Exam Tips

It’s never too late. 


The scene is familiar. You wake up one morning and the page of the calendar turns. 

Yet again.

Imperceptibly, you’ve crept one day closer towards that test, that exam. 

Maybe time passed and you didn’t realize it. 

Maybe it wasn’t all that important to you. 

Maybe the only reason that you realized that time had passed was because somebody from up above was nagging you, day after day, telling you… 

“Wake up!”, they say.

“You need to study! Don’t you care about your future? What will you do if you rank number 5 again, but from the bottom of the class?”

It’s not a great feeling, is it? 

You stare at the calendar from where you are, and then you look at the books that you have to read, then you stare at the calendar again.

Before long, you sigh, you sit down, and you begin scrolling TikTok.

I know that feeling all too well.

The sense that time is running out.

The feeling that a large, unstoppable force is coming to you.

The feeling that no matter what, you must run away – all too familiar, yet so common to each one of us, a feeling that we should almost always rather avoid, by human nature or instinct.

The teacher, the parent, the educational consultant would tell you, if only you had planned, you would have averted this situation:

The ocean, they would say, is something that cannot be boiled.

The task is something that must be broken down into meaningful and manageable chunks.

Yet at the end of the day, human beings are human beings, subjected to human constraints, inclinations, and also patterns of thought.

It is almost inevitable that somewhere along the way, our foot may slip.

The divine plan that we thought we would execute, we sway away from, forgetting what we intended to do, we find ourselves running away as our hands move from the book to the phone, from English into videos of restaurant workers dancing.

And before we know it, there we are, in the thrall of sweet escape.

I want you to confront that feeling of hopelessness and remember, for a quick moment, that the time has not run out.

You may have that oppressive feeling as if a sword of Damocles hangs over you and before long, perhaps, the usual suspects shall appear. Doubt, guilt, self-hatred – the sensation that “no matter what I do, it will change nothing.”

“Whatever I read at this point, they will just be words.”

There they are, the self-defeating thoughts come one after another, building from a trickle into a flow and eventually into a deluge that comes to define every single day, before which the pages of the calendar themselves are washed away in words that you told yourself, messaging that eventually led the days to come and pass, eventually leading you to the day of the trial, on which you decided that nothing would have changed anyway, and you call the outcome fate.

I want to remind you that it is not too late. You may think that you are unable to do anything. But that is not the reality.

True, you may be one step closer towards a challenge that you find difficult to overcome.

True, you may not be able to accumulate the skill, the perspicacity, the knowledge, ability, that you hoped for or that would bring you beyond the boundary line.

All true.

No problem whatsoever.

But have you ever thought to ask yourself, can it really be that your efforts will mean nothing?

Can it truly be that even if you step forward at this point in time, you will not move further?

What you do in this single moment, you think is but a simple drop in the bucket.

A step that once taken is the end of it.

But I believe something different.

Because I believe that how you made that decision, feeling as if nothing would change, will repeat itself.

If nothing matters in the future, then surely nothing matters now.

Because what is the future but something that is forever becoming the present?

And what is the present, but something that is continually evolving into the past?

When you speak of future outcomes, of which there is uncertain and contingent nature, remember that they are not as far away as you think. Because eventually, they will come.

You say you’ve abandoned the journey because you cannot get the grade that you want.

The A*, the scholarship, anything else at the end of the day.

But right now, I want you to wake up.

Wake up, child.

Did you think this was just about the grade?

Did you forget why you came to this website in the first place?

You didn’t come to just find a random strategy in order to excel.

Well, that was certainly part of it. But if that was all you thought, then you had missed the entire point. Because the point here was that you would learn to appreciate language, its gift, and everything that it would bring along with it.

This was something that had always existed in a plane apart from just your worldly or material achievements. And you are saying now that it is meaningless simply because you only have a month and some change in front of you to make the difference that you thought in the moment of weakness that you should be able to make?

Well, since you are here right now, instead of browsing another 15 TikTok videos that will eventually fade into nothingness but a memory of a dancing girl with no particular talent, you may as well recall for a moment that everything in life builds upon everything else. Because everything is holistic, whether you think so or you don’t.

Every single one of your efforts, in a way that may be unknown to you at this point or at this stage of your life, will somehow count, if not necessarily enough in such a way that it will transform your grade, then definitely still in terms of transforming your mindset towards approaching this world.

