Category Archives: Tips, guides, insights and tools


Brainwaves and learning

The brain produces four main types of brain waves, operating at different frequencies and shown by EEG readings. These are namely: Beta, Alpha, Theta & Delta The slower the brain frequency the faster the learning. In theta learning can be 1 times as much and in alpha as much as 20 times to absorb information. Different states bring with them different advantages and so it is often to practice a mixture of them all for optimal learning I have developed the exercises to help attain these separate specific brain waves and states. These can then be added together as you desire. All four at once is quite an experience! Beta Brain Waves (13-30 cycles per second). The fastest, representing the most intense state of alertness. The result of heightened mental activity. Maximum mind power. All five external senses, logical mind, memory from the five senses & logical thinking. Exercise: Become hyper aware of your 5 senses, notice what you can smell, the taste in your mouth, what your hands are touching, become acutely aware of what you hear and see. Having done this you will know that you are in beta due to the intense external input and the total lack of awareness of your body, feelings or sensations. Alpha Brain Waves (8 to 12 cycles per second) This brain wave indicates a relaxed state of mind.. State of relaxed alertness, good for inspiration and learning facts fast. A meditative mind. In this state tap into internal “antenna” like qualities. Visions, powerful ideas, mindless creation of the incredible. Internal feeling & sensations. Exercise: Try first with your eyes open & then repeat it with your eyes closed. Take a deep breath, hold it and notice the sensations as your heart beats three times, relax & breath out — repeat 3X. Breathe in and out slowly to a count of 4, as you do so notice how your body feels —relaxed & warm. Theta Brain Waves (4 to 8 cycles per second) Deep meditation. Deep inward thought. This is associated with life-like imagination. High state of mental concentration. A magical mind. Internal pictures / visualisation. Intuition, inner guidance. Access to unconscious material. Dreaming. Exercise:  do this after the alpha brain wave exercise. Close your eyes and visualise a sacred cup where your heart is (or another object of your choice) hold this picture for several minutes. Breathe in and out slowly. Delta Brain Waves (0.5 to 4 cycles per second) Deep dreamless sleep. Deep relaxation. State of oneness, whole body feeling. Pure being & will. Exercise: do this after the other exercises, become aware & notice a warm sensation in your heart, now this sensation flow down and then spread out until it fills all of your body — one sensation. Using CDs to access the brainwave states and improve learning There several companies who produce CDs for different states normally in combination or for specific purposes e.g. concentration, relaxation, creativity, “Einsteinian like thinking”, etc. These are useful to obtain the desired states when you need to do something but cannot get yourself in the desired state and also to train the brain and body so you can whenever you want to. Please see references at the end of the essay for more information.

IMPORTANT HEALTH WARNING! One manufacturer (Brain Sound Studio TM) recommends that their studio and therefore by inference the binaural sounds should not be used by pregnant women,those using a pacemaker, and those who have had or are prone to
seizures or are epileptic.

What is the best combination for learning?

Studies have shown that learning in Alpha State enhances the performance of students. It also develops the interest of studies in students more than if they have had to learned in a tense environment. Frequent gaps of 2 to 3 minutes after every 30 minute study period relaxes their minds and the alpha state will prove its efficiency with great ease and fun.Breath work can help to quickly access the alpha state. But learning is more than just absorbing information, so changing the state of mind to operate Beta, Alpha and Theta is most likely to produce the best learning, cognition and creativity, while also staying in a relaxed state.


CDs : and For those who like a challenge the Tibetan Exercise of Paradox creates all four states at once — Cynthia Rose Young Schlosser


First take in the information

1. Try doing so visually – hold any pictures up just above eye level. Look
at the picture, close your eyes and imagine it in your mind. Repeat
this until you get a good internal picture with all the information.
Use your imagination to create the memory.

2. Try auditory repetition – As you memorise each piece of information,
say it in your mind or out-loud 4 or 5 times. If you have difficulty
picturing words, try ‘seeing’ an object and then with your imagination
writing the words on it. If there is a lot of information to remember, imagine
it like a video tape with the new information continually appearing.

3. Try doing so kinaesthetically – incorporate movements or actions to associate with the memory. Sometimes just rolling or crushing a ball in your hand as you learn can help.

Recalling the information

Paul Daniels the magician was heard to say on a radio show
that, “It is as important to practice recalling information
as it is to memorise it.”

A powerful memory recall method to use:

1/ Choose a bite size chunk of information; a paragraph or a list of key words that you can then turn into a paragraph or essay – something you can work with.

2/ Learn & memorise
Read the information, scan over the pictures. Decide what the key points are and then learn these using the method of your choice determined from the exercise above. Use as many senses as you can – this creates a stronger memory.
(5 – 10 minutes)

3/ Cover it
Shut the book or cover up the information you have been working with.

