimate (or guess) how many of the children would say their favourite sport was football out of the whole school of 1200 pupils.

To work this out, you just need to take the following steps:

1. Work out the number of degrees taken up by the football segment of the pie chart.
2. Put the number of degrees over 360 to create a fraction.
3. Multiply that fraction by the number of children in the school, which is 1200.

To work out the number of degrees, it’s easier if you spot that the first half of the pie chart is composed of just football and tennis.

There are 180 degrees in total for that half, so taking away 45 degrees for the tennis-lovers gives you 135 degrees.

This works out at a fraction of 135/360 or 3/8.

Now, we only have data for the 240 children who’ve been surveyed, but that’s why we’re being asked to estimate the answer.

We have to assume that the other kids at school share the same preferences as the ones in the survey.

If we do that, all we need to do is multiply 3/8 by 1200 to get 3/8 x 1200 = 450.

And that’s it…!

# Reflecting Shapes in a Mirror Line

This is a typical question from a Dulwich College 11+ Maths paper, and it asks you to draw a reflection of the triangle in the mirror line shown on the chart.

Dulwich papers tend to be a bit tricky, and this is not the easiest version of this kind of reflective symmetry question.

For a start, the mirror line is drawn at 45 degrees rather than being horizontal or vertical, and it doesn’t help that the diagram is a bit ‘squashed’, which means the mirror line is actually at around 40 degrees rather than 45!

So how should you do it?

The first thing to do is to imagine that you were looking at yourself in the mirror from, say, 30cm away.

Your reflection will appear ‘in’ the mirror, but it won’t be on the surface of the mirror, will it?

It’ll actually seem to be 30cm ‘behind’ the mirror – which is exactly the same distance as you are in front of it.

That’s important, and you’ll have to use that fact when you do the question.

The basic steps are these:

1. Plot the ‘vertices’ (or corners) of the reflected shape one by one by drawing a small cross in pencil.
2. Join them up using a ruler and pencil.

In order to plot each corner, you need to imagine that the corner is your face and that the mirror line is the mirror.

To see your reflection, you have to be standing right in front of the mirror – looking at an angle of 90 degrees to the mirror – so to ‘see’ the reflection of a corner, you have to do the same, looking at an angle of 90 degrees to the mirror line.

The distance from your face to the mirror is the same as the distance to the spot ‘behind’ the mirror where you see your reflection.

In the same way, the distance from the corner to the mirror line is the same as the distance to the spot ‘behind’ the mirror line where the reflected point should go.

If you use the diagram at the top of this article to help you, you should be able to see that the top of the triangle is one-and-a-half diagonal squares away from the mirror line.

That means you need to go another one-and-a-half diagonal squares the other side of the mirror line (continuing in the same direction) in order to plot the reflected point.

Now repeat this for the other corners of the triangle, which are four-and-a-half and three diagonal squares away from the mirror line.

Once you’ve done that, you can join up all three points using a ruler and pencil to make the reflected triangle.

Once you get the hang of it, you may not even need to plot all the corners: if it’s a simple shape like a square or a rectangle, then you might be able to draw it from scratch.

Just make sure you label the shape if the question asks you to.

And that’s it…!

# Why I Hate the Press!

I know why they do it (most of the time), but it’s still incredibly annoying and confusing.

I’m talking about grammatical mistakes in the papers.

Yes, it’s important for their copy to be readable, but we have rules on capital letters, spelling, punctuation and other grammar primarily to make language more understandable, not less, so there is a price to pay when mistakes are made.

In addition, newspapers these days employ far fewer copy editors to correct mistakes, so journalists are increasingly having to do spell checks and grammar checks themselves – with predictable results!

As a tutor, I’m in a difficult position. On the one hand, I accept that language changes over time, but my job depends on telling my pupils what is right and what is wrong.

I have to draw a line in the sand and tell people what I would do, but that’s based on the education I got forty years ago!

I’m far more comfortable with language changes that happen over a timescale of centuries rather than years or even decades, and I still teach people not to use words like ‘alright’ or ‘onto’ even though most people wouldn’t know what I was on about.

Anyway, feel free to make up your own mind. Here’s a quick list of the ways in which the ‘style guides’ of newspapers and magazines try to change the rules of English in order to make their articles more ‘readable’:

• Paragraphs only include one or two sentences (meaning that you often have to check back to see who ‘he’ or ‘she’ is).
• Commas are omitted before the word ‘and’.
• Commas are omitted after openers/sentence starters/fronted adverbials.
• Split infinitives are permitted.
• ‘Sentences’ may start with conjunctions even though they are strictly speaking only clauses.
• ‘Likely’ may be used as an adverb.

Writers also simply make mistakes, and my pet peeves are the use of ‘centre around’ (rather than ‘centre on’) and words like ‘focussing’ (rather than ‘focusing’).

I’m sure we can all think of a few more examples, but I thought I’d illustrate my point by putting together a list from just one newspaper on just one day – The Daily Telegraph on Thursday 2 September 2021.

Have a look at the quotations and see how many mistakes you can spot!

‘But, now 34 and in the twilight of his career, it is hard to see Solskjaer using Cavani in the sort of wide role supporting Ronaldo that he became accustomed to for a while at PSG in order to accommodate Ibrahimovic centrally.’

This is not a full sentence as it starts with ‘but’. It is actually only a main clause that needs another main clause before it. The other problem is that we don’t know who or what is 34. By the way it’s phrased, it looks like ‘it’ is 34, but that’s impossible, so maybe it’s Solskjaer, but that’s not right either. It’s actually Cavani!

‘The Norwegian has already admitted he “maybe overplayed” Fernandes and Marcus Rashford is currently sidelined until later next month following shoulder surgery after repeatedly being asked to play through the pain barrier.’

The comma before ‘and’ has been left out. This happens a lot in the papers, but you should be able to see from this example how confusing it is. Commas are a signal to pause when you’re reading, but without that pause It seems as though Solskjaer overplayed both Fernandes and Rashford because it looks like a list. However, the word ‘is’ lets us know that we’re actually entering another main clause. This is just plain confusing and results in readers having to reread sentences in order to make sense of them.

‘Any club sanctioned by Fifa would face further disciplinary action if they defied any ban on fielding affected players – although the teams would likely only do so if they planned on trying to overturn such a ban.’

Pronouns are a problem these days, often because writers don’t want to follow the convention of assuming that an individual is male when using the word ‘anyone’ or ‘everyone’. Using ‘them’ or ‘their’ is an ungrammatical cop-out. Here, the writer uses the plural pronoun ‘they’ to refer to the singular noun ‘club’, which is debatable to say the least. I’d say it was grammatically wrong, but I’ll admit that British English (though not American English) treats clubs as plural when using their names, for example in saying that ‘Liverpool have bought a defender’. That’s all well and good, but that’s not the case here. It’s not the name of a club that’s being used, just the word ‘club’. The other problem is the use of ‘likely’ as an adverb. This is a perfectly acceptable American usage, but ‘likely’ has always been an adjective in British English – until recently!

‘He said: “Monetary policy has always influenced fiscal outcomes — interest rate changes influence sovereign financing costs. But, with QE, the character of the relationship has changed.”’

Colons should be used when introducing a list rather than speech, and ‘sentences’ shouldn’t start with the word ‘but’.

‘In 2019, it was condemned by its own former chairman for celebrating the resignation of a Labour MP, who was chair of the party’s friends of Israel group, on its Twitter account.’

The problem here is the use of commas around the relative clause (‘who was chair of the party’s friends of Israel group’). Yes, a pair of commas may be used to fence off ‘extra information’ from the rest of the sentence, but relative clauses following ‘who’ and ‘that’ are a special case. They need commas if you’re describing something or someone, but not if you’re defining something or someone. Here, the writer is defining which Labour MP is meant, so no commas should be used. It’s the same when using ‘which’ and ‘that’. You should use ‘which’ with a comma to describe, but ‘that’ without a comma to define.

‘She put longevity above genuine achievement, and popularity above actually tackling Germany’s real problems.’

This is the reverse of the missing comma I mentioned before. The comma before the word ‘and’ here implies that a new main clause is about to start and that the reader should expect a verb after the word ‘popularity’, but in fact it’s just a list. Again, this causes confusion and reduces readability by forcing readers to reread the sentence to check the meaning.

‘Its economy only survives thanks to her predecessor’s labour market reforms, and the fact that the euro is much cheaper than the Deutsche Mark would have been.’

Again, this is another example of the redundant ‘Oxford comma’ in the middle of a list.

‘Reread some of your old columns, dust out your biography of Churchill, and, above all, stop trying to imitate Angela Merkel.’

This is yet another instance of the misplaced comma before the word ‘and’. I presume the writer means ‘dust off’ rather than ‘dust out’…!

‘Many centre-ground voters, while they may not allow themselves to become over-heated by the subject, will nevertheless acknowledge the fact that allowing such migrants to remain indefinitely in Britain when many thousands of others are rejected after applying through formal channels is unfair and unjust.’

All that’s wrong with this is the tautology at the end: ‘unfair’ means ‘unjust’, so you don’t need both adjectives.

‘It all adds up to an entangling web of sclerotic bureaucratic processes that will do little to actually protect the environment.’

I realise that the need to avoid the split infinitive was based on an arbitrary comparison with Latin, in which the infinitive literally can’t be split because it’s one word rather than two, but the convention is still common enough to make most people shiver when they read something like this.

‘There’s a clear need to reduce emissions to tackle climate change and conserve the environment. But we need an approach that doesn’t borrow tools from the old socialist handbook.’

The second ‘sentence’ is only a fragment as it starts with ‘but’.

‘Countries with the most economic freedom perform 50 per cent better on Yale and Columbia universities’ Environmental Performance Index, while those with controlled economies perform worse.’

‘While’ is a subordinating conjunction and so shouldn’t have a comma before it.

‘In response to climate change, the Adam Smith Institute and the British Conservative Alliance are focusing on three areas. First, a border-adjusted carbon tax that would account for the costs to the environment while encouraging innovation. Second, embracing nuclear energy by addressing the high fixed costs to design. And third, a clean free trade agenda including abolishing tariffs and quotas on environmental goods and joining the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability.’

This is just a list, so the writer should’ve used one sentence instead of piling up sentence fragments that don’t have a subject or a verb. The last ‘sentence’ shouldn’t start with ‘and’ either.

‘Former Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once wrote, “ I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best ”.’

Here, the comma before ‘Benjamin Disraeli’ shouldn’t be there because he is one of many prime ministers. If there’d been only one prime minister, then there should’ve been commas before and after his name, but there are no circumstances in which you should only have one comma.

‘A number of scenarios could unfold: among them a really bad flu epidemic, a new variant that evades the vaccines, or a brutally cold winter that fills the hospitals.’

The first problem here is the phrase ‘among them’. I’d say it was a grey area, but I would leave it out – the colon should introduce the list itself. The second problem is the comma before ‘or’. Yes, it’s a co-ordinating conjunction (or FANBOYS word), but that just means there should be a comma in front of it if it’s being used to join two sentences together, not when it’s separating items in a list. It’s the same for the word ‘and’ and other co-ordinating conjunctions.

‘Meanwhile the NHS is at full stretch to try to reduce the waiting times on operations and diagnostics, with its capacity is reduced by ongoing Covid precautions.’

First, there should be a comma after ‘meanwhile’ or any other adverb at the start of a sentence. Second, the word ‘is’ shouldn’t be there.

‘GPs are still reluctant to see patients face to face, and this is putting additional pressure on hospitals, with health problems spotted later and multiple problems are piling up.’

This is a similar problem, the word ‘are’ being left in by mistake after ‘problems’.

‘Even pre Covid, winter meant headlines screaming “ NHS in worst crisis ever”.’

‘Pre’ is only a prefix rather than a word, so it needs a hyphen. There is also an extra space left in by mistake before ‘NHS’.

‘So lets remember Disraeli’s wise words.’

‘Lets’ should be written with an apostrophe before the ‘s’ as it stands for ‘let us’.

‘We must rebuild the Nightingale hospitals now, this Autumn, before it is too late.’

While ‘Autumn’ is a proper noun, it is not capitalised in English.

‘Some 15,000 beds was prepared last year under the Nightingale plan.’

‘Beds’ is plural, but ‘was’ is singular.

‘There is a short, sharp army recruitment advert running at the moment. It’s slogan is Fail, Learn, Win.’

This time, the apostrophe is wrong. The word should be ‘its’, meaning ‘belonging to it’. You might also argue that there should be inverted commas around the slogan itself.

‘We were not prepared. So let’s learn the lesson. We must be prepared. Then we can win the battle against Covid.’

I know writers and politicians like short, sharp sentences, but this is getting ridiculous! The writer here manages to make two sentences into four…

‘We must now put many thousands of retired medics doctors, nurses on standby. A Medical Reserve, along the lines of the Territorial Army.’

This comes from the same article, which was full of mistakes. There should be a comma after ‘medics’, and the word ‘and’ should replace the comma before ‘nurses’ as it’s the last item in the list. The last ‘sentence’ has no subject or verb, so it should probably start with ‘It should be’.

‘Some 40,000 retired medics offered to come back to help last year, but only 1 in 8 were engaged due to overwhelming bureaucracy.’

Again, this shows the problem with plurals. The number ‘1’ is obviously singular, so how can you say ‘1 in 8 were engaged’?!

‘Yes it will cost money. But it will be cheap at the price if it helps avoid tier restrictions, more lockdowns, more furlough.’

There should be a comma after ‘yes’ as it’s an interjection, the full-stop before ‘But’ should be a comma, ‘But’ should start with a lower case ‘b’ and the word ‘and’ should replace the comma before ‘more furlough’. Apart from that, it’s fine…!

‘Every winter the NHS needs more capacity, we would have both beds and staff.’

There should be a comma after the phrase ‘every winter’ as it’s an opener, and the comma after ‘capacity’ should be a full-stop – this is known as a ‘comma splice’.

# Americanisms

In the words of Winston Churchill (or George Bernard Shaw or James Whistler or Oscar Wilde), Britain and America are “two nations divided by a single language”.

Quite a few of my pupils live outside the United Kingdom and/or go to foreign schools but are applying to English schools at 11+ or 13+ level.

One of the problems they face is the use of Americanisms.

There are a number of words that are spelled differently in American English, so you just have to watch out for them. English schools want pupils who are fluent in British English, not the American version – however similar it might be!

The first English dictionary was produced by Samuel Johnson, who published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.

However, after the War of Independence, Noah Webster was annoyed by all the ‘English’ textbooks in American schools and decided to try and prove that America had moved on from its colonial past by ‘simplifying’ English spelling and making it more consistent.

The result was A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1806, and then An American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828.

If you’re trying to learn English, that was an unfortunate decision!

However, there are a few typical changes that are easy enough to reverse.

• -ize should be -ise, eg ‘realize’ should be ‘realise’ (but ‘capsize’ is the same in both).
• -yze should be -yse, eg ‘analyze’ should be ‘analyse’.
• -se should be -ce, eg ‘defense’ should be ‘defence’.
• -l- should be -ll-, eg ‘traveled’ should be ‘travelled’.
• -or should be -our, eg ‘color’ should be ‘colour’.
• -er should be -re, eg ‘center’ should be ‘centre’ (but ‘thermometer’ is the same in both).
• -e- should be -oe- or -ae-, eg ‘encyclopedia’ should be ‘encyclopaedia’, and ‘diarrhea’ should be ‘diarrhoea’.

Some of Webster’s alterations caught on in Britain, such as deleting the silent -k in words such as ‘publick’ or spelling ‘connexion’ as ‘connection’, but there were many others that didn’t even make it in the States – phew!

1. Cloke — cloak

2. Soop — soup

3. Masheen — machine

4. Tung — tongue

5. Greef — grief

6. Dawter — daughter

7. Korus — chorus

8. Nightmar — nightmare

9. Turnep — turnip

10. Iland — island

11. Porpess — porpoise

13. Hainous — heinous

14. Thum — thumb

15. Gillotin — guillotine

16. Spunge — sponge

17. Ake — ache

18. Wimmin — women

19. Determin — determine

20. Giv — give

21. Bilt — built

22. Beleev — believe

23. Grotesk — grotesque

24. Stile — style

25. Neer — near

26. Sley — sleigh

# How do I Know if my Child Will Get a Place?

This is the question I get asked the most as a tutor. And even if parents don’t ask it directly, I know that it’s always lurking in the background somewhere…!

School entrance exams are very stressful for pupils and parents alike, and it would be nice to be able to reassure them by giving them all the pass marks for their target schools. Unfortunately, it’s much more complicated than that.

Schools adjust the marks from Common Entrance exams at 11+ and 13+ to allow for the different ages of the children. Some will have a birthday late in the school year, which means they’ll be ‘young for their year’, and it’s generally agreed that it would be unfair to penalise those children by asking them to compete directly against other pupils who might be up to 12 months older than they are.

That’s a big difference at such a young age, so schools ‘standardise’ marks using a formula that adjusts for the relative age of each pupil. That formula also includes adjustments for various other factors, so it’s impossible to know in advance what your child’s standardised score will be.

On top of that, schools don’t often publish their pass marks, so what are pupils and their parents to do?

Well, if you can get hold of your child’s standardised score – and that’s a big if! – then you can at least check whether that score has been good enough in the past to guarantee a place at certain schools. There’s a website called elevenplusexams.co.uk that has posted what they call ‘Entry Allocation Scores & Collated Cutoffs’ for a few schools in Essex. You can find the 2019 figures here, and you can also find out the results and offers for Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, The Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls here. If your chosen schools are not on those sites, feel free to search for them online.

I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, but at least that’s a start.

Good luck…!

# Colons and Semicolons

Using colons and semicolons is often an easy way to get a tick in your homework, but it still involves taking a bit of a risk. If you get it right, you get the tick, but if you get it wrong, you’ll get a cross. This article will explain how to use both colons and semicolons so that you can be confident of getting far more ticks than crosses!

### Colons (:)

Colons can only be used to introduce a list where the introductory phrase could form a sentence on its own. If not, you shouldn’t use any punctuation at all.

I went to the supermarket and bought the following items: apples, pears and bananas.

Or:

I went to the supermarket and bought apples, pears and bananas.

Note that you can still use colons even if there’s only one item in the list:

I only wanted one thing from my men: courage!

#### Sample questions

Have a go at the following questions and see if you can add the right punctuation. It’ll either be a colon, a semicolon, a comma or nothing at all.

1. I love chocolate biscuits and milkshakes.
2. He said “I always go the gym on Wednesdays.”
3. There were three items on her shopping list flour, sugar and eggs.
4. He prized only one quality in his players teamwork.
5. He stayed in his room it was far too hot to go outside.

### Semicolons (;)

Semicolons can be used either to separate two main clauses if one explains the other or to separate items in a list that are long and/or contain commas.

He was very careful not to make any spelling mistakes; his teacher was always having a go at him for bad spelling.

Or:

The entries to the competition came from London, England; Paris, France; and Berlin, Germany.

Note that the semicolon before the ‘and’ is optional. We don’t generally use commas before ‘and’ in a normal list, but some people think using a semicolon in the same situation makes things clearer.

#### Sample questions

Have a go at the following questions and see if you can add the right punctuation. It’ll either be a semicolon, a colon, a comma or nothing at all.

1. I love chocolate biscuits and milkshakes I used to have them all the time as a kid.
2. She said, “I always go the pool on Saturdays it’s the only day I get enough time.”
3. There was only one thing she wanted to do go and get her hair cut.
4. His team always scored great goals the other team just scored more.
5. I never cook chicken I’m afraid of making myself sick.

# Explaining Humour

One of the things that children taking Common Entrance exams at either 11+ or 13+ find most difficult to explain is humour. Here’s a quick guide to various different types with explanations, examples and a short quiz at the end.

## Slapstick Comedy or Farce

This is a type of physical comedy that relies on the fact that we find it funny when other people hurt themselves. It’s called ‘Schadenfreude’ in German, and it really shouldn’t be funny…but it is!

Example: A man slips on a banana skin and falls over.

This is any joke that’s told with a very matter-of-fact tone.

Example: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport’.”
The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams

## Self-deprecation

This means putting oneself down in a self-mocking way.

Example: “If a book about failures doesn’t sell, is it a success?”
Jerry Seinfeld

## Toilet and Bodily Humour

What we do in the toilet or in the bedroom has given rise to a LOT of jokes over the years…

Example: “It’s just a penis, right? Probably no worse for you than smoking.”
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris

## Puns, Wit and Wordplay

These are jokes based on double meanings or a play on words.

Example: “If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”
The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse

## Epigrams

An epigram is just a saying, and some sayings can be very funny – whether deliberately or not!

Example: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
Yogi Berra

## Dark Humour

Dark humour is usually about death or the gloomier aspects of life.

Example: I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.”
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, by Bill Bryson

## Sarcasm and Irony

Sarcasm is saying exactly the opposite of what you mean, but irony is much richer and more popular because the meaning for the reader can be anything from the literal truth of the statement to its exact opposite. It’s up to you…

Example: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

## Innuendo

Finding a rude double meaning in a word or phrase is called innuendo.

“‘Swing Set Needs Home,'” I said.
“‘Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home,'” he said.
“‘Lonely, Vaguely Pedophilic Swing Set Seeks the Butts of Children,'” I said.”
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

## Tongue-in-cheek

This expression just means the writer or speaker is being insincere in an ironic and/or mocking way.

Example: “In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

## Exaggeration and Hyperbole

Exaggeration can lead to a powerful punchline in a joke because it relies on shocking the reader with something unexpected.

Example: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean

## Parody and Mockery

Pretending to write in a certain style or copying the format of a particular writer or type of text can be done humorously – although the implied criticism may be affectionate.

Example: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

## Satire

This is making fun of something usually in religion, politics or current affairs.

Example: “They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.”
The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett

## The Surreal

‘Surreal’ just means absurd, nightmarish or like a fantasy.

Example: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

## Character Humour

Like a lot of sit-coms this form of humour relies on the personality of the characters. Things are funny because they are so typical of a certain type of person – often a stereotype.

Example: “As a boy, I wanted to be a train.”
Machine Man, by Max Barry

## Observational

A lot of stand-up comedy is based on observational humour, which means simply picking up on the typical habits of people in the world around us. We laugh because we recognise the behaviour and often the reason for it.

Example: “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
Matilda, by Roald Dahl

## Insults

The shock value of an insult lends itself to humour.

Example: Two whales walk into a bar. The first whale says to the other, “WOOOOOO. WEEEEEEEEOOOOO. WEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOO.” The second whale says, “Shut up Steve, you’re drunk.”

## Awkward Situations

If a situation is particularly cringeworthy or awkward, then it will often generate nervous laughter.

Example: “I don’t know how other men feel about their wives walking out on them, but I helped mine pack.”
Breaking Up, by Bill Manville

## Blue or Off-colour Jokes

Using rude words or swear words has the shock value that can generate humour.

Example: “If this typewriter can’t do it, then f*** it, it can’t be done.”
Still Life With Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins

## Sample Questions

How would you explain the humour in these lines?

1. “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
2. “There’s a door,” he whispered.
“Where does it go?”
“It stays where it is, I think,” said Rincewind.
Eric, by Terry Pratchett
3. “It’s not because I want to make out with her.”
“Hold on.”
He grabbed a pencil and scrawled excitedly at the paper as if he’d just made a mathematical breakthrough and then looked back up at me.
“I just did some calculations, and I’ve been able to determine that you’re full of s**t.”
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
4. “I came from a real tough neighborhood. Once a guy pulled a knife on me. I knew he wasn’t a professional: the knife had butter on it.”
Rodney Dangerfield
5. “A word to the wise ain’t necessary. It’s the stupid ones who need advice.”
Bill Cosby
6. “To win back my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn’t do – except take exercise, get up early or be a useful member of the community.”
A Woman of No Importance, by Oscar Wilde
7. “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major, it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction, he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
8. “Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”
Jingo, by Terry Pratchett
9. “There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
The Code of the Woosters, by PG Wodehouse
10. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by CS Lewis
11. “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
12. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
Dorothy Parker
13. “For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
14. “For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple – I wanted to be an intergalactic princess.”
Seven Up, by Janet Evanovich
15. “It wasn’t until I had become engaged to Miss Piano that I began avoiding her.”
Into Your Tent I’ll Creep, by Peter De Vries
16. “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

# SOHCAHTOA

SOHCAHTOA (pronounced ‘soccer-toe-uh’) is a useful ‘mnemonic’ to remember the definitions of sines, cosines and tangents. Amazingly, I was never taught this at school, so I just had to look up all the funny numbers in a big book of tables without understanding what they meant. As a result, I was always a bit confused by trigonometry until I started teaching Maths and came across SOHCAHTOA quite by accident!

The reason it’s called SOHCAHTOA is because the letters of all three equations make up that word – if you ignore the equals signs…

First of all, let’s define our terms:

• S stands for sine (or sin)
• O stands for the opposite side of a right-angled triangle
• H stands for the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle
• C stands for cosine (or cos)
• A stands for the adjacent side of a right-angled triangle
• T stands for tangent (or tan)
• O stands for the opposite side of a right-angled triangle (again)
• A stands for the adjacent side of a right-angled triangle (again)

Sines, cosines and tangents are just the numbers you get when you divide one particular side of a right-angled triangle by another. For a given angle, they never change – however big the triangle is.

Sine = Opposite ÷ Hypotenuse

All these ratios were discovered by Indian and Arabic mathematicians some time before the 9th Century, but you can still use them today to help you work out the length of the sides of a right-angled triangle or one of the angles.

Each of these formulas can be rearranged to make two other formulas. (If it helps, you can put the three values in a number triangle with the one in the middle at the top). Let’s take the sine formula first:

Sine = Opposite ÷ Hypotenuse means:

• Hypotenuse = Opposite ÷ Sine
• Opposite = Hypotenuse x Sine

As long as you know the angle and the length of the opposite side or the hypotenuse, you can work out the length of the other one of those two sides.

• Unknown: hypotenuse
Known: opposite and angle
• If one of the angles of a right-angled triangle is 45° and the opposite side is 5cm, the formula for the length of the hypotenuse must be opposite ÷ sin(45°). The sine of 45° is 0.707 (to three decimal places), so hypotenuse = 5 ÷ 0.707 = 7cm (to the nearest cm).
• Unknown: opposite
Known: hypotenuse and angle
• If one of the angles of a right-angled triangle is 45° and the hypotenuse is 5cm, the formula for the length of the opposite side must be hypotenuse x sin(45°). The sine of 45° is 0.707 (to three decimal places), so opposite = 5 x 0.707 = 4cm (to the nearest cm).

Equally, as long as you know the the hypotenuse and opposite side lengths, you can work out the angle by using the ‘arcsine’ or ‘inverse sine’ function on your calculator, which works out the matching angle for a given sine and is written as sin-1, eg sin(45°) = 0.707, which means sin-1(0.707) = 45°.

• Unknown: angle
• Known: opposite and hypotenuse
• If the opposite side of a right-angled triangle is 4cm and the hypotenuse is 5cm, the formula for the angle must be sin-1(4÷5), or the inverse sine of 0.8. The sine of 53° (to the nearest degree) is 0.8, so the angle must be 53°.

We can do the same kind of thing with the cosine formula, except this time we’re dealing with the adjacent rather than the opposite side.

Cosine = Adjacent ÷ Hypotenuse means:

• Hypotenuse = Adjacent ÷ Cosine
• Adjacent = Hypotenuse x Cosine

As long as you know the angle and the length of the adjacent side or the hypotenuse, you can work out the length of the other one of those two sides.

• Unknown: hypotenuse
• If one of the angles of a right-angled triangle is 45° and the adjacent side is 5cm, the formula for the length of the hypotenuse must be adjacent ÷ cos(45°). The cosine of 45° is 0.707 (to three decimal places), so hypotenuse = 5 ÷ 0.707 = 7cm (to the nearest cm).
Known: hypotenuse and angle
• If one of the angles of a right-angled triangle is 45° and the hypotenuse is 5cm, the formula for the length of the adjacent side must be hypotenuse x cos(45°). The sine of 45° is 0.707 (to three decimal places), so adjacent = 5 x 0.707 = 4cm (to the nearest cm).

