Volunteers with The Access Project tell us about tutoring during a pandemic, the rollercoaster ride of exam results, and how they’ve overcome the accompanying challenges. This is Charlotte’s story…

Charlotte Massey has been tutoring a Year 12 student with The Access Project

It is an unsettling feeling to be cast adrift as students have been this year. Panic-inducing. In the regimental structure of the British education system, pupils work out what lies ahead by glancing at the students in the year above.

My student’s life is dominated by reaching the final year of her A-levels, a place for her to realise her potential, achieving grades she doesn’t fully believe in just yet. Right now, the grown-ups tasked with overseeing her progress know little more than she does. It is a lot to overcome at 17 years of age. This year’s exam result week was a particularly bumpy one.

Plans and timetables have been blown away like dandelion clocks. We decided early on to “not waste this crisis.” To use the time to strengthen weaknesses and build up self-study skills normally established at university. It is all good (ish).

First up Maths, but “Maths is not my friend!”. Deconstructing and rebuilding metabolic rate calculations, statistical genetics and the volumes of various lumens has resulted in a passing acquaintance with mandatory competences. Questions are now encountered with less fear and panic. It’s heart-warming to hear.

And since March, I have only heard her. TAP has accelerated the deployment of safe video-tutoring resources, but my student, based near the empty offices of Canary Wharf, doesn’t have the necessary broadband to use this.

Weekly meetings in Leon have been replaced with twice-weekly, hour-long telephone calls. As formal teaching of the vast Biology syllabus hasn’t exceeded 20hrs since March, we’ve continued this arrangement across the summer holiday. Sharing diagrams, mind maps photos and links to videos via a google document.

We look at the experimental design of the core practicals she will miss. Grilling methodologies: extracting insights that are so fundamental to her body of learning. A discounted subscription kindly offered by SaveMyExams gives us the ability to share, interrogate and score sample exam questions.

It is not ideal, but we are humans, we adapt, we overcome, we evolve.

That’s not to say I am an exceptional scientist or mathematician. The biggest barrier I faced volunteering was “can I remember enough science to support someone during this crucial part of their young lives?” My Cellular and Molecular Biology BSc was awarded last century.

Yet, during the reassuring TAP induction process, I realised that my role isn’t guru, it’s coach. My job is to prepare and help others to read the course. I don’t run the race. To train right, structure my student’s learning and solve the puzzles of science. Being smart isn’t naturally partnered with the ability to pass exams. Studying is a skill to acquire whatever your situation.

Arriving at an exam with confidence and a successful strategy necessitates someone showing you the ropes and tempering misapprehensions. If you can help others, then you should.

I bring enthusiasm, a continuing passion for life sciences and a different perspective. A recent Data Analytics MSc introduced me to data-interpretation and Health informatics. It also gave me what education does for so many; confidence and the belief borne from the self-discipline and self-motivation successful study demands. Education lives with you your whole life and it can free you. To help you find common ground through shared experiences. My student sent me an SMS on Saturday morning, excitedly sharing her A* EPQ grade. Being a part of someone’s success is a powerful and heart-tingling experience.

Charlotte Massey is a Scientist, Marketer & Business Woman, she began tutoring a student with The Access Project in 2019.