Grammar Rules: British English Versus American English Top Six Spelling Tips

Most essays and exams will include points for spelling and grammar. And, in the UK, if there’s one thing that will give you away and have examiner’s (who you want to keep happy right?) pulling their hair out its confusion over British English and American English spelling.

Thanks to auto-correct on American software like MS Word, UK students are more likely to have issues. I’m as guilty as the next person so this blog is also a timely reminder for me. : )

History Time: Why are British English and American English spellings different?

The English language has stayed within its long heritage, roots and influences such as the French language.

In the 17th Century, English settlers introduced the English language to America but it began to evolve. And, after American Independence from Britain the popular versions of English words being used by American people were standardised into their own dictionary.

If you’re interested in the origins of the English language The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way by Bill Bryson is fab. (paid link)

Quick Test – So, how many do you get right?

‘ence’ and ‘ense’

Some words that end with ‘ence’ in British English are spelt ‘ense in American English:’

British American
Defence Defense

British English Example: In 1066, Harold took up arms against William in defence of his crown.

British English Example: Henry VIII could not keep up the pretence with Catherine of Aragon any longer.

Double vowels

British English words that are spelt with the double vowels ae or oe are just spelt with an e in American English.

British American

British English Example: Margaret Thatcher manoeuvred herself into Leader of the Conservative Party.

‘re’ and ‘re’

British American

British English example: Queen Elizabeth I popularized visits to the theatre under her reign.

Words ending in a vowel plus l

In American English, the ‘l’ is not doubled.

British American

British English example: Allied forces travelled nearly 100 miles to reach the coast of Normandy in 1944.

‘our’ and ‘or’

British American

British example: The colour drained from Anne Boleyn’s face as she approached the scaffold.

British example: The UK Labour Party won a landslide majority in 1997 putting Tony Blair in No.10.

‘yse’ and ‘yze’

These verbs in British English with ‘yse’ at the end are always ‘yze’ in American English

British American

British English example: If you analyse poll results from before the 2015 General Election, no-one expected a Conservative majority.

Bonus tip

Under Tools > Language in MS Word, you can set your language to English (UK) but you will still need to know the principles for any written answers in an exam or test.

If you’re looking for more on English Grammar Rules you can’t go wrong with English Grammar for Dummies. (paid link)

As always, I’d love to know your feedback on this blog or any other I’ve written for you in the comments below or you can find me on Instagram @elizabeth_britpolitics or on Twitter @_Britpolitcs.

Catch-up soon.


Why do we Procrastinate and How can I Stop?

Empty page in writing pad

Why do we procrastinate is a perfect topic right now. It’s dreary beyond belief out of the window, set to rain all day and a Star Wars marathon on the couch is extremely tempting. But, I know deep down what I’m really doing, despite their potential for developing Britpolitics, is procrastinating and lacking motivation for the tasks in front of me.

What is procrastination?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines procrastination as ‘to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.’

This is entirely true.

When it came to studying, I put off revision countless times on subjects, like maths, because I hated them. But, what it leaves out is fear.

Part of my loathing for maths was that I found it incredibly hard. I thought I would get it wrong, be humiliated, and ultimately fail all my tests. So, fear is a major source of procrastination and for many, its intensity goes beyond ‘unpleasant.’

Fear will cause us to never start writing that dissertation in case its rubbish, not bother doing that assignment or turning up to that exam because you won’t pass anyway. All of these are forms of self-sabotage wrapped up with a procrastination bow.

In terms of motivation, when we procrastinate it zaps all of our energy. The emotion, intensity and guilt you put into procrastinating over studying often far outweigh doing the unpleasant or boring task or facing your fears. But, I’m thinking like me, you know the theory and what would really help are some practical tips. Am I right? Well, here goes.

6 Top Tips to Stop Procrastinating

One  – Don’t break off for anything (and I mean anything)

Get rid of distractions – switch your phone notifications off, close your tabs and go to full screen. Then, use the time you have to full effect. You can set a timer or try the Pomodoro Study Technique to give you a structure. Unless it’s a major emergency, do not leave your chair or your keyboard and do not let your mind wander into other tasks. Naturally, when we procrastinate, you will tell yourself something else is more important. Take a breath. Acknowledge it isn’t true and keep going right through to completion. If you can, fully complete the task you are procrastinating about otherwise it will be waiting for you next time and you’ll start the process again.

