Study pointers that actually help

I’ve had three private students who have gone to Harvard and quite a number to Princeton and UBC Medicine and Engineering. But I need to tell you when I first met them, they were not straight A students. They were students with incredible passion and discipline. Some were more playful than others which I actually found refreshing! Some had issues with focusing and memorization (an incredibly vital thing for biology and chemistry). I have often shared a few techniques I used in my own studies, all of which I have included in “The Sky’s the Limit”. Below are just a few that I’d like to share and that I hope will be able to help you.

1. An organized study space is an organized mind
It’s good to have specific folders or large paper clips to keep separate notes. Color coding your chapter or topic notes by color tabs also helps. Color tabbing can also be used for vital information or priority notes or text that you have to read or tasks you have to deal with first.
Making sure your room & desk is tidy is vital. It will save you time and effort trying to locate things. It also makes it easier to file and put away papers. This scenario allows you to focus better and a sharper mind also lays the groundwork for a better memory.

2. Diagram your information & use your visual memory
Often after flipping through an information page, we will recall the image of a dog than the name of the dog. This is due to our visual memory. Rewrite your information notes in diagram form. Two good ones are the spider diagram and the flow chart. In the first one, a key theory, topic sentence or event is placed in the middle with arrows pointing towards various facts. In the second one, a key theory, topic sentence or event is placed inside the top box of the flow chart with arrows leading to one level of boxes, one of each leads to more boxes of facts. The information is connected and ordered in chronological or sequential order. When your mind works through the diagram location, you jog your memory.

3. A memory map
This is another form of using your visual memory. If you ever played games such as Myst, you will know that recalling what was found in certain rooms in a building will help move you forward in a game. The truth can be said about using a memory map the way that the detective Sherlock Holmes did with his ‘method of loci’. This is a simple method that can support few or many facts.
a. Imagine a building such as a family house. You can have many floors and rooms dependent on the work you are dealing with.
b. Place a unique piece of furniture in each room. In other words there should not be identical chandeliers in two different rooms. Link one piece of information such as part of a biology system to a specific chandelier. Alternately, you could just have different colored rooms. Different parts of the system will be linked to different rooms or objects.
c. For a test or exam, you can help remember the facts by walking through the house. The different mapping of the rooms is just a way for you to build upon your facts and visualize them.
d. When you are given more information, you can place an additional room to the house.

4. Use pictograms
Social studies always consists of a lot of information. When I was helping my students remember a chapter, I would actually take the raw information and pictorialize it. For example, if one province’s economy was based on gold mining, car manufacturing and forestry etc, I would draw a gold bar on top of a car on top of two trees. If a government offered land, wheat and fishing rights to a certain native group, I would draw a fish on top of a bushel of wheat on top of a parcel of land. It is often good to make the pile of pictograms funny or odd to help the brain retain the image better. I’ve used this method to help students who have a lower retention ability with new information.

5. Memorable phrases
Sometimes it’s often easier to come up with a memorable sentence whereby the first letter of each word stands for a fact you have to recall. This is more so when the facts have to be in order. For example, one way of recalling the colours of the rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, is by using a sentence such as the song ‘Richard of York gave battle in vain’. My favourite for recalling the order of operations for mathematics is ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally’ which stands for parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, and subtract.

6. The acronym
This is another method similar to mnemonics except that one just memorise the first letter of your ordered facts. For example, ‘ROYGBIV’ is the acronym for the order of the rainbow colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

7. Creating names
This is often used for a group of one word facts and is similar to the above two methods. For example, ‘Pvt. Tim Hall’ stands for the essential amino acids : Phenylanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isolucine, Histidine, Arginine, Leucine, Lysine.

8. Memorize using practical experience
If there are things you can actually do to help imprint certain facts into your memory try to do them. For example, museums (of natural history, each province and various universities) often have displays explaining major paleontological or war events. This visual information may help you register certain facts in your mind as well as write an interesting paper. If your teacher makes note of an upcoming exhibition, it would be worth checking out.
What might be even easier is doing searches for documentaries and movies about the era you are studying for social studies. Seeing what happened in World War 1 trenches will help you to understand and hence recall a war poem even better. There are indeed memorable shows and books like “What Plants Talk About” and “Your Inner Fish” which are worth checking out. When you are on the Amazon website after you search for “Your Inner Fish”, you will find other recommendations that relay science in rather interesting ways.

