Dr G’s Blog

How to prepare for an exam

Having been in university for almost a decade, I can confidently say that I can count on one hand the amount of times I have ever heard someone say that they enjoyed an exam. The thought of being confined to a room for two to three hours, whilst you rack your brain to remember everything you’ve learnt over the last few months is enough to make anyone nervous, so I thought I’d share six (6) tips I’ve learnt over the years that help make exams a bit more bearable…dare I say even mildly pleasant!

  1. Attend Classes

Actually going to your classes and not sleeping in is crucial, simply because lecturers usually only test on material they have actually taught in class. Also, your lecturer will often subtly give exam tips throughout the term saying things like “focus on this chapter”, “you’ll definitely be tested on this”, or “we won’t be covering chapter 11 in detail” etc. These tips let you know what to study and what not to ‘waste’ time revising.

  1. Ask for tips

At the end of the term ask the lecturer if they have any tips or can offer any direction regarding the exam. You can also approach your tutor/Teaching assistant for tips as these are usually PhD students and so they sympathise with students. Finally, ask students in the years above you who have taken the course if they have any advice regarding topics to focus on, type of questions the lecturer is likely to ask etc.

  1. Study the text

Go through the course textbook and try to determine what is testable, i.e. what would make a good essay question or good multiple choice questions. Also, always read the practice questions they put at the end of a chapter as these highlight the key topics and concepts that have been covered in the chapter.

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  1. Review past exam papers

If possible get your hands on copies of past exam papers for the course. Some universities publish these, but if your university doesn’t you can ask students in the years above you or approach student societies e.g. Ask the management society for business past papers. Reading past papers gives you an idea of what to expect and can help you feel more prepared and less anxious!

  1. Organise a group study session

Even if you prefer to study alone, just one group study session allow you to see what your peers are studying. A group session can offer direction and your friends can remind you to focus on topics that you may have previously overlooked. Your classmates can also help explain complex topics that you may not have fully grasped and in the end you will all help each other to better understand the material.

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  1. Learn your study style

Everyone has a different method for studying that works for them. I always had to take copious notes, then convert those notes to point form on cue-cards that I carried with me up until I went into the exam room. Others, like my sister, have a photographic memory and just had to re-read the text while highlighting key points in bright colours (lucky gal!). The point is that there is no ‘correct’ way to study, you just have to play around with different techniques until you figure out what works best for you.

I hope all of these tips help you in preparing for your upcoming exams. Let me know if you have any additional tips/tricks that work for you in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

Dr Gabi

Tips for managing stress – before, during and after exams!

Exams are stressful and to be honest there is no way to completely eradicate the anxiety they cause, however I hope the tips given below will help you better manage the exam process and ultimately reduce some of the stress you feel:

Before an exam

  • Study smart

Given the amount of information covered in a course, it is practically impossible to study everything, so you need to be selective about what you study. It’s best to uses the lecturer’s tips, past exam papers, advice from past students etc. as guidelines. Remember the key is to study smart, not hard. Click here for my tips on how to prepare for an exam

  • Exercise

Research has shown that exercise is a proven stress- reliever (See what the Mayo Clinic says here). You can go for a run, hit the gym or even just practise yoga in your room since moving your body will help you relax and get you in the right frame of mind to study.

 

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Get moving!
  • Take time off

Even the most committed student can only study for so long before they lose their concentration. Taking the time to re-focus is crucial, so if possible I recommend taking a day off each week where you do absolutely no studying and just relax. If you can’t spare a day, even taking a few hours to watch some TV will help you unwind.

  • Organise your day and tools

Finally, to make exams less stressful you need to be properly prepared on the day. So the night before an exam, organise your day by checking the bus schedule, buying stationary, finding a watch to use, getting your meals ready, checking the campus map to locate the exam room etc. Trust me, making these preparations the night before will make exam day much less frantic and leave you less stressed!

 

On exam day

  • Arrive early!

Exams are stressful enough and rushing in late means you not only lose time, but also peace of mind. Arriving early allows you to find your assigned seat, relax a bit and even joke around with friends to relieve the tension.

  • Practise a relaxation technique

When you get seated in the room, I find it best to practise some sort of relaxation technique to calm any pre-exam jitters. This could be saying a prayer, taking deep breaths, or just closing your eyes and zoning out, so that you can get in a good frame of mind to tackle the work ahead.

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Don’t be late!
  • Pack you snacks

Nothing is worse than trying to concentrate on an empty stomach. While some universities allow you to carry in a small snack e.g. granola bar, for others you can at least take water or gum in to help keep you refreshed. Yay! 🙂

  • Take bathroom breaks

Even if you don’t need to use the toilet – there’s value in taking a bathroom break. It allows you to stretch your legs, wash your face and honestly it just gives you a chance to step outside the tension that inevitably hovers over an exam room.