Two – Create the right environment

For reasons I do not understand I cannot work on a Saturday. I procrastinate, have zero creative ideas, my words don’t flow and I even clunk my way around the keyboard more than usual. So, unless urgent I don’t bother. I also don’t bother around 3:00 pm, I can’t work in slouchy clothes or without make-up on and I’ve never been an all-nighter student. Being a classic introvert, I can’t work around lots of people (a busy coffee shop – seriously!) or noise. But, chances are a) you think I’m a bit weird and b) you’ve got your own set of quirks. Analyse the environment you’re currently trying to study in. Assess it under noise, distractions, light, hot/cold, time of day, location, desk set-up and personal comfort. Is your environment helping you or hindering you?

Three  – Start small and do the thing you fear the most first

Just a little nudge can start the ball rolling when we procrastinate. Don’t think, I’ve got to write twenty pages today maybe start with completing a paragraph (never the opening one) on a part you find easier. Another great tip is to start a mind map – pick up a pen and just get ideas going away from your computer screen.

And, do the thing you fear the most first. If it’s mind-numbingly boring stick some music on and set a deadline, if it’s unpleasant there’s a comfort to be found on the side of resolution or if it’s scary then I believe you can’t have exhilaration without pushing through fear.

Four – Know when you’re hiding

Recognise procrastination when it’s in front of you. For me, it was, and still is, research (and making cups of tea).

Research can be never-ending therefore it is the perfect place to hide when something’s a bit scary or feels out of reach. Use the ‘just in time’ method. What do I need to know or do right now so I can start and what, if I’m truly honest can wait until later?

Five – Ask for help

Sometimes the best antidote to procrastination is to be open about it. Don’t suffer in silence and end up wasting a lot of time. If you’re procrastinating because you find a study task hard ask for help, join a study group, talk to someone or get involved in an online forum for a cathartic rant and tips.

Six – Use the best memorising techniques for you

If you’re finding revising your notes difficult and nothing seems to be going in there is every chance you will get disheartened, put it in the ‘it’s really hard’ box in your mind and give yourself a one-way ticket to procrastination. Remember, everyone learns and memorises information differently. Don’t force yourself into a style of revision that doesn’t suit you or come naturally. Take some time to see what works for you. To help you I’ve put together a quick freebie, The Ultimate Guide to Remembering What You Study: Five Powerful Memory Techniques. Take a look.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below or you can find me on Instagram @elizabeth_britpolitics or on Twitter @_Britpolitcs.

Catch-up soon.


5 Best Ways to Use Instagram Hashtags

Instagram User

Instagram hashtags are like the index of a book. You know that bit at the back where hundreds of pages have been categorised so if you only want to read about Mary Queen of Scots you can find it quickly. Well, hashtags on Instagram work the same way. They tell Instagram users what your content is about and are a mechanism to help them find it.

So, what are the five best ways to use hashtags in Instagram right now?

Go niche and be real

Your hashtags needs to really reflect your post’s content rather than what’s popular. Don’t force your post into the popular #throwbackthursday if you’re writing about the present but it happens to be Thursday. It looks fake and a bit desperate. If based on your content, your niche is #englishcivilwararmour – then it just is. Work with that. Just do a quick bit of research to make sure your niche hashtag is what you think it is. I have lost count how many times a history-related hashtag is actually for a TV program.

Balance big and small

It’s always changing but current thinking is to aim for 15 hashtags per post. When you are choosing which ones to use balance the big with the small. Always have 1-2 big hashtags like #history but half of your hashtags should be in the 500-5000 posts category with the rest between 5000 -100,000 posts. If you start to pick up momentum in the smaller hashtags, the Instagram algorithm will notice. If you just use the big ones you’ll get lost amongst the millions.

Get known in a hashtag

It’s good to mingle amongst your followers. But, you also want to try to become the top performer in a hashtag. Start using the same hashtags for a while and actively interact with people there. Because these are your people. They’re looking at and using the same hashtags as you. You’re more likely to find new followers and people to chat too.

Search and check out similar accounts

A hashtag search will inevitably bring up accounts similar to your topic. In one handy place, you can go into these posts, especially those at the top, and see which hashtags they’re using. What seems to be performing? People, with a large following, have probably been at it for a while and blazed the trail on hashtags as it were.

Create and monitor a list

Hashtags can be confusing and time-consuming if you’re thinking of them for every post and trying to remember if #tudors or #thetudors or #thetudordynasty was the best performer last time : (

Create a list in a notebook of large, medium and small hashtags related to your topic down the left side. On the other side, leave enough room to make notes about your performance in it over time, whether it needs to be deleted? Whether it’s grown etc? To complement this, you can also create a note on your phone with blocks of hashtags ready to copy, paste and where necessary edit, into your Instagram post.

And a bonus…

You know I’ll always leave you with a bonus tip! : ) If you’re using Instagram Stories. Add your hashtags first. Not too many. Then create a graphic, like a love-heart, and widen it to sit over the top. That way, you get a cleaner image but still the hashtag.