Equally, as long as you know the the hypotenuse and adjacent side lengths, you can work out the angle by using the ‘arccosine’ or ‘inverse cosine’ function on your calculator, which works out the matching angle for a given cosine and is written as cos-1, eg cos(45°) = 0.707, which means cos-1(0.707) = 45°.

• Unknown: angle
• If the adjacent side of a right-angled triangle is 4cm and the hypotenuse is 5cm, the formula for the angle must be cos-1(4÷5), or the inverse cosine of 0.8. The sine of 37° (to the nearest degree) is 0.8, so the angle must be 37°.

Finally, we can do the same kind of thing with the tangent formula, except this time we’re dealing with the opposite and adjacent sides.

Tangent = Opposite ÷ Adjacent means:

• Adjacent = Opposite ÷ Tangent
• Opposite = Adjacent x Tangent

As long as you know the angle and the length of the opposite or adjacent side, you can work out the length of the other one of those two sides.

Known: opposite and angle
• If one of the angles of a right-angled triangle is 45° and the opposite side is 5cm, the formula for the length of the adjacent must be opposite ÷ tan(45°). The tangent of 45° is 1, so adjacent = 5 ÷ 1 = 5cm.
• Unknown: opposite
• If one of the angles of a right-angled triangle is 45° and the adjacent side is 5cm, the formula for the length of the opposite side must be adjacent x tan(45°). The tangent of 45° is 1, so opposite = 5 x 1 = 5cm.

Equally, as long as you know the the opposite and adjacent side lengths, you can work out the angle by using the ‘arctangent’ or ‘inverse tangent’ function on your calculator, which works out the matching angle for a given tangent and is written as tan-1, eg tan(45°) = 0.707, which means tan-1(0.707) = 45°.

• Unknown: angle
• If the adjacent side of a right-angled triangle is 5cm and the hypotenuse is 5cm, the formula for the angle must be tan-1(5÷5), or the inverse tangent of 1. The tangent of 45° is 1, so the angle must be 45°.

# Long Multiplication

You can use short multiplication if you’re multiplying one number by another that’s in your times tables (up to 12). However, if you want to multiply by a higher number, you need to use long multiplication.

• Write down the numbers one on top of the other with the smaller number on the bottom and a times sign on the left (just as you would normally), then draw three lines underneath to hold three rows of numbers.
• Multiply the top number by the last digit of the bottom number as you would normally.
• Write a zero at the end of the next answer line (to show that you’re multiplying by tens now rather than units).
• Multiply the top number by the next digit of the bottom number, starting to the left of the zero you’ve just added.

Notes:

• Some people write the tens they’ve carried right at the top of the sum, but that can get very confusing with three lines of answers!
• Don’t forget to add the zero to the second line of your answer. If it helps, you can try writing it down as soon as you set out the sum (and before you’ve even worked anything out).
• At 11+ level, long multiplication will generally be a three-digit number multiplied by a two-digit number, but the method will work for any two numbers, so don’t worry. If you have to multiply two three-digit numbers, say, you’ll just have to add another line to your answer.

Sample questions:

Have a go at these questions. Make sure you show your working – just as you’d have to do in an exam.

1. 216 x 43
2. 17 x 423
3. 23 x 648
4. 782 x 28
5. 127 x 92

# How to Add, Subtract, Multiply and Divide

The most important things you need to do in Maths are to add, subtract, divide and multiply. If you’re doing an entrance exam, and there’s more than one mark for a question, it generally means that you have to show your working. Even if it’s easy enough to do in your head, you still have to write down the sum on paper. That way, the examiner knows that you didn’t just guess!

Here are the basic operations:

The standard way to add numbers is the ‘column method’.

• Write down the numbers one on top of the other (however many there are), with two lines under them and a plus sign on the left.
• Add the first column of numbers on the right and put the answer between the lines.
• If the total is more than 9, ‘carry’ the tens by putting that number in small handwriting under the next space on the answer line.
• Add the next column of numbers working from the right and put the answer between the lines, adding any numbers below the line that have been carried.
• If you get to the final column of numbers and the total is more than 9, you can write both digits on the answer line.
• If you have more than two columns of numbers and the total is more than 9, you’ll have to ‘carry’ any tens again by putting that number in small handwriting under the next space on the answer line.
• You can then finish off as normal.

Notes:

• You don’t need the second line if you don’t want to use it.
• You can also choose to put the carried numbers above the top line of the sum, but that gets a bit messy if you’re doing long multiplication, so it’s best to get into the habit of using this method.

Sample questions:

Have a go at these questions. Don’t just do them in your head. That’s too easy! Make sure you show your working – just as you’d have to do in an exam.

1. 8 + 5
2. 17 + 12
3. 23 + 19
4. 77 + 88
5. 127 + 899

## Subtraction

The standard way to subtract one number from another is again the ‘column method’, but this time it’s slightly different. For a start, you can only use this method with two numbers (not three or more), and you can’t use it for negative numbers.

• Write down the two numbers one on top of the other, with the bigger one on top, the usual two lines under them and a minus sign on the left.
• Working from the right, take away the first digit in the second number from the first digit in the first and write the answer on the answer line.
• If you can’t do it because the digit on the top row is too small, you’ll have to ‘borrow’ a 10 from the digit in the next column.
• Place a 1 above and to the left of the top right-hand digit to make a new number, in this case 12.
• Cross out the digit you’re borrowing from, subtract 1 and write the new digit above and to the left of the old one.
• You can now subtract as normal, so 12 – 7 = 5 in this case.
• Working from the right, subtract the next digit in the bottom number from the next digit in the top number and put the answer between the lines.
• Repeat this step until you’ve finished the sum.
• Note that in this case you have to borrow 1 from the 2, leaving 1, and then borrow 1 from the 4, writing it next to the 1 so it makes 11. It may look like you’re borrowing 11, but you’re not. You’ve just had to write the two 1s next to each other.

If you can’t borrow from a digit because it’s a zero, just cross it out, write 9 above and to the left and borrow from the next digit to the left. If that’s a zero, too, just do the same again until you reach one that’s not zero.

Notes:

• You don’t need the second line if you don’t want to use it.
• If the answer to the sum in the last column on the left is zero, you don’t need to write it down, so your answer should be 17, say, not 017.
• You don’t need to put commas in numbers that are more than 1,000.
• You could cross out the numbers from top left to bottom right instead, but that leaves less room to write any little numbers above and to the left (where they have to go), so it’s best to get into the habit of using this method.

Sample questions:

Have a go at these questions. Don’t just do them in your head. That’s too easy! Make sure you show your working – just as you’d have to do in an exam.

1. 8 – 5
2. 17 – 12
3. 43 – 19
4. 770 – 681
5. 107 – 89

## Multiplication (or short multiplication)

This is short multiplication, which is meant for multiplying one number by another that’s in your times tables (up to 12). If you want to multiply by a higher number, you need to use long multiplication.

• Write down the numbers one on top of the other with the single-digit number on the bottom, two lines underneath and a times sign on the left.
• Multiply the last digit of the top number by the bottom number and put the answer between the lines.
• If the total is more than 9, ‘carry’ the tens by putting that number in small handwriting under the next space on the answer line.
• Working from the right, multiply the next digit of the top number by the bottom number, adding any number below the answer line.
• As with addition, if you get to the final column of numbers and the total is more than 9, you can write both digits on the answer line.

Notes:

• You don’t need the second line if you don’t want to use it.
• You can also choose to put the carried numbers above the top line of the sum, but that gets a bit messy if you’re doing long multiplication, so it’s best to get into the habit of using this method.
• If you’re multiplying one or more numbers with a decimal point, take the decimal point(s) out first then multiply the numbers and put the decimal point in afterwards. You just need to make sure that the number of decimal places is the same as the total number of decimal places in the original numbers, eg 2.5 x 1.1 = 25 x 11 ÷ 100 = 275 ÷ 100 = 2.75.

Sample questions:

Have a go at these questions. Don’t just do them in your head. That’s too easy! Make sure you show your working – just as you’d have to do in an exam.

1. 21 x 3
2. 17 x 4
3. 23 x 6
4. 77 x 8
5. 127 x 9

## Division (or short division, or the ‘bus stop’ method)

This is short division, which is meant for dividing one number by another that’s in your times tables (up to 12). If you want to divide by a higher number, you need to use long division (see my article here). It’s called the ‘bus stop’ method because the two lines look a bit like the area where a bus pulls in at a bus stop.

• Write down the number you’re dividing (the ‘dividend’), draw the ‘bus stop’ shape around it so that all the digits are covered and then write the number you’re dividing by (the ‘divisor’) on the left.
• Try to divide the first digit of the dividend by the divisor. If it goes in exactly, write the answer on the answer line above the first digit of the dividend.
• If it goes in, but there’s a remainder, write the answer on the answer line above the first digit of the dividend and then write the remainder above and to the left of the next digit in the dividend.
• If it doesn’t go, then make a number out of the first two digits of the dividend and divide that number by the divisor, adding any remainder above and to the left of the next digit. Just make sure you don’t write a zero on the answer line – the only time you should do that is if the answer is a decimal, eg 0.375.
• Repeat this process for each of the remaining digits, using any remainders to make a new number with the next digit.
• If you divide one number by another in the middle of the dividend and it doesn’t go, then just put a zero on the answer line and combine the digit with the next one.

Notes:

• If you have a remainder at the end of the sum, you can either show it as a remainder or you can put a decimal point above and below the line, add a zero to the dividend and carry on until you have no remainder left.
• If the remainder keeps going, it’s likely to repeat the same digits over and over again. This is called a ‘recurring decimal’. Once you spot the pattern, you can stop doing the sum. Just put a dot over the digit that’s repeating or – if there’s more than one – put a dot over the first and last digit in the pattern.
• If your handwriting is a bit messy, make sure you make the numbers quite large with a bit of space between them so that you can fit everything in!

Sample questions:

Have a go at these questions. Don’t just do them in your head. That’s too easy! Make sure you show your working – just as you’d have to do in an exam.

1. 36 ÷ 3
2. 172 ÷ 4
3. 222 ÷ 6
4. 816 ÷ 8
5. 126 ÷ 9

# Who or Whom, Who’s or Whose?

The ‘W’ words are useful if you’re trying to understand or summarise a story, but who, whom, who’s and whose tend to cause problems. Here’s a quick guide to what they all mean and how they can be used.

## Who v Whom

Who and whom are both relative pronouns, which mean they relate to the person you’ve just been talking about. Note that they don’t relate to animals or things, just people. The difference is just one letter, but it signals that one of them stands for the subject (in the nominative case if you’ve ever done Latin) while the other stands for the object (in the accusative).

• The subject of a sentence is the noun or pronoun that controls the verb, in other words the person or thing that’s ‘doing the doing’.
• The object of a sentence is the noun or pronoun that is suffering the action the verb, in other words the person or thing that’s having something done to it.

For example, in the following sentence, ‘the girl’ is the subject, and ‘the boy’ is the object:

The girl tapped the boy on the shoulder.

We could also use pronouns, in which case ‘she’ is the subject, and ‘him’ is the object.

She tapped him on the shoulder.

Note that we use ‘him’ rather than ‘he’ in this case. That tells us that the boy is the object and not the subject. It’s the same with ‘who’ and ‘whom’. In fact, it’s the same letter – the letter ‘m’ – that tells us that ‘him’ and ‘whom’ are both the objects of the sentence, and that might be a good way to remember the difference.

For example, in the following sentence, ‘the girl’ is still the subject, so we use ‘who’:

They saw the girl who had tapped the boy on the shoulder.

In the next sentence, the boy is still the object, so we use ‘whom’:

They saw the boy whom the girl had tapped on the shoulder.

Note that neither who nor whom needs a comma before it in these cases. That’s because we are defining which people we’re talking about. It’s a bit like ‘which’ and ‘that’: ‘which’ describes things and needs a comma, but ‘that’ defines things and doesn’t. If we already know who people are and simply want to describe them, then we do use a comma.

They saw Patricia Smith, who had tapped the boy on the shoulder.

They saw Paul Jones, whom the girl had tapped on the shoulder.

In these cases, we know who the children are – Patricia and Paul – so all we’re doing is describing something that has happened. There is only one Patricia Smith and one Paul Jones, so we don’t need to define them. That means we need to use a comma in both cases.

I hope that all makes sense. Here are a few practice questions. Just decide in each case whether you should use ‘who’ or ‘whom’.

1. They talked to Jim, who/whom lived in Stoke.
2. He played football with the boy who/whom had red hair.
3. She was friends with the girl who/whom played volleyball.
4. Who/whom do you think will win the egg and spoon race?
5. Who/whom did they put in prison?

## Who’s v Whose

The words ‘who’s’ and ‘whose’ are homophones, which is another way of saying they sound the same but mean completely different things. ‘Who’s’ is short for ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ while ‘whose’ is a possessive pronoun that means ‘of whom the’ or ‘of which the’. For example, take these two sentences:

• Who’s going to the cinema tonight?
• He was a big man whose hands were larger than dinner plates.

The first means ‘Who is going to the cinema tonight?’ whereas the second means ‘He was a big man of whom the hands were larger than dinner plates’. The only reason we don’t say those things is that they’re a bit of a mouthful, so it’s easier to use ‘who’s’ or ‘whose’.

I hope that’s clear now. Here are a few practice questions. Just decide in each case whether you should use ‘who’s’ or ‘whose’.

1. Who’s/whose in charge of the tennis rackets?
2. Who’s/whose bag is this?
3. He speaks to the woman who’s/whose behind the counter.
4. She likes him to know who’s/whose boss.
5. Who’s/whose been eating all the crisps?

# Could or Might?

Could and might mean different things, but a lot of people use them both to mean the same thing. Here’s a quick guide to avoid any confusion.

Here are two sentences that a lot of people think mean the same thing:

• “I might [or may] go to the cinema tonight.”
• “I could go to the cinema tonight.”

The first sentence means there is a possibility the speaker will go to the cinema that night. The second sentence doesn’t. I know this is a bit picky and pedantic, but ‘could’ – like ‘can’ – comes from the verb ‘to be able to’, so the second sentence either means “I was able to go to the cinema tonight” or “I would be able to go to the cinema tonight.” Neither of those is the same as the first sentence. Adults might get away with confusing ability with possibility, but if you’re taking an English exam any time soon, it’s probably a good idea learn the difference!

# Homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same even though they’re spelt differently and mean different things. Getting them right can be tricky, but it’s worth it in the end.

The reason why homophones are important is not just to do with the general need to spell correctly. Many people think getting them wrong is a ‘worse’ mistake than simply mis-spelling a word because it means that you don’t really know what you’re doing. Anyone can make a spelling mistake, but using completely the wrong word somehow seems a lot worse. That may not sound fair, but that’s just how a lot of people think, so it’s worth learning the common homophones so you don’t get caught out.

Here’s a list of the main ones:

# French Regular Verbs – Present Subjunctive Tense

The subjunctive in French is generally used in the present tense after expressions such as ‘il faut que’ and some verbs that also take the word ‘que’ after them. These are generally the ones that express feelings or doubts (eg vouloir and craindre), especially when two parts of a sentence have different subjects, eg ‘I want her to be happy’ becomes ‘Je veux qu’elle soit contente’. Verbs ending in -er or -re have one set of endings, but  -ir verbs have another (shown here in red):

## Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donne          (I may give)
Tu donnes          (You may give – informal)
Il/elle donne          (He/she may give)
Nous donnions          (We may give)
Vous donniez          (You may give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnent          (They may give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vende          (I may sell)
Tu vendes          (You may sell – informal)
Il/elle vende          (He/she may sell)
Nous vendions          (We may sell)
Vous vendiez          (You may sell – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendent          (They may sell – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finisse          (I may finish)
Tu finisses          (You may finish – informal)
Il/elle finisse          (He/she may finish)
Nous finissions          (We may finish)
Vous finissiez          (You may finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finissent          (They may finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

# Circle Theorems

This article explains circle theorems, including tangents, sectors, angles and proofs (with thanks to Revision Maths).

## Isosceles Triangle

Two Radii and a chord make an isosceles triangle.

## Perpendicular Chord Bisection

The perpendicular from the centre of a circle to a chord will always bisect the chord (split it into two equal lengths).

## Angles Subtended on the Same Arc

Angles formed from two points on the circumference are equal to other angles, in the same arc, formed from those two points.

## Angle in a Semi-Circle

Angles formed by drawing lines from the ends of the diameter of a circle to its circumference form a right angle. So c is a right angle.

### Proof

We can split the triangle in two by drawing a line from the centre of the circle to the point on the circumference our triangle touches.

We know that each of the lines which is a radius of the circle (the green lines) are the same length. Therefore each of the two triangles is isosceles and has a pair of equal angles.

But all of these angles together must add up to 180°, since they are the angles of the original big triangle.

Therefore x + y + x + y = 180, in other words 2(x + y) = 180.
and so x + y = 90. But x + y is the size of the angle we wanted to find.

## Tangents

A tangent to a circle is a straight line which touches the circle at only one point (so it does not cross the circle- it just touches it).

A tangent to a circle forms a right angle with the circle’s radius, at the point of contact of the tangent.

Also, if two tangents are drawn on a circle and they cross, the lengths of the two tangents (from the point where they touch the circle to the point where they cross) will be the same.

## Angle at the Centre

The angle formed at the centre of the circle by lines originating from two points on the circle’s circumference is double the angle formed on the circumference of the circle by lines originating from the same points. i.e. a = 2b.

### Proof

You might have to be able to prove this fact:

OA = OX since both of these are equal to the radius of the circle. The triangle AOX is therefore isosceles and so ∠OXA = a
Similarly, ∠OXB = b

Since the angles in a triangle add up to 180, we know that ∠XOA = 180 – 2a
Similarly, ∠BOX = 180 – 2b
Since the angles around a point add up to 360, we have that ∠AOB = 360 – ∠XOA – ∠BOX
= 360 – (180 – 2a) – (180 – 2b)
= 2a + 2b = 2(a + b) = 2 ∠AXB

## Alternate Segment Theorem

This diagram shows the alternate segment theorem. In short, the red angles are equal to each other and the green angles are equal to each other.

### Proof

You may have to be able to prove the alternate segment theorem:

We use facts about related angles

A tangent makes an angle of 90 degrees with the radius of a circle, so we know that ∠OAC + x = 90.
The angle in a semi-circle is 90, so ∠BCA = 90.
The angles in a triangle add up to 180, so ∠BCA + ∠OAC + y = 180
Therefore 90 + ∠OAC + y = 180 and so ∠OAC + y = 90
But OAC + x = 90, so ∠OAC + x = ∠OAC + y
Hence x = y

cyclic quadrilateral is a four-sided figure in a circle, with each vertex (corner) of the quadrilateral touching the circumference of the circle. The opposite angles of such a quadrilateral add up to 180 degrees.

Area of Sector and Arc Length

If the radius of the circle is r,
Area of sector = πr2 × A/360
Arc length = 2πr × A/360

In other words, area of sector = area of circle × A/360
arc length = circumference of circle × A/360

# Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning (VR) tests were invented to test pupils’ logic and language skills – although they do sometimes includes questions about numbers. In order to do well in a VR test, the most important thing is to be systematic, to have a plan for what to do if the question is hard.

Fortunately, there are plenty of past papers available online (including on this website!), so the types of question are well known. Here is a guide to the different kinds of problems and the best ways to approach them. I’m sorry that there are so many, but it’s best to be ready for anything…!

First of all, let’s just talk briefly about exam technique. Verbal Reasoning tests are always multiple choice, so it’s very important to answer every question. If you don’t know the answer, you should work by process of elimination until you have as few options left as possible and then guess.

Guessing is fine in Verbal Reasoning: the only thing worse than a wrong answer is no answer at all! You can then mark those questions by circling or underlining the question numbers or putting an asterisk next to them so that you can easily review your guesses if you have any time left after finishing the paper.

It’s very tempting to give up when you see a difficult question, but that won’t get you any marks. Having said that, you shouldn’t spend too long on the hardest questions. In general, you get around 40-60 seconds for each question, so you should be prepared to guess after roughly that amount of time.

Another part of exam technique is to read the questions carefully. You’re never going to get the right answer to the wrong question, so feel free to read the question again if you’re not quite sure what it means.

## Muddled Words (Anagrams)

Anagrams are words in which the letters have been muddled up. A typical question asks you to complete a sentence by putting the letters of one of the words in the correct order.

The easiest way to do this is to write out all the letters in a three-by-three grid (or a circle). That way, you force your brain to look for new possibilities rather than focusing too much on what’s there already.

For example, if you’re told that ‘A hammer is used to drive in SLAIN’, you don’t want to think about the word ‘SLAIN’ because you know it’s not the right answer, so you should write the letters out in a grid like this:

A
S   N    L
I

Write the letters out in pairs from the original word, making sure each pair is on opposite sides of the grid, ie the S and L are on the left and right, the A and I are top and bottom and the N is on its own, so you can put it in the middle. Obviously, there might be gaps in the grid, but that’s fine.

Once you’ve completed the grid, think about the context of the sentence. What would make sense? In this case, what would a hammer be hitting? Sometimes, it’s so obvious you don’t need to worry about the anagram, but if it’s not, try to think of words that would make sense beginning with each possible letter.

## Insert a Letter

One common type of question asks you to say which letter will start and finish two pairs of words, eg PRES( )TAND and WIND( )TAIN. Sometimes the answer is obvious (‘S’ in this case), but, if it’s not, the best thing to do is to look at all four words one after the other to see which letter might fit and then try that letter in the other words.

If that doesn’t work, you should at least be able to work out if it’s a vowel or a consonant that’s missing, and it’s also useful to know the most common letters in the English language, which are (in order) E, T, A, O, N, I, R, S and H.

Finally, you might just have to go through every letter of the alphabet, but there are only 26, so it shouldn’t take too long! Bear in mind that there are different ways of pronouncing letters and different places to put the emphasis, so try writing down the likely options as well as saying them in your head.

## Find the Odd Words

In this kind of question, you’re given five words, and you have to spot the two that don’t fit with the others, eg Lorry, Helicopter, Taxi, Bus, Plane. The best way is to try and find the three words that go together – whatever is left must be the odd ones out.

Don’t just try to find a pair of words that go together. If you do, you might get the answer wrong if there’s another word that goes with them. You might also get it wrong because the ‘odd ones out’ don’t have anything in common. In this case, ‘Helicopter’ and ‘Plane’ ARE related, but they don’t have to be.

If there are one or more words you don’t know, you can at least work out which parts of speech they are. Once you know that, you will probably be able to see which ones belong together. For example, look at this list of words: spade, dig, cultivate, grow, bulb.

If you don’t know what ‘cultivate’ means, you should write down ‘noun’ next to spade and bulb and ‘verb’ next to dig and grow. After that, you can ask yourself if spade and bulb have anything in common. They don’t, but dig and grow do, so that means ‘cultivate’ must belong with them, and the odd ones out must be spade and bulb.

## Alphabet Codes/Code Words

Here, you’ll be asked either to put a word into code or to decode a word. To do that, you’ll be given a word and the coded version, and it’s up to you to work out how the code works, eg STRAW might become UVTCY.

Normally, you just have move one or two spaces forwards or backwards in the alphabet (in this case, it’s +2), but look out for other combinations. They might involve changing direction or a change to the number of spaces or a combination of both, eg -1, +2, -3, +4.

The good news is that you’ll usually have an alphabet printed next to the question, so you can put your pencil on a letter and ‘walk’ forwards or backwards to get the coded version, but you can also write down the code underneath the word and write down how to get each letter with a positive or negative number – just make sure you don’t get confused between coding and decoding!

## Synonyms (Similar Meaning)

Synonyms are words that have similar meanings, such as cold and chilly. In synonym questions, you’re given two groups of three words, and you have to find two synonyms, one from each group, eg (FILTER MATCH BREAK) (DENY DRAIN CONTEST).

The first thing to do is to have a quick look at all the words to see if the answer’s obvious (MATCH and CONTEST, in this case). If it is, write it down. If it’s not, you have to be systematic: start with the first word in the first group and compare it with the first, second and third words in the other group. If that doesn’t work, repeat for the second and third words of the first group.

Just be careful to think about ALL the possible meanings of a word, eg ‘minute’ can mean 60 seconds, but it can also mean very small! If you still can’t do the question (because you don’t know one or more of the words), try to work by process of elimination.

That means narrowing down the options by getting rid of any pairs of words that definitely don’t mean the same. Once you’ve done that, feel free to guess which one of the leftover pairs is the answer.

One way of checking words mean the same thing is to think of a phrase or sentence containing one of them and then try substituting all the other options. For example, if the words are (cook, meal, room) and (oven, space, eat), start with ‘I like to cook dinner’ and then try all three of the other words.

Does ‘I like to oven dinner’ mean the same? What about ‘I like to space dinner’ or ‘I like to eat dinner’? If none of the words fits exactly, then move on to the next word in the left-hand bracket and then the last one, if necessary. In the end, you should find the answer, which in this case is ‘room’ and ‘space’.

You can also narrow down the options by checking the parts of speech. If you’re looking for a word that means the same, it will have to be the same part of speech as the other word, eg a noun, verb or adjective.

## Hidden Words

These questions ask you to find ‘hidden’ four-letter words between two other words in a sentence, using the last few letters from one word and the first few from the next, eg ‘The bird sat on the roof’.

Again, scan the sentence quickly to see if the answer’s obvious. If it is, write it down. If it’s not, check every possibility by starting with the last three letters of the first word and the first letter of the second word, moving forward one letter at a time and then checking the next pair of words.

You might want to put your fingers on each pair of words with a four-letter gap in the middle so that you can see all the options as they appear just by moving your fingers along the line. In this example, the possible words are theb, hebi, ebir, irds, rdsa, dsat, sato, aton, tont, onth, nthe, ther, hero and eroo, so the answer is obviously ‘hero’, but note that ‘tont’ is spread over three words (sat, on and the), and some words are not long enough to have the usual number of possibilities.

## Find the Missing Word

These questions ask you to find a missing set of three letters that make up a word, eg There is an INITE number of stars in the sky. First of all, look at the word in capitals and try to work out what it’s meant to be in the context of the rest of the sentence.

If it’s not obvious, try working out where the letters might be missing – is it after the first letter or the second or the third etc? Sometimes you might not know the word (‘INFINITE’ and therefore ‘FIN’ in this case), but, again, it’s worth a guess – just make sure your made-up word sounds reasonable!

## Algebra (Calculating with Letters)

This is one type of question that’s easier if you’re good at Maths! Algebra uses letters to stand for numbers and is a way of creating useful general formulas for solving problems. In Verbal Reasoning tests, you’ll generally have to add, subtract, multiply and/or divide letters, eg A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, so what is A – B + C?

The first step is to convert the letters to numbers, and then you can simply work out the answer as you would in Maths. Just make sure you’re aware of BIDMAS/BODMAS. This is an acronym that helps you remember the order of operations: Brackets first, then Indices/Order (in other words, powers such as x squared), then Division and Multiplication and lastly Addition and Subtraction.

Note that addition doesn’t actually come before subtraction – they belong together, so those sums should be done in the order they appear in the question, eg in this case, A – B must be done first (1 – 2 = -1) and then C added on (-1 + 3 = 2).

## Antonyms (Opposite Meaning)

Antonyms are words that have opposite meanings, such as hard and soft. In antonym questions, you’re given two groups of three words, and you have to find two antonyms, one from each group, eg (GROW WATER WILD) (SLICE FREE TAME).

The first thing to do is to have a quick look at all the words to see if the answer’s obvious (WILD and TAME, in this case). If it is, write it down. If it’s not, you have to be systematic: start with the first word in the first group and compare it with the first, second and third words in the other group.