4/ Recall
Write out what you can remember (or get someone to test you).(5 – 10 minutes)

5/ Check & review
Check what you have writtenNote any parts that you got wrong and use your imagination to make a correct memory of these points.

6/ Repeat to see how you get on again
Why not try a bigger chunk of text and see how much you can learn and get right first time. Notice what works best for you and start to fine tune your learning style and how you recall memories.


The move from GCSE to ‘A’ Level (or BTEC National Level 3) can be a big challenge for many teenagers making the transition.

Like all people, students are creatures of habit and tend to stick to their tried and tested methods of study. When advancing up from GCSE to A’Level or BTEC however, they are often quickly faced with the sharp reality that they will need to know how to master a new, much deeper knowledge of their chosen subjects. They find out that they have moved away from a more ‘blanket’ learning GCSE type approach (where principles often have been simplified to make them easier to grasp) to suddenly having to understand complex concepts and then know how to actually apply them.

They need to do all this whilst at the same time embracing new, often more autonomous, styles of learning that may not come naturally. Add to this the question, ‘Why did you choose this course?’ and if the learning curve is steep and the motivation flagging, then trouble may be on the horizon and intervention of some kind will be needed soonest.


A question of motivation
The reason for choosing a subject often underpins an individual’s motivation throughout their course. Do they have a specific dream career in mind? Do they like the subject? Do they want to go to university? Did they like the teacher at GCSE because they made learning fun? Are they doing it because their friend is on the course? Did they chose the apparently ‘easy’ courses just so that they could stay on? Did they pick their courses purely because they felt they had to?

Ask the question then write it down.
It is important that the students really take time to think about and write down the real reasons for doing the courseHaving this close to hand for when the going gets tough, as a poster on the wall or the front page of their journal or even just a supportive adult reminding them of their reasons, can often be all that is needed to help. This is especially true as the teenage mind naturally ‘lives in the now’ and so it can really help them to visualise just why they are persevering with all this hard work now and how it will pay off in the future.

Some motivations just naturally support success and some don’t.
Interestingly the development of the 16 to 18 year old student means that their main motivation and task in life is to find out socially who they are. People of this age are more emotional and consequently, as said previously, tend to live in the present moment. As a result of this they can often be easily distracted from their studies by their social and emotional needs.

Saying that, having a social need can be a very strong motivation for doing a course, but when it all goes a bit array socially / emotionally, they may be also asking for trouble trying to stick with their intended course. It is important therefore to also focus on some personal motivations, such as a career path, in order to have a motivation that can’t be taken away due to social changes or disruptions.

The trials and tribulations of the teenage years

Teenage Rollercoaster

Empowering teenagers with the tools and language to be more socially intelligent, plus helping both them and their parent/teacher/carer to be able to ride the teenage emotional roller coaster,  can also be of enormous help during this time.

Some teenagers develop their emotional intelligence quicker than others, but being able to have the tools and framework in place to process strong emotions healthily can really help anyone to be successful with their studies during testing times.

Introducing new learning styles and scientific research
The most successful students are already independent learners, i.e. they are self motivated, they assess their own performance / attainment, they successfully adapt to new learning styles in order to be able to grasp more detailed information. They also take remedial action when necessary i.e. they look things up, work on tasks with peers, ask questions in class and always try to solve a problem to the best of their ability, etc. These are the skills that are required at A’Level/BTEC as well as for university. They also make for a strong foundation for most careers and for life. The issue arises when some of the brightest students at GCSE level hit their A’levels, i.e. those who perhaps previously needed to do little work to succeed and who find themselves faced by an unknown challenge. They have never had to ‘work hard’ and therefore they don’t have the habitual study skills that they now need to call on if they are to succeed.

In cases like these it is important that they try to find and try new learning methods as soon as possible. These should be tried out and then reflected back on during the first half term. What worked best for them? What didn’t work so well? What would work better? It is too easy for some individual students to build a culture of learning around their new course based on the familiarity of their GCSE experience, but this really will not allow them to progress at A’Level/BTEC or let them reach their full potential in later life.

Examples of some learning tactics to try:

1. Testing or quizzing yourself.
Although most people prefer not to take tests, study has shown that self-testing improves learning retention (Scientific American Mind Sept/Oct 2013). It creates stronger neural networks in the brain, networks which help link pieces of information together and this in turn helps the process of retrieval.

2. For the best results spread your study over time rather than cramming just before a test. This gives more time to link new information to what is already known and to synthesize a deeper understanding (Scientific American Mind Sept/Oct 2013).

3. Be verbally tested on the material. In a scientific test at an American university students were given 50 words of Swahili to learn. One group studied as per normal without being verbally tested and the other was verbally tested. The students in the group which was verbally tested got 85% of the questions right, compared to about 25% for the group who were not verbally tested.