I know to some this all sounds a bit overly detailed. But, the way I see it, you’ve spent ages curating the perfect image and caption so getting down in the weeds with hashtags is a way to maximise the chances of more people seeing and interacting with your fabulous posts.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below or you can find me on Instagram @elizabeth_britpolitics or on Twitter @_Britpolitcs.

Catch-up soon.



How I’ve been reminded what getting ready for University really means

Elizabeth Hill-Scott Graduation Photo

I recently asked people who had studied at university, ‘What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without or made life easier when you were a university student? I even shared this oh so bad (pre-fixed teeth and everything) graduation picture for a laugh and to say thanks.

I told them, for me, apart from a bottle of Spar Valencia white (sorry Mum) it was a wall planner, memory stick and a thick dressing gown that covered my bum on the way to the shower rooms.

The comments I received were things like:

  • “Having support when being away from home is a must”
  • “I printed lots of pictures of my family and friends and put them in frames/put them on the wall”
  • “I put something up that reminded me of why I was at university, many times I thought ‘why am I doing this?”
  • “I brought my duvet from home it was very comforting to have something old and homey in all new surroundings”
  • “Keeping a good relationship with your professors makes them more likely to be understanding in situations where you might not be able to finish an assignment due to personal problems.”
  • “It was and still is talking to my family about everything I did that day.”

I forgot being ready for University is more than just having a car crammed full of stuff

At the same time, I had created a new resource called ‘What to Bring to University: The Ultimate Packing List’ and had fun reminiscing about fairy lights, thermos, laptops and massive launderette bags. But, these comments made me take a step back.

I realised that of course there is a need for practical useful things like Toasted Sandwich Maker’s to make life less stressful (and save money), but I had forgotten about the emotional side of leaving home and starting University. I had forgotten that you will likely be away from your family and friends for three years, where you probably know no-one (a total nightmare for the introverts amongst us), in a new town or city. Even for the ‘toughest’ 18-year-olds, that’s a big change.

Looking out for student’s mental well-being will benefit everyone

Recent tragic news stories have shown us cases where universities have let their students down.

I’m pleased a real debate has started about the responsibilities on places of education for the welfare of their ‘adult’ students. It’s a difficult balance to make but human beings, with all their human-being stuff going on, attending university are more than a list of grades for a league table to be noticed a few hours a week. And anyway, it makes absolute sense that being mindful, and assisting where necessary, the mental well being of your students will help them achieve their academic potential or find their true path along a different route.

If you’re starting, or at, university it is an amazing, unique experience but just remember it’s OK to struggle, it’s OK to find it daunting. But it’s not OK to suffer in silence and fail to reach out and ask someone for help.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts or about your experience starting university in the comments below or you can find me on Instagram @elizabeth_britpolitics or on Twitter @_Britpolitcs.

Catch-up soon.


Grab your FREE Ultimate Guide To Remembering What You Study. Five Powerful Memory Training Techniques + Practical Tips To Help You Get Ready For Exams Right Now!




Dissertation writing and planning tips – where should I start?

To help me give you these dissertation writing and planning tips I was going to dig out my two dissertations from the vault (aka the garage) but was quickly dissuaded as I Iooked into the landfill abyss of Amazon boxes and things I’ve never gotten around to selling. But, completing a dissertation tends to stick in the memory, so here goes…

Welcome to my garage.

To this day, I do not know what possessed me to write not one but two dissertations (undergraduate + post-graduate) on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That’s 50,000 words and combined about a year of my life!

I passed both times but I don’t look back on my dissertations with a sense of accomplishment; actually with a tinge of embarrassment and I’m cringing as I write this. Why? Because I know I didn’t do any of the things I’m about to share with you when I started. I didn’t even get better after the first one. The good news is, I was able to learn from these mistakes and apply them to projects I’ve carried out and future courses.

You need to look at the checklist below in order. If you don’t do every one of these you’ll get stuck somewhere. For example, there’s no point setting up a work schedule if your scope is too big. Make sense?

