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. Two of the letters that cause problems are c and g. more
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. more
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. more
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! more
Explaining humour 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. more
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. more
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. more
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. more
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 that you can choose from. more
Children’s reading list I’m often asked by parents what books their children should be reading. Here’s a list of my favourite books when I was a boy. Maybe a few of them might be worth ordering online…! more
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… more
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… more
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… more
It’s all about the apostrophe The apostrophe is tricky. It means different things at different times. This article is meant to clear up any confusion and help you use apostrophes, which might mean you get straight As in your exams – or should that be A’s?! more
Spelling rules The problem with the English is that we’ve invaded (and been invaded by) so many countries that our language has ended up with a mish-mash of spelling rules… more
Parts of speech English exams often ask questions about the ‘parts of speech’. This is just a fancy term for all the different kinds of words, but they’re worth knowing just in case. Just watch out for words such as ‘jump’, which can be more than one part of speech! more
Capital! The three main things to check after writing anything are spelling, punctuation and capital letters, so when do you use capitals? more
Speech marks Speech marks, inverted commas, quotation marks, quote marks, quotes, 66 and 99 – does any other punctuation mark have so many names or cause so much confusion…?! more
Essay writing There comes a point in everyone’s life when you have to undergo the ritual that marks the first, fateful step on the road to becoming an adult. It’s called ‘writing an essay’… more
Commas If you had the chance to take a contract out on one punctuation mark, most people would probably choose the comma. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, although modern journalists are doing their best to make it into an optional extra… more
Poetic devices It’s important to be able to recognise and analyse poetic devices when studying literature at any level. Dylan Thomas is my favourite poet, and he uses so many that I decided to take most of my examples from his writings… more
Story mountains Everyone needs a route map, whether it’s Hillary and Tenzing climbing Mount Everest or an English candidate writing a story. One of the ways of planning a story is to create a story mountain, with each stage of the tale labelled on the diagram… more
Remember the iceberg! To pass Common Entrance, you have to be a scuba diver. Only a small part of any iceberg is visible above the waves, and only a small part of any answer to a question is visible in the text. To discover the rest, you have to ‘dive in’ deeper and deeper… more
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. more
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. more
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! more
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. more
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. more
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… more
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! more
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… more
Negative numbers Working with negative numbers can be confusing, but a few simple rules can help you add, subtract, multiply and divide successfully… more
Useful terms in Maths Maths is complicated, but a good first step on the road to understanding it is to get to know the most useful terms. There are lists in the front of the Bond books, but here’s my own contribution. I hope it helps! more
Algebra Algebra is supposed to make life easier. By learning a formula or an equation, you can solve any similar type of problem whatever the numbers involved. However, an awful lot of students find it difficult, because letters just don’t seem to ‘mean’ as much as numbers. Here, we’ll try to make life a bit easier… more
Divisibility rules OK! Times tables can be tricky, and there’s no substitute for learning them by heart. However, the divisibility rules can at least tell you whether an answer is definitely wrong. I’m a great believer in ‘sanity checking’ your work. Just ask yourself, “Is this crazy?” If it is, you’ll have to do the question again! more
Tips for the QTS numeracy test The QTS numeracy and literacy tests are not very popular, but trainee teachers still have to pass them before they can start teaching in the state sector, so I thought I’d try and help out. There is always more than one way of doing a Maths question, but I hope I’ll demonstrate a few useful short cuts and describe when and how they should be used… more
Ratios Hundreds of years ago, it was traditional to put dragons on maps in places that were unknown, dangerous or poorly mapped. Ratios are one of those places… more
Working with fractions People don’t like fractions. I don’t know why. They’re difficult to begin with, I know, but a few simple rules will help you add, subtract, multiply and divide… more
Number sequences Number sequences appear in Nature all over the place, from sunflowers to conch shells. They can also crop up either in Maths or Verbal Reasoning, and both are essential parts of 11+ and other school examinations… more
Fractions, decimals and percentages Pizzas are very useful, mathematically speaking. However much we hate fractions, we all know what half a pizza looks like, and that’s the point. Numbers don’t have any intrinsic meaning, and we can’t picture them unless they relate to something in the real world, so pizzas are just a useful way of illustrating fractions, decimals and percentages… more
Useful formulas What is a problem? A problem = a fact + a judgment. That is a simple formula that tells us something about the way the world works. Maths is full of formulas, and that can intimidate some people if they don’t understand them or can’t remember the right one to use… more
Short cuts There is always more than one way of solving a Maths problem. That can be confusing, but it can also be an opportunity – if only you can find the right trade-off between speed and accuracy… more
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 certain verbs that also take the word ‘que’ after them. These are generally the ones that express feelings or doubts (eg craindre, vouloir), 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… more