Post-Exam

  • Distract yourself

Regardless of whether you passed or failed an exam, once you exit that room there is nothing you can do to change that grade. So there’s literally nothing to be gained from moping around or agonising over the exam, so try to focus your energy on your other exams or even on just celebrating the end of the term!

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Time for cake!

 

  • Treat yourself

You worked hard and made it to the end – so treat yourself! I like to celebrate the end of every exam with a cake… but pick your poison and enjoy it! You deserve it!  🙂

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Dr Gabi

 

A Quick Guide: Finding sources for your bibliography….when you’re in a rush

We’ve all been there – the place where you’ve procrastinated and delayed writing your paper and are left in a panic at the last minute. While you may have a fair idea about what you intend to write in your paper, in academia, papers require more than just one voice – you need to incorporate the opinions/research of others. While the go-to method for finding sources is to check your university’s online library and journal resources, it’s great to have some alternative methods for those cases when you don’t have time to sift through lengthy databases. So here is a quick guide on how to find sources last minute when you’ve all but run out of time.

1. Check your course outline: The easiest way to find relevant literature for your paper is to scour the course outline or reading list given to you at the start of the course. This usually contains all of the core literature that the lecturer thinks is most relevant to their course and assignments, so it will give you some much needed guidance.

2. Roam the library: No matter how detailed your online search is you will miss some texts (especially those who don’t put keywords in their titles). Libraries are organised by subjects, so when in a bind, head to your library and find the classification code for your topic/subject and physically leaf through the books on the shelves to find relevant texts. Trust me, spending twenty (20) minutes in front of the shelves (skimming the Table of Contents) will help you find loads of sources.

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Spend some time amongst the shelves!

 

3. Rummage through bibliographies: Choose one of the classic texts for your field and read the bibliography. When working with bibliographies, think of the process as one in which you are creating a chain. So to start you find one core text and go to its bibliography, you pull out two relevant texts and then check their bibliographies for more relevant books/readings and so on and so on. In no time you will have a list of relevant works which you can then include in your own paper.

4. Find a thesis: A lot of students never really use Masters/PhD Theses as resources but they should simply because a thesis by nature must include the core/basic information on a given topic. So go online and find a thesis on your topic and simply read the introduction, because I guarantee it will include key definitions and background data, and of course the sources can be easily identified.

5. Read the news: The great thing about newspaper articles is that they feature the most current information in bite-size and easily digestible packets. So feel free to google the news surrounding your topic, you just need to ensure that the article is published in a reputable paper or on a reliable website so that the information is considered credible when you reference it in your work.

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Keep up with current affairs!

 

6. Ask a friend: Finally, if your friend is writing a similar essay, while you should never copy another classmate’s work, you can trade three or four sources with each other that you feel are worth reading and reviewing for your assignment. What are friends for if not helping out when you need them 🙂

I hope these tips help in those times when you’ve …. well…run out of time!

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Dr Gabi

 

Staying fit at University – 7 simple tips!

As the buzz of the New Year winds down, it’s time to get serious about those New Year’s goals we all made – one of which always revolves around being a healthier version of ourselves in the coming year. As a student, the new year means new courses, new assignments and new stresses, but it also means new opportunities for you to find great ways to relax – one of the best being exercise! In this blog I’m sharing a few tips about how to stay fit at university – all year round!

 

  1. Try new activities

To be quite honest, sometimes exercising can be a burden, so you really need to find something that you enjoy. Most universities have multiple student societies dedicated to an array of sports including rock climbing, yoga, badminton, pole dancing and even hitchhiking. These societies usually have ‘taster sessions’ at the beginning of the year, but if not, you can always do a ‘drop in’ session to try out their classes. Just give it a go – you’ve got nothing to lose and you may find a new hobby that you completely fall in love with!

  1. Join a gym/workout

Joining a gym is one of the best ways to commit yourself to staying fit, simply because no one likes to waste money. Most universities have gyms which are usually cheaper than the public ones, with the added bonus that you can make friends on campus! But if you’re by-passing the uni gym remember the #1 rule for picking a gym is that it should be close to either your university or your home because if it takes too much effort to get there you won’t go – Trust me! Also, if you’re really intimated by joining a gym, sign up for the free training/orientation sessions that gyms offer so you can get comfortable with the equipment and feel more confident. If the gym isn’t for you though, you can always exercise at home – check out this YouTube link for some great at-home workouts.

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You know what they say – the more…the merrier!
  1. Get a fitness buddy

Having a fitness buddy is great because he/she holds you accountable and helps you remain committed to your fitness program. A fitness buddy also makes workouts more fun, and can also make the gym or sport feel less intimidating. Being consistent is the hardest part of exercising, and the motivation and support of a fitness buddy is a huge help.