  • Pick a topic – you may instinctively know what you want to do. But, more commonly, you may not. So, what previous study did you enjoy? What personal interests or experience do you have? Is there a topic related to a career aspiration you have? What’s in the news? Are there any unresolved questions you jotted down from two-years of lectures?
  • Once, you have some ideas; work up your opinion first. Explore your view before immersing yourself in everyone else’s. My top piece of advice is to Choose the one you are most excited about. (Apparently, for me this was an Iraqi Dictator!) I cannot stress how much time and energy will go into writing your dissertation. Your interest in the subject, when you have a wobble that it’s crap or you think you’ve chosen the wrong question, will carry you through.
  • Sketch-out the end first. Think of yourself working your way to a conclusion you already think and are testing as you go along
  • Now, use the experts! Agree on your scope with your tutor and maybe find someone who’s got experience writing a dissertation in or near to your topic.
  • “Fail to Plan: Plan to Fail” Even if you’re super-organised you need a method and tools right from the start to keep you on track. Your brain will tell you “Hey, I’ve got ages.” But, don’t underestimate the time it will take to complete as you’re just storing up stress for the end. Read my ‘Four top tips for getting and staying organised’ blog for more advice.
  • So, you’ve planned your research time into a busy diary. The trick now is don’t get overwhelmed with research or hide in it as I did! Keep a track of notes and references as you go along.
  • And, when you start. Don’t get put off by the competition or ask friends how much work they’ve done already. It’s a bit like when you come out of an exam and someone grills you about what you’ve put for every answer to the point you think you’ve failed. Well, ‘Dissertation Guy’ will tell you their topic is ground-breaking and should be written, checked and bound in a fortnight. Not helpful.

If you’re starting a dissertation or if you’re right in the middle, remember, you can write well otherwise you wouldn’t be there. Go back, and look at what you wrote in your first year. Look how far you’ve come. You’ve got this! Also, check out my resources pages for even more help.

As always, I love to hear your views and if you found these tips useful. Drop me an email or DM at elizabeth_britpolitics on Instagram.

Catch-up soon


p.s. Saddam Hussein left to the mercies of Word spellchecker is Sadist Hussey (could have been soooooooo bad if I’d clicked ‘change all’ and not ‘ignore all’ at 2:00 am)

My Top Five Best Historical Films of all Time

My top 5 best historical films of all time

Whether it’s the stuttered swearing in The King’s Speech or the magnificent yet chaotic epic Cleopatra it seems we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’) just can’t get enough of historical films.

I’m guessing if you’re here you also partake in the odd fabulously costumed, occasionally terribly accented canter through a historical biopic, so today I thought I’d take you through my top five best historical films of all time.

***Watch out there may be a few spoilers!***

The Duchess – 2008

Considering I’m not a massive Keira Knightley fan I was surprised how much I loved this film.

The Duchess follows the turbulent life of Georgiana, played by Knightley, who becomes socialite The Duchess of Devonshire. The Duke, a role well-suited to Ralph Fiennes, flip-flops between total scumbag and a man clearly trapped under the enormous weight of expectation and family duty.

With fabulous costume, settings like beautiful Chatsworth House and score it’s really about the lack of power women had in 18th Century Britain trapped in arranged-marriages, with no money and no say over the many children they were expected to have.

There are some heartbreaking moments when the Duchess tries to break away and start a new life with her children and the man she really loves. Not one to watch if you want a bit of motivation, more of a ‘I’m in bed with a Lemsip and packet of biscuits feeling sorry for myself’ kinda film.

The Other Boleyn Girl – 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl they are referring to is Mary Boleyn, sister to the infamous Anne, who first turns the head of King Henry VIII. It follows the battle for the King’s affection, which Anne eventually wins and then spectacularly loses.

I have several issues with this film (but, yes I still watch it). Eric Bana who I loved in The Time Traveller’s Wife and Troy is just not a good Henry (sorry). For me, there’s something missing.

Natalie Portman, who looks fabulous, and Scarlett Johansson have great sisterly chemistry but both English accents are somewhat questionable and distracting. I also question how calculating they made Anne – did she really learn that much at the French Court to be able to manipulate the King?

The attempt to create a ‘will she won’t she be executed’ scene at the end will only work on 0.1% of the audience but the scene where Mary bravely takes baby Elizabeth from her mother to live with her, despite everything her sister, Anne did to her gets me choked every time.

Cleopatra – 1963

This is the epic Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton movie, which became more notorious for what was happening off set than on it. I love it because it’s about three days long : ) and just madness.

Taylor, as Cleopatra, gives a commanding performance looking like the Hollywood star she was and the ever-serious Burton’s monologues as Mark Anthony are sublime.

The budget for Cleopatra started off at $2 million and ballooned to an estimated $44 million, and this is 1963 prices people! I’m guessing the costs were not helped by 26,000 costumes, 79 sets and Taylor’s record-breaking $1 million fee.

It was originally meant to be two movies, but the studio sensing the money they could make from audiences clambering to see the on-screen chemistry between scandalous Burton and Taylor condensed what they had into one movie. And you can tell!!!

The movie, despite the personal drama, was a massive flop. It nearly bankrupted Twentieth Century Fox and Taylor nearly died of pneumonia (although that woman was ill a lot.) Historical accuracy? I have no idea. Magnificent chaos to watch every Christmas holiday? Definitely.