If that doesn’t work, repeat for the second and third words of the first group. Just be careful to think about ALL the possible meanings of a word, eg ‘minute’ can mean 60 seconds, but it can also mean very small!

If you still can’t do the question (because you don’t know one or more of the words), try to work by process of elimination. That means narrowing down the options by getting rid of any pairs of words that definitely don’t mean the opposite to each other. Once you’ve done that, feel free to guess which one of the leftover pairs is the answer.

## Complete the Calculation

This is another number question, and it again means you need to know BIDMAS/BODMAS. You’ll be given an equation (or number sentence), and you just have to fill in the missing number to make sure it balances, eg 24 – 10 + 6 = 8 + 7 + ( ).

First of all, work out what the complete side of the equation equals, and then add, subtract, divide or multiply by the numbers in the other side to work out the answer (in this case, 24 – 10 + 6 = 20, and 20 – 8 – 7 = 5, so 5 is the answer). Don’t forget you’re working backwards to the answer, so you have to use the opposite operators!

## Rearrange to Make Two New words

In these questions, you’re given two words, and you have to take a letter from the first word and put it in any position in the second word to leave two new words, eg STOOP and FLAT.

Again, check first to see if the answer’s obvious, but then work through systematically, picking letters from the first word one by one and trying to fit it into each position in the second word. (In this case, the answer is STOP and FLOAT.) Remember that both the new words must make sense!

## Number Relationship

This is another Maths question in which you’ll be given three sets of numbers in brackets with the middle one in square brackets. The middle number in the final set is missing, though, so you have to calculate it using the two on either side, based on what happens in the first two sets, eg (3 [15] 5) (2 [8] 4) (7 [ ] 3).

The calculation will only involve the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), but it gets much harder when the numbers appear more than once!

In this example, all you need to do is multiply the outside numbers to get the answer (3 x 5 = 15 and 2 x 4 = 8, so 7 x 3 = 21), but you might get more complicated questions like this one: (16 [40] 8) (11 [27] 5) (4 [ ] 11). Here, you have to add the first number to itself and then add the other one (16 + 16 + 8 = 40 and 11 + 11 + 5 = 27, so 4 + 4 + 11 = 19).

These kinds of questions can be very difficult, so try not to spend too long on them. If it takes more than a minute or so to answer a question, it’s time to move on. You can always come back later if you have time at the end of the test.

## Alphabet Series/Sequence

These questions are a variation on number sequences in Maths – except using letters – and you answer them in the same way. You’re presented with several pairs of letters, and you have to fill in the blanks by working out what the patterns are, eg AB BD CF ??.

The best way to do this is to focus on the first and second letters of each pair separately as there will always be a pattern that links the first letters of each pair and a pattern that links the second letters of each pair, but there usually won’t be a pattern that links one letter to the next.

There’ll be a printed alphabet next to the question, so just do the same as you would for a number sequence question in Maths, drawing loops between the letters and labelling the ‘jump’ forwards or backwards in the alphabet, eg +1 or -2. Once you know what the pattern is, you can use it to work out the missing letters.

Just watch out for sequences with two patterns mixed together, eg CD TS GH RQ KL PO ?. Here, the first, third and fifth pairs of letters make up the sequence (with two letters missing between each pair), so the answer is OP.

## Analogies (Complete the Sentence)

In this type of question, you’re given a sentence that includes three possibilities for two of the words. You have to use logic and common sense to work out what the two other words should be, eg Teacher is to (bus, school, kitchen) as doctor is to (office, train, hospital).

This is known as an analogy: you have to work out the relationship of the first word to one of the words in the first set of brackets in order to find the same relationship in the second half of the sentence.

Again, the best way to do it is to have a quick scan to see if the answer’s obvious. If it is, write it down. If it’s not, go through the possibilities one by one, making sure to put the relationship into words. In this example, a teacher ‘works in a’ school, and a doctor ‘works in a’ hospital, so ‘school’ and ‘hospital’ are the answer.

## Word Codes

These are complicated! You are given four words and three codes, and you have to find the code for a particular word or the word for a particular code, eg TRIP PORT PAST TEST and 2741 1462 1851.

Unfortunately, there’s no set way of doing these kinds of questions, so you just have to use a bit of logic and common sense. It’s useful to remember that each letter is always represented by the same number, so you can look for patterns in the letters that match patterns in the numbers, eg a double T in one of the words might be matched by a double 3 in one of the codes, so that means T = 3, and you can also find out the numbers for all the other letters in that word.

In this example, TEST starts and finishes with the same letter, and 1851 starts and finishes with the same number, so TEST = 1851, which means T = 1, E = 8 and S = 5. You can then fill in those numbers for each of the remaining words, so TRIP = 1???, PORT = ???1 and PAST = ??51.

Next, you should be able to see that the letter R is the second letter in TRIP and the third in PORT, and that’s matched by the number 4, which is the second number in 1462 and the third in 2741.

That means R = 4, which means TRIP = 14??, PORT = ??41 and PAST = ??51. The only code starting with 14 is 1462, so TRIP = 1462, and the only code ending with 41 is 2741, so PORT = 2741 and the only code ending with 51 is 2351, so PAST = 2351. If PAST = 2351, that also tells us that A must equal 3, so you now know what each letter stands for, and you can answer any possible question they might throw at you. Phew!

## Complete Word Pairs

These questions are similar to word codes but, fortunately, much easier! You are given three pairs of words in brackets, and you have to work out the missing word at the end by what has gone before, eg (SHOUT, SHOT) (SOLDER, SOLE) (FLUTED, ).

The best way to go about it is to write down the position of the letters in the second word of the first two sets of brackets as they appear in the first.

In other words, the letters from SHOT appear in positions 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the first word, and the letters from SOLE also appear in positions 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the first word, so the missing word must consist of the same letters from FLUTED, which means it must be FLUE.

Now, you may not know that a flue is a kind of chimney, but don’t let that put you off. Just make sure you’ve got the right letters, and the answer must be right – even if you’ve never heard of it!

Another variation on this type of question contains a string of letters that appears in both words of each pair, just with a different letter or letters to start, eg (BLOAT, COAT) (CLING, DING) (SHOUT).

The easy bit is to find the repeated set of letters (in this case OAT) and to see that the second letter is dropped each time, but you still need to work out why the first letter changes (from B to C and then C to D).

That shouldn’t be too hard to work out, though, if you just go through the alphabet to find how many positions forwards or backwards you have to go (in this case, it’s +1, so the answer is TOUT).

## Number Series/Sequences

These questions provide you with a series of numbers and ask you to fill in the blanks, which might be anywhere in the sequence, eg 1, 3, 5, 7, ?, ?. As with alphabet series, the best way to find the answer is to draw a loop between each pair of numbers and write down the change in value.

In this case, it’s simple (+2 each time), so the answer is 9 and 11, but look out for more complicated sequences. It’s worth knowing the most common sequences, just so you can recognise them at once and don’t have to work them out. Here are a few of the commonest ones:

Even numbers: 2, 4, 6, 8 etc… Rule: 2n
Odd numbers: 1, 3, 5, 7 etc… Rule: 2n – 1
Powers of 2: 2, 4, 8, 16 etc… Rule: 2ⁿ
Prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7 etc… Rule: n/a (each number is only divisible by itself and one)
Square numbers: 1, 4, 9, 16 etc… Rule: n²
Triangular numbers: 1, 3, 6, 10 etc… Rule: sum of the numbers from 1 to n
Fibonacci sequence
: 1, 1, 2, 3 etc… Rule: n₋₂ + n₋₁ (ie each successive number is produced by adding the previous two numbers together, eg 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3)

Things get trickier when the sequence is actually a mixture of two separate sequences, eg 1, 3, 2, 5, 3, ?, ?. Here, the integers (1, 2, 3 etc) are mixed in with odd numbers starting with 3 (3, 5 etc), so you can’t simply find the difference between one number and the next – you have to look at every other number.

In this example, the first missing number is the next integer after 1, 2 and 3, which is 4, and the second one is the next odd number after 3 and 5, which is 7.

## Compound Words (Form New Word)

Here, you’re given two groups of three words, and you have to make a word by adding one from the first group to one from the second, eg (sleek pain seek) (search green killer).

Again, it’s important to be systematic, so you have to start with the first word in the first group and try to match it with each word in the second group. If that doesn’t work, repeat as necessary for the next two words in the first group. In this case, ‘pain’ goes with ‘killer’ to make ‘painkiller’.

## Create a Word (from the Letters of Two Others)

These questions give you two groups of three words with the middle one in brackets in the first group and missing in the second, eg arise (rage) gears paste ( ) moans. What you have to do is work out what the missing word is by finding where the letters in the word in brackets in the first group come from.

They are all taken from the words outside the brackets, so it’s just a case of working out which letter in the words outside the brackets matches each letter in the word inside the brackets. Your best bet is to write down the second group of words underneath the first and go through each letter one by one.

Just look out for letters that either appear twice in one of the words or letters that appear in both words outside the brackets. Those will obviously give you two different possible letters for the answer word, so you should probably write both of them one above the other until you’ve worked everything out and then simply choose the one that makes a proper word.

In this example, the R from ‘rage’ might come from ‘arise’ or ‘gears’, so the first letter of the answer word is going to be either the second letter of ‘paste’ (A) or the fourth letter of ‘moans’ (N). The same is true of the A and E in ‘rage’. Once you work it all out, the letters are a or n, p or a, m and e or o, and the only sensible word is ‘name’.

## Similar Meaning

These questions are slightly different from the synonym questions in that you have to choose a word out of five that has some similarity to or relationship with two pairs of words in brackets, eg (alter, amend) (coins, money) repair, trial, revue, change, passage.

The two pairs of words in brackets usually have different meanings, so you have to look for a word with a double meaning. Again, have a quick look at all the words to see if the answer’s obvious. If it is, write it down. If it’s not, go through the five words one by one, comparing them to the words in brackets.

It’s important to be open to the possibility of different meanings, so try to think laterally. In this example, for instance, the answer is ‘change’ as it can work as a verb meaning ‘alter’ or ‘amend’ but also as a noun meaning ‘coins’ or ‘money’.

## Letter Relationships

For these questions, you’re given a sentence that describes the relationship between two pairs of letters – a little bit like the sentence analogies earlier. The final pair of letters is missing, so you have to work out what they are by finding the relationship between the first two pairs, eg CG is to ED as BW is to ( ).

You should see an alphabet line to help you. The first relationship to look at is between the first letter of the first two pairs. In this case, you get from C to E by moving forward two places in the alphabet.

That means you need to move two places on from B to get the first letter of the missing pair, which is D. Repeat this for the second letters, and you’ll find the other half of the answer. In this case, you get from G to D by going back three places, so you have to go back the same three places from W to get T. The overall answer is therefore DT.

## Comprehension

The exact format of comprehension questions differs, but you’ll usually be given a lot of information about different people, and you’ll have to find the missing data. The subject could be people’s heights or ages, or it could be a schedule of events.

For example, three children – Susan, George and Ryan – all left school at 1515 and walked home. Susan arrived home first. George arrived home five minutes later at 1530. It took Ryan 10 minutes longer than Susan to walk home. What time did Ryan get home?

The way to approach any of these questions is to build a complete picture of the situation by starting with something you know and then working from there – a bit like building a jigsaw. Start with the absolute data (about heights, ages or times) and then move on to the relative data (comparing other people’s heights, ages or times).

One thing that often helps is to draw a timeline or simply write down the names of the children in order (of height, age etc). In this example, a timeline is probably your best option, starting at 1515 when the children left school and including George getting home at 1530. You can then add in Susan’s arrival time of 1525 (as she arrived five minutes before George) and finally Ryan’s arrival time of 1535 (as he arrived 10 minutes after Susan.

# Non-verbal Reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning tests are commonly found in Common Entrance exams at 11+ and 13+ level, and they’re designed to test pupils’ logical reasoning skills using series of shapes or patterns. It’s been said that they were intended to be ‘tutor-proof’, but, of course, every kind of test can be made easier through proper preparation and coaching.

Bond produces a lot of useful books of past papers, and there is also a Bond guide on How To Do Non-verbal Reasoning available from Amazon for £8.98. This article is partly a summary of that book, but it’s useful to know how Bond thinks pupils should be doing the questions as they’re the ones producing most of them!

The first thing to do is to describe the kind of questions that are involved. Here is the list taken from the back of one of the Bond papers:

• Finding the most similar shape
• Finding a shape within another shape
• Finding the shape to complete the pair
• Finding the shape to continue the series
• Finding the code to match the shape
• Finding the shape to complete the square
• Finding the shape that is a reflection of a given shape
• Finding the shape made when two shapes are combined
• Finding the cube that cannot be made from a given net

Bond divides the questions into four different types:

• Identifying shapes
• Missing shapes
• Rotating shapes
• Coded shapes and logic

Each of these types is divided into various subtypes.

## Identifying Shapes

### Types of question

• Recognise shapes that are similar and different
• Identify shapes and patterns
• Pair up shapes

### Sample Questions

• “Which is the odd one out?”
• “Find the figure in each row that is most unlike the other figures.”
• “Which pattern on the right belongs with the two on the left?”
• “Which pattern on the right belongs in the group on the left?”
• “Which shape is most similar to the shapes in the group on the left?”

## Missing Shapes

### Types of Question

• Find shapes that complete a sequence
• Find a given part within a shape
• Find a missing shape from a pattern

### Sample Questions

• “Which one comes next?”
• “Which pattern completes the sequence?”
• “Choose the shape or pattern the completes the square given.”
• “In which larger shape or pattern is the small shape hidden?”
• “Find the shape or pattern which completes or continues the given series.”

## Rotating Shapes

### Types of Question

• Recognise mirror images

### Sample Questions

• “Work out which option would look like the figure on the left it it was reflected over the line.”
• “Work out which of the six cubes can be made from the net.”

## Coded Shapes and Logic

### Types of Question

• Code and decode shapes
• Apply shape logic

### Sample Questions

• “Each of the patterns on the left has a two-letter code. Select the correct code for the shape on the right following the same rules.”
• “Select the code that matches the shape given at the end of each line.”
• “Which one comes next? A is to B as C is to ?”
“Which pattern on the right completes the second pair in the same way as the first pair? A is to B as C is to ?”

## Hints and Tips

The Bond book goes into great detail about how to answer each individual type of question, but here we’ll only look at a few key things to look for:

• Function
• Location
• SPANSS
• Story
• Symmetry
• Process of elimination

When looking for similarities between shapes, one thing to think about is the ‘function‘ of the objects shown. In other words, what are they for? If all but one of the drawings show kitchen equipment, then the bedside lamp must be the odd one out.

Another way of looking at it is to think about is the ‘location‘ of the objects shown. Where would you usually find them? If there is a rolling pin together with a lot of tools you’d find in the garage, then the tools ‘belong’ together in the same set.

Another useful way of working through a question is to use ‘SPANSS‘, which stands for Shape, Position, Angle, Number, Shading and Size (NOT ‘sides’, as some people have written online!). This is a list of all the possible things that can change in a diagram.

Non-verbal Reasoning questions demand that you’re very disciplined, logical and systematic when working through all the possibilities, so it’s useful to have a mnemonic such as SPANSS to help you tick off all the options.

If none of those works, another thing you can look for is a ‘story‘? For example, do the pictures show the steps you take to get ready for school in the morning, such as getting up, brushing your teeth, getting dressed and having breakfast?

You should also look out for ‘symmetry‘. Could the images be reflections of each other, or could they show rotational symmetry – in other words, has one pattern simply been turned upside-down or turned 90 degrees?

Finally, it’s a good idea to work by process of elimination. Just cross off all the answers that can’t be right until you’re left with only one. As Sherlock Holmes once said to Doctor Watson, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I hope this brief outline has been useful. Beyond that, practice makes perfect, and a few lessons with a private tutor wouldn’t go amiss either…!

# Creating Off-the-shelf Characters

Common entrance exams have a time limit. If they didn’t, they’d be a lot easier! If you want to save time and improve your story, one thing you can do is to prepare three ‘off-the-shelf’ characters to choose from.

You can work on them beforehand, improving them and memorising them as you go. By the time the exam comes around, it’ll be easy to dash off 8-10 lines about one of your favourite characters without having to spend any time inventing or perfecting them.

Here’s what you need to do.

The first thing to say is that you need your characters to be a little out of the ordinary. Most pupils writing stories tend to write about themselves. In other words, 10-year-old boys living in London tend to write stories about 10-year-old boys living in London!

Now, that’s all very well, and the story might still get a good mark, but what you want to try and do is stand out from the crowd. Why not write a story about an 18-year-old intern at a shark research institute in the Maldives?!

To decide which one you’d rather write about, you just have to ask yourself which one you’d rather read about. One thing you can do to make sure your characters are special is to give them all what I call a ‘speciality’ or USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

It might be a superpower such as X-ray vision or mind-reading, or it might be a special skill such as diving or surfing, or it might be a fascinating back-story such as being descended from the Russian royal family or William Shakespeare – whatever it is, it’s a great way to make your characters – and therefore your stories – just that little bit more interesting.

Secondly, you should also make sure all your characters are different. Try to cover all the bases so that you have one you can use for just about any story. That means having heroes that are male and female, old and young with different looks, personalities and nationalities.

For instance, Clara might be the 18-year-old intern at a shark research institute in the Maldives, Pedro might be the 35-year-old Mexican spy during the Texas Revolution of 1835-6 and Kurt might be the 60-year-old Swiss inventor who lives in a laboratory buried deep under the Matterhorn! Who knows? It’s entirely up to you.

Thirdly, creating an off-the-shelf character is a great way to force yourself to use ‘wow words’ and literary techniques such as metaphors and similes. You may have learned what a simile is, but it’s very easy to forget to use them in your stories, so why not describe one of your heroes as having ‘eyes as dark as a murderer’s soul’?

If you use the same characters with similar descriptions over and over again, it’ll become second nature to ‘show off’ your knowledge, and you can do the same with your vocabulary. Again, why say that someone is ‘big’ when you can say he is ‘athletic’, ‘brawny’ or ‘muscular’?

Fourthly, try to stick to what you know. If you’ve never even ridden on a horse, it’s going to be quite tough to write a story about a jockey!

Alternatively, if you’ve regularly been to a particular place on holiday or met someone you found especially interesting, then use what you know to create your characters and their backgrounds. It’s always easier to describe places if you’ve actually been there, and it’s easier to describe people if you know someone similar.

So what goes into creating off-the-shelf characters? The answer is that you have to try and paint a complete picture. It has to cover every major aspect of their lives – even if you can’t remember all the details when you come to write the story. I’d start by using the following categories:

• Name
• Age
• Job or education
• Looks
• Home
• Friends and family
• Personality
• USP (or speciality)

Names are sometimes hard to decide on, so you might want to leave this one to last, but you just need to make sure it’s appropriate to the sort of character you’re creating. It wouldn’t be very convincing to have a Japanese scientist called Emily!

Age is fairly easy to decide. Just make sure your three characters are different – and not too close to your own age!

Job or education goes a long way to pigeon-holing someone. You can tell a lot from what someone does for a living or what they are doing in school or at university. You can include as much or as little detail as you like, but the minimum is probably the name and location of the school or college and what your characters’ favourite subjects are. You never know when it might come in handy!

Looks includes hair, eye colour, build, skin colour and favourite clothes. The more you describe your heroes’ looks, the easier it’ll be for the reader to imagine them.

Home can again be as detailed as you like, but the more specific the better. It’s easier to imagine the captain of a nuclear submarine patrolling under the North Pole than someone simply ‘living in London’…

Friends and family are important to most people, and it’s no different for the heroes of your stories. We don’t need to know the names of all their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, but we at least need to know who they live with and who their best friends are.

Personality covers many things, but it should show what your characters are ‘like’ and what their interests are. Again, you don’t have to go into enormous depth, but it’s good to introduce the reader to qualities that might be needed later on in the story, such as athleticism or an ability to sail a boat.

USP (or speciality) covers anything that makes a character worth reading about. One of the reasons Superman is so popular is his superpowers: his ability to fly, his X-ray vision and the fact that he’s invulnerable. His greatest weakness is also important: Kryptonite. It’s the same for your characters. What can they do that most people can’t? What qualities can they show off in your stories? What will make them people we admire, respect and even love?

If you wanted to make Superman one of your off-the-shelf characters, this is what your notes might look like:

• Name: Superman (or Clark Kent, Kal-El, The Man of Steel, The Last Son of Krypton, The Man of Tomorrow)
• Age: Early 20s (when he first appears)
• Job or education: News reporter at The Daily Planet in Metropolis
• Looks: Tall, with a muscular physique, dark-haired, blue eyes
• Home: Krypton, then the Kents’ farm in Smallville, Kansas, then Metropolis (or a fictionalised New York), where he lives in a rented apartment
• Friends and family: Jor-El and Lara (biological parents)/Jonathan and Martha Kent (adoptive parents), Lois Lane (colleague, best friend, girlfriend), Jimmy Olsen (colleague), Perry White (boss as editor of The Daily Planet)
• Personality: Noble, honest, caring, gentle, resolute, decisive
• USP (or speciality): Superpowers, including invulnerability, super strength, X-ray vision, super hearing, longevity, freezing breath, ability to fly (but vulnerable to Kryptonite!)

Once you’ve created the notes for your three characters, you can write a paragraph of 8-10 lines about each of them. This is your chance to create something that you can easily slot into any of your stories, so use the past tense and stick to what the characters are like, not what they’re doing. That will be different in each story, so you don’t want to tie yourself down.

Here’s an example using Superman again:

Clark Kent led a double life. He wasn’t happy about it, but he needed his secret identity so that no-one would find out who he really was. He might have been a mild-mannered reporter for The Daily Planet with a crush on his partner, Lois Lane, but he was also a crime-fighting superhero: he was Kal-El, Superman and The Man of Steel all rolled into one!

His secret was that he’d actually been born on Krypton and sent to Earth as a baby to protect him from the destruction of his home planet. He’d been found by a childless couple living on a farm in Smallville, Kansas, and Jonathan and Martha Kent had adopted him as their own.

They didn’t know where he’d come from, but they’d provided him with a loving home as they watched him grow into a blue-eyed, dark-haired, athletic young man with a passion for ‘truth, justice and the American way’.

And they soon realised he was special when they saw him lifting a tractor with one hand…! He was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
“Look! Up in the sky!”
“It’s a bird!”
“It’s a plane!”
“It’s Superman!”

Try using your characters for stories you’re asked to write by your English teacher (or tutor, if you have one). The more often you use them, the better they’ll get as you change things you don’t like about them, bring in new ideas and polish the wording.

## Next Steps

Try to create three off-the-shelf characters. Make them different ages, male and female and from different parts of the world. Start with the notes and then create a paragraph of 8-10 lines for each one in the past tense, ready to drop into any story…

If it helps, you could also print out a picture from the internet and put it on your wall, adding notes to it to describe all the details of the character. For example, if you like fantasy tales of ‘swords and sorcery’ and want a hero to match, you could find a warrior from a film such as The Lord of the Rings and scribble down words like ‘helm’, ‘scabbard’ and ‘jerkin’. You could even add poetic devices to describe your hero’s main characteristics, such as his ‘arms of wrought iron’ or his ‘eyes as green as emeralds’.

I’m often asked by parents what books they should try to get their children to read, but I don’t think I’ve been much help so far, so this is my attempt to do better! If you’re still not convinced, there are a number of reading lists on my Useful Links page.

Tastes differ, obviously, so perhaps the best thing I can do is to list all the books that I loved when I was a boy. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I read them, so you’ll have to use your common sense, but they did at least provide me with happy memories.

## Ronald Welch

My favourite series of books when I was a child was the one written by Ronald Welch about the Carey family. He wrote about the men in the family over the course of around 500 years, from 1500 up to the First World War.

Each novel focused on one character in one particular period – rather like Blackadder, and there was a clear formula: whatever the period, he would have to fight a duel, he would do something heroic and he would win the fair lady!

The duels started with a dagger and a sword and then moved on to rapiers and then finally pistols as the years rolled on. I loved the military aspect to the books – as most boys would – and I read just about every single one I could get my hands on.

Unfortunately, they’re almost impossible to find in print nowadays, but it’s always worth a look…

## CS Forester

CS Forester wrote the ‘Hornblower’ novels. I was interested in both sailing and military history when I was young, and this sequence of novels about a naval officer called Horatio Hornblower in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1792-1815 was a perfect blend of the two.

## Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)

Alexander Kent was the pen name of Douglas Reeman, who wrote a series of novels about Richard Bolitho. I first came across him after finishing all the CS Forester novels, and he provided a similar mix of nautical and military history during the same period. They weren’t quite as good as the Hornblower novels, but I still enjoyed them.

## Enid Blyton

I didn’t read absolutely all the Enid Blyton books when I was a boy, but the one that I do remember is The Boy Next Door. Among other things, I loved the name of the character (‘Kit’), I loved the bits about climbing trees and I also loved the word ‘grin’, which I never understood but thought was somehow magical!

## Roald Dahl

Again, I don’t remember reading all the Roald Dahl novels, but James and the Giant Peach left a big impression. The characters were so interesting, and the idea of escaping from home on an enormous rolling piece of fruit was very exciting to me in those days…!

## Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I read The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when I was a boy, and it’s probably still the longest book I’ve ever read. I remember vividly that the edition I read was 1,227 pages long! I listened to the whole thing again recently in a very good audiobook edition read by Stephen Fry, and it was just as good second time around.

I loved the mystery of the stories, and I still read a lot of crime fiction even now. I’ve always had a very analytical mind, so Holmes’s brilliant deductions were always enjoyable to read about.

## Charlie Higson

The Young Bond novels weren’t around when I was young, but I read the first few as an adult, and I enjoyed them. James Bond is a classic fictional creation that appeals to boys in particular, and I think I would’ve lapped it up as a teenager. The first one is called Silverfin. Once you’ve read it, you’ll be hooked!

## Jane Austen

Jane Austen introduced me to irony with the immortal opening line from Pride and Prejudice, but the first of her novels that I read was actually Emma. I had to read it at school as part of my preparation for the Oxford entrance exam, and I didn’t like it at first.

However, that was just because I didn’t understand what was going on. Once my English teacher Mr Finn had explained that the character of Emma is always wrong about everything, I found it very funny and enjoyable. They say that ‘analysing’ a book can sometimes ruin it, but in this case it was quite the opposite.

## Ernest Hemingway

“If Henry James is the poodle of American literature, Ernest Hemingway is the bulldog. What do you think?” I was once asked that question in an interview at the University of East Anglia, and I had no idea how to reply!

As it happens, Hemingway was one of my favourite authors. My interviewer called his style ‘macho’, but that wasn’t the appeal for me. I simply liked the stories and the settings. I particularly loved the bull-fighting scenes in The Sun Also Rises, and there was just a glamour to the characters and the period that I really enjoyed.

If you don’t know where to start, try The Old Man and the Sea. It’s very simple and very short, but very, very moving.

# Describing Feelings

In many 11+ and 13+ exams, you have to talk about feelings. Yes, I know that’s hard for most boys that age, but I thought it might help if I wrote down a list of adjectives that describe our emotions. Here we go…

A bloke called Bob (actually Robert Plutchik) thought that people only ever felt eight different emotions:

His list is shown in this ‘wheel of emotions’. The basic eight feelings are:

• Ecstasy
• Terror
• Amazement
• Grief
• Loathing
• Rage
• Vigilance

If we had a think about all the adjectives that are associated with these categories (and sub-categories), we might come up with a list like this one:

crazy
delirious
ecstatic
elated
enthusiastic
euphoric
fervent
happy
joyful
joyous
overjoyed
rapturous
rhapsodic
serene
thrilled
upbeat

accepting
appreciative
loving
respectful
trustful
trusting

afraid
aghast
alarmed
apprehensive
awed
frightened
frozen
scared
submissive
terrified

amazed
astonished
astounded
awe-struck
bewildered
dazed
distracted
dumbfounded
flabbergasted
impressed
perplexed
shocked
staggered
startled
stunned
surprised
unprepared

bitter
grief-stricken
grieving
heart-broken
melancholy
mournful
pensive
pessimistic
somber
sorrowful
sorry
unhappy
wistful

appalled
bored
disapproving
disgusted
outraged
queasy
tired
weary

angry
aggressive
annoyed
contemptuous
enraged
exasperated
furious
heated
impassioned
indignant
irate
irritable
irritated
offended
resentful
sullen
uptight

anxious
aware
cautious
circumspect
expectant
interested
keen
observant
optimistic
vigilant
wary

# Long Division

Long division is on the syllabus for both 11+ and 13+ exams, so it’s important to know when and how to do it.