  1. Use Fitness Apps

One of the greatest tools to help you stay in shape is your cell phone. Fitness apps are fantastic because they allow you to monitor your diet and exercise, which is crucial to achieving your fitness goals. My favourite free app that I use almost daily is ‘My Fitness Pal’ which allows you to track your meals (you can even scan barcodes) and input your exercise for the day so that you know how much calories you need to burn to reach your goals. However, there are hundreds of other apps that you can use and tailor to fit you and your lifestyle (see our related post on the apps you need here). You can also invest in fitness tracker watches and gadgets (click here) if you feel a bit spendy!

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Try a free app today!
  1. Watch your diet

Unfortunately, like most students I have had an on-and-off relationship with dieting. However, over the years I’ve found that balance really should be your focus. Everyone loves junk food (I myself an unapologetic KFC addict) but it’s important to treat junk food as a ‘treat’ and not a ‘staple’ in your diet. I find it works best to eat well 70% of the time and treat myself the remainder of the time. Trust me when I say that you will feel better when you eat better. So give it a try and while you’re at it check out theses great tips from Nottingham Uni here. ! **Also, drink more water…I swear this helps almost any ailment.

  1. Maintain a healthy relationship with food

It’s also important that while trying to stay fit you make sure that you maintain a healthy relationship with food. Severe dieting or over-indulging are both unhealthy in the long-run and can potentially cause long-term damage to your body. If you find yourself developing harmful eating habits then reach out to your university’s health centre or student advising teams for guidance. You can also check out this great article by the Charity BEAT for more information – click here!

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Find Balance….
  1. Pay attention to the small stuff

Finally, ‘staying active’ doesn’t only refer to participating in sports. You can commit to fitness by simply walking instead of catching the bus or taking the stairs and not the elevator. These small daily steps add up and help you remain healthier. Also, getting enough sleep and allowing your body time for recovery is also critical in ensuring you don’t get run down and can live a healthy and active life!

 

I hope these tips help you on your way to staying fit!

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Dr Gabi

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The 8 apps every student needs for the New year!

Being a university student is complicated – trust me I know having been one for almost a decade. Between attending classes, studying, making friends, joining societies, developing hobbies and applying for jobs, there are so many balls to juggle that it can quite honestly become quite overwhelming at times. Luckily, we live in modern times and new technology means that we have help right at our fingertips. Below I’ve included my top eight (8) apps that can make university life that much more productive and of course given the student budget – they are completely free!

  1. For Fitness – The Calorie counter: My Fitness Pal App

My fitness pal is an amazing app that helps you get your fitness regime on track. The app allows you to input your goals, track your calories and monitor your diet plan. What’s great about it is that you can easily track your meals by scanning anything with a bar code or searching over 2,000,000 foods in their database. You can also input your daily exercise (e.g. 15 mins on a treadmill) so that they can can accurately calculate how many calories you burned each day. If getting fit is one of your goals for the New Year, click here for the My Fitness Pal app 

 

  1. For notes – The Office Lens App

Office lens is a student’s dream where note-taking is concerned, since it allows you to capture whiteboards and scan notes all on your phone.  Instead of distractedly trying to jot down key points during class, you can simply snap a picture for later use. The app then cleans up your images and allows you to convert them to PDF, Word or PowerPoint format. You can also scan your friends’ notes and convert these to another more readable format. Note-taking and note-sharing just got a whole lot easier with this app.

 

  1. For papers and theses – A Referencing App

The app I chose to feature here is APA referencing PRO but you can choose any app that is specific to your chosen referencing style e.g. Harvard, Chicago etc. These apps are quite detailed and let you select what kind of reference you are using (e.g. book chapter – print version, journal article, online magazine etc.) and then you simply type in the information and it generates the perfect reference. No more headaches trying to figure out what needs to be in italics or where to put commas (insert happy dance lol)! Try out the APA referencing pro here.

 

  1. For productivity – The Stay Focused-App Block

This self-control app is something I only recently discovered, but so desperately needed in my life. How many days have you gone to bed amazed that you did nothing all day expect surf the web and scour social media? Well this app allows you to block any of your chosen sites for a period of time so that you are forced to focus on your work. This is a fabulous tool all year round but especially during the exam period – so give it a try here!

 

  1. For shopping – The UniDays App

One of the best things about being a student (in my opinion at least) is getting student discounts! In the UK where I studied, most high street stores do substantial discounts for students so you can get anywhere from 10 to 25% off your purchases. This app features discounts from some of the top brands such as ASOS, Mc Donald’s, Levis, Uber, Microsoft etc. so you really can get a discount on just about everything! I used this app religiously and trust me the savings add up, so give the UniDays app a try!

