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The best apps to improve your vocabulary

By zcbepma, on 10 January 2019

Today student writer Priya tells us about apps that you can use to expand your vocabulary. 

Whether you are a native English speaker or not, broadening your English language skills is something you will undoubtedly develop over the course of your lifetime.

Native speakers can always make an effort to improve their vocabulary by learning new words because what you say to others will affect them just like how they communicate will affect how you interpret something.

The English language is used everywhere and especially when doing a degree at university. Writing papers and essays along with doing presentations and speeches are all closely connected to language skills.

So, you’re probably wondering “How do I improve without it being boring?” – Well, I have the perfect answer; Apps.

Apps can help you improve your vocabulary skills and range from being just for fun to helping you during your GCSEs and/or A levels.

Vocabulary Builder

This app is super helpful if you need help with improving your vocabulary.

It is very user-friendly and quite easy to use. The app focuses on expanding your current vocabulary whilst helping you use it in everyday situations. You do this through lots of games and quizzes!

You can do a quiz every day and learn the English dictionaries most important words…can you guess how many there are?

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Words with Friends

As the name of the app suggests, this one is good if you want to learn along with friends! This app looks like a crossword puzzle and lets people test their vocabulary and skills a little bit like the way Scrabble does.

You have to get the highest score by competing against other people. You’ll have to stretch yourself with this one because it’s a brain puzzling game!

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Word of the Day

This app is great for people who love to learn new words. As the name of the app suggests – you learn a new word every single day! This app is great for those of you doing your GCSEs as it is designed by qualified English teachers.

You can explore some of the English languages most interesting, rare and unusual words. You can save the words into your own book and return to look back at them whenever you want. You can also share them with friends who are using the app!

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Exam Vocabulary Builder

This one is designed using a common tool that people use to revise: Flashcards! It is designed to act as a crash course in building your vocabulary.

This one is a little bit more challenging because it is designed for students taking graduate school exams, university entrance exams and professional advancement, however, if you’re finding that the other ones are too easy then who’s to say you can’t use this one!

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Improve English: Word Game

Using a bunch of really complicated algorithms the app helps you learn English skills whilst learning your exact speech pattern. When it figures this out it will give you a range of scores, ranging from how clear you are to how many unique words you use.

It will then benchmark you against other students around your age! This is a great one if you want to improve something specific or if you like to log your progress using numbers!

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A word from the writer: 

Hi my name is Priya! I study Biochemical Engineering and my area of expertise is in Bioprocessing of New Medicine with Business and Management. I am currently a 2nd Dan Black Belt ITF Tae-kwon-do instructor. I like to regularly train at UCL but also love to teach at my local club.

Top tips for overcoming those dreaded presentation nerves

By zcbepma, on 13 December 2018

Today student writer Priya gives her tips on preparing to give presentations at university, and how to calm those nerves! 

It doesn’t matter whether your presenting when you’re 5 years old or in your late seventies – everyone suffers from those dreaded nerves at some point or another. You might be hit with them the day before you’re due to speak in front of your class, going to an interview, a meeting or even going onto to stage. But it is imperative that you don’t allow them to hinder your performance and hold you back from achieving great things!

When you get to university, presentations are essential and they are pretty much thrown at you from the day you set foot through the door. You might be asked to present by yourself or in a group – either way, there are things that are expected; like being able to project your voice, speaking clearly and with confidence and being able to adapt. If what I’ve just said is making you quiver then don’t worry! I’ve devised a bunch of top tips to help you calm and prepare those pesky nerves!

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!!!

Yes, the first tip is the most obvious and the one that you probably didn’t want to hear, but, it is true! The more you practice the more you will start to feel comfortable with the information that you are required to present. This means that when the time comes you will be an expert in talking about it and answering any questions. If you have to present with some of your friends then make sure you practice together and do this more than once. Make sure you don’t stress out too much though! 10 minutes before you are due to present take a break – you need to keep a clear head!

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2. Watch other speeches

Have you heard of TED Talks? No? Ok – go online and have a listen to some of these amazing speakers. You’ll find more than one inspiring individual and you can pick up a lot about what makes a good presentation. Note how they engage the audience and how they use their hands to communicate their message.

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3. Meditate

This is an optional tip to help with anxiety and the jitters. Studies show that meditation can reduce anxiety and depression by increasing calmness.  It helps to deal with a loss of control and feelings of hopelessness. You don’t know how to meditate and want to try it? No problem – apps like Headspace can guide and give you some super handy tips on how to handle, manage and deal with stress.

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4. Stay hydrated

So the tips mentioned so far are all things you should do way before the presentation, however, drinking water is one that you can use during the presentation. Drinking water stops your throat from getting scratchy – which happens when you are super nervous! Bring a bottle and keep it near so that you can reach for it before and during the presentation. (Just make sure you don’t overdo it otherwise you’ll have to run to the little boys/girls room)

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5. Breathe

Breathing is super important! When you get nervous or anxious you tend to breathe much shallower than usual meaning that your brain isn’t getting the normal amount of oxygen. Sometimes this can lead to hyperventilations or panic attacks. Make sure you take a long deep breath – in through your nose and out through your mouth. This can really calm you down and slow down your current heart rate meaning that you stay calm. Trust me – if you do this you will feel instantly better

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6. Smile

Yes, this is no joke. Smiling makes you and the audience feel comfortable. You look confident. You look like you know what you’re doing. There is a reason, a scientific one at that, to smile. Smiling releases those endorphins and little hormones called Serotonin. This hormone is the happy chemical released in your brain and it relaxes your muscles and body – it slows your heart rate and decreases your blood pressure. All good stuff right? Even if you’re not feeling a Cheshire cat smile – do it and it will help the whole experience!