The basic idea is that it’s tricky to do short division when the number you’re dividing by (the ‘divisor’) is outside your times tables, ie more than 12. Using long division makes it easier by including a way of calculating the remainder using a proper subtraction sum.

It also makes it neater because you don’t have to try and squeeze two-digit remainders in between the digits underneath the answer line (the ‘dividend’).

So how does it work? Well, the only difference involves the remainder. In normal short division, you work it out in your head and put it above and to the left of the next digit in the dividend.

In long division, you work out the multiple of the divisor, write it down under the dividend and subtract one from the other to get the remainder. You then pull down the next digit of the dividend and put it on the end of the remainder, repeating as necessary.

To take the example at the top of the page, what is 522 divided by 18?

1. How many 18s in 5?
2. It doesn’t go
3. How many 18s in 52?
4. Two (write 2 on the answer line, and write 36 under the dividend with a line beneath it)
5. What’s 52 – 36?
6. 16 (write it on the next line)
7. Pull down the next digit from the dividend (write it after the 16)
8. How many 18s in 162?
9. Nine (write it on the answer line, giving 29 as the answer, or ‘quotient’)

That’s the basic method, but here are a couple of tips to help you out.

The first is that you can make life easier for yourself by guessing round numbers. Working with numbers outside your times tables is tricky, so you can use ‘trial and error’ to come up with the right multiple of the divisor by trying ‘easy’ ones like 5 or 10. If it’s too big or too small, you can simply try again with a smaller or bigger number.

The second is that you can often divide the divisor by two to force it back into your times tables. Why divide by 18 when you can simply divide by nine and halve the result? You just have to be careful that you only deal in even multiples, eg 52 ÷ 18 is tricky, but the nearest even multiple of 9 is 4 (as 5 is an odd number and 6 x 9 = 54, which is too much), so the answer must be 4.

# How to Write a Letter

Writing a letter is not as easy as it might seem – especially if you have to do it during a Common Entrance exam! In this post, I’d like to explain the typical format of formal and casual letters and the decisions on wording that you’ll have to make.

First of all, here’s a quick list of the main parts of a letter that the examiner will be looking at:

• Date
• Greeting
• Text
• Sign-off
• Signature

It’s important to put the address of the sender (not the recipient!) at the top right of the letter (see above). The postman obviously doesn’t look inside the letter, so the address of the recipient needs to go on the envelope instead!

The only exception is if it’s a business letter intended to be posted in a window envelope. In that case, it needs to have the recipient’s address positioned above the sender’s address at just the right height so that it shows through the window when an A4 sheet is folded in three.

The address should really be aligned right, so you must remember to leave enough space for yourself when you start writing each line. Otherwise, it’ll look a bit of a mess…

## Date

The date should be placed two or three lines below the sender’s address (again aligned right) in the traditional long format rather than just in numbers, eg 7th October 2018 rather than 7/10/18 (or 10/7/18 if you’re American!).

## Greeting

Which greeting you use depends on the recipient. If you know the name of the person you’re writing to, then you should use ‘Dear’ rather than ‘To’, eg ‘Dear Mr and Mrs Dursley’. ‘To’ is fine for Christmas cards, but not for letters. You should also put a comma afterwards.

If you’re writing to a company or an organisation and you don’t know the name of the person, you have two options: you can either start the letter off with ‘Dear sir/madam’ or write ‘To whom it may concern’. This works better when it’s a reference for a job or a formal letter that may be circulated among several people.

## Text

The text can obviously be whatever you like, but make sure you start it underneath the comma after the greeting. You should also use paragraphs if the letter is more than a few lines.

## Sign-off

The sign-off is just the phrase you put at the end of the letter before your signature. If the letter is to a friend or relative, there aren’t really any rules. You can say anything from ‘Love’ to ‘Best regards’ or ‘Yours ever’.

Note that they all start with a capital letter and should be followed by a comma (or maybe a full-stop). If the letter is to someone else, the sign-off depends on the greeting: if you’ve used someone’s name in the greeting, you should use ‘Yours sincerely’, but it’s ‘Yours faithfully’ if you haven’t.

## Signature

The signature is very important in letter-writing as it’s a simple way of ‘proving’ who you are, so you should develop one that you’re happy with. It should include your first name or your initial(s) plus your surname, eg Nick Dale or N Dale or NW Dale.

Your signature should be special, so it doesn’t need to be ‘neat’ or ‘clear’ like the rest of the letter. In fact, the prettier and the more stylish, the better!

And there you have it. This is only one way of writing a letter, and there are other ways of formatting the information, but these rules will at least give you the best chance of getting full marks in your Common Entrance exam!

# Maths Trick

Here’s a Maths trick a friend of mine saw on QI. Who knows? It might make addition and subtraction just a little bit more fun!

1. Find a book and write down the ninth word on p108, eg ‘becoming’.
2. Ask someone to write down a number with three different digits in it, eg 321.
3. Ask him to reverse it and take the smaller number away from the larger, eg 321 – 123 = 198.
4. Ask him to write down the answer and, again, reverse it, eg 891.
5. Ask him to add the two new numbers together, eg 198 + 891 = 1089.
6. Ask him to find the ninth word on p108 of the book, eg ‘becoming’.
7. Reveal the same word you wrote down earlier!

The trick is that the answer is always going to be 1089, whatever the number you first think of, so it should work every time – unless there’s a problem with the Maths!

# The Ones that Got Away

I get nervous before I go on photography trips. Part of that is just worrying about travel arrangements, visas and packing everything I need, but another part of it is worrying that I won’t get the shots I want. Here are a few examples of ‘the ones that got away’.

## Taj Mahal

Before I went to the Taj Mahal, I was determined to get the classic ‘Lady Diana’ shot of the building from the end of the reflecting pools. That was the whole point of the trip, and I was really worried about it. I couldn’t face the idea of screwing up what would probably be my only opportunity to visit the world’s most famous building.

When I arrived in India on a G Adventures trip in November 2013, we went to the Taj Mahal early one morning, around 0530. We had to queue for a while and then go through security. At that point, I was about to rush off and take the shot I’d been dreaming about, but our tour leader then introduced us all to a local guide who was about to give us a 15-minute lecture about the building.

What a nightmare!

I knew that the whole place would be crawling with tourists if I didn’t go and take the shot immediately, but it seemed a bit rude just to rush off without hearing the talk. In the end, I was too British about the whole thing and missed the shot of a lifetime. Too bad. On the plus side, I ended up with this image of the Taj Mahal.

It’s the very opposite of the ‘Lady Diana’ shot. One is all symmetry and clarity, the other is misty and mysterious. The higgledy-piggledy minarets and the blue haze make the building seem more like a fairy tale castle. I do like this shot, but I still regret being too polite to get the one I wanted…!

## Jumping Impala

Not quite sharp enough…

This would’ve been a great shot. It could’ve been a great shot. It should’ve been a great shot. But it wasn’t. Why? Motion blur. If you look closely, you can see that the whole body is slightly out of focus, and that was simply because I didn’t think to change my shutter speed.

I was parked in a jeep in Botswana when a herd of impala came chasing across the road. They were galloping fast, but there were five or six of them, so I did have time to focus on each of them, one by one, as they crossed the road in turn.

Unfortunately, I was using my default camera settings that were designed to capture animals that were standing still. I was using an 80-400mm lens, so I had my camera on 1/320 and f/8 with auto ISO. That would normally have worked, but not for a jumping impala! What I really needed was a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second. I just didn’t think…

## Caracal

This is what it looks like on Wikipedia.

A few years ago, I went to a talk given by Paul Goldstein somewhere in London, and one of the slides he showed was a picture of a caracal. I’d never seen one at the time, but Paul was very proud of his shot, which showed a caracal from the side running through long grass.

The image stayed in my mind, and I was very excited when I went to Tanzania in January 2018 and actually saw one for myself! It was quite a way away, but I had my 800mm lens with me, and I was just about to take a shot when the driver told me to wait.

He was going to drive around and get closer. Well, funnily enough, the caracal disappeared, and I never got the shot I wanted…

## Polar Bear

The best of a bad bunch

In June 2014, I went on an Exodus trip with Paul Goldstein to Spitsbergen to see the polar bear. It was a last-minute booking, so I got a good deal on the price, and I was lucky enough to share a cabin with a nice French chap called Eric, but the real prize was getting some good shots of a polar bear.

We had 13 or so sightings, but, sadly, they were all too far away for my 500mm lens. That was in the days before I got into the habit of renting the Nikon 800mm monster, and I really wish I’d had it then.

Amongst other sightings, a mother and her two cubs put on a great show for us on the ice, but, when I got back to my cabin to review my shots, I found they were all too soft and too distant. Ah, well, at least I have an excuse to go again now…

## The Kill

I’ve been to Africa several times now, visiting Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Botswana, but I’ve never seen a kill. I’ve seen the chase, and I’ve seen the predator eating its prey, but I’ve never seen the crucial moment of the kill.

Now, I know some people would be a little squeamish about seeing one animal kill another, but I don’t think I’d feel that way. To me, it’s the ultimate expression of ‘the survival of the fittest’, and I’d love to see a lion, leopard or cheetah kill something on the great plains of Africa.

I have many stories of ‘the one that got away’. There was the time when I climbed Mount Kenya and arrived back at the camp, only to find that everyone that morning had spent an hour watching a pride of lions kill a wildebeest 50 yards away from the gate of the national park!

Or there was the time on the same trip when I booked the wrong flight home and had the chance to spend an extra day on my very own personal game drive. We saw a cheetah ‘timing’ (or hunting) an impala, and it was the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me in Africa – but no kill.

In Antarctica, I watched from a Zodiac as a leopard seal ripped apart a penguin, but I didn’t quite see the initial attack. In the Brazilian Pantanal, I was watching a jaguar on the river bank from a small boat when the call came over the radio that lunch was ready.

No sooner had we met up with the other boat than we had another call, this time to say that the very same jaguar had just killed a caiman! We rushed back and watched as the young jaguar made a mess of the whole thing.

To begin with, he had hold of his prey by the throat rather than the back of the neck. This is fine if you’re a lion, but jaguars prefer to kill caiman (or small crocodiles) by nipping them on the back of the neck.

This jaguar was in a bit of a bind: he didn’t want to kill the caiman the ‘wrong’ way, but he couldn’t change his grip in case it got away. He spent 10 minutes humming and hawing before finally killing the caiman, but that was only the start of his problems.

His next job was to find a safe place to store his prey, but the banks of the river were 8-10ft high and very steep, so he spent another 25 minutes trying to find a way up into the undergrowth, desperately trying to drag the 10ft crocodile with him.

By this stage, around 20 boats had gathered to see the jaguar, and, when he eventually managed to scramble up the bank with his kill, everybody gave him a big round of applause!

I’d rather have seen the kill than stopped for lunch!

## Conclusion

All this goes to show exactly how close I’ve come to the elusive kill, but no luck so far. However, I’m off to the Masai Mara in a couple of weeks, so maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to bring back the shot I’ve been dying to get…

# Lightroom Workflow

A few years ago, I started doing all my photographic post-processing in Lightroom. It’s the program used by most professional photographers and is reasonably user-friendly, I got to grips with Lightroom mostly by watching a very useful series of YouTube videos by Anthony Morganti, but this article is just a description of my basic workflow.

I pay around £10 a month for access to Lightroom Classic (which I use almost all the time) and Photoshop (which I rarely use except for model releases that need thumbnail images superimposing on them).

### What Does ‘Workflow’ Mean?

Your workflow is simply the steps you go through in order to choose your best shots and make them look as good as possible. You might be on a cruise ship in the Antarctic or in a tent in Chobe National Park or back at home in Blighty, but – wherever you are – you should have a standard approach to cataloguing and post-processing your shots.

This is my system, but feel free to change it or add to it according to what you prefer:

1. Import to computerI like to keep up-to-date with editing my pictures, so I usually work on them every day after I get back from the game drive (or whatever the shoot happens to be). I’m usually out all day shooting, so I take the first chance I get to go through everything before lunch or dinner back at camp.To do that, I first of all connect my camera to my MacBook Pro and import all the RAW files to a new folder in Pictures using Image Capture. I have two cameras, so I usually have a shower or something while the first one’s chugging away, and then I work on the first batch of images while the second is being copied across from my other camera.

I usually take over 1,000 images in a day, so this can take a while, and I get very impatient at this point! I’ve done my best to buy Compact Flash (CF) or Secure Digital (SD) cards with the fastest possible read and write speeds just to help speed up the process, and I now have an extra-fast XQD (eXperimental Quality Determination) card for my D850, but it’s never enough.

I have a Mac, so Image Capture is the default program for importing files, but it will obviously be different if you have a PC. I could import my shots directly using Lightroom, but I’ve had a couple of bad experiences when Lightroom has crashed while trying to import thousands of files, so I use Image Capture just to be on the safe side.

2. Import to LightroomI then import the files to Lightroom. This doesn’t involve any actual copying of files, so it only takes a few seconds. I usually do it without any of the custom ‘Import’ settings, but you could set this up if you wanted to.It’s a trade-off between speed and convenience. If you always want a vignette, for example, then you could create a preset and import using that preset. That way, every shot has the same vignette. However, it makes the import process last that bit longer, so it’s up to you.

The other thing you can do is create 1:1 previews. This again is more time-consuming, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to viewing and editing each file in full-screen mode.

It’s extremely frustrating when Lightroom keeps displaying the ‘Loading…’ message for each new file, particularly when you just want to check sharpness at 1:1, but those messages disappear if you build the previews during the import process. Try it and see for yourself.

3. Rate imagesI only end up trying to sell about 1% of the shots I take, so rating the images I like is generally much quicker than rejecting the ones I don’t! (If your hit rate is more than 50%, you can always type ‘x’ to reject images and delete them later all in one go.)To rate pictures, you simply type a number between 1 and 5, and the equivalent star rating is added to all the selected images. (You can press 0 to remove the rating or 6 to add the colour red, which I used to do for people shots.)

In my system, I give 3 stars generally to shots of my friends or fellow guests worth putting on Facebook, 4 stars to shots worth selling and 5 stars to my all-time favourites. (To give you an idea, I currently have over 5,000 shots I’ve rated 4 stars or more, but only 142 5-star shots!)

During the rating process, I sometimes have to crop an image or do some very basic editing to see if it’s worth keeping, but I try to keep it ‘quick and dirty’ to save time.

4. Check ratingsOnce I’ve rated all my shots, I go over all the 4- or 5-star images again to check the rating. This crucially includes checking the sharpness at 100% because agencies are very quick to reject images that aren’t quite sharp enough.It also means checking for duplicates. It’s very easy to end up with several shots of the same subject from the same angle, especially if the shots were taken at different times so they don’t end up right next to each other.

Agencies again tend to reject images that are too similar to each other, so it’s worth going through with a fine-tooth comb at this point. Otherwise, you’ll end up duplicating all your later work for a file that ends up in the trash…!

5. Post-process images

Digital images don’t generally look their best straight out of the box, so this is when I spend a bit of time making basic adjustments to my 4- and 5-star images. I make a couple of global changes, but the rest are local.The global changes are Dehaze and Post-crop vignetting. The Dehaze slider in the basic panel of Lightroom can remove haze, but it’s also useful for any shot that just needs a little bit more contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrance.I generally set it to +25, and I’ve created a preset that allows me to apply the change to all of my images at the same time. I do the same with Post-crop vignetting. Vignettes tend to focus the viewer’s eyes on the subject by darkening the corners of the image, so I generally set the slider to +20.

As most of my pictures are wildlife portraits, that works just fine, but I generally won’t use a vignette when there’s a large expanse of sky as it just looks plain daft!

The local adjustments I make to each file generally involve using the tools in the basic panel (such as cropping, changing the exposure and choosing different black and white points to avoid clipping of highlights and shadows), so I tend to click the ‘Auto’ button to begin with and then only make further changes where I have to.

6. Add metadataThe most time-consuming part of this whole process is adding the metadata. If you’re not a serious photographer aiming to sell your shots to stock agencies, then you obviously don’t need to do much at this point, but the more data you add, the easier it is to find files when you need to.For example, if you’ve just come back from Botswana and someone asks to see all your elephant shots, you’ll feel a bit daft if you’ve never even bothered to add any tags! I take all my 4- and 5-star images and add titles, captions and keywords.

Stock agencies have rules on the type and number of characters in each metadata field, so I avoid apostrophes and give all my images seven-word titles that are no longer than 50 characters. In theory, captions should be different from titles, but I find it too time-consuming to do that for all my files, so I keep them the same except for any 5-star images.

I put those on my website and tend to enter those in competitions, so it’s worth expending a little extra effort to sell the sizzle! Keywords are essential for Search Engine Optimisation, so I use at least 10 but more often 20 or 30, including tags describing the location, content and theme of the image (plus obvious synonyms).

After each trip, I set up a metadata preset for Design Pics (my main stock agency) in order to add the data they require, such as city, country and copyright status. I also create a location in the Maps module and drag all my images to it in order to geotag them with GPS data.

It’s worth noting that I set the time zone, date, time and copyright information on my cameras before I go on a trip so I don’t have to worry about any of that when I get home.

7. Export imagesLightroom is what they call a ‘non-destructive’ program, which means that the RAW files that you edit aren’t actually changed when you edit them. Instead, Lightroom keeps a list of editing instructions that it follows every time you want to view a file.As a result, it’s essential to export any files that you intend to view outside Lightroom or upload to any stock agencies. I’ve set up presets for all the folders I usually export to, but stock agencies generally want JPEG files no more than 20MB in size, so I’ve used that as my limit.

Most agencies also have minimum quality thresholds, so I try not to crop so much that the image is less than 6.3 megapixels.

I initially export all my 4- and 5-star images as 20MB sRGB JPEGs at the highest quality setting to three folders: ‘4*’, ‘5*’ and ‘Favourites’ – which holds both. (These files automatically show up in Lightroom as I’ve set it up that way in Preferences.)

I then export the same files to my ‘To upload’ folder using a special low-resolution preset that follows the Design Pics guidelines. I have an exclusive agreement with Design Pics, and I give them first refusal on all my photographs.

However, the metadata requirements for Design Pics are different from those of the other agencies, so I have to be careful to get it right. The main difference is in the Headline and Caption fields.

Design Pics requires Headline to be ‘NA’, and I write a long description in the Caption field of my 5* images in order to put it on my website, but some agencies take the title of the image from the Headline and Caption fields, so I have to copy and paste the correct data several hundred times!

(There is a plug-in that copies data from one field to another, but the free version only works on 10 files at a time…)

Once I’ve exported all my 4* and 5* files, I upload them to Design Pics via FTP using Filezilla. It usually takes them a few weeks to decide which ones they want. When I’ve received a list of their ‘selects’, I export high-resolution versions and upload them via FTP again.Sometimes, these files don’t pass QA due to lack of sharpness or some other issue, so I have to wait another week or so before I know exactly which files I can send to the other agencies.Once I have the definitive list, I upload them to all the other agencies using Filezilla, websites or DeepMeta (for Getty Images). Buyers tend to search among the newest images, so I’ve taken to uploading 100 files each month in order to maximise the chances of a sale.

We’ll see if it works…! I keep track of the whole process on a spreadsheet. Each image has a row, and each agency has a column, and I note the current status by putting ‘u’ for ‘uploaded’, ‘s’ for ‘submitted’ and ‘y’ for accepted.

I’ve also created quite a few extra columns for continent, country, type of image, exhibitions, online galleries and competitions. Managing over 5,000 images is a complicated process, so I rely on Excel to make sure I know what’s going on!

9. Delete images

Once all my images are copied across to my laptop and properly edited and catalogued, I can format the memory cards and delete any unrated files in Lightroom. File management should always be done in Lightroom rather than Finder in order to make sure that the changes are synchronised properly.If you do it the other way round, Lightroom will flag deleted images as ‘missing’. This also applies to any changes you make to the metadata. If you select the right settings in Lightroom, these will automatically be copied to the underlying files in Finder, and that’s a huge time-saver.For example, if you suddenly realise you’ve spelt ‘elephant’ wrong in some of your elephant pictures, you can simply search for the wrong spelling, highlight all the pictures that pop up and correct it globally in the keywords window.
10. Back up

Backing up all my pictures and documents is absolutely essential, so I use a cloud storage service called CrashPlan from Code42. It runs in the background and simply copies any changes or deletions to the back-up servers in real time.If I realise I’ve deleted a file by accident, I can search for it on CrashPlan and restore whichever version I want – either the latest version or the version before I made a mistake with my edits.CrashPlan works fine as long as I have a working internet connection, but it did take a few weeks to sync all my files when I first started using it, and it doesn’t help me when I’m in Africa or in the Arctic Circle without any wi-fi!

My biggest fear is losing all the pictures I’ve taken while I’m on a trip, and I still haven’t worked out a solution to the problem. I guess I could take a spare hard drive or USB stick, but I’ve been too lazy so far. Let’s hope I don’t pay the ultimate price…!

Lightroom is a subject I’m learning all the time, but I hope this will give you a head start!

# Simultaneous Equations

Why do we have simultaneous equations? Well, there are two ways of looking at it.

1. The first is that it solves a problem that seems insoluble: how do you work out two variables at once? For example, if x + y = 10, what are x and y? That’s an impossible question because x and y could literally be anything. If x was 2, then y would be 8, but if x was 100, then y would be -90, but if x was 0.5, then y would be 9.5 and so on.Simultaneous equations help us solve that problem by providing more data. Yes, we still can’t solve each equation individually, but having both of them allows us to solve for one variable and then the other.
2. The second way of looking at simultaneous equations is to imagine that they describe two lines that meet. The x and y values are obviously different as you move along both lines, but they are identical at the point where they meet, and that is the answer to the question.

The next question is obviously ‘How do we solve simultaneous equations?’ The answer is simple in theory: you just have to add both equations together to eliminate one of the variables, at which point you can work out the second one and then put it back into one of the original equations to work out the first variable.

However, it gets more and more complicated as the numbers get less and less ‘convenient’, so let’s take three examples to illustrate the three different techniques you need to know.

The first step in solving simultaneous equations is to try and eliminate one of the variables by adding or subtracting them, but you can only do that if the number of the variable is the same in both. In theory, you could choose the first or the second term, but I find the one in the middle is the easiest, eg

4x + 2y = 10

16x – 2y = 10

Here, the number of the variables in the middle of the equations is the same, so adding them together will make them disappear:

20x = 20

It’s then simple to divide both sides by 20 to work out x:

x = 1

Once you have one variable, you can simply plug it back into one of the original equations to work out the other one, eg

4x + 2y = 10

4 x 1 + 2y = 10

4 + 2y = 10

2y = 6

y = 3

Answer: x = 1, y = 3

## Multiplying One Equation

If the number of variables in the middle is not the same, but one is a factor of the other, try multiplying one equation by whatever number is needed to make the number of the variables match, eg

4x + 2y = 10

7x + y = 10

Multiplying the second equation by 2 means the number of the y’s is the same:

4x + 2y = 10

14x + 2y = 20

The rest of the procedure is exactly the same, only this time we have to subtract rather than add the equations to begin with:

10x = 10

x = 1

The next part is exactly the same as the first example as we simply plug in x to find y:

4x + 2y = 10

4 x 1 + 2y = 10

4 + 2y = 10

2y = 6

y = 3

Answer: x = 1, y = 3

## Multiplying Both Equations

If the number of variables in the middle is not the same, but neither is a factor of the other, find the lowest common multiple and multiply the two equations by whatever numbers are needed to reach it, eg

4x + 2y = 10

x + 3y = 10

The lowest common multiple of 2 and 3 is 6, which means we need to multiply the first equation by 3:

12x + 6y = 30

…and the second by 2:

2x + 6y = 20

As the number of variables in the middle is now the same, we can carry on as before by subtracting one from the other in order to find x:

10x = 10

x = 1

Again, the final part of the technique is exactly the same as we plug x into the first of the original equations:

4x + 2y = 10

4 x 1 + 2y = 10

4 + 2y = 10

2y = 6

y = 3

Answer: x = 1, y = 3

## Practice Questions

Job done! Now, here are a few practice questions to help you learn the rules. Find x and y in the following pairs of simultaneous equations:

1. 2x + 4y = 16
4x – 4y = 8
2. 3x + 2y = 12
5x + 2y = 16
3. 12x – 4y = 28
3x – 2y = 5
4. 2x – y = 12
3x – 2y = 17
5. 4x + 3y = 24
5x – 2y = 7
6. 4x + 3y = 31
5x + 4y = 40
7. x + 4y = 23
5x – 2y = 5
8. 4x + 3y = 37
2x – 3y = -13
9. 2x + 4y = 16
3x – 5y = -9
10. 2x + 4y = 20
3x + 3y = 21

# How to Become a Private Tutor

I’ve talked to a few people who wanted to become private tutors, so I thought I’d write down a few tips for anyone who’s interested.

## How Did I Start Out?

I started as a private tutor quite by accident. It was 2009, and I was finding it hard to get work as a freelance management consultant when I happened to read an article in the Telegraph called 10 Ways to Beat the Recession.

The author mentioned a few ways of earning some extra cash, including becoming an extra on film sets – which I was already doing – and working as a private tutor. I’d never done any proper teaching before, although I was a golf coach, and I’d coached skiing a few times in the Alps, but I thought I’d sign up with a couple of agencies and see what happened.

Within a week, I had two clients, and I’ve never looked back since!

## What Qualifications do I Need?

The first and most important thing to say is that you don’t need any teaching qualifications! Yes, that’s right. You don’t need a PGCE, and you don’t need to have done any training as a teacher. As a private tutor, you are just that – private – so you don’t have to jump through all the Government hoops that a teacher in a state school would have to do.

Obviously, potential clients want the best person to teach their child, so you need to show some sort of academic record, but that can be as little as a degree in English – which is what I had when I started. Admittedly, I went to Oxford, which probably counts for a lot with Russian billionaires (!), but you don’t need to have an Oxbridge degree to become a tutor. Far from it.

However, what you probably will need is a criminal records check. This is just a piece of paper that certifies you haven’t been convicted of a criminal offence and was often known as a ‘CRB check’, although it’s now officially called an Enhanced Certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service, or ‘DBS check’.

You can’t apply for an ‘enhanced certificate’ yourself, but your tuition agency can help you. In fact, they may require you to have one and even to renew it every year or two. It costs around £18 and can take up to three months to arrive, so it’s worth applying as early as possible.

Some agencies may charge up to £80 to make the application on your behalf, so be careful! You can find further information here.

## What Subjects Can I Teach?

You can teach whatever you like! Agencies will just ask you which subjects you offer and at what level, so you have complete freedom to choose. I focus on English and Maths, which are the most popular subjects, but that’s mostly led by demand from clients. They are the main subjects at 11+ level, so that’s what most people are looking for help with.

## What Age Children Can I Teach?

Again, the choice is yours. I’ve taught students from as young as five to as old as 75, but the peak demand is at 11+ level, when the children are around 10 years old. I make it a rule that I’ll only teach a subject to a level that I’ve reached myself, such as GCSE or A-level, but clients sometimes take you by surprise.

When I turned up to teach what I thought was going to be English to two boys, the nanny suddenly asked me to do Latin instead. When I said I hadn’t done any Latin since I was 15, she just said, “Oh, you’ll be fine…!”