The King’s Speech – 2010

When a historical film is an Oscar winner it means one of two things. It’s either completely worthy and fabulous or so over-the-top arty and luvvie that it’s a disaster.

The King’s Speech is certainly the former. Starring Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, it is just like a hot chocolate and packet of Fortnum’s biscuits. I absolutely love the historical films that take a small story you didn’t really know about from a massive event and dive right in.

The film, as you can imagine, takes us through Bertie, Duke of York’s attempt to cure his stutter. His wife, Elizabeth, takes him to every specialist on Harley Street until they come across an Australian with seemingly unorthodox methods.

As his brother Edward VIII abdicates and war with Germany looks every more likely the Duke now King George VI must be able to communicate with his people. He must also listen uncomfortably to the reasons why he stutters – not easy for a King.

Everyone in this is magnificent and the exchange where Logue’s wife comes home early and finds the Queen, played superbly by Helena Bonham Carter, in her kitchen is brilliant.

At the end when the King delivers his radio broadcast to reassure a country going to war, you are nervously on the edge of your seat. You know he’ll do it, but you still feel like you’re in that tiny room with him ticking off every word.

Elizabeth – 1998

Falling into the ‘it did really well, let’s make a sequel’ trap – we’ll gloss over Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which involved a lot of hair-tossing at Tilbury and slow motion. The first film ‘Elizabeth’ had great storytelling and simplicity in its settings and effects.

Cate Blanchett, the young Elizabeth, is taken from the playful light of Hatfield House to the dark of the Palaces. A young Protestant Queen, she is surrounded by male advisers who want to control her.

The film centers on the tiresome issue of ‘why didn’t she marry’ for a while, as she gets bolder and ever closer to Lord Robert Dudley but also the many plots against her life.

Blanchett is, of course, fabulous, but the rise of Francis Walsingham, the first official spymaster, also captures the film. Geoffrey Rush expertly counsels the Queen, lurks in corners and deftly carries out his search for the treasonous amongst them.

In the end, the traitor’s heads are on spikes (must be very strange for the actors to see that) and Elizabeth – the Virgin Queen, dressed in angelic white declares herself ‘married to her people.’ This is a great Friday night, glass of red and dark chocolate movie.

I’ve only covered my top five historical films here – there are so many more I could have added and new ones are coming out all the time.

Leaving accuracy aside, this is great news if like me you love this genre of films and see it as a way to help people know more about their own history or find out about another.

As ever, get in touch or leave a comment below telling me what you think about my top five historical films.

Also, what makes your list?

Catch-up soon


Four Top Tips for Getting and Staying Organised


I love it when a plan comes together! You’re starting a sparkly brand new course or moving into the next phase. Either way, it’s a fresh start; a new timetable; and a chance to say “Right, this year, no ifs, no buts, I am going to plan and be organised!”

Here are a few top tips on how to nail your organisation this year. In full disclosure, some of the links are Amazon affiliate links, which means at no cost to you I receive a small commission to put back into the site. I only ever recommend products I believe will be helpful to you.


Schedule a meeting with yourself.

  • We turn up to lots of things, including things we don’t want to. Classes, seminars, dates or appointments. And, why do we turn up? Because they’re at set times and because we’ve deemed them to be important. But, when it comes to setting study time we don’t always do this. Some of it may be fear and procrastination, we get distracted, and time ticks on. But, before you know it another academic week has shot past!
  • Be realistic and schedule definite times when you can’t study or do not wish to study. Also, when are you most productive? I never schedule anything on a Saturday afternoon – I don’t know why but I’m just useless. Nothing goes into my brain and nothing remotely creative comes out. It’s just a mental block from school times. My brain is saying “go and do something else because this ain’t happening?”


Create clarity and distinctiveness.

  • First, have a good de-clutter. It’s hard to create a system that will stand you in good stead to being organised if there’s stuff, including last year’s notes everywhere. File them somewhere and, if you’re completing a longer course, make sure they’re in great shape for when you need them to revise. If you want some tips on how to do this check out my Ultimate Guide to Remembering What You Study: Five Powerful Memory Training Techniques. It’s free and helps you create notes in a way you can commit them to your long-term memory.
  • Be honest, and review what worked for you in previous courses and what went a bit wrong. Set realistic changes for yourself that are actionable and measurable. For example, I’m going to download my electronic diary onto my phone so I can update it in real-time. Then, when it’s done; it’s done.
  • Not everything needs to be electronic (see tip four) – Are you a visual person Do you need a diary or an academic planner. Perhaps, a wall planner could work for you? There are lots of cheap ones where everything falls off or the pens don’t work. I have used this one for several years; It gives me a whole year perspective but in this link, you can find lots of wall planners set by academic year too. (paid link)

A friendly note: If you’re at university (or at home) make sure you know the rules about blue-tac and pinning first (or it may be bye-bye deposit) : (


Buy anything you need now…

  • If you don’t have supplies to hand you will start your own ahem… ‘system’ on what you do have. I love these notepads. Oxford Campus Wirebound Notebooks, (paid link) been using them for years. Good quality paper, smooth writing and different bright colours to grab and go.
  • Think about your system first, how you will divide your learning into manageable sections so you don’t get overwhelmed. This will tell you how many sets of flashcards, notepads or multi-coloured post-its you need.