4. After about 15 minutes stop and internally review what has just been covered. The more of your senses you use, the better. Hear what was being said, look at diagrams, study the page of text again, create an image / internal video of what has just been ‘taught.’ All of this enhances the neural network in your brain by laying down stronger memories i.e. you are actually creating your own individual internal memory about when you learnt these facts, concepts or experiences and then recalling these memories in order to recall the fact.

5. Work as a group to raise each individual’s understanding and gain new insights. At the prestigious American University, MIT, many of their students are coming from Japan & China, where a group culture is more prevalent. After a lecture they will gather in a cafe or room at the University and go through the lecture discussing the work and helping each individual to understand. In many cases they are now showing more success at their chosen subjects than their less ‘social’ fellow American students. Why? My thoughts are that the students in the group who already understand gain by clarifying what they know to others and therefore make stronger memories as a result. Those who are unsure or don’t yet understand something get the work explained by their peers, who will often use a similar level of language or explanations, mostly due to a common age or cultural background. Understanding is often not enough, the work needs to be absorbed and applied and group discussion allows for this.

What ever tactic(s) is(are) chosen, in all cases it is important that each individual learner gives each new method a good trial and review afterwards. Everyone has different ways of learning and absorbing information. The change from A’Level to BTEC empowers teenagers to investigate and lay down the learning habits that will give them the success they deserve now and in later life.

Coming soon, Synthesis Learning’s next post:
Coping with stress, anxiety and depression.

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Nigel F Huddleston is a learning coach and therapist with over 23 years of experience teaching teenagers and young adults. 

To discuss individual needs or explore creating your own personalised strategy, Nigel is available to book for a Skype or 1-to-1 session. Please call Nigel now on 07916148002 or complete a contact form

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Very few people look forward to revising and taking exams:

  • Those feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount that you have to learn
  • Being unable to sit down and focus at times
  • Getting pulled away by distractions and a general lack of motivation
  • Late night coffee and sugar fuelled cramming sessions
  • The dreaded turning over of the paper on the day of the exam !!!

All sounding a bit familiar? 


After years teaching teenagers at both GCSE and A’Level and working as an intervention tutor, I have pulled together a list of top tips to help you get through those difficult months.

These tips don’t just work for teenagers and young adults, they work for anyone taking an exam or even for people preparing for a new business pitch, public speaking or work presentation.

Ten tips for reducing exam stress and for success

Tip 1.
Get a calendar and put it somewhere where you will see it everyday. Mark on it the date(s) of the exam(s) or the event and start your revision several months beforehand.

Tip 2.
Clarify what motivates you: Why are your learning this? Where will it help lead you?
Where do you want to be? Create a poster of these motivations and put it above where you revise.

Tip 3.
Memorise small chunks of information at a time (note cards can work
well for this, with keywords as prompts for focusing or explaining one topic).

Tip 4.
Research and use several revision and memory methods, these are good but
plenty of others can be found online. Find and use the one that works best for you.

Tip 5.
Seek guidance from friends, family and tutors if your methods are not working very well. They may be able to provide insights into what has worked for them and perhaps they can make suggestions for what might work better for you.

Tip 6.

Test yourself frequently as you go along. Involve friends or family to help revisit past
tests, to help keep them fresh in your mind.

Tip 7.
If there are specific points you need help with, don’t get stuck. Make a simple note of them and then go and seek out the help you need.

Tip 8.
Copies of a syllabus make for a great checklist for what you know and what you still need to work on.

Tip 9.
Make it fun & enjoy it – if you like singing; sing it, drawing; draw it, role play; act it.
Pretend to address a room full of applause if it helps you.
With a good imagination this can really work!

Tip 10.
It’s important to create the neural pathways in your brain that you want
and to prepare your body to support you for the exam.

How? Do what the top athletes do: 

  1. Use visualisation to prepare your mind and body.  Visualise yourself sat at the exam table and finding out that you know each question like the back of your hand – it feels great, right! Then pick up that book smiling and visualise that what you’re studying now was one of those subjects on that paper, and the next subject is too, and the next. You are going to floor it at this rate!
  2. Train yourself to be in the present moment.  Focus on the task in hand. Right now you’re studying subject A – don’t worry about the other subjects, you’ll come to them in a bit. Worry occurs when you focus on the future instead of dealing with the present and it stops you focussing on what you need to learn right now.
  3. Eat the appropriate foods for your brain’s top performance such as list them here and also those that support your body in times of stress. More information on this can be found from links

Coming soon Synthesis Learning’s next post:
Transitioning from GCSE to A’Level or BTEC

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Nigel F Huddleston is a learning coach and therapist with over 23 years of experience teaching teenagers and young adults. 

To discuss individual needs or explore creating your own personalised strategy, Nigel is available to book for a skype or 1-to-1 session. Please call Nigel now on 07916148002 or complete a contact form
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