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A word from the writer:

Hi my name is Priya! I study Biochemical Engineering – my area of expertise is in Bioprocessing of New Medicine with Business and Management. I am currently a 2nd Dan Black Belt ITF Tae-kwon-do instructor. I like to regularly train at UCL but also love to teach at my local club.

20th Century Fresher

By Michael Wyatt, on 25 October 2018

Today, student writer Michael tells us about his experience of starting university two years later than planned. 


“Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional”

– Walt Disney


Are you a UCL fresher? Are you older than 18? Don’t worry, a lot of us are/were.

When I arrived at UCL two years later than planned, needless to say, I was apprehensive. I was conscious of the fact that I had not been socialising with people my own age for a while and I’d been out of education for enough time to believe my brain had gone dormant. I’d convinced myself that everyone was going to think I was “old and boring”, and as a result make no friends and regret the time I took out after school. I was wrong. 

If you are about to start at UCL and become a ‘UCL fresher’ after taking a year (or years) out prior to this, hopefully this post will settle your nerves a bit. Trust me, you’ll be fine. Your brain has not collapsed in on itself; you’re not a dinosaur and you’ve gained valuable life experience that will only enhance your time at UCL, not diminish it. 

Reaching the end of your gap year(s)

It has become the norm for students to take gap years after secondary school before starting university. Many travel, some work and some are forced to take some time out beyond their control. Me? I spent a year in and out of hospital, then a year working to strengthen my CV. When the start of term approached, I suddenly realised that I’d not spent a lot of time reading or engaging my brain in academic work, or even doing much socialising, and immediately panicked that I was in no way prepared for what lied ahead.

For any ‘fresher’ (new student), starting university can be scary, and we all arrive with our own unique anxieties about the coming months. For those about to start after taking time out, there may be a few shared anxieties that you and your fellow 20th century born peers are feeling, I know I had a few. This is why I have decided to write a short guide below on how to approach university if you’ve not come straight from school. The short version? Don’t worry – it all works out fine!

Am I too old for freshers? Am I too old for friends?

In a word: no. University is full of people all shapes, sizes and ages. If you’re a 21 year old fresher, there will be many younger than you but also students who are older too. It may be cliché, but age really is just a number at university. Whilst a lot of ‘freshers’ arrive straight out of school at 18, there are a still a huge number of students that do not. Some are child prodigies and start university 16 or 17, whilst others are taking a pause in their career to do another degree. Either way, taking a gap year or some general time out and arriving at 20 or 21 will make no difference. You may gravitate towards people you’re own age, or mix with a range of different age groups. As long as you choose to want friends, you’ll find them.

Will I find it hard coming back into education?

This is a concern I think a lot of students face before arriving at university; even if they haven’t taken a gap year. Post sixth form summer in itself can feel like a long time to let your brain seep into a joyous state of relaxation, let alone taking a year out. I spent over a year working in an office before coming to UCL and still thought my brain had not been worked hard in so long that I was going to struggle reading a book – not to mention writing essays every month.

The key thing to remember is this: you got into UCL. You’re smart. Your brain needed the time you gave it to chill out, and whilst it may take you a couple of weeks to get back into routine, you are no less intelligent than when you finished school. If anything, you’ve gained life experience and have used your brain in new ways over the last year that you’re even more prepared!

Everyone struggles to get used to the independent working style of university at first. There is no one to tell you when to do things or how they should be done. Allow yourself a bit of extra time to write up lecture notes and read articles in the first term. Take your time to ensure you are understanding everything you’re trying to learn. After Christmas, you’ll have forgotten about the time you were worried about under achieving because you’ll be swimming in firsts.

Do I need to prepare myself for what lies ahead?

Absolutely not. Show up with an open mind and prepare for a complete world wind of an experience. Nothing can prepare you for university. It is a world completely outside of your control – other than your grades – and that is what makes it so exciting.

University: an opportunity to help others?

By Michael Wyatt, on 6 April 2018

Michael, a Human Sciences students tell us about the ways you can use university to help you help others. 

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

From the moment we reach secondary school, or for some even before then, we are told how useful university is. We are told it will help us get good jobs, meet interesting people and present us with better opportunities. University is portrayed as a chance to utilise resources handed to you that allow you to make something of yourself and grow as a person, but that’s not all it is. University is a remarkable place with avenues that allow us to reach our full potential, but it is also a place that provides a never-ending stream of opportunities to help others, and use our abilities to enable others to reach their full potential too. Whether it be participating in voluntary schemes, involving yourself in mentoring programmes or teaching useful life skills to young people, university is, above all, a place to help others.