Because you are here, you know that there is a chance.

Because you are here, you know that you have the power to change something. Yet you are spending your time avoiding the problem, transforming even this resource into material for procrastination rather than using it in its best form.

Leave that shattered thought behind.

You do not need it and it does not serve you.

Why should you allow an occupier to stand in the fertile territory of your mind when it does not help you?

You don’t believe me?

You want to give up?

Go ahead, drop your First Language English. Maybe you can pick up Cantonese or something like that, although for some reason I don’t think that an IGCSE for that exists. 

Or you could do better.

You could read a single sample essay. You could then write a single essay. You could compare it on that particular day, thinking about the marking criteria, which in your head seem to make sense, yet somehow they differ from what you see on the site.

You could read a single article, thinking about the language it uses, how it affects you, what it impacts, the small little things that I ask you to focus upon, but that often you may ignore. You can ask a friend to read your work, sign up for a last-minute workshop, take a brief moment to reflect on what you are doing, why you want this grade, whatever grade it is, as you realign yourself to the future.

Remember, everything counts.

Even if you feel that you’ve not been running fast enough, don’t look away. The finish line is still ahead. The race didn’t end. And what you need to do right now is move ahead. It doesn’t matter what placing you get, because at the end of the day, you’re all going to the same destination – The destination – not of a grade, not of a specific checkpoint – certainly that of becoming better than you were, even if just by a little bit, as you move forward into a future rife and full of possibilities.

The Importance of Markschemes for First Language English Success.


I. Introduction

As students embark on their journey to mastering the English language at an international level, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) First Language English exam is a critical milestone.

The exam provides a robust framework to assess learners’ ability to communicate effectively in English, as you know, but you may have been wondering: How is excellence defined? How do we understand it?

One of the keys to acing this exam and achieving a high score lies in understanding the mark schemes. This blog post will guide you through the importance of mark schemes, the documents that examiners use as they proceed through the assessment process each exam season, providing valuable insights to help you succeed in the exam.

II. Understanding the IGCSE First Language English exam

Understanding the structure and format of the IGCSE First Language English exam is an essential first step towards acing the test. The exam consists of various components, including reading passages, writing tasks, and in some cases, spoken language assessment, each having its unique grading criteria.

The primary role of this exam is to assess your language proficiency. It tests your ability to read, understand, and write responses to material from a variety of sources. It also examines your ability to employ a rich and varied vocabulary, correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and organize your ideas coherently.

Now, where do mark schemes fit into this picture? Mark schemes are the structured scoring guides provided by the examining body (whether CAIE, Pearson EdExcel, or otherwise). They detail how marks are distributed for each question or task in the exam. Understanding the mark scheme can shed light on what examiners are looking for in your responses. A thorough understanding of these mark schemes is not just a good-to-have, but an essential part of exam preparation.

III. Importance of Mark Schemes

A mark scheme is more than just an answer sheet; it is a detailed guide that breaks down how every mark in the exam is awarded. It provides the criteria that examiners use to grade students’ responses, ensuring a fair and uniform assessment. Every point you make, every argument you build, every sentence you form in the exam is examined and awarded marks based on these schemes regardless of what I or any other teacher tells you.

One of the major roles of mark schemes is to make the expectations of the exam clear. They offer an insight into the examiner’s mind, showcasing exactly what they are looking for in an answer. For instance, if a question asks you to analyse a text, the mark scheme will specify what aspects of the text you should focus on, how deeply you need to delve into it, and how your observations should be presented.

This is especially relevant for those of you who are targeting extremely high grades and shooting for an A*; there is a strong connection between mark schemes and grading. The marks allocated in the mark scheme directly determine the grade you receive. Hence, understanding the mark scheme can give you a clear idea of what you need to do to attain the grade you aspire to achieve.

In the context of IGCSE First Language English, mark schemes are particularly important due to the subjective nature of language assessment. Unlike subjects where there’s only one correct answer, in language exams, there are multiple ways to express an idea correctly. Mark schemes can guide students on how to structure their responses effectively and meet all the criteria needed for top marks.

IV. Using Mark Schemes for Exam Preparation

Mark schemes aren’t just meant for examiners; they are an extremely useful tool for students as well. They can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your exam preparation. 