Create a structure to your electronic notes and files

  • Do not have twenty files saying





Firstly, it’s completely uninspiring and overwhelming. Secondly, when you come back to it a year from now it will mean nothing!

Use dates, times, course numbers or specific themes such as your essay title.

  • I use Dropbox (also my file insurance policy) and create folders within it. Much easier than having one long list of documents
  • Set up a note in your phone to match each course heading or titles that mean something to you. Here you can add little bits of information as you go along. Make sure notes is switched on to back up to a cloud.
  • If you think of something important, and it’s chunky, send an email to yourself with a good subject line to help you recall what the email was about. Your inbox will set up its filing system. All you need to do is create a filter using your name and press search.

As always, I’d love to know how you stay organised and if you found these tips useful. Drop me an email or DM at elizabeth_britpolitics on Instagram.

Catch-up soon


Understanding The Generation Effect: Three Ways to Improve Your Memory and Revision.

Did you know you’re 50% more likely to remember something if you say it out loud rather than write it down?

So, if you’re revising or trying to remember pretty much anything and it’s not working keep reading. Below, I explain what’s happening inside your brain plus three different techniques, which may assist you.

What is The Generation Effect?

The Generation Effect does not mean you have a better memory than your mum!

It is a phenomenon where information is better remembered if it is ‘generated’ from your own mind rather than simply read.

As Jennifer Aniston said in a 90s shampoo advert ‘Here comes the science…’

Reading is a passive activity whereas talking is a generative activity, which encourages you (the learner) to use methods during your learning (also called encoding) that can be evoked during retrieval of the information you’ve learned.

To me this makes sense. When I settle down to read my latest historical fiction novel I see it as a form of mental escapism. Literally, in a passive way, it immerses me but doesn’t really go in.

As an experiment, I took it up a notch and tried to remember what I’d read by writing it down. I did it, but it was an effort. I then took a different section and spoke out loud about what I’d just read instead. And guess what? An hour later I could recall much clearer the section I’d spoken out loud. I also, unexpectedly, found that trying to recall from just reading and writing felt the greater mental strain.

Applying The Generation Effect: Three Top Tips


Read your notes out loud

Ok, you need to get over the weirdness here.

The quintessential picture of a student is sat in a silent library swamped by books, journals and notepads furiously scribbling. It is not usually talking to themselves perhaps pacing up and down the room. But, let’s break the mould!

Pick a topic you’re reasonably confident on, wait for everyone to go out if you need to, and then just go for it. From experience, like public speaking, you will only feel comfortable the more you do it.

It’s also a good idea to start this technique early. Don’t adopt it the day before your exam!

Added bonus.

Throughout your course, record your notes on your phone or computer and give it a clear file name. When it comes to crunch revision time you’ll have a bank of audio files to listen to.


Create mnemonic phrases

Ok, you’ve mastered speaking out loud. Let’s up the weirdness as people walk past your room and hear you singing all the different reasons Parliament went to war with King Charles I.

Mnemonic devices such as songs, sequences, rhymes and unusual word associations aid your memory because they create distinctiveness. I still remember Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived as a way of remembering the order of King Henry VIII’s wives for my GCSE History (ouch, that was a long time ago!).

Why not go for the double whammy of creating a catchy song and committing it to memory using a generating technique?


Create Your Own ‘Walk and Talk’

Another great combination is speaking your notes out loud to commit them to memory whilst exercising. The fancy term is kinetic learning.

The science here is exercise, even just twenty minutes walking has a positive effect on your ability to recall information.

So, walk the corridors ‘West Wing’ style, lap the campus or borrow your neighbour’s dog and try this technique.

As with all these techniques, test them on a subject area you are reasonably confident on, make sure you try to recall the information one hour after you’ve finished the technique. And, Repeat, Repeat. Repeat. Some things, or even nothing, may not be a once and done.

I’d love to know if you’ve tried these techniques and if you’re a newbie how they worked for you? Drop me a comment below or there are lots of ways to get in touch.