9. Retell your information as a story
This short anecdote is all over the web — Simon was a chemist’s son, Simon is no more, For what he thought was H2O,Was H2SO4.
The formula is for sulphuric acid which can of course burn one’s organs and hence be fatal. Writing a story can help with information or formulas in physics or chemistry which you may find a little too dry or condensed. Hence chemical reactions or qualities of a compound can be rewritten as actions and qualities of a person.
Organize the information like a story in a movie with Setting, Incident, Rising action, Conflict, Resolution and even Falling action. This works with Socials and even some biology processes.


How to write a good LPI Essay

I’ve taught the LPI Test to many batches of students in different schools. What we often do is discuss past essay topics that many students have taken. But we always begin with the most crucial points that need to be understood before actually sitting for the test. I have decided to share the points that I’ve taught to many students on the website The LPI Essay Collection can also be affordably bought there.

LPI — Do you have to sit for this test?

Many students write to me and ask me about what the LPI requirement is for UBC and SFU. I urge you to go to their specific websites and read very carefully what these institutions specify. In many courses, a minimum LPI essay score of 5 is needed. But you may not even need to sit for the examination if you had scored sufficiently well in your grade 12 English.  You can look below for a brief explanation. If you need help, I also suggest you call the specific department (of your major) to confirm the admissions requirements.

The LPI Examination

The LPI is an English examination that helps a Canadian University to decide a student’s competence in essay writing and English usage. Quite often, emphasis is placed on the argumentative essay (300 to 400 words) to decide a student’s eligibility for first-year English courses, but  all parts of the examination has to be completed for submission.

LPI results are usually available within a month of sitting for the exam. They are forwarded to the English Department, Arts One, and the Coordinated Arts Program. Please visit the UBC LPI website to 1) ask about the requirements for your specific major or to 2) receive a Personal Score Report (a PDF file) via email.

If you received a score of level 5 or 6 on the essay section, you can keep your registered space in UBC’s first-year English courses, Arts One, ASTU 150, or the Coordinated Arts Program. If you receive a level 4 or below, (at the deadline) you will not “be permitted to remain in a first-year English course, in Arts One, ASTU 150, or in a Coordinated Arts Program”.

Below are students who don’t have to sit for the LPI —

  • Students who have had three consecutive years of full-time education in English in Canada. This must include BC Grade 12 or the equivalent and can be a combination of secondary and post-secondary education. In this case a min. of 70% is required for the English provincial examination.
  • Students who have had four consecutive years of full-time education in English in a country where the principal language is English, as determined by UBC.
  • Students with a final grade ie. school mark and government exam mark of 75% in BC English 12 or BC English Literature 12
  • Students with a final grade of (75%) English Language and Literature or Studies in Literature (ENG4U or OAC English) from Ontario
  • Students with a final grade of B or 75% (equivalent) in grade 12/senior year English in an English curriculum based school, operating in a country where English is the primary language
  • Students with a final grade of 4 (or better) in the Advanced Placement (AP) course in literature and composition
  • Students with a final grade of 5 (or better) in Standard or Higher level International Baccalaureate English A
  • Students who have finished 6 credits of first-year English or the equivalent, and can for transfer to UBC
  • Students who have attained a score of at least 5.0 on the essay section of the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Test Academic (CELPITA)

You need to be clear about the LPI examination and it’s best to go directly to and carefully read the UBC website —,19,911,0

Helping the Refugees, UNICEF

Hey students and fellow teachers,

If you have heard about the Syrian and Somalian Refugee Crises and wish to help, here is the link to UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) Canada for 2017 below :

If you prefer to donate to the United Nations Children in Need, here is the 2017 link below :

For Americans, UNICEF USA is also giving emergency help, so do google their site.

For the month of March, my Essay Writing Guide Book is free for all UNICEF donors. All you need to do is email me your UNICEF donation receipt (please don’t include any credit card nos. etc.). But once you have shown a donation above $20, just let me know. Please don’t attach your UNICEF PDF receipt, just go to “Edit” in your receipt and select “Copy File to Clipboard” then paste into your email to me. Then let me know which guide PDF book you want me to send.

My previous offer was regarding the Haiti Earthquake victims. If you wish to continue to help them and have a current UNICEF donation slip for 2017, I will honor that.