Firstly, understanding how to read and interpret mark schemes is crucial. They are often split into different sections, each representing a different part of the question or task. Marks are allocated to these sections based on the skills or knowledge they test. For example, in a writing task, some marks might be dedicated to the quality of your language, some to the structure of your argument, and some to your use of supporting evidence.

Once you understand the mark scheme, you can use it to guide your study and preparation. You can focus on the areas that carry more marks and strategize your responses accordingly. It can also be beneficial to practice past exam papers and then use the mark schemes to self-assess your answers. This way, you will understand where you’re likely to gain and lose marks.

Another effective strategy is to use mark schemes to learn from your mistakes. If you lose marks in a particular area in a practice test, look at the mark scheme to understand what you missed. You can then focus on improving that aspect in your subsequent studies.

Consider mark schemes as a roadmap to success in the ICGSE First Language English exam. They are not just about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. They are designed to reward depth of understanding, quality of analysis, and effectiveness of communication. By aligning your study strategy with the mark scheme, you can elevate your exam preparation to the next level.

V. Advantages of Using Mark Schemes

The use of mark schemes in your exam preparation comes with numerous advantages. These benefits can significantly boost your performance in the IGCSE First Language English exam.

  1. Improved Performance: By studying with the mark schemes, you will have a clear understanding of what the examiners are looking for in your responses. You’ll know precisely how to structure your answers and what points to cover, thus optimizing your responses for the maximum marks.
  2. Efficient Revision: Mark schemes can guide your revision process, helping you to prioritize and focus on areas that will yield the most marks. They essentially provide a blueprint of the exam’s scoring system, allowing you to spend more time on high-scoring sections.
  3. Reduced Exam Stress: Knowing what to expect in the exam can greatly reduce anxiety and stress. With a thorough understanding of the mark scheme, you will be better equipped to handle the exam with confidence.
  4. Better Time Management: Understanding how marks are allocated can also help you manage your time more effectively during the exam. You can allocate your time based on the number of marks a question carries, helping you to complete the exam within the given time frame.

To demonstrate these advantages, let’s consider a few success stories. Many top-performing students credit their success in the IGCSE First Language English exam to a thorough understanding of the mark schemes. They mention how aligning their study strategies with the mark scheme enabled them to score higher and achieve their academic goals.

By leveraging mark schemes in your exam preparation, you can make the most out of your study time, perform better in the exam, and ultimately achieve the grades you aspire to.

VI. Common Mistakes and Misunderstandings

Despite the numerous advantages of using mark schemes, students often make some common errors while using them, which can impact their exam performance. Here, we will identify these common mistakes and provide solutions for avoiding them.

1. Misinterpreting the Mark Scheme: Many students misinterpret the criteria set out in the mark scheme, leading to misconceptions about what is required. It’s essential to understand that mark schemes specify what you should include in your answer for each question type. Remember, the mark scheme is not the answer, but the yardstick against which your answer is measured.

2. Over-reliance on the Mark Scheme: While the mark scheme is an excellent tool, it should not be the only study resource. It is meant to complement your textbook and class notes. Some students make the mistake of relying solely on the mark scheme and neglect other aspects of studying, like understanding the content, practicing writing skills, etc.

3. Ignoring Lower Mark Sections: In the quest to score high marks, students often focus only on sections with high marks and ignore sections that carry fewer marks. However, remember that every mark counts. Those “small” marks can make a significant difference in your overall grade.

Corrective Measures:

– Understand the Mark Scheme: Make sure you fully understand what the mark scheme is saying. If you are unsure, ask your teacher or a classmate for help.

– Balance Your Studies: Use the mark scheme as a guide, but not as your only resource. Continue to review your notes and textbooks and attend revision classes.

– Cover All Sections: Don’t neglect the lower mark sections. They can be an easy way to pick up extra marks and improve your overall grade.

Remember, the goal is to use the mark scheme effectively as part of a comprehensive and balanced approach to your exam preparation and to develop self-awareness and the ability to objectively evaluate your responses with mark schemes; you should not simply view them as a replacement for your critical thinking and judgment.

VII. Conclusion

Mark schemes are a vital, yet often overlooked, tool for achieving success in the IGCSE First Language English exam. They provide an invaluable insight into the mind of the examiner, revealing what is expected in responses and how marks are awarded. These schemes are not only helpful for examiners to maintain consistency in grading, but they are also a goldmine for students, guiding them in crafting high-quality responses that hit all the right notes.