Catch-up soon


Five ways to make money from Amazon affiliate links in your book review

You’ve just turned the last page and you’re dying to write your blog post. Well, before you start, make sure you’re not missing out on a quick way to make money from your latest book review.

I’ve been an Amazon Associate UK since 2014. I’ve used their marketing affiliate scheme within hundreds of posts and pages on history and politics. Here, I share with you the top five ways to use affiliate links within a single book review.

In full disclosure, some of the links are Amazon affiliate links, which means at no cost to you I receive a small commission to put back into the site. I only ever recommend products I believe will be helpful to you and here they’re mostly illustrative (although I loved these books! : )

Firstly, what is the Amazon Associates Affiliate Scheme?

The free scheme lets you put links, thumbnails, widgets and site stripes into your posts and pages. After you’ve registered (which is a simple process) you will be given a site ID and tagged link. This will be embedded into the code of every link you use, so when someone clicks on your link Amazon knows they came from your blog. There’s no hard coding your end either. It’s copy and paste time!

How much can I make?

The commissions have been reducing over the years. Let’s face it Amazon doesn’t need the referrals it once did. But, it’s still well worth doing for very little hassle. You can earn up to 12% commission on referrals but I’ll be upfront and tell you books tend to be closer to 5%.

But, hang on. Don’t dismiss it yet. The added woo-hoo factor with Amazon is that you get a commission from sales even if they don’t buy what your link was about. Here are two ways it can work:

  • Someone clicks on your book link > they suddenly remember they’ve run out of ink cartridges> they order them, not the book> you get a commission. Ta-da!
  • Someone clicks on your book link> they suddenly remember they’ve run out of ink cartridges but they’re late for the train> they get home and buy them (less than 24hrs later) > you get a commission. Yeah!

Top five ways to use Amazon affiliate links in a single Book Review (and make money)

  • Weave a text link with the name of the book in the first paragraph. For example. I’ve just finished Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession and I’m going to tell you why it’s the best of the six wives series.
  • Add a thumbnail of the book, like the one below, within the body of the post and use a setting where it shows a price. Often these will show a tempting discount. If someone is enticed to click on the link you may get a sale or an indirect fee if they buy another product or service. (paid link)



  • Remind people in your last paragraph again which book you were reviewing and use a text link. And then;
  • Weave a text link into your last paragraph, which points people to what you’re reading next. For example, I can’t wait to get started on Alison Weir’s next instalment Six Tudor Queens: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen  (paid link)
  • Add a widget within your post, at the bottom or in your sidebar from ‘Your Picks.’ I use the one called ‘My Favourites.’ I select four related books and write a little genuine message underneath each one. Thing like. “This was a game-changer for me” or “The best trilogy I’ve ever read”


Five Bonus Tips

  • Make sure your blog is super-active when you apply and know in a few lines what your site is about and who it is for – you will be asked!
  • If you’re on WordPress upload the Linkbuilder WordPress Plugin with geo-targeting. It will create a quick easy search bar of Amazon’s entire site at the top of each page or post.
  • Create lots of tracking IDs to monitor how different subjects are working for you. For example, you could have one for ‘Blog-nonfiction’ and another for ‘Blog-historicalfiction’
  • Be careful if you’re only just starting out with a handful of hits. Your account will be approved for 180 days (at time of writing – please check this!) during which time you need to have made one sale or your account will be closed.
  • Always check how your links and widgets look on your phone – are they too big? Is there a line break or spacing issues? They should be seamless and responsive.

I believe linking through to Amazon during a book review can be a natural, authentic process. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to affiliate marketing but I think it’s an easy place to get your feet wet.

Let me know how you get on.

Good luck and catch-up soon







Writing Tips for Beginners: 7 Ways to Stop Self-Sabotage

desk scene

You need to recognise the signs, get out of your own way and stop self-sabotaging your academic and professional writing.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You’ve got your #studygram worthy desk set up and a large, caffeine-serious drink. You’re writing an essay, political article, blog post or chunk of your dissertation.

What should be a pouring out of ideas and knowledge is more like an annoying dripping tap.

You stop. You look at your phone. You start.

You stop again and then decide what you’ve written is crap.

I’ve been writing as a student of politics and professionally for over twenty years.

I can tell you that self-sabotage is perfectly normal but it needs to be kept in check so you don’t get totally derailed and defeated.

I will share with you seven things you can do right now to tackle self-sabotage but first we need to go deep…. Ready?

In full disclosure, some of the links are Amazon affiliate links, which means at no cost to you I receive a small commission to put back into the site. I only ever recommend products I believe will be helpful to you. 

Identify your Inner Critic. Give it a name and have a chat.

Sounds strange I know, but you need to know the cause of your self-sabotage.

The only way to do this is to acknowledge it’s there and what it truly is.