Thank you kindly for your concern for those who are struggling in the world.

Michele ❤

Teaching — vocation or job?

I’m still getting the hang of blogs, not a good sign for a writer or a writing teacher!

Firstly, much has happened. Not only did we have a range of overseas visitors but our apartment got flooded, and then we went off to Cuba. This gave me a little time for respite and basically to ask the question “Teaching — vocation or a mortgage paying job?”

Earlier on, I had donated my grammar and writing guide books to certain organisations. These are a conglomerate of all my research and coursework that I had developed for the various schools I had taught in prior to Elite. This is where I believe teaching is a vocation. Educators choose such a profession not only because they have a compulsive need to explain things but they like helping. My greatest concern is for lower income communities particularly ones where young girls have fewer learning opportunities.

However, having developed a wide circle of students in Vancouver, many have emailed for help, sometimes in desperation. I’ve had one student attach more than 6 application essays assuming I would edit all of them for less than a one hour fee. It took at least 2.5 hours to download, edit and explain them! I am getting a lot of this now, even at 11 o’clock at night and many at the last hour before some vital deadline like a college application deadline.

Okay, I tell myself. This kid’s future is in my hands. I have to help! The months of September all the way till January thus become a blur of answering emails and editing application essays — never mind teaching at school. This is when students assume a teacher should put down everything and help. What many don’t realize is they are not the only ones in need.

This brings to mind our new friend “Anna”  whom we met in Cuba. She was such a bright spark and always greeted us with a kiss in the morning. Anna is one of the many hotel waitresses who earn about 12 pesos a month. However, teachers and doctors in Cuba all earn around 25 to 50 pesos so we’re looking at a different living standard affected by Socialist policies. Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother was a Roosevelt fan and my very first love was an ardent socialist in Bob Hawk’s time in Australia. Anna told us she was once a teacher. She explained that it was a thankless job with bad pay and hard work. I totally understand. The tips that hotel staff get in Cuba probably elevate their status way above a doctor’s. Compared to Sweden which has a more capitalistic approach with only a touch of socialist medicine etc, the people I met in Sweden seemed a tad happier. They didn’t have to deal with food and shampoo rations but then again we’re comparing third world  Caribbean standards with developed European ones. What Fidel and Rual have done for Cuba is close the poverty gap and spread the love. And now Rual is advocating that hard work be rewarded and that a flat salary rate for every worker just doesn’t cut the mustard. I think he’s on to something, but go visit Havana before it becomes just another Club Med. spot.

But I go back to two age old questions. How much socialist intervention makes for a happy population?

Is being a selfless teacher a one way ticket to the therapist couch?

I don’t have all the answers, but this is what I need to do — keep on helping the students in Kandahar and Burma. Keep on charging the right rates for the middle class kids here in Vancouver and believe — believe that I am a teacher because some kid out there will find his/her niche in the world and make it a better place for the rest of us.

It’s been a while

Hello fellow teachers, professionals and students

For Questions regarding English, Mathematics and Business Administration, feel free to use this blog.

This blog was started for so many reasons.

It all goes back to my former University of Monash where I was fortunate enough to be selected for a mentoring program involving work with a founder of an advertising design firm. This meant being able to work on the same projects he did except with the total freedom of making as many mistakes without getting paid! What I did receive was the wisdom of a professional with business and design experience.

I have since seen a variety of ways people “teach” others from my own experience by the grace of a National Film Board Grant and apprenticeship with media producer, Kirk Shaw to free dramatugy with former UBC lecturer, Kate Weiss.

For the last few years, I have wondered how we as teachers could do the same. Obviously we do give of ourselves as it is the nature of our profession. Also I realize how much time teachers spend preparing for class and even for private teaching sessions. Hence the idea of mentoring might be an overwhelming concept for many in our field. Hence the experiment with this — a mentoring blog — One where teachers and working professionals can share whatever their field of expertise was with students with less pressure and more pleasure! Some friends, both teachers and working professionals have kindly agreed to be fellow mentors.

I’ve also wanted to work with students in places that were under duress due to poverty (eg. our own downtown east side) or war . The blog is also open to both teachers and students from such environments.

As Obama says, “I am an optimist” . Things will turn around and improve.

All it takes sometimes is a little faith (no matter what your dogma) and a little guiding hand,


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