## What Preparation do I Need to do?

### Research

One of the big attractions of tutoring for me is that the work is very enjoyable. I like teaching, and I like spending time with children, so it’s the perfect combination! The reason I stopped work as a management consultant was the constant stress, the persistent worry that I wasn’t up to the job, but teaching 10-year-olds never makes me feel like that.

Whether it’s English or Maths, I’m confident in my ability to teach and never worry about being asked an impossible question. However, that doesn’t mean you can walk into your first lesson without doing any preparation at all.

In my case, I wanted to teach English, so I needed to find out what kind of questions cropped up in 11+ and 13+ entrance exams and come up with a good method of answering them. Once I’d done that, I was ready.

Maths was a bit easier, but I still looked through a few papers to make sure there was no risk of being blind-sided by something I’d forgotten how to do or had never studied. Whatever the subject you’re offering, I suggest you do the same.

### Past Papers

The other thing I needed to do was to find past papers to give to my pupils. That was a bit tricky in the early days until a kind parent gave me a collection of photocopied exams. After that, I carried a couple around with me to take to lessons, but it wasn’t a great solution, so I decided to create a website – this one.

Over time, I collected dozens of past papers and wrote various articles on how to do different kinds of question in Maths, English and French. Now, I don’t have to carry around anything with me or spend time dictating notes. I can simply ask my pupils to look it up online.

Setting up a website is pretty easy using WordPress or something similar, but you should feel free to use the resources on my past papers tab if you don’t want to go to the trouble yourself, and all my articles are available for free if you need them.

The main ones I use for English are about doing comprehensions and writing stories, but there are plenty more. The website proved unexpectedly popular, and I had over 28,000 visitors last year! The other advantage is that it generated enough business for me not to need agencies any more.

That means I can charge what I like, I don’t have to pay any commission, and I can have a direct relationship with all my clients without anybody acting as an intermediary – and often just getting in the way!

I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but having business cards is very useful. If you’re just starting out, nobody knows your name, so paying a few quid to market your services is one of the best investments you can make.

You never know when people will tell you they’re looking for a tutor, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to give them a business card. Even if you don’t have a website, it will at least tell them how to reach you, and you should get a lot more clients out of it.

## How Can I Find Work?

Tuition agencies are the best place to start, but there are different kinds. Some are online and simply require you to fill out a form for them to check and vet, but others ask you to go through an interview, either over the phone or in person.

Either way, you need to put together a tailored CV that shows off your academic achievements and highlights any teaching experience you’ve had. This may not be very much at the beginning, but you simply need to show enough potential to get you through the door.

Once you’ve shown enough aptitude and commitment to get accepted by a few agencies, you’ll rapidly build up your experience on the job.

Here is a list of the tuition agencies I’ve been in touch with, together with contact details where available. I’m based in London, so there is obviously a geographical bias there, but some of the agencies such as Fleet Tutors offer national coverage, and you can always search online for others in your local area.

### Website

A-Star Tuitionastartuition@btinternet.com01772 814739astartuition.com
Approved Tutorsapprovedtutors.co.uk
Athena Tuitionathenatuition.co.uk/
Beacon Tutorsinfo@beacontutors.co.uk020 8983 2158beacontutors.co.uk/
Bespoke Tuitionemma@bespoketuition.com07732 371880bespoketuition.com
Bigfoot Tutorstutors@bigfoottutors.com020 7729 9004bigfoottutors.com
Bright Young Things07702 019194brightyoungthingstuition.co.uk
Dulwich Tutorsinfo@dulwichtutors.com020 8653 3502dulwichtutors.com
Enjoy Educationkate@enjoyeducation.co.ukenjoyeducation.co.uk
Exam Confidence
First Tutorsfirsttutors.co.uk
Fleet Tutors0845 644 5452fleet-tutors.co.uk
Gabbitasgabbitas.com
Greater London Tutors020 7727 5599greaterlondontutors.com
Harrison Allenharrisonallen.co.uk
Holland Park Tuitionrecruitment@hollandparktuition.com020 7034 0800hollandparktuition.com
IPS Tutorsinfo@ipstutors.co.uk01509 265623ipstutors.co.uk
Ivy Educationivyeducation.co.uk
Kensington & Chelsea Tutorstutors@kctutors.co.uk020 7584 7987kctutors.co.uk
Keystone Tutorsenquiries@keystonetutors.com020 7351 5908keystonetutors.com
Kings Tutorsemily@kingstutors.co.ukkingstutors.co.uk
Knightsbridge Tutors07890 521390knightsbridgetutors.co.uk
Laidlaw Educationlaidlaweducation.co.uk
Mentor & Sonsandrei@mentorandsons.com07861 680377mentorandsons.com
Osborne Cawkwellenquiries@oc-ec.com020 7584 5355oc-ec.com
Russell Education Groupjoe@russelleducationgroup.comn/a
Select My Tutorinfo@selectmytutor.co.ukselectmytutor.co.uk
SGA Educations@sga-education.comsga-education.com
Simply Learning Tuitionsimplylearningtuition.co.uk
The Tutor Pagesthetutorpages.com
Top Tutors020 8349 2148toptutors.co.uk
Tutor Houseinfo@tutorhouse.co.uk020 7381 6253tutorhouse.co.uk/
Tutor Hunttutorhunt.com
Tutorfairtutorfair.com
Tutors Internationaltutors-international.net
UK Tutorsuktutors.com
Westminster Tutorsexams@westminstertutors.co.uk020 7584 1288westminstertutors.co.uk
William Clarence Educationsteve@williamclarence.com020 7412 8988williamclarence.com
Winterwoodwinterwoodtutors.co.uk
Youni Tutoringyounitutoring.com

That’s obviously a long list, but, to give you an idea, I earned the most from Adrian Beckett (teacher training), Bespoke Tuition, Bonas MacFarlane, Harrison Allen, Keystone Tutors, Mentor & Sons, Personal Tutors and Shawcross Bligh.

Once you’ve been accepted by and started working for a few agencies, you’ll soon see the differences. Some offer higher rates, some the option to set your own rates, some provide a lot of work, some offer the best prospects of jobs abroad. It all depends what you’re looking for.

## Where Will the Lessons Take Place?

When I first started tutoring, I had to cycle to all my clients. I put a limit of half an hour on my travel time, but it still took a lot of time and effort to get to my pupils. Fortunately, I’m now able to teach at my home, either in person or online using Skype and an electronic whiteboard, which means my effective hourly rate has gone up enormously.

Travel is still a little bit of a problem for most tutors, though, and I certainly couldn’t have reached my pupils without having a bicycle. I didn’t have a car, and public transport wasn’t really an option in most cases.

You just have to decide how far you’re prepared to go: the further it is, the more business you’ll get, but the longer it’ll take to get there and therefore the lower your effective hourly rate.

The other possibility, of course, is teaching abroad. I’ve been lucky enough to go on teaching assignments in Belarus, Greece, Hong Kong, Kenya, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey, and it’s a great way to see the world.

The clients can sometimes be a little bit difficult, and the children can sometimes behave like spoiled brats (!), but staying with a great client in a sunny getaway overseas can be a wonderful experience.

The only reason I don’t apply for more foreign postings is that I don’t want to let down my existing clients – going away for three weeks just before the 11+ exams in January would NOT go down well!

## When Will the Lessons Take Place?

If you’re teaching children, lessons will usually be in the after-school slot between 1600 and 2000 or at weekends. That does limit the amount of hours you can teach, but it’s up to you how much you want to work.

I used to work seven days a week, but I eventually gave myself a day off and then another, so I now work Sundays to Thursdays with Friday and Saturday off.

During the holidays, you lose a lot of regular clients when they disappear to the Maldives or somewhere for six weeks (!), but others might ask for an intensive sequence of lessons to take advantage of the extra time available, and there’s obviously a greater chance of a foreign assignment.

All that means that the work is very seasonal, so you should expect your earnings to go up and down a bit and plan your finances accordingly.

## What Should I do During the Lesson?

I generally teach from past papers, so I ask pupils to do a past paper for their homework and then mark it during the following lesson.

‘Marking’ means marking the questions, obviously, but it also means ‘filling in the gaps’ in the pupil’s knowledge. If he or she is obviously struggling with something, it’s worth spending a few minutes explaining the topic and asking a few practice questions.

I’ve written a few articles on common problem areas in English and Maths, such as commas and negative numbers, so I often go through one of those and ask the pupil’s parents to print it out and put it in a binder. After a few weeks, that collection of notes gradually turns into a ready-made revision guide for the exams.

If the parents want you to work on specific topics, that’s also possible. For example, one mother wanted to help her son with ratios, so she printed out dozens of past papers and circled the ratio questions for him to do. He soon got the knack!

I approach English in a slightly different way to begin with. There are two types of question in the 11+, comprehensions and creative writing, so I generally spend the first lesson teaching pupils how to do one of those. I go through my article on the subject online and then ask them to answer a practice question by following the procedure I’ve outlined.

They usually finish it off for their homework. After a few weeks of stories or comprehensions, I’ll switch to the other topic and do the same with that. I also ask pupils to write down any new words or words they get wrong in a vocabulary book because building vocabulary is very important for any type of English exam (and also for Verbal Reasoning).

I ask them to fold the pages over in the middle so that they can put the words on the left and the meanings on the right (if necessary). Every few weeks, I can then give them a spelling test. If they can spell the words correctly and tell me what they mean, they can tick them off in their vocab book.

Once they’ve ticked off a whole page of words, they can tick that off, too! I usually try to reinforce the learning of words by asking pupils to tell me a story using as many words as possible from their spelling test.

It can be a familiar fairy story or something they make up, but it just helps to move the words from the ‘passive’ memory to the ‘active memory’, meaning that they actually know how to use them themselves rather than just understand them when they see them on the page.

## What Homework Should I Set?

Most children who have private lessons have pretty busy schedules, so I don’t want to overburden them. I generally set one exercise that takes around 30-45 minutes. That might be a Maths paper or an English comprehension or story, but it obviously depends on the subject and the level.

Just make sure that the student writes down what needs to be done – a lot of them forget! You should also make a note in your diary yourself, just so that you can check at the start of the next lesson if the work has been done.

## What Feedback Should I Give the Parents?

I generally have a quick chat with the mother or father (or nanny) after the lesson to report on what we did during the lesson, what problems the child had and what homework I’ve set. This is also a good time to make any changes to the schedule, for instance if the family goes on holiday.

If that’s not possible, I’ll email the client with a ‘lesson report’. Some agencies such as Bonas MacFarlane make this a part of their timesheet system.

## How Much Will I Get Paid?

When I first started, I had absolutely no idea how much I was worth, and I ended up charging only £10 an hour, which is not much more than I pay my cleaner! Fortunately, a horrified friend pointed out that it should be ‘at least’ £35 an hour, and I upped my rates immediately.

I now charge £60 an hour for private lessons, whether online or in person. Unfortunately, some agencies such as Fleet Tutors don’t allow you to set your own rates, so that’s one thing to bear in mind when deciding which agencies to work with.

However, they did provide me with quite a bit of work when I first started, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The pay scale often varies depending on the age of the student and the level taught, so you’ll probably earn more for teaching older students at GCSE level or above if the agency sets the prices.

If you have any private clients, you can obviously set whatever rate you like, depending on where you live, the age of your pupils, whether lessons are online or in person and so on. Personally, I only have one rate (although I used to charge an extra £5 for teaching two pupils at the same time), and I raise it by £5 every year to allow for inflation and extra demand.

Tutoring is more and more popular than ever these days, and I read somewhere that over half of pupils in London have private lessons over the course of their school careers, so don’t sell yourself short! You should be able to make around £25,000 a year, which is not bad going for a couple of hours’ work a day!

Foreign jobs are a little different, and there is a ‘standard’ rate of around £800 a week including expenses. That means your flights and accommodation are all covered, and you can even earn a bit more on the side if you decide to rent out your home on Airbnb while you’re away!

When it comes to day-to-day expenses such as taxis and food and drink, it’s important to negotiate that with the agency before accepting the job. It’s no good complaining about having to live in the client’s house and buy your own lunches when you’re in Moscow or Bratislava! It can be a dream job, but just make sure you look at it from every angle:

• What subjects will I be teaching?
• How many hours will I have to teach?
• How many days off will I get per week?
• Where will the lessons take place?
• How do I get to and from my accommodation?
• How long is the assignment? (I refuse anything more than three months.)
• Where will I be staying? (NEVER at the client’s house!)
• How old are the children?
• Will I have any other responsibilities (eg ferrying the children to and from school)?
• Do I need a visa?
• What is the weekly rate?
• What expenses are included (eg flights, accommodation, taxis, food, drink)?

## How Do I Get Paid?

Most agencies ask for a timesheet and pay their tutors monthly via BACS payments directly into their bank accounts. That’s a bit annoying from a cash flow point of view, but there’s not much you can do about it – other than using a different agency.

When it comes to private clients, I generally ask for cash after the lesson, but it’s even more convenient if they can pay via standing order – as long as you can trust them! I once let a client rack up over £600 in fees because he tended to pay in big lump sums every few weeks, but then his business folded, and I had to use a Government website to try and chase him up.

Fortunately, his wife saw the email and paid my bill, but it took months to sort out. Normally, though, the worst that happens is that a client just doesn’t have the right change and promises to pay the following week, so you just need to keep track of who owes what.

I hope all this helps. Good luck!

# How Do I Make Money from Photography?

The obvious question for a lot of amateur photographers is ‘How do I make money from photography?’ The answer, unfortunately, is that I don’t know. All I can do is tell you what I’ve done and give you a few ideas.

I’m still learning the business after just four years, but my approach has always been to knock on as many doors as possible, whether it’s microstock, exhibitions, competitions, lessons or even talks. Every source of revenue has its part to play, and it’s just a question of working out where to focus your efforts.

I make just under half my money from microstock/stock agencies and half from exhibitions, but everybody’s different.

Nick Dale Photography

I loved photography when I was a teenager. I bought (or was given) books on Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ansel Adams and other great photographers, and I even bought myself an old Chinon CE-4 film SLR.

I remember buying two 36-exposure films for it – one colour, one black and white – and using up every single frame in a couple of hours just taking pictures around the house! I took my camera on holiday to Majorca and the United States, developed pictures in a dark room at school and even talked to my mum about becoming a professional photographer.

However, my mother said I could always take it up later – so that was that for 30 years!

Fortunately, I was given a second chance in January 2013 when a friend of a friend invited me to climb Mount Kenya and go on safari with her and a couple of other people. I’d always wanted to go to Africa, but I’d foolishly been saving it for my honeymoon! As that didn’t seem very likely, I jumped at the chance.

My first digital camera was a Sony DSC-HX200V bridge camera, which means it had a good zoom range (both optical and digital), but not a very large sensor. As a result, it was only around £300 and therefore cheap enough for me to buy without worrying too much.

Fortunately or unfortunately, a week in Kenya with people using proper Nikon SLRs gave me camera envy, and I bought a Nikon D800 SLR with a 28-300mm lens as soon as I got home!

And that was how it all started.

I took hundreds of pictures in Kenya of the people, the landscape and especially the wildlife. When I got back, I bought an Apple MacBook Pro to work on them, upgraded the editing program to Aperture and then sent them off to various microstock agencies to see if they would help me sell them.

It was hard at first, but getting the new camera helped, and I had a cash pile from remortgaging my flat in Notting Hill after another property purchase fell through, so I was able to go on plenty of trips to take more and more pictures.

An important breakthrough came when I sold a couple of prints for £100 each at my local tennis club’s Christmas Fair in November 2014, and another photographer told me about a cheap exhibition space called the Norman Plastow Gallery in Wimbledon Village.

I’d always thought it would be very expensive to mount an exhibition, but this place was only £70 for a week, so I booked it as soon as I could! The only problem was that I didn’t have any actual prints to sell, and here I was very fortunate.

I’d recently joined the Putney branch of London Independent Photography (or LIP), and there I’d met a very friendly and helpful chap called James, who’d offered to do all my printing for me at very low cost. After buying a few cheap, black, wooden frames from Amazon, I was all set.

I invited all my friends to the exhibition in May 2015 – especially a group of tennis players from my club – and I ended up selling seven prints. As I was just starting out, I’d priced the small, medium and large framed prints at £80, £100 and £120 and the unframed ones at only £30, but I still managed to make £550 in total.

The gallery hire charge was £200, and there were a few taxis to pay for plus incidental expenses, but the show actually turned a profit – unless you count the thousands of pounds I spent on buying camera equipment and flights to Kenya, Botswana, Antarctica and the Galápagos!

And there’s the rub. It’s relatively easy to generate revenue from photography, but actually making a profit out of it is another matter entirely. As a result, I have nothing but respect for the photographers I meet who have managed to make a career out of it. I’ve been on trips led by Paul Goldstein and Andy Skillen amongst others, and, in a way, that’s where I’d like to end up.

Since that first show in Wimbledon Village, I’ve sold nearly 5,000 downloads through microstock agencies, sold 36 prints at solo exhibitions and art fairs, taught five photography students and given two or three talks to various clubs and societies. Overall, I’ve made around £12,000 from my photography – but that wouldn’t even have paid for my trip to Antarctica!

The problem is that everyone has a camera these days – even if it’s just an iPhone – and it’s almost ‘too easy’ to take pictures now that cameras are digital. The world is also a smaller place these days, with the arrival of cheap flights and a general rise in income and wealth. It takes a special talent to make it as a photographer, and part of that talent is being able to make the most of it.

What Do I Need to Do First?

If you want to make money out of photography, your first job is to get yourself a decent camera, and that means a digital SLR (or DSLR). The easiest way to earn cash is through so-called microstock agencies – which means selling pictures online in exchange for royalty payments – and they usually require shots to be taken with a camera that has at least 12 megapixels, if not more.
You can obviously try to sell holiday snaps from your ‘back catalogue’, but, as I found out to my cost, it ain’t easy. Once you’ve decided to buy a DSLR, the two main brands to choose from are Nikon and Canon. There isn’t much between them these days, and the only reason I chose Nikon is that I didn’t want a camera from a company that made photocopiers!They both make good lenses, but, unfortunately, they have different mounts, so one you go with one or the other you’re locked in. I have various lenses ranging from an 18-35mm wide angle zoom to a 105mm macro lens for close-up work to an 80-400mm mid-range zoom, but I also rent an 800mm lens from Lenses for Hire whenever I go on a major wildlife photography trip.
If you don’t have one already, buying a decent laptop is great for photography. I take mine with me on all my trips, and it means that I can work on my images every evening after I get back from a shoot or a game drive.I should warn you, though, that the so-called RAW files from digital cameras are very large (in the case of my camera over 40MB each!), so I’d recommend getting as fast a processor as possible and as much memory and hard disk space as you can afford.You should also arrange a back-up system: the last thing you need is for your life’s work to disappear thanks to a software glitch! You could use an external hard drive, but I prefer backing up to the cloud just to be on the safe side.I use CrashPlan, which automatically detects any added, edited or deleted files and backs up the changes in real time, but there are other similar products out there.
3. Subscribe to Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud is the choice of professionals and serious amateurs for organising and editing their photographs. It only costs around £8 a month (including Photoshop), and it’s a very powerful tool, as well as being relatively easy to use once you’ve mastered the basics.Digital photographs never come out of the camera looking perfect, so it’s always a good idea to try and improve the contrast, highlight and shadow areas and anything else you need to. If you’re selling through agencies, you’ll also need to add titles, captions and keywords (plus any other fields you’re asked to fill in), and all that is possible with Lightroom.It’s a pain to do for each individual photograph, but you can ‘synchronise’ any changes you make across a number of pictures, and you only need to do it once. If you’ve never used it before, I suggest you to do what I did and watch Anthony Morganti’s series of free YouTube videos on Lightroom. He takes you through all the functionality, and it’s an easy way to learn.
4. Start taking pictures
If you’re a wildlife photographer, this is just a euphemism for ‘spend thousands of pounds on trips to long-haul destinations’! However, you don’t have to travel far to take pictures.Whether you’re a landscape, portrait, Nature, fashion, wildlife, wedding or sports photographer, there’s always something photogenic not far from home, and you simply have to have the enthusiasm (and discipline) to be able to get out there and take more and better shots.Quality and quantity are both important. The quality of your images is ultimately what matters, but even a shot that’ll never win a competition might earn you money on a microstock site. I give my shots three stars if they’re good enough for Facebook, four if they’re good enough to be sold via agencies and five if they’re good enough to go on my website.

Yes, but how can I make money?

1. Microstock
Microstock agencies are online intermediaries that accept work from photographers and then market those images to potential clients such as creative directors of newspapers, magazines and other buyers.The advantage of using them is that it’s ‘making money while you sleep’, in other words, it’s a passive income that you can build over time as you add more and more shots to your portfolio.Some agencies sell a lot of images but with low royalty rates, some the reverse, but here is the list of the ones I’ve used (in descending order of sales):
Getty Images/iStock
Shutterstock
DepositPhotos
123RF
Bigstock
PIXTA
SolidStockArt
Dreamstime
EyeEm
Canstock
photodune
ClipDealer
Panthermedia
Pixoto
featurePics
Mostphotos
Pond5
500px
Redbubble
Alamy
Yay Micro
Stockfresh
Crestock
Zoonar
Lobster MediaI should mention that not all agencies will accept you, and not all your shots will be accepted by any agency that does, but you shouldn’t take it personally. I’ve had over £4,000 in microstock sales in the last four years, but my overall acceptance rate is only 41%!

Even if your pictures are accepted, of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll sell. I’ve had 5,120 downloads from microstock sites, but only 1,521 individual shots have ever been sold out of a total of 4,389. The rest of them are just sitting there, waiting for a buyer. Every now and then, though, you take a picture that goes viral: I’ve sold my jumping penguin (see above) 705 times!

The basic process is similar across all agencies. You add titles, captions and keywords to all your pictures and then export them as JPEG files to upload to each individual agency via their websites or an FTP service using a program like Filezilla.

You then typically add the category, country or other data for each of them and submit them for approval. The agencies then approve the ones they like and reject the ones they don’t. After that, it’s just a question of watching the money rolling in! A useful way of doing that is by downloading an app called Microstockr.

All you need to do is to set up your various agencies on the accounts page and then check the dashboard every now and then for any sales you’ve made. It’s very addictive! Sales should come quite soon after each batch is uploaded, but you may have to wait a while for payment.

Most agencies have a ‘payment threshold’ of \$50 or \$100, which means your first payment (usually through PayPal) might take months to arrive. You’ll also need to keep adding more pictures. Buyers tend to sort images according to what’s most recent, so you definitely get diminishing returns from your shots, however good they are.

The other thing to say is that, with dozens of agencies and hundreds or even thousands of images, it gets very confusing. As a result, I’ve created a spreadsheet to keep track of the whole thing.

With filenames down the left and agency names across the top, I know if each file has been uploaded (‘u’), submitted (‘s’) or accepted (‘y’) and how many times it’s been sold. I keep a record of the dollar value of all the image downloads on a separate financial spreadsheet. I suggest you do the same.

2. Stock agencies
In the good old days, it was much easier to make a living out of stock photography, mainly because the royalty rates were a lot higher. The difference between ‘stock’ and ‘microstock’ is simply the average price level.Stock agencies want to differentiate themselves from microstock agencies (and everything else out there on the web) in order to charge a higher price, so they generally ask for exclusive agreements over one to five years and set a higher standard for acceptance.I use Design Pics, and you can see that they sell my images for hundreds of dollars rather than just a few dollars for the microstock agencies. My general strategy is to offer Design Pics the first pick of my pictures before sending the leftovers to all the microstock agencies.(I’ve also submitted some flower images to flowerphotos and a few marine wildlife shots to SeaPics, but I haven’t seen any sales from them so far.) Due to the long sales and reporting cycle, I didn’t see my first sale from Design Pics until more than a year after I’d signed up, but sales are starting to trickle in now, so it just takes a bit of patience.

If you’re looking for a list of stock agencies, I recommend buying a copy of 2017 Photographer’s Market, which is the equivalent of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. It has comprehensive coverage of the industry, including helpful articles and a wealth of phone numbers and email addresses for magazines, book publishers, greeting card companies, stock agencies, advertising firms, competitions and more.

I suggest buying the Kindle electronic version, and then you can download everything on to your laptop. I did that and then simply emailed every stock agency on the list – Design Pics was the only one to say yes!

3. Competitions
If you just want the ego boost of seeing yourself winning a competition, then I suggest you sign up with Pixoto and enter the contests with the lowest number of entrants. It’s a peer-to-peer site, and you can organise your own competitions, so there’s a very good chance of winning something!That’s exactly what I did, and I ended up with the Judge’s Award in four competitions. However, there isn’t much prestige to something like that, and it certainly doesn’t earn you any money.Alternatively, you can scour the 2017 Photographer’s Market for competitions, bearing in mind your chances of winning, the cost of entry, the potential prizes and the subject matter.The UK national press is a good place to start, too, and I recently won £250 in Wex Photographic vouchers in the weekly Sunday Times/Audley Travel Big Shot competition.
4. Exhibitions
Putting on an exhibition may seem like a big deal if you’ve never done it before, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. The Norman Plastow Gallery where I started out is cheap, but it’s slightly off the beaten path, and you have to man the exhibition yourself, which is obviously impossible for most full-time employees.You realise pretty soon as a freelance photographer that the most expensive item on your tab is often the opportunity cost of NOT doing what you usually do when you take time off. As a tutor, for instance, I could easily have earned £1,000 during the two weeks of my first exhibition, but them’s the breaks…If you’re looking for a list of galleries, www.galleries.co.uk is a useful starting point. London is obviously the best place to look, but exhibition spaces there don’t come cheap. I recently looked for galleries to use for an exhibition, and the ones in central London regularly quoted me thousands of pounds for a week! Everything is negotiable, though, so don’t give up.I started out with 15 prints at my first solo show, but I also printed out a few postcards and greetings cards. You might not make as much money out of them, but at least you’ll get something from punters who can’t afford a print.

There are some who say that cards are just a distraction, but it’s so difficult to tell. I’ve had exhibitions with and without cards on sale, and it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. However, the main reason for an exhibition is to sell prints, so that should be the focus.

One of the problems you’ll almost certainly have is knowing how to price your work. Choosing your favourite shots is easy enough – although getting a second opinion from a friend is a useful exercise – but how much should you charge?

I started off at £80 for an A3 print and ended up three years later at £2,000 for a 53″ x 38″ print, so you’ll just have to suck it and see. Andy Skillen suggested a mark-up of two-and-a-half times your printing and framing costs to make sure your cashflow remained positive, but that’s just a rule of thumb.

5. Photo shoots
Proper professional photographers make most of their money from photo shoots, but clients aren’t easy to find.If you’re a wedding photographer, I suppose you can put up flyers at various local venues such as churches and registry offices, but, for the rest of us, it’s just a question of plugging away, taking as many good shots as we can and putting them online so that as many potential clients can see them as possible.It would be a dream to be able to rely on commissions from wealthy clients who called us up whenever they wanted pictures of something. A photographer told me once about a group of directors who asked him for a picture of five hippos in a lake looking at the camera.He sent them all the hippo shots he had, but they weren’t happy. In the end, he told them if they didn’t want to compromise on the picture, then they’d have to send him on an all-expenses-paid trip to Zambia for a week. Which they did!

He got the shot within a couple of days and then spent the rest of the trip taking pictures for himself!

That sounds like a nice way to make a living, doesn’t it? However, until we’re well established enough with a good enough reputation to get those kinds of jobs, all we can do is keep on snapping and use the networks that we have.

I’ve worked for a milliner, a local councillor, a businesswoman and others, but all my photo shoots have come from friends of friends or personal contacts.

I’m not very good at networking – and it’s certainly not something I enjoy unless it happens naturally – but it’s very important in this business.