Although this blog title says ‘7 Ways to Stop Self-Sabotage’ in all honesty you will not stop you inner critic from popping up forever because, well, you’re human.

If you’re doing something that makes you emotionally vulnerable, say it has an uncertain outcome, then self-protection will kick in. It will do everything it can to stop us from doing it.

A favourite method for self-protection is to use the inner critic. Common reasons I hear all the time are:

• I’m not good enough
• I don’t know enough to write this now
• If I only had more time/the right set-up/one more book I could do it. If procrastination is the consequence of your inner critic try Anti-Procrastination Mindset: The Simple Art Of Finishing What You Start (paid link)

Or perhaps this is you?

• You’ve been putting things off because it’s a) hard b) compulsory or c) the best of a bad set of question choices
• You’ve chosen the wrong subject so what’s the point?
• You’re struggling with productive time management and distractions.

The trick is to acknowledge your inner critic, even give it a name, and learn not to listen and push on anyway.

If you acknowledge where the self-sabotage is coming from you can begin to address it and if you need some tough love I recommend Stop Doing That Sh*t: End Self-Sabotage and Demand Your Life Back from straight-talking Glaswegian Gary John Bishop.

But, be honest. If the issue is emotional don’t think getting a new desk lamp so you can write in an evening is the answer. You need to dig deeper for the truth.

“You Can’t Have Exhilaration Without Fear”

I love this saying.

Self-sabotage manifests itself into fear, anxiety and then procrastination.

It could be the fear of failure, the anxiety of possible rejection or the fear of people knowing how well or not you did?

But you can only succeed and do well if you do something. If you don’t write and submit your dissertation you fail anyway.

I spent the first year of university thinking I shouldn’t be there.

My A Level results were not great. I didn’t make the points I needed and it took two nerve-wracking days before they let me in.

Four years later I was stood on a stage in a cap and gown with a Masters Degree in Diplomacy.

I don’t say this to boast, just to say what’s possible. My inner critic popped up all the time (and still does) but I pushed through the fear and just did it anyway.

7 Top Tips to Stop Self-Sabotaging your Work

ONE. Be imaginative with your approach

You could create an outline first rather than feeling the pressure of the perfect opening paragraph. You could start on a section that really interests you, gain some confidence and move on.

TWO. Acknowledge where you are in your journey

Emulate don’t copy. You’re in the library surrounded by serious resources. But, do not measure yourself against these if you’ve just started out at A Level politics or history or at university. Yes, aspire to produce the best but you can polish later. These books, often co-written and traditionally published had a team of editors behind them not to mention the years of experience of the writer themselves – that’s why it’s a textbook on your recommended reading list! Don’t get intimidated because it’s say a ‘university essay’ – yes, research beforehand, but then just write what will be your original work.

THREE. Don’t be a perfectionist – Ignore the typos and just keep writing.

I know you’re on a noble quest to create perfectly constructed, slickly argued, pithy sentences. But, you’re never going to get your word count off single digits if the editing side of your brain challenges every turn of phrase. It will also block your creativity, the ability to get what you know out of your head, stop you being productive and allow time for your inner critic to surface. Don’t lose that spectacular argument or feeling that it’s all coming together because you had the wrong ‘their’ or ‘your’ and just had to go back and correct it. If you’re really struggling with this one try dictation.

FOUR. You can’t edit a blank page

Ok, this is clichéd. But, you need to give yourself the mental freedom to write crap. You can rework crap, you can learn from crap, you can scrap crap because it will always be crap but a) you might just having something b) you don’t know it’ll be crap unless you write it.

FIVE. Don’t hide behind research

Recognise procrastination when it’s in front of you. For me it was, and still is, research. Research can be never-ending therefore it is the perfect place to hide when something’s a bit scary or feels out of reach. Plan your research using the ‘just in time’ method. What do I need to know right now so I can start and what, if I’m truly honest can wait until later.

SIX. Don’t break off for anything (and I mean anything)

If you can’t quite remember that quote or how to spell someone’s name put your best guess and move on. Do not look it up. Just keep that pen or your fingers moving even if you’re writing ‘I don’t know what to put next’ twenty times stay in the flow. And, get rid of distractions – switch your phone notifications off, set a timer or try the Pomodoro Technique to give you a structure. I love the book Reset: Building Purpose in the Age of Digital Distraction by William Treseder. He examines how we’re all drowning in information in the digital age.

SEVEN. Appreciate your critical skills at the right time

This doesn’t apply to any negative emotions but if you’re naturally a critical thinker use it at the right time. Make your work the best it can be with genuine editing, polishing and seeking out better quotes and references if you think it will enhance the final piece.

Good luck and catch-up soon