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’… more
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)… more
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… more
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… more
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’… more
French regular verbs – present tense Nobody likes French verbs – not even the French! – but I thought I’d start by listing the most basic forms of the regular verbs in the present tense. All French verbs end in -er, -re or -ir, and there are different endings for each that are shown here in red… more
Learning the right words One of the frustrations about learning French is that you’re not given the words you really need to know. I studied French up to A-level, but I was sometimes at a complete loss when I went out with my French girlfriend and a few of her friends in Lyon. I was feeling suitably smug about following the whole conversation in French…until everyone started talking about chestnuts! more
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. more
African field guide Find an alphabetical list of the most common animals seen on safari in Africa, including mammals, reptiles and birds. more
Basics of photography Learn all about the basic aspects of photography, including types of camera, types of lenses, the Exposure Triangle (shutter speed, aperture and ISO), focus and other settings. more
Game drives Read all about the best gear, equipment to take with you on safari, learn the rules of composition and find out the best workflow for editing your wildlife images. more
How to stand out from the herd Read this quick guide to improve your wildlife shots by setting up something a little bit different, from slow pans to sunny silhouettes. more
Introduction to Lightroom Learn how to import, edit and organise your images in Lightroom, including the main features available in the Library and Develop modules and a summary of keyboard shortcuts. more
Making money from photography Find out how to start making money from your photography with this quick and easy guide to entering competitions, putting on exhibitions, selling through stock (and microstock) agencies and more. more
Rules of composition Find out the rules of composition to help you get the most out of your photography, including the Rule of Thirds, framing, point of view, symmetry and a whole lot more. more
Safari pub quiz Challenge your friends and family on their wildlife knowledge with this fun quiz. more
Wildlife photography Learn how to take great wildlife shots by preparing properly, taking the right equipment and getting to know the rules of composition. more
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. Here is a guide to the different kinds of problems and the best ways to approach them. more
People don’t like fractions. I don’t know why. They’re difficult to begin with, I know, but a few simple rules will help you add, subtract, multiply and divide.
Adding and Subtracting
Adding and subtracting are usually the easiest sums, but not when it comes to fractions. If fractions have the same denominator (the number on the bottom), then you can simply add or subtract the second numerator from the first, eg 4/5 – 3/5 = 1/5. If not, it would be like adding apples and oranges.
They’re just not the same, so you first have to convert them into ‘pieces of fruit’ – or a common unit. The easiest way of doing that is by multiplying the denominators together. That guarantees that the new denominator is a multiple of both the others.
Once you’ve found the right denominator, you can multiply each numerator by the denominator from the other fraction (because whatever you do to the bottom of the fraction you have to do to the top), add or subtract them and then simplify and/or convert into a mixed number if necessary, eg 2/3 + 4/5 = (2 x 5 + 4 x 3) / (3 x 5) = (10 + 12) / 15 = 22/15 = 1 7/15.
Multiply the denominators together and write the answer down as the new denominator
Multiply the numerator of the first fraction by the denominator of the second and write the answer above the new denominator
Multiply the numerator of the second fraction by the denominator of the first and write the answer above the new denominator (after a plus or minus sign)
Add or subtract the numerators and write the answer over the new denominator
Simplify and/or turn into a mixed number if necessary
Note that you can often use a simpler method. If one of the denominators is a factor of the other, you can simply multiply the numerator and denominator of that fraction by 2, say, so that you get matching denominators, eg 1/5 + 7/10 = 2/10 + 7/10 = 9/10. This means fewer steps in the calculation and lower numbers, and that probably means less chance of getting it wrong.
1/5 + 2/3
3/8 + 11/12
13/24 – 5/12
7/8 – 3/4
5/8 – 2/3
This is the easiest thing to do with fractions. You simply have to multiply the numerators together, multiply the denominators together and then put one over the other, simplifying and/or converting into a mixed number if necessary, eg 2/3 x 4/5 = (2 x 4) / (3 x 5) = 8/15.
Multiply the numerators together
Multiply the denominators together
Put the result of Step 1 over the result of Step 2 in a fraction
Simplify and/or turn into a mixed number if necessary
1/5 x 2/3
7/12 x 3/8
4/5 x 2/3
4/9 x 3/4
5/8 x 2/3
Dividing by a fraction must have seemed like a nightmare to early mathematicians, because nobody ever does it! That’s right. Nobody divides by a fraction, because it’s so much easier to multiply.
That’s because dividing by a fraction is the same as multiplying by the same fraction once it’s turned upside down, eg 2/3 ÷ 4/5 = 2/3 x 5/4 = (2 x 5) / (3 x 4) = 10/12 = 5/6. You can even cut out the middle step and simply multiply each numerator by the denominator from the other fraction, eg 2/3 ÷ 4/5 = (2 x 5) / (3 x 4) = 10/12 = 5/6.
Multiply the numerator of the first fraction by the denominator of the second
Multiply the numerator of the second fraction by the denominator of the first
Put the result of Step 1 over the result of Step 2 in a fraction
Simplify and/or turn into a mixed number if necessary
1/5 ÷ 2/3
2/7 ÷ 3/5
4/7 ÷ 2/3
7/8 ÷ 3/4
5/6 ÷ 2/3
One way of simplifying fractions is to divide by the lowest possible prime number over and over again, but that takes forever! It’s much simpler to divide by the Highest Common Factor (or HCF), which is either the numerator itself or half of it or a third of it etc:
If possible, divide both the numerator and the denominator by the numerator. If that works, you’ll end up with a ‘unit fraction’ (in other words, 1 over something) that can’t be simplified any more, eg 7/14 = 1/2 because 7 ÷ 7 = 1 and 14 ÷ 7 = 2.