6. Lessons
I work as a private tutor as well as a photographer, so I guess it was an obvious fit to offer photography lessons. It’s finding the students that’s the real problem, though. One of my tuition agencies provided me with a couple of clients, while the rest came from connections I made at exhibitions and talks.You never know when you might meet just the right person, so it’s important to keep a few cards in your wallet just in case.
7. Talks
If you don’t mind public speaking, then giving a slideshow and talk on photography is an enjoyable way to earn some pocket money. Camera clubs and other groups won’t generally pay more than £100 (if anything at all!), but it’s also a useful chance to take along a few prints to sell and to hand out business cards.I got started after meeting a very nice woman on an Antarctic cruise, and I’ve now given talks at her branch of the WI, two camera clubs and a local library. If you want to be proactive about it, I’d simply Google camera clubs (or WI branches!) and email all of them to see what happens.As my mum used to say, you have to cast your bread upon the waters…even if it sometimes comes back a soggy mess!
8. Photography trips
One final way of making money is to lead photography trips. A lot of photographers do it to supplement their income, and it’s a good way to reduce your travel budget.I recently put together a list of tour operators and emailed them all one afternoon to find out if it could work, and I soon received a call from the founder of Gane & Marshall, asking me to lead a trip to Tanzania!I offered my services for free in exchange for the chance to go on an all-expenses-paid photographic safari. Now all we have to do is find at least five people to come on the trip and make it economic. Fingers crossed!

I hope all that was useful. If you have any more questions, please drop me a line at nick@nickdalephotography.com. It’s not easy becoming a professional photographer, but we can at least take pictures as a hobby while we wait for our big break.

Here’s to clicking and dreaming…

# Basics of Photography

When you buy (or borrow), your first digital SLR, everything looks different, and it can be a bit worrying. What are all these buttons and dials for? Why is it so heavy? Where do I start? How do I change the shutter speed? All these are very good questions, and this is the place to find the answers!

Before we start, I should mention that I’m a Nikon user, and I have one D800 and one D810 camera body. The other major camera manufacturer is Canon, and they use slightly different terms for each function, but I’ll try and include both to make life easier.

Our first job is to cover the basics of photography: exposure and focus. Without understanding those two things, nothing else will make sense!

## Exposure

Your first job as a photographer is to make sure that your images are well exposed, in other words, not too dark or too bright. Photographers talk about the ‘exposure triangle’, but that’s just a complicated way of saying that how dark or light a photograph is depends on three things: the shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO.

The level of exposure is measured in ‘stops’ or Exposure Values (EV), but what is a ‘stop’? Well, if you increase your exposure by a stop, the light is doubled (and vice versa). For example, if you lengthen your shutter speed from 1/200 of a second to 1/100 of a second, your shot will be twice as bright. They try to use round numbers, though, so the gap from 1/60 to 1/125 is obviously not quite right! The maths gets a bit more complicated when the gap is only 1/3 of a stop, but the idea is the same.

The built-in exposure meter in your camera will work out what the best exposure should be, but it has to make assumptions about the world that may not be true. To judge the ‘best’ exposure, the camera needs a starting point, and that is that the world is, by and large, 18% grey. If it assumes that to be true, then it can set the exposure accordingly.

However, anyone who’s ever taken pictures of polar bears on the ice knows that that’s not always true! In order to make sure the camera is not fooled by very bright or very dark conditions, you need to use exposure compensation.

If the scene is especially bright, you can dial in up to one or two stops of positive compensation. If it’s especially dark, you can do the opposite. It might take a few test shots to get it exactly right, but that’s better than coming home with lots of shots of grey bears!

### Shutter Speed (or Time Value if You Have a Canon)

In the old days, cameras used film, and the shutter speed controlled how long it was exposed to the light in order to take the shot. These days, cameras are digital and have electronic sensors at the back, but the principle is still the same.

The longer the shutter speed, the more light reaches the sensor and hence the brighter the image. The shorter the shutter speed, the less light reaches the sensor and hence the darker the image.

The shutter speed is measured in seconds and can be anything from 1/8000 of a second to 30 seconds or more. The amount of camera shake increases with the focal length, so the rule of thumb for general photography is to make sure your shutter speed is no less than the inverse of the length of your lens, eg if you’re using a 400mm lens, you should be using at least 1/400 of a second.

Lens technology such as Nikon’s ‘Vibration Reduction’ or Canon’s ‘Image Stabilisation’ means that you might be able to get away with a couple of stops slower – ie 1/100 of a second – but that’s about it.

The reason why shutter speed is an important setting is that it controls how much (if any) motion blur there is in the image, and that is an artistic decision. Some people like shots of kingfishers catching a fish that look like they’re frozen in time, with every single water droplet sharp as a tack.

Other people prefer shots of waterfalls shown with creamy torrents of water cascading over them. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Just try both and see what you think.

### Aperture

The aperture is simply the size of the hole in the lens through which light passes on its way to the sensor, and the principle is similar to that of the shutter speed. The bigger the aperture, the more light reaches the sensor and therefore the brighter the image.

The smaller the aperture, the less light reaches the sensor and therefore the darker the image. The only thing difficult about it is the numbers, which often have a decimal point in them like f/5.6 or f/7.1.

The reason the aperture is not always a nice round number is because it is what you get when you divide the focal length of the lens by the diameter of the hole. Neither of those numbers is necessarily going to be a nice round number, so the result of dividing one by the other certainly won’t be!

The aperture is measured in f-stops, which typically start at f/2.8, f/4 or f/5.6 and continue up to f/22 and beyond. A ‘fast’ lens is one that has a wide maximum aperture such as f/1.4. Photographers like fast lenses as they allow pictures to be taken in low light and offer great flexibility.

The reason why the aperture is such an important setting is that it controls the depth of field, which is the amount of the subject that is acceptably sharp.

The human eye is drawn to things it can see clearly, so making sure the subject is sharp and the background is an ideal way to focus the viewer’s attention on an animal, say, but a landscape photographer might want his image to be sharp all the way from the boat in the foreground to the mountains on the horizon.

Again, there is no right answer; the important thing is to experiment and find what works for you.

### ISO (or ASA if You’re Still Using a Film Camera!)

The ISO used to measure the sensitivity of the film being used, a ‘fast’ film with a high ISO being more sensitive than a ‘slow’ film with a low ISO. Now that most cameras are digital, we get the same effect, just with an electronic sensor instead of film.

You might think that extra sensitivity is a good thing – and it is – but it comes at a cost. The higher the ISO, the ‘grainier’ or ‘noisier’ the image, in other words, the less smooth it is.

ISO is measured in ISO (funnily enough!), which just stands for International Standards Organisation. The lowest value is usually ISO 100, and the highest might be 12,800 or more, although the image quality at that value wouldn’t be acceptable to most professional photographers.

## Focus

Your second job as a photographer is to make sure that the subject of your images is in focus. In the old days of film cameras, there was obviously no such thing as ‘autofocus’, and focusing had to be done by manually turning a ring on the lens, but today’s digital cameras have very good systems for making sure the images are sharp.

In using the autofocus system, your job is first of all to choose the correct settings and secondly to make sure the camera is focusing on the right part of the frame.

There are lots of different focus settings, but the basic choice is between single area, shown as AF-S (or one-shot AF for a Canon), and continuous, shown as AF-C (or AI Servo for a Canon).

Single area looks to focus on the area of the image under the little red square in the viewfinder (which you can move around the frame manually); continuous does the same but follows the actual subject if it moves.

The best version of this on Nikon cameras is called ‘3D’. The other setting you can change is which button actually does the job of focusing. The shutter button does that on most cameras, but the disadvantage of doing it that way is that the camera stops focusing when you take a picture, which is bad news if you’re tracking a cheetah running at 60mph!

The alternative is to use ‘back-button focusing’, which means separating the jobs of focusing and taking pictures. The shutter button still takes the picture, but the focusing is done by pushing a button on the back of the camera. (You have to set this up yourself, but I use the AF-ON button, which I can press with my right thumb.)

## Camera Guide (Based on the Nikon D800)

This guide won’t go through every single setting on a DSLR, but it will show how all the main buttons work, not by saying what each one does but by answering the obvious questions. I hope that’s the easier way to learn!

(All the numbers used are taken from the diagram at the top of this article.)

### How do I Switch it on?

That’s simple. Just turn the power switch on the top right-hand side (1) to ‘ON’ (and back to ‘OFF’ when you’ve finished). If you turn it to the light bulb symbol, that just lights up the LCD display on top of the camera.

### How do I Set it to Manual?

There are lots of exposure modes on a camera, such as aperture-priority, shutter-priority and program, but using anything other than manual is a bit like buying a Ferrari with an automatic gearbox – you just don’t get as much control (or satisfaction).

To select manual, press the ‘Mode’ button (50) and turn the main command dial on the back right of the camera (31). This allows you to set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO yourself, although I usually set the ISO to ‘ISO-AUTO’ by pushing the ‘ISO’ button on the top left of the camera (56) and at the same time turning the sub-command dial (21).

### How do I Make Sure I’m Shooting in RAW?

Press the ‘QUAL’ button (47) and turn the main command dial until the word ‘RAW’ appears on its own. The word ‘RAW’ doesn’t actually stand for anything, but everyone writes it that way to show that it’s a file format that contains the ‘raw’ data from the sensor.

The alternative is JPEG (which stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group), but that’s a compressed file format and therefore should not be used. Note that RAW files don’t end in ‘.RAW’. It’s just a generic term, so each manufacturer has its own RAW extension, such as Nikon’s .NEF.

### How do I Set the White Balance?

Press the ‘WB’ button 57 and turn the main command dial (31) to whatever is right for the lighting conditions. The icons aren’t very easy to see, but the options are:

• Incandescent (ie light bulbs)
• Fluorescent
• Direct sunlight
• Flash
• Cloudy
• Choose colour temp
• Preset manual

The white balance tells the camera the colour of the light you’re working with. It’s a bit like working out what colour the curtains are at the cinema.

The camera can’t tell the difference between something white that’s lit by red light and something red that’s lit by white light, so the white balance setting just makes sure it makes the right call.

If you can’t quite see the icons or want to set up a custom white balance or preset, you can always go through the menu system. However, if you’re shooting in RAW, you can always change the white balance later on your computer, so don’t feel bad about sticking with ‘AUTO’!

### How do I Set the Focus Mode?

First of all, make sure your lens is not set to ‘M’, or manual focus, and that the focus mode selector (18) is set to ‘AF’, or auto focus. After that, press the AF-mode button (17) and at the same time turn the main command dial (31) to choose single area or – preferably – continuous.

If you want the 3D option, you press the same button but at the same time turn the sub-command dial (21) until the LCD screen shows ‘3D’.

### How do I Set up Back Button focusing?

Press the ‘MENU’ button (46), scroll to the menu item with the pencil icon, select ‘a Autofocus’ and then set ‘a4 AF activation’ to ‘AF-ON only’. Half-pressing the shutter-release button won’t work any more, so don’t forget to focus by pressing (and holding) the AF-ON button (30) with your right thumb while you shoot.

### How do I Set the Shutter Speed?

Half-press the shutter-release button (3) if the shutter speed is not illuminated in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen and then turn the main command dial (31).

### How do I Set the Aperture?

Half-press the shutter-release button (3) if the aperture is not illuminated in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen and then turn the sub-command dial (21).

### How do I Set the Shutter-release Button to Continuous Shooting?

Press the release button next to the ‘D800’ symbol and turn the release mode dial (48) to ‘CH’, or Continuous High. The D800 can shoot five frames a second.

### How do I Move the Focus Point in the Viewfinder?

Turn the focus selector lock switch (34) to the dot symbol (rather than ‘L’ for lock) and use the multi selector to move the focus point anywhere within the central area of the viewfinder.

### How do I Check the Depth-of-field?

Press the depth-of-field preview button (20).

### How do I Add Exposure Compensation?

Press the exposure compensation button (52) and at the same time turn the main command dial (31) to add or subtract as many stops of compensation as you need.

### How do I Bracket my Shots?

Press the ‘BKT’ bracketing button (55) and at the same time use the main command dial (31) to choose the number of frames (3-9) and/or the sub-command dial (21) to choose the exposure interval (from 0.3 to 1 stop).

### How do I Shoot Video?

You have to use the monitor rather than the viewfinder for this, so first of all turn the live view selector (36) to the film camera icon, press the live view button and then, when you’re ready, press the red movie-record button to start (and stop) video recording.

### How do I Look at my Pictures?

Just press the playback button (22) and scroll through the images using the multi selector (32). To zoom in, either use the playback zoom in/zoom out buttons (43, 44) or set up the multi selector centre button to zoom immediately to 100%.

This is very useful to check that images are acceptably sharp. To do that, press the ‘MENU’ button (46), select ‘f Controls’, then ‘f2 Multi selector centre button’ and set ‘Playback mode’ to ‘Zoom on/off’ with ‘Medium magnification’.
To play videos, just press the multi selector centre button (32).

### How do I Delete my Pictures?

Just press the delete button (23). If you want to delete all the pictures on the memory card, the best way is to format it. Press the ‘MENU’ button, select ‘Format memory card’ and then select the appropriate card, either the small, thin Secure Digital (SD) card or the thicker, bigger Compact Flash (CF) card.

# Rules of Composition

As everyone knows, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” – but that doesn’t stop me trying to do both!

Whatever kind of photographer you are and whatever kind of pictures you take, you always need to pay attention to composition. As an introductory guide (or a reminder), here are a few principles of composition to help you take better pictures. Just make sure you break all of them once in a while!

## Rule of Thirds

The most common rule in photography is the rule of thirds. The aim of the game here is avoid taking pictures that are too symmetrical. For some reason, the human eye doesn’t like that, so it’s usually best to place the subject off-centre.

The rule of thirds is just one way to do that. Others include the golden ratio or the Fibonacci curve, and you can find them in Lightroom if you really want to, but the rule of thirds is the best and the simplest.

The idea is that you imagine that the viewfinder is divided up into thirds – both horizontally and vertically – and place the subject at the intersection of two of those invisible lines in order to give it more impact.

The lines also help you to place the horizon when you’re taking a landscape shot. If the horizon is in the middle of the frame, it looks a bit static. Instead, try to establish whether most of the interest is in the land or the sky.

If you want people to focus on the land, place the horizon on the lower imaginary line; if you want people to focus on the clouds in the sky, place it on the upper one. Just make sure that it’s straight!

## ‘The Decisive Moment’

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer considered a master of candid photography. He pioneered the genre of street photography. The Decisive Moment was the title of a book he wrote, and his idea was that timing is the secret of a good photograph.

This is obviously more important in certain types of photography (such as wildlife) than others (such as landscape), but it is still a useful guide to taking any kind of action shot.

## Framing

Every photograph obviously has a frame, but have you ever tried using a ‘frame-within-a-frame’? Photographic frames come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the ones you find in real life. It might be the branches of a tree or a doorway or a window – the point is that it adds depth to a picture and focuses the viewer’s attention.

## Negative Space

I don’t know why people call it ‘negative space’ rather than just ‘space’ (!), but the idea is that a picture with a single subject can look more balanced if there is empty space on the other side of the frame.

This is particularly useful for portraits if you want to stop them looking like ‘passport photos’! It’s also a good idea to allow space for a moving subject to move into. It just looks weird if a person appears to be ‘walking out of the frame’, so try to position the subject around a third of the way across in order to draw the eye into the picture rather than out of it.

Leading lines are supposed to ‘lead’ the eye of the viewer into the frame – and ideally towards the main subject. They don’t have to be straight, but they tend to work best when they are. The obvious examples are railway tracks or a long, straight road stretching into the distance.

S-curves can do the same job as leading lines, but they also add dynamism and visual interest to a photograph, particularly if it’s a landscape. Again, it might be a road or a railway or even a winding river. All that matters is that the line is roughly in the shape of an S, meandering left and right into the distance.

## Symmetry

The rule of thirds and others are meant to stop pictures looking too symmetrical, but sometimes symmetry suits the subject matter. If you have a reflection in the water or a human face, for example, you can’t really avoid it, so it’s sometimes best to make the most of it.

That might mean positioning the line where the water meets the line exactly in the centre of the frame or choosing a square aspect ratio for the picture to enhance the symmetry of a face.

## Point of View

I’m a wildlife photographer, and the most important rule of wildlife photography is to get down to eye-level with the animals. It makes a huge difference to the composition and elevates a quick snap to an intimate portrait.

Taking pictures at eye level sometimes means getting wet or muddy – especially if you’re taking pictures of insects on the ground! – but it’s the best way to go. The same applies to portraits, which usually look best taken at eye-level or above.

If you get down any lower than that, you take the risk of ending up with a close-up of the model’s nostrils!

## Motion Blur

A photograph is just a static image, so it’s sometimes difficult to convey a sense of motion. One way to do that is to use a slower shutter speed in order to create motion blur. Different subjects require different shutter speeds, depending on how fast they are moving, so you might need to experiment a little bit to find that sweet spot between too much sharpness and too little.

You could start with 1/4 of a second for a pedestrian walking along the street, but a Formula One car would disappear if you didn’t cut that down to 1/250 or slower. If you want to go the whole hog, you might try the ‘slow pan’.

Panning just means moving the camera from side-to-side to keep a moving subject in the same part of the frame. The ‘slow’ bit relates to the shutter speed. What you get with a ‘slow pan’ should be a recognisable subject with relatively sharp eyes but blurred limbs (or wings) and a blurred background.

I warn you that this is a tricky business – I once took 1,500 slow pan pictures of guillemots in the Arctic and only kept four of them! – but it’s worth it when it works…

## Depth of Field

Another crucial element in wildlife and other kinds of photography is depth of field. To make sure the focus is on the subject and separate it from the background, you can use a larger aperture (such as f/4 or f/2.8).

That will blur anything that’s not in the same plane as the subject while keeping the focal point sharp. The eyes are always the most important part of a portrait – whether it’s of an animal or a person – and we will always see something as being ‘in focus’ as long as they look sharp.

Depth of field is just as important in landscapes, but what we generally want now is sharpness all the way through the image, so it’s better to start with a smaller aperture such as f/11 or f/16.

## Odd Numbers

One of the funny things about the way people see the world is that we seem to like odd-numbered groups of objects more than even-numbered ones. It doesn’t really matter why, I guess, but it’s an important point to remember when planning something like a still-life shoot. Just make sure you have three or five tomatoes rather than two or four!

## Fill the Frame

Everyone has a camera these days because everyone has a mobile phone, but one of the problems with using your mobile to take pictures is that it’s hard to ‘fill the frame’. It’s all very well taking a selfie when you’re only a few inches from the lens, but trying to zoom in on a distant object or animal is difficult when you only have a few megapixels to play with.

It’s important to remember here the difference between ‘optical zoom’ and ‘digital zoom’. The optical version is what you get naturally with a DSLR lens when you zoom in by changing the focal length; the digital version is when a phone or a bridge camera fools you into thinking you’re zooming in by focusing on a smaller and smaller portion of the sensor.

It’s great when you look through the viewfinder or look at the back of the camera, but the image quality is a lot poorer. Anyway, the point is that what you really want to do is to make the subject dominate the image by making it as large as possible.

If you’re taking a picture of a cheetah, you don’t want it to be a dot in the corner of the frame! You can always crop the image later using Lightroom or another editing program, but that means losing pixels, so the quality will suffer.

It’s always better to get it right in camera if you can. You just need to be careful not to chop off body parts in the wrong place when you’re taking a portrait. Generally, it’s fine to crop in on someone’s face so that the top of the model’s head is not shown, but it’s not a good idea to crop people’s bodies at the joints.

It just looks odd if the edge of the frame coincides with the ankles, knees, waist, elbows, wrists or neck.

## Aspect Ratio

For some reason, taking a picture in landscape format just seems more ‘natural’ than turning the camera 90 degrees for a portrait, but it’s important to choose the ‘right’ aspect ratio for the image.

A photographer once advised me to make sure at least a third of my pictures were in portrait format, but the point is to look at the subject and decide what’s best. If there are a lot of horizontal lines, then landscape is fair enough, but if there are more vertical lines – such as tree trunks in a forest – then you should probably choose portrait instead.

If you really want to emphasise the length (or height) of a subject, why not try a panorama instead? Different cameras have different set-ups, but the average aspect ratio of a DSLR is 3:2, which doesn’t suit all subjects. I’ve set up a 3:1 template in Lightroom to use for images in which nothing much is happening at the bottom and top of the frame.

## Foreground Interest

When we see a beautiful view, most people’s instant reaction is to take a picture, but what we end up with a lot of the time is an image without any focus. Placing an object in the foreground can lead the eye into the frame and give the image balance. A picture taken on the beach, for instance, might be improved by getting down low in front of a weird rock or piece of driftwood.

## Balance

Speaking of balance, it can be a good idea to have the main subject on one side of the frame and a smaller subject on the other. Again, it’s just a matter of what looks most satisfying to the human eye.

## Juxtaposition

Old and new, blue and orange, large and small – all these are contrasts that a photograph can pick up on and emphasise. This kind of juxtaposition can be made the point of an image. Think of an elephant beside a mouse – it’s not a picture of an elephant or a picture of a mouse, it’s a picture of the contrast between the two.

## Patterns, Textures and Colours

Sometimes, you don’t need a traditional ‘subject’ to make an image visually interesting. There are plenty of patterns in Nature or in the man-made environment; the trick is to find them amongst all the surrounding clutter.

Whether it’s the bark of a tree or paint peeling on a wall, you can sometimes get a very effective abstract image out of it. Black and white images tend to emphasise patterns and shapes, as there is no colour to distract the eye, but colours can form patterns as well – it just depends on the subject and your personal preference.

## Simplicity

It’s hard to produce a visually striking image if there is no focal point, or if there are too many competing centres of attention. By creating a simple image – in terms of colour and/or composition – you can remove the distractions and focus on what’s important.

Background

To increase the focus on the subject of an image, it’s a good idea to remove any distractions in the background. It’s obviously not a good idea to take a picture of someone with a telegraph pole sticking out of his head (!), but it’s easy to pay too much attention to the subject and not enough to the background unless you consciously check the viewfinder.

One useful way to reduce the chances of an embarrassing blunder is to reduce the depth of field by increasing the size of the aperture. The traditional way of taking portraits of animals or people, for instance, is to use a ‘fast’ lens, which means one that has a very wide maximum aperture, and shoot wide open.

That reduces the depth of field, thus blurring the background and adding to the impact of the main subject. If you have lights in the background, you can even get a nice effect called ‘bokeh’, which works well for something like a bauble with Christmas tree lights in the background.

## Humour

Whatever you’re photographing, there are always odd moments of humour to be found. People and animals are usually the best sources, but it doesn’t really matter what the subject is. If there’s a visual joke to be made, why not have a go?

I laughed when I saw these penguins together on South Georgia. It looked as if the female was confused by the rock. Was it an egg she was supposed to hatch, or was it just a rock? She spent about five minutes looking at it and examining it before the male came up and said something like, “Come on, darling. It’s just a rock…”

## Breaking the Rules

Having said all that, it’s important to break the rules once in a while. Rules tend to set expectations, so breaking them can make an image seem fresh and original. Why should the horizon be straight?

Why should we see the whole face rather than just half of it? Why should the sky start two-thirds of the way up the frame? If you can’t answer these questions, then why not take a risk? It’s a bit like being a painter: you have to be able to follow the rules before you can break them!

If you’d like to know more or want to book a photography lesson with me, then please get in touch.

Good luck…

# Getting the Most out of Game Drives

This would’ve been a great shot. It could’ve been a great shot. It should’ve been a great shot. But it wasn’t. Why? Motion blur. If you look closely, you can see that the whole body is slightly out of focus, and that was simply because I didn’t think to change my shutter speed.

I was parked in a jeep in Botswana when a herd of impala came chasing across the road. They were galloping fast, but there were five or six of them, so I did have time to focus on each of them, one by one, as they crossed the road in turn.

Unfortunately, I was using my default camera settings that were designed to capture animals that were standing still. I was using an 80-400mm lens, so I had my camera on 1/320 and f/8 with auto ISO. That would normally have worked, but not for a jumping impala! What I really needed was a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second. I just didn’t think…

In order to avoid moments like that, here are my answers to a few obvious questions:

## What Equipment Do I Need?

Good question. It’s obviously too late to do anything once you’re on safari, so it pays to get your equipment sorted out beforehand. People often ask me what camera I use, and it reminds me of a story I heard about Ernest Hemingway. He went to a photography exhibition in New York and was so impressed he asked to meet the photographer.

Hemingway: These pictures are great. What camera do you use?

Photographer: Well, I use a Leica with a 50mm lens for most of my shots. I’m actually a big fan of your work, too, Mr Hemingway. I’ve read all your books. Can I just ask: what typewriter do you use…?

The point is obviously that a good camera doesn’t necessarily make a good picture, and it’s mildly insulting to photographers if you ask about their equipment without complimenting them on their talent!

However, all other things being equal, a good camera can make life a lot easier for wildlife photography. I’d suggest getting a full-frame DSLR with a zoom lens with a maximum focal length of at least 300mm, preferably 400mm or more.

The problem with a bridge or DX camera is that you won’t get the quality you’re after, as they don’t have large enough sensors. I started off with a bridge camera and thought the zoom was great – until I saw the Nikon DSLR one of the other guys had!

I had a severe case of ‘camera envy’, so I emailed a friend of mine who was a professional photographer to ask what he would get. He recommended either Nikon or Canon, but Canon made photocopiers, so that was out of the question!

Instead, I bought myself a Nikon D800 – complete with 36.3 megapixels! – and it’s served me well ever since. I now also have a D810, which is an upgraded version of the D800. Having two cameras means I don’t have to worry about changing lenses.

Instead, I carry them both cameras on a SpiderPro holster that looks a bit like an old Western cowboy’s gun belt. I can take them out and put them back with just one hand, and I can lock them in place if I’m going on a boat ride or clambering over rocks and don’t want to take any chances.

As for lenses, I mainly use an 80-400mm on the D800 and rent an 800mm prime on the D810. They’re both made by Nikon, and for a very good reason. I tried a Sigma 50-500mm and then a Tamron 150-600mm lens, but the images just weren’t sharp enough.

I now manually check the autofocus of all my lenses using Reikan Focal automatic lens calibration software. All you do is print out a ‘target’ and set up your camera on a tripod to take pictures of it from a certain distance away.

Once you load the software, it guides you through the set-up and takes a number of exposures automatically, just asking you to change the manual focus adjustment anywhere from -20 to +20. When the routine is finished, it gives you a PDF report showing the optimal adjustment value – and that’s what persuaded me to use only Nikon lenses.

I’d been on a trip to Svalbard and wasn’t happy with my shots of the polar bears, which were all just a little bit soft. One of the other guys on the trip told me he did a manual focus check, and that’s when I started doing it, too.

It was only when I bought my new 80-400mm lens that I realised the huge difference in sharpness: the Sigma and Tamron were down at around 1400 on the numeric scale, and the Nikon was way up at 2200! In short, check your lenses.

They’re mass-produced items, so there’s always bound to be some slight variation in focus, and you’d rather fix it yourself than have to use it as an excuse when you don’t get the sharpness you want.

I also make sure I always pack a polarising filter together with a lens cleaning kit (with sensor swabs and cleaning fluid), a beanbag (for resting the lens on the windowsill of a jeep) and my laptop (so that I can download and work on my pictures in the evening).

If I’m going to be near a waterfall, like Iguazu or Victoria Falls, I’ll also take my tripod and a ‘Big Stopper’ neutral density filter to give me the chance of taking creamy pictures of the water with a  long shutter speed.

## What Else Can I Do Before I Leave?

Getting the right equipment (and changing the time zone on your camera!) is one thing, but you can help yourself out by booking the right holiday in the right location at the right time. Check when the ‘long rains’ are if you’re going to Africa.

Check when the peak season is for wildlife viewing. Check if it’s possible to visit when there’s a full moon or – even better – a harvest moon. You can ask all these questions (and more) to make sure you get the very most out of your trip.