Using mark schemes effectively can transform your exam preparation, making it more targeted and efficient. By understanding the allocation of marks, you can focus your efforts on areas that will yield the most rewards, thus improving your performance.

However, like any tool, mark schemes need to be used correctly. Avoiding common pitfalls like misinterpretation and over-reliance on the mark scheme is crucial. Keep in mind that these schemes are a guide, not a shortcut. They should supplement your comprehensive understanding of the subject, honed by diligent study and practice.

In conclusion, if you aspire to excel in the IGCSE First Language English exam, make mark schemes your ally. Understand them, use them, and learn from them. It’s time to take control of your success. Make the most of mark schemes, and see the difference they make in your grades. Remember, success is not just about hard work; it’s also about working smart. And using mark schemes is a smart strategy indeed.

The Magic of Examiner Reports


Examiner Reports are released by Cambridge International after each examination session. These reports summarize the general performance of students, highlight common strengths and weaknesses, and provide constructive feedback for both students and teachers.

Put simply?

They’re awesome, and if you want to do well on the IGCSE, you should read them.

In this blog post, we will discuss the immense value of reading Examiner Reports for the IGCSE First Language English 0500 examination and how they provide invaluable insights into what examiners are looking for.

At the same time, they reflect the overall judgement of examiners for the essays of students for particular examination sessions and therefore provide key insights into the way that Cambridge as an organisation evaluates different scripts, which in turn can help you to better contextualise the marking criteria that has been provided in the mark scheme documents that you have no doubt seen so far.

“But Victor!!!” you might be saying…“I don’t want to spend my time reading dumb stuff like that!!!!”

Well hold on, hold on.

What if I told you that this ‘dumb stuff’… Was actually one of the master keys towards unlocking excellence on the IGCSE First Language English exam?

Unlocking the Marking Criteria

One of the difficulties of understanding how to do well in a language-based exam for students is that there are various ways to operationalize excellence in language. While it’s true that for other exams such as mathematics and science exams some degree of creativity and insight can lead to novel approaches and answers, it remains true that the possible sample space of excellent responses for First Language English and other exams is much wider, and it also remains true that it is more difficult for students to understand how to operationalize excellence through their work just from reading the marking criteria.

Here is where the \magic/ 🪄 of examiner reports comes in!

Examiner reports are absolutely invaluable in helping you to unlock the marking criteria for the IGCSE First Language English exam, because they offer comprehensive and actionable steps for you if you’re practicing for the exam, and they serve as a wonderful practice aid for you to check whether you are able to do well in particular practice exams.

Let’s look at the first part of the examiner report for the June 2022 IGCSE.

Observe here that there are key messages for each paper, and also general comments about what constituted excellence for the paper. We won’t discuss the entire thing, but there are also specific analyses on a question-by-question basis.

I won’t go into everything here today (more resources will be provided to our Premium members soon).

Here’s one sample:

…And here’s the next:


As you can see, the report specifically breaks down these questions.

Think about that and the value that it’s offering – in the first case, it is telling you exactly how the best candidates did question 2d) and how they came to deliver responses on Writer’s Effect.

In the second example, it is literally breaking down Question 3 for you by telling you the ways in which the candidates approached the question and the way that people thought about the question, which you can in turn reference as you write your own exam responses; you could implement a routine of practicing a past paper, following that up by having your essay graded (submissions for essays to our essay bank(s) are open!)

To sum up, why are examiner reports valuable to you?

(sorry to be annoying, but you’ll have to sign up for a free or premium membership to read the next bit c: – reminder that purchasing the book gains you access to premium member privileges… For now!)

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I hope I’ve shown you that Examiner Reports for the IGCSE First Language English 0500 examination are a powerful tool for students seeking to understand what examiners are looking for in the context of the marking criteria, and also that they are something valuable to look at in your quest for mastery or for convergence towards writing stellar essays that fit the marking criteria while at the same time helping you to excel.

By analyzing these reports, students can gain invaluable insights into the expectations of examiners, avoid common pitfalls, learn from real examples, and fine-tune their writing techniques to achieve the highest possible marks.

As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and in the case of the IGCSE First Language English 0500 examination, Examiner Reports are a key to unlocking that power – they are not the only key, but are definitely something that you should consider as part of your repertoire!