If the numerator doesn’t go into the denominator, try the smallest fraction of the numerator (usually a half or a third) and then try to divide the denominator by the result, eg 24/36 = 2/3 because half of 24 is 12, and 36 ÷ 12 = 3.
If that doesn’t work, keep repeating Step 2 until you find the answer, eg 24/30 = 4/5 because a quarter of 24 is 6, and 30 ÷ 6 = 5 (and a half and a third of 24 don’t go into 30).
Turning Improper Fractions into Mixed Numbers
To turn an improper fraction into a mixed number, simply divide the numerator by the denominator to find the whole number and then put the remainder over the original denominator and simplify if necessary, eg 9/6 = 1 3/6 = 1 1/2.
Divide the numerator by the denominator
Write down the answer to Step 1 as a whole number
Put any remainder into a new fraction as the numerator, using the original denominator
Simplify the fraction if necessary
What is 22/7 as a mixed number?
What is 16/5 as a mixed number?
What is 8/3 as a mixed number?
What is 18/8 as a mixed number?
What is 13/6 as a mixed number?
Turning Mixed Numbers into Improper Fractions
To turn a mixed number into an improper fraction, multiply the whole number by the denominator of the fraction and add the existing numerator to get the new numerator while keeping the same denominator, eg 2 2/5 = (10 + 2)/5 = 12/5.
Multiply the whole number by the denominator of the fraction
Add the answer to the existing numerator to get the new numerator
Pizzas are very useful, mathematically speaking. However much we hate fractions, we all know what half a pizza looks like, and that’s the point. Numbers don’t have any intrinsic meaning, and we can’t picture them unless they relate to something in the real world, so pizzas are just a useful way of illustrating fractions, decimals and percentages.
They all do the same job of showing what share of something you have, and a common question involves converting from one to another, so here are a few tips…
Fractions to Decimals
Simply divide the numerator by the denominator, eg 3/4 = 3 ÷ 4 = 0.75.
You can always use the standard ‘bus stop’ method to divide the numerator by the denominator on paper (or in your head), but the numbers may be easy enough for you to use a shortcut.
If the denominator is a power of 10 (eg 10 or 100), write the numerator down straight away as a decimal. You just have to make sure you end up with the digits in the right columns, eg a fraction involving hundredths needs to end in the second column after the decimal point, so 29/100 = 0.29.
If the denominator ends in zero, you may be able to simplify the fraction into tenths first and then convert it into a decimal, eg 16/20 = 8/10 = 0.8.
If you express the fraction in its lowest terms by simplifying it (ie dividing the numerator and denominator by the same numbers until you can’t go any further), you may recognise a common fraction that you can easily convert, eg 36/45 = 4/5 = 0.8.
Fractions to Percentages
Simply divide the numerator by the denominator, multiply by 100 and add the ‘%’ sign, eg 3/4 = 3 ÷ 4 x 100 = 0.75 x 100 = 75%.
You can always convert the fraction into a decimal (see above) and then multiply by 100 and add the ‘%’ sign. Otherwise, try these short cuts in order.
If the denominator is a factor of 100 (eg 10, 20, 25 or 50), multiply the numerator by whatever number will turn the denominator into 100 and add the ‘%’ sign, eg 18/25 = 18 x 4 = 72%.
If the denominator is a multiple of 10 (eg 30, 40 or 70), divide the numerator by the first digit(s) of the denominator to turn the fraction into tenths, multiply the numerator by 10 and add the ‘%’ sign, eg 32/80 = 32 ÷ 8 x 10 = 4 x 10 = 40%.
If you express the fraction in its lowest terms by simplifying it (ie dividing the numerator and denominator by the same numbers until you can’t go any further), you may recognise a common fraction that you can easily convert from memory, eg 8/64 = 1/8 = 12.5%.
Decimals to Fractions
Every decimal is really a fraction in disguise, so the method is the same whether you’re allowed a calculator or not.
Check the final column of the decimal (eg tenths or hundredths) and place all the digits over the relevant power of 10 (eg 100 or 1000) before simplifying if necessary, eg 0.625 = 625/1000 = 5/8.
Decimals to Percentages
Again, this is an easy one, so the method is the same whether you’re allowed a calculator or not.
Multiply by 100 and add the ‘%’ sign, eg 0.375 x 100 = 37.5%.
Percentages to Fractions
You can think of a percentage as simply a fraction over 100, so the method is easy enough whether you’re allowed a calculator or not.
If the percentage is a whole number, remove the ‘%’ sign, place the percentage over 100 and simplify if necessary, eg 75% = 75/100 = 3/4. If not, turn the fraction into a whole number as you go by multiplying the numerator and denominator by whatever number you need to (usually 2, 3 or 4), eg 37.5% = (37.5 x 2) / (100 x 2) = 75/200 = 3/8.
Percentages to Decimals
This is easy enough, so the method is the same whether you’re allowed a calculator or not.
Remove the ‘%’ sign and divide by 100, eg 70% ÷ 100 = 0.7.