One useful sight for African expeditions is Safari Bookings, which allows you to search for packages by location, duration and price. I also like to travel light. I hate the whole airport experience, so I avoid having to check any bags in by having a roll-aboard camera bag and packing all my clothing into a jacket that has a pocket in the lining that goes all the way round.

It looks a bit funny when you walk through customs – and some people just couldn’t do it – but it saves me an awful lot of time and bother.

## What Should I Wear?

When it comes to clothing, I tend to cover up to avoid the sun and the insects. That means I wear green cargo pants (with lots of pockets!), a brown, long-sleeved shirt, a floppy hat and trainers. If I’m going on a walking safari, I’ll put on my hiking boots, and I might bring a jacket for those cool early morning starts. There’s a reason why I don’t wear bright colours. They don’t exactly frighten the animals, but you’ll get some funny looks if you turn up in hot pants and a Day-Glo pink T-shirt…!

## What Should I Take With me on the Game Drives?

If you’re a keen photographer, you won’t want to miss anything while you’re out taking pictures from the 4×4, but that doesn’t mean you need to take the entire contents of your camera bag! I would simply take your camera(s) and your longest lens(es) plus a lens cloth, a couple of spare batteries and a bottle of water.

A beanbag might come in handy on certain vehicles, but that’s about it. You can apply sunscreen and/or insect repellent before you leave. When it comes to clothing, I tend to cover up to avoid the sun and the insects.

That means I wear cargo pants (with lots of pockets!), a long-sleeved shirt, a floppy hat and trainers. Oh, and don’t even think about wearing a day-glo orange or pink T-shirt…!

## What Camera Settings Should I Use?

There’s an old photographer’s joke:

Fan to photographer: I love your pictures. What settings did you use?

Photographer to fan: f/8 and be there!

The point is that ‘being there’ is more important than any camera settings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter at all – as shown by my shot of the leaping impala.

### Exposure

The ‘Exposure Triangle’ consists of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO value, and these are the only three ways you can change the brightness of the image: either having a bigger hole, keeping it open for longer or increasing the sensitivity of the sensor.

A lot of beginners stick to automatic as they don’t trust themselves to use manual settings, but they lose a lot of control by doing that. The camera doesn’t know how fast the animal is travelling or how much of it you want to be in focus, so how can it possibly decide the best combination of shutter speed and aperture?

Why not experiment a little and decide for yourself the kind of image you’re going to take? Now, you still have to make sure you get the correct exposure somehow, and I’m not suggesting you use the exposure meter and manually change the settings for each shot!

What I do is start off with a good set of general-purpose settings and set the ISO to automatic. That way, I get exactly the shutter speed and aperture I want, but the camera makes sure it’s correctly exposed.

The general rule is that you need a shutter speed the inverse of your focal length, so, If I’m using my 80-400mm lens at the top end of the zoom range, that means around 1/400th of a second. (Bear in mind, though, that you have to take into account the speed of the animal as well as how steady you can hold the camera!)

I generally like to take ‘portraits’ of the animals, so I want to throw the background out of focus to emphasise the eyes. That means a wide aperture such as f/5.6, but I’ve started using f/8 because my lens tests tell me that both my lenses perform at their sharpest at f/8, and I want the maximum sharpness I can get.

The problem comes, obviously, when there’s not enough light to use your default settings, or the animals are moving too fast. That’s when you need to take charge and make a difficult decision: which is the most important, the shutter speed, the aperture or the ISO?

If it’s a fast-moving animal, the shutter speed obviously takes priority. If the light level is dropping, then you probably want to compromise and change both aperture and shutter speed by 1/3 of a stop (or more). Most stock agencies don’t want pictures taken at high ISO values (640+), so that’s something to bear in mind if you’re trying to sell your work.

### Autofocus

Manual focus has its place in macro photography and in low light conditions, but wildlife photography generally demands that we use one of the two methods of autofocus: single point (AF-S on the Nikon) or continuous (AF-C).

I generally keep my D800 with the wide-angle lens on single point, as I’ll be using it to take landscape shots, but I keep my D810 with the long zoom lens on AF-C 3D, as I’ll be using it to take pictures of animals.

In fact, sharpness is so important for wildlife shots that I use what’s called ‘back-button focusing’, which means setting up the camera so that I can focus by pressing the AF-ON button on the back with my right thumb.

The AF-C 3D setting continuously focuses on one particular point on the animal that you select when you first press the AF button, and it magically follows that point even if the animal is moving. It’s not perfect, but what it does mean is that you don’t have to worry about losing focus when you half-press the shutter and then take a picture.

By separating the focusing from releasing the shutter, you get the best chance of getting that all-important sharpness in the animal’s eye.

### White Balance

You can always change it in Lightroom later (or another image-processing software package), but I generally still try to update my white balance setting as the light changes. It saves time later, and it follows the general principle of trying to get everything right in camera. Messing around in Lightroom should always be a last resort.

### Quality (RAW)

Shoot in RAW. There. Is. No. Alternative.

### Other Settings

One of the confusing and frustrating thing about the DSLR is the number of settings there are and the fact that you can’t ‘reset’ everything in one go. It would be wonderful if there were one button that would do everything, but there isn’t.

There are mechanical as well as electronic settings, so it’s impossible to assign one button to change both. As it is, it’s worth having a mental checklist to go through before you go out on the game drive and even while you’re out there. The main settings to monitor are the following:

• Mode (Manual, unless you’ve never picked up a camera before…)
• Shutter speed (1/focal length, although Vibration Reduction means you might get away with up to four stops ‘slower’)
• Aperture (f/5.6 or f/8, depending on where your lens’s sweet spot is)
• ISO mode (I generally use ‘auto’)
• Exposure compensation (0 – unless you’re photographing a very bright or dark scene)
• Autofocus (AF-C 3D for wildlife)
• White balance (Daylight – if it’s your typical African sunny day!)
• Active D-lighting (Auto or off unless you’re taking a picture into the sun and want detail in the shot – it’s a kind of in-camera HDR to squeeze the histogram for images that would be too contrasty otherwise)
• Lens lock (off, obviously – you don’t want to miss a shot because you can’t zoom in!)

## What Should I Do While We’re Driving Around?

It’s all very well chatting to the guy next to you and having a laugh, but you’re there to take pictures, so you should follow these guidelines if you don’t want to be disappointed:

• Always keep an eye out. I try to sit in the front seat so that I get a better view and can let the driver and the rest of the group know if I see something. If it’s not particularly interesting or too far away to get a good shot, I’ll just point or say, “Impala,” but I’m always ready to pat the driver on the shoulder or tell him to stop if there’s the prospect of a good sighting.
One of the best sightings I had in Botswana came from the cook’s assistant sitting in the back of the jeep. As we were driving along, he suddenly said something in Setswana to our driver, who stopped and then backed up to see what was going on. After another incomprehensible conversation, I was shown a spotted eagle owl sitting on a branch not 10 yards away!
• Don’t be shy. The guide will often be the one to spot an animal or a bird, and he or she will usually stop without having to be asked. However, if you spot something and want to take a picture, it’s important to stand up for yourself.Just tap the driver on the shoulder or ask him to stop. You always remember the shots you missed more than the shots you made, so be brave!
• Be prepared. A lot of game drives involve looking at nothing in particular for hours on end, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready at all times. You never know when someone will spot a white rhino or a leopard, so you need to make sure you have your camera(s) to hand with the right shutter speed, aperture and other settings dialled in.I tend to use 1/000 of a second at f/8 with auto ISO, but it depends on the light level. In the early mornings, you often have to make some awkward compromises. Just remember, though, that it’s better to get a sharp shot at a high ISO than a blurred one at ISO 100 and 1/60!
• Keep the noise down. An animal or bird might seem quite far away, but they spook quite easily, so do make sure you don’t speak too loudly – or shout out something in your excitement! The other guests will thank you for it…
• Keep still. You’re usually in a jeep with three or four other people, all wanting to take the best photographs they can, so you have to be sympathetic with your movements.If someone’s trying to take a picture, try to move as carefully and slowly as you can – or just wait for them to finish. You don’t want to rock the vehicle or jog an elbow and ruin the perfect shot!
• Be polite. Tempers sometimes fray in the excitement of a game drive, when everyone wants to get the best possible view of the animals, but it’s worth keeping cool and being aware of those around you.If you take too long over a shot or you accidentally get in the way of someone else, just apologise and move on. People go on safari to enjoy themselves and have a good time, not harbour festering grudges over the guy who thought it was all about him…!
• Take care of your kit. I always cover my lenses with dust- and waterproof covers when I’m shooting. It might not seem necessary in some countries and in some climates, but you never know when you might have a sudden shower or get a cloud of dust in your face from the jeep in front.I also take a lens cloth and/or a dust blower with me on game drives, and it’s worth checking your lens every now and then to make sure it’s not getting dusty. It’s hard to tell sometimes when you have a lens hood on, but it’s very easy for lenses to get dirty during the course of a long game drive.I found Botswana particularly dusty, and there was a lot of dust in the air in Tadoba that gradually stuck to my camera and turned my lens cloth red whenever I used it!

## What Makes a Good Photograph?

Dust, air and spume. That’s the Holy Trinity of wildlife photography, according to Paul Goldstein, who is a wildlife photographer and also a great speaker and raconteur.

I’ve been on two trips he’s led to Svalbard to see the polar bear and Tadoba in India to see the tiger, and I’ve seen several of his presentations.

The idea is that ‘dust’ is thrown up by the movement of the animals and gives you a sense of dynamism and energy, ‘air’ means that an animal is in the air and about to land – so we have a sense of anticipation and expectation – and ‘spume’ is the spray that is thrown up by movement in water.

That’s just Paul’s view, and there are obviously other aspects to the question. One thing that he also points out is the difference between a ‘record shot’ and a ‘photograph’. To him, a ‘record shot’ is just a snapshot, a picture that records exactly what’s in front of you, but a ‘photograph’ is something that obeys the rules of composition and has been consciously constructed by the photographer to provoke an emotional reaction.

There aren’t that many rules of composition in wildlife photography, but it’s worth bearing them in mind when you’re out shooting. Here are a few of the common ones:

• Fill the frame. Robert Capa once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” People don’t want to have to search the image for the animal, so zoom in or ask your driver to get closer so that you can make it the centre of attention!
• Use leading lines. Where available, they can lead the eye of the viewer into the image, for instance in a picture of an impala on the horizon crossing a road leading into the distance.
• Use the Rule of Thirds. Human eyes don’t like things that are too symmetrical – unless you can manage a perfect reflection – so try to put the focal point of your shot off-centre. That adds dynamism and a different kind of balance.
• Focus on the eyes. People don’t care if 99% of an animal is out of focus as long as the eyes are sharp.
• Wait for ‘the decisive moment’. A guide in the States once compared my shots to those of another guy on the trip. He said that Stefan’s were always technically perfect, very sharp and with gorgeous, saturated colours, but mine were all about the moment.I take that as a compliment. It means you have to wait for the right moment to take the shot. Don’t just keep clicking away like a Japanese tourist by Big Ben. Compose your shot and then wait for the animal to do something to make it more memorable. It could be a sneeze, a yawn – anything! – but it will mark your picture out as special.Here are a couple of examples:
• If a lion is walking across the road in front of your jeep, don’t take the shot until it steps forward with the leg that’s furthest away from you. That means it will have to turn its body and show more of its chest in the shot, which makes a better shot.
• Try to capture pictures of birds in flight. Portraits are all very well, but an action shot is usually better. Given how quickly birds take off, the best way to capture them with their wings spread is just before they land. Find a bird on a branch and take a few ‘portrait’ shots, but don’t give up when it flies away.A lot of birds have a ‘favourite’ branch, so it’s worth focusing on it and waiting for the bird to come back. If it does, take a series of shots in continuous mode, starting when the bird is just about to land.That’s the best way to capture the prize, which is a picture of the bird with its wings spread, showing off all its plumage. Just make sure you have reasonable depth of field (at least f/8) and a high enough shutter speed (at least 1/1000).
• Tell a story. The tagline to this website is ‘Every picture tells a story’, and that’s a goal we should all aspire to when taking pictures. What are we trying to say? What mood are we trying to create? What’s the emotion behind the shot?It’s not always easy, but picking exactly the right composition can create humour, joy, sorrow, horror and any number of other powerful reactions – which is just what we want.
• Break the rules – selectively! Obeying the rules will give you a nice, balanced image, but Paul for one hates ‘nice’, and I can see his point. Sometimes, the best way of creating a strongly emotional image is to break a rule or two. You have to do it sparingly – and consciously – but it sometimes gives you that much more of a chance of creating a genuinely arresting image.One of his favourite techniques is the ‘slow pan’, which means following a moving animal or bird with a slow shutter speed and taking a number of shots as it goes past.The idea is to create a sense of movement by blurring the background and the legs or wings of the animal or bird while keeping the body and especially the eyes sharp. It’s a technique that’s very difficult to master.

You have to do a lot of experimentation, and it helps to have a tripod! I once went on a boat trip in Svalbard and took 1,504 pictures of guillemots using the slow pan – but I only kept four of them! It sounds like a lot of effort, but it’s worth it in the end.

# A Day in the Life of a Wildlife Photographer

My iPhone just about died yesterday, so I switched it off overnight. Miraculously, it’s now back to 24%!

We saw leopard tracks but no leopard and then a lone impala to start the day. We were out for 90 minutes before collecting the other staff and the trailer. We then drove north towards Chobe NP. At one point, the road ahead was flooded. Contrary to what you may have been told, there’s no bridge on the River Khwai, so we had to take a different route…

“Nkwe!” Makabu suddenly shouted, which I later found out meant ‘leopard’ in Setswana. He had just seen one crossing the road, and he immediately followed it. After a few yards, he stopped, got out and jumped on the roof to work out where it was, then he unhooked the trailer and drove after it off-road.

You’re not supposed to do either of those things, but I like the fact Africans think rules are there to be broken! The leopard escaped, sadly, but that means Makabu now leads 2-1 in big cat sightings…

### Fun fact: ‘Nkwe’ means leopard and ‘tau’ means lion in Setswana.

Having said that, our handyman chipped in with a great spot of a spotted eagle owl perched in a tree as we were driving past. It was just hidden by a branch, so I asked if I could get out and walk a bit closer. Makabu said I could, and I took a very rare picture. I’ve never seen a spotted eagle owl before…

We stopped for lunch (and to collect firewood), and I managed to get attacked by very prickly and sticky fertility grass. Not even thick socks are good enough protection against it. Then again,  you can always boil it up and drink the liquid if you’re having problems with your womb!

At around 1400, we dropped off our team to make camp, then we went back out for another game drive. The radio chatter suggested there were lions out there and maybe even a leopard, but it all seemed like a wild goose chase until we saw a pair of young lions asleep under a large fever berry tree. They like it as it has the best shade, and – lo and behold! – you can also boil its leaves in water to cure a fever. Is there any plant out here that doesn’t have medicinal properties?! We even had chance to come back later for some great close-ups.

Shockingly, I had to change my WB setting to cloudy a few times today. Very poor…

## Species lists

We saw impala, black-backed jackal, tsessebe, low veld giraffe, hippo, warthog, Burchell’s zebra, blue wildebeest, red lechwe, tree squirrel, chacma baboon, vervet monkey, elephant, waterbuck, lion, wild dog.

We ask saw birds including Burchell’s starling, African darter, blacksmith plover, Swainson’s francolin, helmeted guineafowl, red-billed hornbill, saddle-billed stork, grey hornbill, African fish eagle, spotted eagle owl, long-tailed pied shrike, African jacana, wattled crane, Cape turtle dove, little egret, Egyptian geese, Gabor goshawk.

# Lightroom Settings

In the last year, I’ve started doing all my photographic post-processing in Lightroom. It’s the program used by most professional photographers and is reasonably user-friendly, but the problem is choosing all the right settings.

I shoot in RAW, which captures the maximum amount of information, but it doesn’t necessarily provide a great picture right out of the box. To do that, you need to improve the contrast, clarity, vibrance and various other settings, but what exactly should these settings be?

Enigma had 150 trillion possible combinations of 10 pairs of 26 letters on the plugboard. Lightroom isn’t quite as bad as that (!), but it can be bewildering. Even the experts disagree. I got to grips with Lightroom mostly by watching a very useful series of YouTube videos by Anthony Morganti and an article on KeepSnap, but I’ve now been given conflicting advice by one of my stock agencies!

What to do, what to do…

In the end, I’ve used a combination of the recommended settings as a starting point, but I’ve taken on all the advice from the stock agency, as they pay the bills!

When I’ve taken a batch of pictures, this is my ‘workflow’:

1. Connect camera to my MacBook Pro (or use my new card reader if it’s quicker!).
2. Import all the RAW files to a new folder in Pictures using Image Capture.
3. Import the files to Lightroom using my custom ‘Import’ settings.
4. Rate the images (3 stars = people shots worth putting on Facebook, 4 stars = shots worth selling, 5 stars = favourite shots).
5. Check the ratings (which includes checking the sharpness at 100%).
6. Work on 4- and 5-star images in Lightroom (eg cropping, tagging faces, choosing custom black and white points to avoid clipping of highlights and shadows).
8. Export 4- and 5-star images as JPEGs to 4*, 5* and ‘To upload’ folders in Finder.
9. Import 4- and 5-star JPEGs to 4* and 5* folders in Lightroom.
11. Format the memory card and delete files in the ‘To upload’ folder and any unrated files in Lightroom.

I know that sounds a bit complicated, but I’ve learned from experience which steps work for me! At the end of the day, the most important thing is to keep a copy of the original RAW files. Lightroom is ‘non-destructive’, so, whatever changes you make, you can always start again.

The next thing to cover is what these mysterious ‘Import’ settings actually are. Here are my current user preset settings, shown for each panel in the Develop module:

• Basic:
• Contrast +25
• Highlights -80
• Whites 0 (edited later for each shot to avoid pure white)
• Blacks 0 (edited later for each shot to avoid pure black)
• Clarity +5 (KeepSnap thinks it should be +40!)
• Vibrance +20
• Tone Curve
• Highlights -5
• Detail:
• Sharpening – Amount 25  (Anthony Morganti thinks is should be 70!)
• Noise Reduction – Luminance 10 (Anthony Morganti thinks is should be 40!)
• Lens Corrections:
• Enable Profile Corrections ticked
• Remove Chromatic Aberration ticked

As I say, these settings are only a starting point, and I’ll obviously change them if I think the image would benefit, but it’s important not to push things too far. That will only make the photograph look ‘over-processed’ and unnatural.

The only other thing I add is a vignette to my wildlife ‘portraits’. I do this by setting the Post-Crop Vignetting Amount to -22 in the Effects module. I don’t do it when the background is a perfect blue sky, as I don’t think it looks very good.

I should say a couple of things about export settings and the use of metadata. I’ve set up presets for all the folders I usually export to, but my experience selling via stock agencies has taught me that JPEG files should be no more than 20MB each, so I’ve used that as my file size limit.

Most stock agencies also have minimum quality thresholds, so I try not to crop so much that the image is less than 6.3 megapixels. The agencies also have rules on the type and number of characters in each metadata field, so I avoid apostrophes and give all my images seven-word titles that are no longer than 50 characters.

Finally, keywords are essential for Search Engine Optimisation, so I use at least 10 but more often 20 or 30, including tags describing the location, content and theme of the image (plus obvious synonyms).

Lightroom is a subject I’m learning all the time, but I hope all this will give you a head start!

# Red Xmas Tree star with Bokeh Lights

The Idea

I live in an Art Deco mansion block in Putney, and every year the porters put a Christmas tree in the entrance hall. Last year, I took some pictures of some of the baubles, inspired by an email from one of the photographic magazines about how to capture bokeh lighting. This year, the tree and the baubles were different, so I decided to have another go.

## The Location

Ormonde Court, Upper Richmond Road, London SW15 6TW, United Kingdom, around 2100 on 12 December 2014.

## The Equipment

• Nikon D800 DSLR camera
• Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens
• Nikon SB-910 Speedlight flash
• Manfrotto 190XProB tripod with 496RC2 universal joint head
• Hähnel HRN 280 remote release.

I’ve just managed to remortgage my flat in Notting Hill, so I’ve been investing in a few photographic supplies. Ever since a German called Stefan took a magnificent shot of Old Faithful at night using flash, I’ve wanted a proper flashgun. Well, now I have one. I bought the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight a couple of weeks ago, and it arrived just in time for this shoot. I didn’t know whether I’d need it or not, but I was prepared to experiment.

## The Settings

• Manual ISO 100
• f/5.6
• 1 second
• 105mm
• Tungsten white balance
• Single-point auto-focus

## The Technique

In the last of these posts, I mentioned how I’d got used to taking a tripod with me in almost all circumstances, and last night was no exception. Last year, I was generally pleased with my shots of the baubles, but the ISO was far too high.

was using my tripod, funnily enough, but to hold the bauble rather than my camera! This year, I decided I would definitely mount the camera on the tripod, but that left me with nothing to hold the baubles.

I thought about using a light stand from my flash kit, but I needed something horizontal rather than vertical so that I could hang the decorations from it. I then had the idea of using my golf clubs. I could stand the bag in the lobby and balance one of the clubs on top, held in place by the other clubs.

As it turned out, I’d forgotten that the bag would be at an angle of 45 degrees, so my original plan didn’t work, but I simply pulled my 4-iron half-way out and hung the first bauble from that. It was a silver reindeer, but the green wire loop wasn’t very long, and I wouldn’t have been able to get the shots I wanted without the golf club getting in the frame.

I needed a piece of string. I thought about going back to my flat, but leaving my golf clubs and my camera unattended in the entrance hall didn’t seem like a sensible idea! Fortunately, I was wearing trainers, so I just used one of the laces.

It took a few gos to get each bauble to point in the right direction and remain still – particularly as there was a stream of curious residents opening the front door on their way home from work! – but I managed in the end. Phew!

I took lots of pictures of the silver reindeer, a red bauble with a spiral pattern on it and the red star shown above, and I played around with the flash settings to try to make the background a bit darker.

Sadly my new flash was so powerful that I couldn’t manage that – even with -3.0EV of exposure compensation! There might’ve been a better way, but it was the first time I’ve ever used a flashgun, so I’m still a newbie.

The main problem I had in taking the shots was actually getting enough depth-of-field. The reindeer was fine, but the round baubles and even the star were proving a nightmare. If I focused on the front of the bauble, the metal cap and wire loop were out of focus, but, if I focused on those, the rest of the bauble was out of focus.

I’m an absolute stickler for sharpness in my images, so I wasn’t sure what to do. In the end, I stopped down a little bit and hoped that f/5.6 would be a small enough aperture to keep everything acceptably sharp. I tried ‘chimping’ (or checking the shots on the LCD screen) a few times, but it was tricky to tell.

My problem was a kind of Catch-22: the three variables controlling depth-of-field are normally the focal length, the aperture and the relative distances of the camera to the subject and the subject to the background.

I couldn’t change to a wide-angle lens, as I needed to limit the background to just the Christmas tree; I couldn’t change to a much smaller aperture without making the bokeh circles of the blurred Christmas lights in the background too small; and I couldn’t change the relative positions of the camera, bauble and tree without changing the composition completely.

Hmm…

As you can see from the shot above, the two arms on the right of the red star didn’t turn out completely sharp, but it was ‘good enough for Government work’. Shutterstock obviously didn’t accept it – they’re very hot on sharpness! – but I did win an award on Pixoto for the sixth best image uploaded to the Christmas category!

## The Post-processing

I made three changes to this shot:

1. I had the camera on ‘Tungsten’ white balance, as I’d just read somewhere that I should use the amber filter on the flashgun when shooting indoors in order to avoid a clash of different light sources. However, it turned out that the shot looked a lot warmer with the ‘Flash’ white balance, and that was just the look I was after at Christmastime.
2. A lot of my images end up being quite dark, and I’m not sure whether it’s just because I’m lucky to spend a lot of time in very sunny places or whether there’s a problem with my camera! In this case, I actually had to push the exposure up by +2EV in Aperture to make it look like all the others. I have a feeling that’s because I changed from f/2.8 to f/5.6 to get more depth-of-field but forgot to lengthen the shutter speed to compensate. Silly me…
3. I was desperately trying to frame the shot perfectly so I wouldn’t have to crop, but the balance of the bauble with the ‘negative space’ on the right wasn’t quite right, so I cropped in slightly to position the star a third of the way into the frame.

# Close-up of Golden Eagle Head with Catchlight

I’m a photographer (among other things), and this is the first of a series of posts about my favourite photographs. I’ll tell you how I took them and break down the shot into the idea, the location, the equipment, the settings, the technique and any post-processing.

## The Idea

When I took this shot, I was at a Battle of Hastings re-enactment at Battle Abbey in Sussex. I was there to take pictures of the battle scenes between enthusiasts dressed up as Normans and Saxons, and I had no idea there was going to be a falconry display until I bought my ticket and was given a flyer with the plan for the day.

The golden eagle is my favourite bird (isn’t it everyone’s?!), so I was very excited to be able to see one in action. The falconers from Raphael Historical Falconry put on a couple of displays with a variety of birds, including a gyrfalcon and a Harris hawk, but the golden eagle was the highlight.

Afterwards, I wandered over to their tent, and I was able to get within just a few feet of all the birds. The falconer was happy to chat with the spectators with a bird on his arm (so to speak!), and later he fed and watered the birds outside. That gave me the chance to set up my tripod and get a few good close-ups, and this was the best of the lot.

## The Location

Battle Abbey, High Street, Hastings and Battle, East Sussex TN33 0AD, United Kingdom, around 1500 on 11 October 2014.

## The Equipment

• Nikon D800 DSLR camera
• Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM lens
• Manfrotto 190XProB tripod with 496RC2 universal joint head
• Hähnel HRN 280 remote release.

I was a bit worried about using my ‘Bigma’ to take this picture, as I hadn’t been very impressed with it on my trip to Spitsbergen to see the polar bears. Admittedly, the bears were usually a few hundred yards away, and no zoom lens is at its best when it’s at its longest focal length, but I was disappointed that my shots were so soft.

As a result, I did a manual focus check and discovered that the calculated auto-focus fine tune setting was a whopping -12! Armed with this new improvement to the sharpest tool in my box, I was ready for anything…

PS They call it the ‘Bigma’ as it’s made by Sigma, and it’s enormous!

## The Settings

• Auto ISO 110
• f/9
• 1/250
• 500mm
• Daylight white balance
• Single-point auto-focus

I had the camera on Manual with ISO on Auto, which I thought was appropriate for a day when lots of things would be happening, and I’d be taking candid shots without much opportunity to sit down and check my settings. However, I should probably have set the ISO to its optimum value of 100 for this shot, as I had plenty of time.

## The Technique

I’m generally a travel and wildlife photographer, but I normally don’t use a tripod as it gets in the way and doesn’t work too well in a Land-Rover moving at 40mph! However, I learnt a new perspective from a professional photographer called Mark Carwardine.

He happened to be on a cruise to Spitsbergen that I went on a few months ago, and he was always carrying around his tripod with the legs fully extended – even on the Zodiac inflatables that we used to land on the islands.

I thought to myself, If he can do it, so can I! After that, I’ve tried to use a tripod wherever possible. I love really sharp wildlife shots, and a 36.3-megapixel DSLR and a tripod make a winning combination.

Another important thing about wildlife shots is to get down to the level of the animal or bird you’re shooting. You can see from this shot that I’m right at eye-level with the eagle, and that gives the sense of power and intimacy I was looking for.

Finally, I’ve learnt from a couple of portrait shoots the value of the ‘catchlight’. This is the reflection of the light source that you see in the eye of your subject. It’s just as important with wildlife as with people, and I was lucky enough to get a break in the clouds that allowed the sun to provide the perfect catchlight. Lucky me!

## The Post-processing

I changed from a PC to a Mac a few years ago, so I do all my post-processing in Aperture. I suppose I should upgrade to Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw or Photoshop, but iPhoto was the default image-processing software on the Mac, and Aperture was the cheapest upgrade!

I only had two changes to make to this shot:

1. Even at 500mm, I still wasn’t quite close enough for the bird’s head to fill the frame, so I had to crop in later. I’ve found from experience that 6.3 megapixels is the minimum size that the major online photo libraries accept, so I never go below 6.4 MP (to avoid rounding errors), and that’s the new size of this file.
2. In the end, the automatic ISO setting was close enough to the optimum of 100, but the shot was slightly overexposed due to the dark colours of the eagle’s feathers and the grassy background, so I had to reduce the exposure by 0.5EV.

# Descriptive Writing

Exams at 11+ and 13+ level always let you tell a story in the writing section, but they sometimes provide a picture and simply ask you to describe it or to ‘write about it in any way you like’. Writing a description is obviously different from writing a story, so it’s worthwhile pointing out the differences and the similarities.

When you write a story, the best way of doing it is probably to follow the five-step process that I outline in Story Mountains:

1. Choose the title
2. Brainstorm for ideas
4. Write it
5. Check it

You can use a similar basic method for doing a description – except the planning stage obviously doesn’t involve creating a story mountain! – but what are the differences? Steps 1, 4 and 5 are pretty much the same, but you might want to have a look at these tips for the brainstorm and planning.

## Brainstorm

When you’re brainstorming for a story, you have to think about characters, genre, period, setting and plot, and you also have to make sure there’s a ‘problem’ to solve so that your idea fits into a story mountain. However, descriptions don’t necessarily have all of those things in them, so you have to think about it in a different way.

The simplest form of description would simply involve describing what’s in a picture (or imagining what’s there if you’re just given the title). That might result in some very imaginative creative writing and open up the possibility of using some great vocabulary and all the poetic devices you can think of, including similes and metaphors.

However, the very best descriptions have to have some kind of ‘hook’ to grab the reader’s attention, and that usually means a central character, situation or even a mini ‘plot’. You obviously need to describe exactly what’s in the picture, but what if you want to say more? What if the picture doesn’t have the things in it that you want.

That’s a bit tricky, but you can always ask questions or just ask the narrator to imagine things.

Hal Morey’s picture of New York’s Grand Central Station is a good example. The shot has lots of elements to it, including the architecture, the people and the beams of light from the windows, so you could easily spend your whole time going over the picture in great depth, picking out each detail and thinking up the best words and metaphors to describe it.

One way of doing that is to make sure your paragraphs are Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (or MECE). That just means the things you describe in each one have to be different (like trees and houses), but your whole description has to cover everything in the picture. That means being as observant and descriptive as you can, noting down the ‘male passengers in fedoras and grey, woollen overcoats’ in the station rather than just ‘people’.

Vocabulary is important here, so you might make a list of the words that you planned to use. One good way of organising this is to think about the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. It’s sometimes difficult to get beyond the visual when you’re analysing a picture, so this method just forces you to think of the other aspects of a scene. Try to make separate lists for each of the senses. The visual vocabulary might include the following:

• columns (not just walls)
• vaulting (not just roof)
• passengers (not just people)
• spotlights (not just light)
• cathedral (not just station)
• nave (not just hall)

It’s not enough to use words like ‘roof’ when more imaginative synonyms exist such as ‘vaulting’, so try to think of the very best words to use. After all, the examiner can’t tell that you know a word unless you use it! And the same goes for metaphors.

Where did the word ‘cathedral’ come from? Well, the shape of the hall and all the windows are similar to what you’d find in a cathedral or a large church, so why not use that in a kind of ‘extended metaphor’?

An extended metaphor takes a comparison and uses it more than once, so the main part of the hall might be the ‘nave’, the two large arched windows might be the ‘west windows’ and the people might be the ‘congregation’.

Even better would be to link the metaphor to the purpose of the other building by saying something like this: “The congregation bustled to find their seats in the pews as they made their daily act of worship to the god of commerce.”

Suddenly, you’ve gone from a bland description of what you can see for yourself to a new and imaginative way of looking at the world.

The other category of words on your checklist should be feelings. Why simply describe what people look like and not examine how they feel? As an example, use the context of Grand Central Station to imagine what’s going through the passengers’ minds? Are they bored, are they reluctant to go to work, or are they happy to be bunking off for a day at the beach?!

So what else can you do to take your writing to the next level?

The answer is to introduce a main character or some kind of situation or miniature plot. You’re hardly ever ‘banned’ from using a plot in this kind of question, so there’s no problem with introducing one, but let’s stick with the idea of doing a description rather than a story.

The Grand Central picture is again a good example. What would be the character or the situation or the plot here? Well, the obvious idea is to pick is a commuter who’s late for his train. You could introduce the description by focusing on one individual in the picture and explaining why he’s in a hurry.

You could then have a kind of countdown clock as you described all the people and objects he sees as he rushes to make his train:

Lionel Carey was in a hurry. He only had five minutes to make his train to get to the most important meeting of his life! He struggled along with his precious, old, leather briefcase, catching his fedora as it was blown off his head and cursing the long overcoat he had chosen to wear as it made him sweat uncomfortably and almost tripped him over. Now, what platform did he need?
Four minutes to go…

And so on. This gives the passage a clearer focus and a sense of tension, excitement and mystery. Will Lionel catch his train? Where is he going? What is the meeting about? It just adds another layer to the description – and ideally leads to higher marks!

Alternatively, you can talk about things that are not in the picture by doing one of the following:

• ask questions, eg if the picture was of the Colosseum in Rome, you could ask questions like Was this where the Roman gladiators stood before they made their way to their deaths in the arena?
• create a section in which the narrator imagines objects or events, eg It was here that the emperor would stand before giving the thumbs-up or thumbs-down sign that would signal the fate of the gladiators.

Planning

It’s fairly obvious how to plan for a story because it has to have a plot, but how do you plan for a description? Do you just describe what’s in the picture, starting perhaps on the left and working  your way across? Or do you separate your work into five different paragraphs on each of the senses, with perhaps an extra one for the feelings of the travellers? Or can you introduce a timeline, charting the progress of an imaginary character – such as Lionel Carey, hurrying to catch his train?

Each one might work, but you’ll probably get the best marks for something that engages the reader, and the best way of doing that is to have a central character and a carefully selected situation to place him in:

Lionel Carey in a hurry – needs to catch train for meeting, looks for platform

4 mins

Describe Lionel – importance of what’s in briefcase, mysterious ‘she’ he’s meeting
Describe station – architecture, light, people

3 mins

Describe people he sees
Bumps into coffee cart
Argues with staff
Will he ever see ‘her’?

2 mins

Describe trains – steam, smoke, whistle
Wrong platform – needs to run to Platform 16

1 min

Describe running, bumping into people, curses

Time’s up!
Too late – but wait! Train is delayed. He can give daughter Xmas present after all!

Whatever the picture or title, try giving this method a try. If you brainstorm and plan correctly, focusing on all five senses and people’s feelings and using a central character to add excitement and mystery, I’m sure you’ll do a good job.

# What is a Full Sentence?

Teachers often tell pupils to use a ‘full sentence’ in their answers, but what is a full sentence?

## Parts of a Sentence

First of all, it’s important to know what all the words in the picture mean. (Note that the parts of a sentence are not always individual words, though they can be. For example, ‘she’ is the subject, but ‘a hot dog’ is the direct object even though it is three words.)

### Subject

The subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb, in other words, “who’s doing the doing”. The girl in the picture is obviously the one doing the eating, not the hot dog!

### Verb

The verb is often called the ‘doing word’, although some verbs like ‘being’ and ‘having’ don’t really involve much ‘doing’! Again, what’s being done is obviously shown by the word ‘ate’. There are two kinds of verb:

• Transitive verbs need a direct object, like the word ‘ate’ in the picture
• Intransitive verbs don’t need an object, like the word ‘swim’ in ‘They swim’.

### Object

There are two kinds of object:

• Direct objects are directly affected because they ‘suffer the action of the verb’. In other words, they have something done to them, like the hot dog in the picture.
• Indirect objects are only indirectly affected, for example if they benefit from the verb like the teacher receiving an apple in the picture below.

## Types of Sentence

Now we know what the parts of a sentence are, we can talk about all the possible kinds of full sentence.

1. Verb only
Strictly speaking, all you really need to make a full sentence is a verb. For example, ‘Sit!’ is a full sentence, even though it only has one word in it. That only works when you’re telling a dog – or a person! – what to do. Most of the time, you need a subject as well.
2. Subject-Verb
‘He swims’ is a full sentence because it has a subject and a verb, but this only works because the verb is intransitive, which means it doesn’t need an object.
3. Subject-Verb-Object
The picture above shows the main parts of a simple sentence, which are the subject (S), the verb (V) and the object (O). The initial letters give us a typical pattern for a sentence, which is SVO. In this case, the object is a direct object, which means it’s directly affected but it can also be an indirect object, which may benefit indirectly. Here, the hot dog is the one that has to suffer being eaten – not the girl! – but it’s slightly different in the next picture.
4. Subject-Verb-Indirect Object-Direct Object (or Subject-Verb-Direct Object-Indirect Object)
Here, the apple is being ‘given’, so the apple is the direct object, but the teacher also benefits indirectly, so she is the indirect object.

## Common Mistakes

1. Punctuation
Every sentence should end with either a full-stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark, but one common mistake is to put a comma in between sentences instead, eg He loved pizza, he always chose pepperoni. This is called the ‘comma splice’.
2. Fragments
A sentence that doesn’t have a subject, verb or object when it needs one is called a ‘sentence fragment’, eg Gave his teacher an apple. It’s obvious that it doesn’t make sense without the word ‘He’, but it’s easily done.
3. Starting with conjunctions
Teachers often tell their pupils not to start a sentence with ‘because’. When asked a question like ‘Why is Jack sad?‘, it’s easy to write ‘Because his dog died‘. That’s all right when you’re speaking in class – when people don’t care as much about their grammar – but not when you’re doing your homework. It’s not always wrong to do it, though. If you use ‘because’ to link two sentences together, that’s fine, eg Because it was so sunny, I had to wear sun cream.

If you think you’re ready, here are a few sample questions. Which of these is a full sentence?

1. Because I’m cold.
2. From front to back.
4. The girl brushed.
5. He always did.
6. Yes.
7. Hello.
8. Why is the sky blue?
9. Shut the door!
10. He tapped.

# You Must be Crazy!

Teachers and tutors ask pupils to check their work, but how can you do that in Maths without doing the whole sum all over again? Well, you can’t! So how are you supposed to check your work?

What you have to understand first of all is that checking everything is right is very different from checking nothing is obviously wrong. To check everything is right means doing the whole paper twice, but you obviously don’t have time to do that.

Checking nothing is obviously wrong is much easier because it just means doing a ‘quick and dirty’ calculation in your head. It doesn’t guarantee that the answer is right, but it’s a good compromise.

I call it ‘sanity checking’, which means making sure your answers are not crazy! Unfortunately, there isn’t one method that works for every question – it depends on what type of question it is – but here are a few examples:

## Algebra

If you have to ‘solve for 𝑥’ and it’s a difficult question, try putting your answer back into the original equation and seeing if one side equals the other, eg if you think 𝑥 = 5, then that works for 2𝑥 + 6 = 16, but not for 3𝑥 + 2 = 5. That would be crazy!

## Multiplication

Every multiplication sum starts with multiplying the last digit of each number together, so try doing that when you’ve got your answer and checking if the last digit of the result is equal to the last digit of the answer, eg 176 x 467 is going to end in a 2 because 6 x 7 = 42, which also ends with a 2. Your answer couldn’t end in any other number. That would be crazy!

## Rounding

If you have any kind of sum that involves adding, subtracting, multiplication or division, an easy way to check it is to round the numbers to one or two significant figures (eg to the nearest hundred) and work out the answer in your head. If it’s close enough, then your answer is not obviously wrong. If it’s nowhere near, then you’ll have to do it again, eg 1.7 x 3.4 is close to 2 x 3, so the answer might be 5.78, but it wouldn’t be 57.8. That would be crazy!

## Units

Most answers in Maths tests need some kind of unit, such as kg, m, cm or ml. Sometimes, the units are provided, but sometimes they’re not. If they’re not, you just need to make sure that you use the right ones, eg if the scale of a map is 1:100,000, the distance represented by 9.8cm is 9.8km, not 9.8m. That would be crazy!

# “The Incident”, by Nick Dale

Here is an example of a story I’ve written to illustrate how to use a story mountain as part of my five-step process for creative writing:

2. Brainstorm for ideas
3. Create a story mountain
4. Write the story

The title I chose was The Incident. Normally, I’d suggest drawing a triangle to represent a ‘mountain’ and putting your notes at evenly spaced intervals, but that’s a bit difficult with a blog post, so here’s my version of the story mountain:

• Introduction (grab the reader’s attention)

A busy day in York (describe spontaneous combustion)

• Introduction (describe the characters)

Frank and Martha driving along

• Build-up (what the main characters are trying to do)

Christmas shopping, but have to see police at Frank’s tennis club first

• Problem (what stops them)

Interviewed about ‘incident’ but Frank refuses to sign gagging order

• Solution (how do they fix the problem)

Escape as Frank knows code to gate

• Outcome (whether it’s a happy ending or not)

Go to car, but policeman follows

The Incident

xxxIt was just before Christmas, so it was a busy day in the Shambles area of York, with lots of tourists milling around, window-shopping and occasionally going into one of the olde worlde shops to find a scented candle for Aunt Doris or a packet of joss sticks for a grandson who was ‘into that kind of thing’. One man looked a little lost in all the traffic. He was tall and slim, bareheaded but wearing a grey overcoat and trousers with shiny black shoes. What made him look particularly weird was that he was walking around trying desperately to talk to passers-by and shake their hands . Most people thought he was some sort of lunatic and avoided him like the plague, tutting in that very English way before moving on hurriedly, but one man did stop to help.
xxx“Hello, are you lost or something?” said Frank.
xxx“Hello,” said the stranger, offering his hand.
xxx“Oh, er…” said Frank, awkwardly offering his hand in return. He wasn’t in the habit of shaking hands with random people in the street, but he went along with it. However, just as the two men’s hands touched, the stranger disappeared in a burst of flame, leaving only a pile of sooty ashes on the pavement. Frank jumped back in shock, looking at his hand to check he hadn’t been burned. What on Earth had just happened? It was like spontaneous combustion. Or something…
xxxA week later, Frank and his wife were driving through York on their way to their local tennis club. Progress was slow because of all the tourists, and Frank was chuntering under his breath and honking his horn occasionally – even when he didn’t need to. They were a couple in their mid-sixties. Frank was a little taller than his wife, but both were carrying a few extra pounds and had brown eyes and thinning grey hair. Frank was wearing brown trousers, a check shirt and blazer, while Martha had on a knitted dress and an overcoat with low-heeled shoes.
xxx“I thought we were going Christmas shopping?” said Martha.
xxx“We are, but the police want to interview us about that thing in the Shambles. They called it ‘the incident’.”
xxx“Yes, but why aren’t we going to the police station?”
xxx“Well, apparently, they don’t have the space…”
xxxWhen they arrived at the tennis club, there was a policeman at the gate. He checked their names on a list and pointed them towards the clubhouse. The whole place had been taken over. Frank was used to seeing the members playing tennis or lounging at the bar in their sometimes garish tennis gear, but now the courts were empty, and some of the people waiting inside were wearing leather jackets and smoking. Smoking! It was very busy, and they had to wait over an hour to be interviewed. As time went on, the atmosphere got more and more tense. Some of the people who had been seen just walked out quietly, but one man shouted, “I didn’t see a bloody thing!” in a broad Yorkshire accent on his way out of the manager’s office and was forced to sit down in the members’ lounge by one of the constables.
xxx“Mr and Mrs Marshall?”
xxxFrank and Martha got up and went into the office. The policeman at the manager’s desk looked a bit odd surrounded by tennis racquets and balls, but he gave Frank a serious look.
xxx“Hello, I’m Detective McGregor, and I’d just like to talk to you about the incident last week in the Shambles. It was you who shook the man’s hand, wasn’t it, Mr Marshall? Could you just give us an account of what happened, please?”
xxx“Well, the man just disappeared in a puff of smoke as soon as I touched his hand. That’s all there is to say, really. I don’t know anything else.”
xxxMcGregor asked a few more questions before finally giving up and pushing a form across his desk.
xxx“Well, if that’s really all you’ve got to say, I just need you to sign this form.”
xxx“What for?
xxx“Well, it’s a kind of non-disclosure agreement. Just routine. Just to make sure you don’t talk to anyone about the incident. I’m sure you understand.”
xxxFrank didn’t understand at all. If there was one thing that made him angry, it was being told what to do by pettifogging bureaucrats sitting on their fat backsides behind a desk.
xxx“We haven’t done anything wrong, and there’s no way you can force us to sign this. I have rights, you know? Freedom of speech and all that.”
xxx“Oh, Frank! Just sign the form,” sighed Martha.
xxx“No, I’m not signing this bloody form or any other. We’re leaving.”
xxx“Now, Mr Marshall. I’m afraid I can’t allow that. Everyone who comes in today as a witness must sign the form before leaving.”
xxx“So I’m going to be kept prisoner in my own bloody tennis club, am I? Not on your life, mate.”
xxxAs Frank tried to get up and leave, a constable standing beside the door put his hand on his shoulder to stop him, but, just then, there came the sound of a fierce argument from the members’ lounge. Frank could hear the sounds of a scuffle and a young man shouting, “You can’t keep me here!” McGregor and the constable ran out to see what was happening, leaving Frank and Martha alone in the room.
xxx“Come on, love. Let’s make a run for it,” whispered Frank.
xxx“But how are we going to get out?”
xxx“This is my tennis club, remember, and I know the code to the gate!”
xxxQuietly, Frank and Martha opened the door to the lounge and peeked out. Most people were still sitting down, but four or five policemen were trying to stop a couple of youths from escaping. The boys were kicking and punching anyone in uniform, and everyone was watching the fight. That allowed the Marshalls to sneak out of the door without anyone spotting them. Frank turned left instead of right and led Martha to the back gate, where he entered the numeric code on the keypad.
xxx“Here we go. 1-4-6-3. And we’re free!”
xxx“What do you mean? I got us out of there, didn’t I? And now you can do all the Christmas shopping you want.”
xxxAs they walked back to the car, a policeman appeared at the gate and followed them down the street. And it didn’t look like he had Christmas on his mind…

# Preceding Direct Objects in French

Forming the perfect (or pluperfect) tense in French is sometimes made harder than necessary by what’s called a Preceding Direct Object (or PDO). The object of a sentence is whatever ‘suffers the action of the verb’, eg the nail in ‘he hit the nail on the head’.

If the object is a pronoun and the perfect (or pluperfect) tense is being used, the French put it before the auxiliary rather than at the end of the sentence as in English, eg ‘il l‘a frappé’ or ‘he it has hit’!

You might think that’s bad enough, but the real problem is that the past participle has to agree in number and gender with the PDO, eg ‘il les a frappés‘ or ‘he’s hit them’.

When it comes to reflexive verbs, it gets even worse. By definition, every reflexive verb has a PDO, so that means you have to watch what you write when a female character is speaking, eg ‘Je me suis lavé’ for a boy, but ‘Je me suis lavée’ for a girl.

Having said that, one of my male pupils once told me that the best way to get a good mark in his French prose was to tell a story in the first person and pretend to be a girl – that way, he’d get a tick every time he used a PDO!

# Prime Factors

Prime factors have nothing to do with Optimus Prime – sadly – but they often crop up in Maths tests and can be used to find the Lowest Common Multiple or Highest Common Factor of two numbers.

Prime factors are the lowest prime numbers that can be multiplied together to make a given number. There are two methods of finding out what they are: the ladder method and the factor tree. I prefer the ladder method.

1. Write down the number for which you want to find the prime factors.
2. Find the lowest prime number that goes into it exactly and write it down next to it on the same line.
3. Divide one number by the other and write down the result under the original number on the next line.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the number 1.
5. Draw a line between the two columns and lines after the first row and before the last.
6. Write down the prime factors from the column you have just created, using powers to simplify the expression, eg the factors of 12 are 2² x 3, not 2 x 2 x 3.

## Lowest Common Multiple (LCM)

Prime factors are useful in working out the Lowest Common Multiple (LCM) of two numbers, in other words the lowest number that is divisible by both numbers.

1. Work out the prime factors of the two numbers and write them down one below the other, eg the prime factors of 30 are 2 x 3 x 5, and the prime factors of 45 are 3 x 3 x 5.
2. Make a new list by writing down each factor the greatest number of times it appears in either list, eg there are two 3s in one list and one in the other, so the new list is 2 x 3 x 3 x 5.
3. Multiply together the new list of factors, eg the LCM of 30 and 45 is 2 x 3 x 3 x 5 = 90.

## Highest Common Factor (HCF)

Prime factors can be used to work out the Highest Common Factor (HCF) of two numbers, in other words the highest number that both numbers can be divided by exactly.

1. Work out the prime factors of the two numbers and write them down one below the other, eg the prime factors of 30 are 2 x 3 x 5, and the prime factors of 45 are 3 x 3 x 5.
2. Make a new list by writing down each factor that appears in both lists, eg 3 and 5 appear in both lists, so the new list is 3 x 5.
3. Multiply together the new list of factors, eg the HCF of 30 and 45 is 3 x 5 = 15.

# French Regular Verbs – Conditional Tense

The conditional tense in French is used to show that someone ‘would do’ or ‘would be doing’ something. All verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and the endings are different (as shown here in red):

## Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnerais          (I would give)
Tu donnerais          (You would give – informal)
Il/elle donnerait          (He/she would give)
Nous donnerions          (We would give)
Vous donneriez          (You would give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donneraient          (They would give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendrais          (I would give)
Tu vendrais          (You would give – informal)
Il/elle vendrait          (He/she would give)
Nous vendrions          (We would give)
Vous vendriez          (You would give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendraient          (They would give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finirais          (I would finish)
Tu finirais          (You would finish – informal)
Il/elle finirait          (He/she would finish)
Nous finirions          (We would finish)
Vous finiriez          (You would finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finiraient          (They would finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

# French Regular Verbs – Future Tense

There is only one future tense in French, and it’s used to show that someone ‘will do’ or ‘will be doing’ something. Verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, but the endings are the same (as shown here in red):

## Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnerai          (I will give)
Tu donneras          (You will give – informal)
Il/elle donnera          (He/she will give)
Nous donnerons          (We will give)
Vous donnerez          (You will give – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donneront          (They will give – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendrai          (I will sell)
Tu vendras          (You will sell – informal)
Il/elle vendra          (He/she will sell)
Nous vendrons          (We will sell)
Vous vendrez          (You will sell – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendront          (They will sell – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finirai          (I will finish)
Tu finiras          (You will finish – informal)
Il/elle finira          (He/she will finish)
Nous finirons          (We will finish)
Vous finirez          (You will finish – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finiront          (They will finish – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

# French Regular Verbs – Past Tense

Here are the basic forms of French regular verbs in the past tense, which include the perfect (or passé composé), pluperfect, imperfect and past historic (or passé simple). All verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and there are different endings for each that are shown here in red.

## Perfect (or passé composé)

The perfect tense is used in formal written French to say someone ‘has done’ something, but they sometimes use it in conversation and casual writing in the same way we use the simple past tense (or ‘preterite’), eg ‘j’ai donné’ might mean ‘I gave’ rather than ‘I have given’ – you just need to look at the context to help you decide which is the right translation.

### Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

J’ai donné          (I have given or I gave)
Tu as donné          (You have given or you gave – informal)
Il/elle a donné          (He/she has given or he/she gave)
Nous avons donné          (We have given or we gave)
Vous avez donné          (You have given or you gave – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont donné          (They have given or they gave – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

J’ai vendu          (I have sold or I sold)
Tu as vendu          (You have sold or you sold – informal)
Il/elle a vendu          (He/she has sold or he/she sold)
Nous avons vendu          (We have sold or we sold)
Vous avez vendu          (You have sold or you sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont vendu          (They have sold or they sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

J’ai fini          (I have finished or I finished)
Tu as fini          (You have finished or you finished – informal)
Il/elle a fini          (He/she has finished or he/she finished)
Nous avons fini          (We have finished or we finished)
Vous avez fini          (You have finished or you finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles ont fini          (They have finished or they finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Pluperfect

The pluperfect tense is used to say someone ‘had done’ something. This is common in story-writing when an event is described that happened before that particular moment in the story, eg ‘j’avais donné’ means ‘I had given’.

### Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Tu avais donné          (You had given – informal)
Il/elle avait donné          (He/she had given)
Nous avions donné          (We had given)
Vous aviez donné          (You had given – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient donné         (They had given – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Tu avais vendu          (You had sold – informal)
Il/elle avait vendu          (He/she had sold)
Nous avions vendu          (We had sold)
Vous aviez vendu          (You had sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient vendu         (They had sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Tu avais fini          (You had finished – informal)
Il/elle avait fini          (He/she had finished)
Nous avions fini          (We had finished)
Vous aviez fini          (You had finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles avaient fini         (They had finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Imperfect

The imperfect tense is used to say someone ‘was doing’ or ‘used to do’ something, eg ‘je donnais’ means ‘I was giving’ or ‘I used to give’.

### Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnais          (I was giving)
Tu donnais          (You were giving – informal)
Il/elle donnait          (He/she was giving)
Nous donnions          (We were giving)
Vous donniez          (You were giving – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnaient          (They were giving – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendais          (I was selling)
Tu vendais          (You were selling – informal)
Il/elle vendait          (He/she was selling)
Nous vendions          (We were selling)
Vous vendiez          (You were selling – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendaient          (They were selling – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finissais          (I was finishing)
Tu finissais          (You were finishing – informal)
Il/elle finissait          (He/she was finishing)
Nous finissions          (We were finishing)
Vous finissiez          (You were finishing – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finissaient          (They were finishing – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Past Historic (or Passé Simple)

The past historic is the equivalent of the simple past tense (or preterite) in English and is used in novels and other formal writing to say someone ‘did’ something, eg ‘je donnai’ means ‘I gave’ or ‘I used to give’. It is never used in conversation, where it is replaced by the perfect tense.

### Verbs Ending in -er, eg Donner (to Give)

Je donnai          (I gave)
Tu donnas          (you gave – informal)
Il/elle donna          (he/she gave)
Nous donnâmes          (we gave)
Vous donnâtes          (you gave – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles donnèrent          (they gave – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -re, eg Vendre (to Sell)

Je vendis          (I sold)
Tu vendis          (you sold – informal)
Il/elle vendit          (he/she sold)
Nous vendîmes          (we sold)
Vous vendîtes          (you sold – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles vendirent          (they sold – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

### Verbs Ending in -ir, eg Finir (to Finish)

Je finis          (I finished)
Tu finis          (you finished – informal)
Il/elle finit          (he/she finished)
Nous finîmes          (we finished)
Vous finîtes          (you finished – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles finirent          (they finished – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

# Common French Verbs – Present Tense

Language changes over time because people are lazy. They’d rather say something that’s easy than something that’s correct. That means the most common words change the most, and the verbs become ‘irregular’. In French, the ten most common verbs are ‘être’, ‘avoir’, ‘pouvoir’, ‘faire’, ‘mettre’, ‘dire’, ‘devoir’, ‘prendre’, ‘donner’ and ‘aller’, and they’re all irregular apart from ‘donner’. Here are their forms in the present tense.

Note: the irregular forms are shown in red.

## Etre (to Be)

Je suis          (I am)
Tu es          (You are – informal)
Il/elle est          (He/she is)
Nous sommes          (We are)
Vous êtes          (You are – formal and/or plural)
Ils/elles sont          (They are – masculine or masculine and feminine/feminine only)

## Avoir (to Have)

J’ai          (I have)
Tu as          (You have – informal)
Il/elle as          (He/she has)
Nous avons          (We have – formal and/or plural)