 

  1. For money – The AndroMoney App

Money is one of the hardest things to come by while at uni – so tracking your money and making it stretch is really important. This colourful and intuitive app works in any currency and allows you to monitor your spending, manage your expenses and generate reports that show where your money went. While it’s admittedly a little tiring to track your money – believe me it pays off, plus being held accountable for your spending tends to help you make more responsible decisions. Give it a try and download the AndroMoney app here.

 

  1. For safety – Circle of 6

Circle of 6 is a great way to help ensure that you can get help when you need it. The app allows you to quickly and discreetly send a message to you trusted friends alerting them that you are in a tricky situation and forwarding them your GPS location. You can also program your app to call national hotlines or emergency services with the push of a button. Unfortunately, given today’s world and the current climate with violence against women, this app is sadly necessary to help keep students safe. For more safety tips read this article by The Complete University Guide and download the app here.

 

  1. For inspiration – TED App

Every now and again every student gets demotivated – it’s just a part of academic life. The Ted app is a great ways to get inspired because it is filled with stories of ordinary people who have managed to achieve great things. The app allows you to access over 2,000 TED talks on almost every topic imaginable – so have a look whenever you need a little extra push. Get the TED app.

 

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Dr Gabi

Five tips for surviving the holidays on campus

As lovely as it would be to always be able to go home for Christmas, unfortunately for many students (myself included) it’s not always possible given financial constraints or even insane deadlines. So for many, Christmas is going to be spent at university and I won’t lie to you – spending the holidays away from your family and friends, on an almost deserted campus is far from enjoyable. However, having experienced it myself, I compiled a few tips that can help make the season a lot more bearable….maybe even a little enjoyable 🙂

Tip 1: Keep yourself busy

My number one tip for the holiday season is to keep yourself occupied! The Christmas season is the one season that truly celebrates family and togetherness, so it’s completely understandable that it’s really difficult to enjoy it whilst away from home. Honestly, the best way to make it through the holiday season is to distract yourself. When I was stuck on campus I spent a lot of time in the library working on my thesis, popped in to the gym four times per week (bonus: it’s empty at Christmas), attended Christmas shows and even just wandered around London taking in the sights. Based on my experience, it’s really important to fill your days so that you don’t have time to focus on missing home so much.

Tip 2: Reach out to people

If your friends are staying on or around campus for the holidays – count yourself lucky! However, if they head home, you can use the holiday period as an opportunity to expand your social circle. Trust me when I say everyone who is away from their family, friends and hometowns feels a little vulnerable and to be honest, a bit lonely, so they are often more willing than usual to meet new people and develop new relationships. So try talking to the girl in the next flat or chatting with a stranger while waiting at the bus stop. Even if you don’t click and become friends, sometimes it’s just nice to have a face-to-face conversation and have a bit of a laugh or a moan, especially on a semi-deserted campus.

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Carnaby Street’s Christmas Carnival (2017)

Tip 3: Embrace the cultural festive activities

A good way to keep busy is to participate in the Christmas festivities that take place in your hometown or nearby cities. If you’re an international student like I was, you really have an opportunity to see and celebrate Christmas in a new and fresh way.  I was studying in the UK, and nobody does Christmas quite like London, which has too many Christmas activities to count (Click here for a list of 101 Christmas activities). Even if you’re not near London, you can pop over to some of the other large cities e.g. Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh for some festive cheer. Being from the Caribbean I really wanted to embrace British culture and take advantage of the opportunity to try new activities and I had an absolute blast trying skating, visiting Christmas markets, browsing the shopping malls and of course checking out the Christmas lights.

Tip 4: Make Christmas day plans

For many, the hardest part of spending Christmas on campus is undoubtedly Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. What’s worse is that in the UK a lot of public transport systems shut down on Christmas Day so that even bustling cities can seem like ghost towns. So it’s really important that you make plans for Christmas Day so that you won’t feel too homesick. The best case scenario is that you have friends or flatmates that you can share a holiday meal with so the day is more festive. However, this isn’t always the case and if you’re going to be alone I recommend that you go shopping, splurge on the premium food range and cook yourself a great holiday feast while catching up on any TV series or movies you’ve been dying to see. You can also schedule various Skype dates with your family and friends back home so that you have people to interact with during the day and celebrate the season with even if it’s from a distance.

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Don’t be a grinch 🙂

Tip 5:  Shift your mindset

As clichéd as it may sound – your attitude really can transform your day-to-day life. I honestly never understood this more than when I had to spend Christmas on campus and was faced with a deserted campus and very an empty house. However, it must be said that I quickly realised that there were some small advantages to being on an empty campus. For example, I had the library all to myself (no jostling to reserve a computer), no rush for the evening bus and best yet no line in the coffee shop! My point is that while being on campus for the holidays is less than ideal (read: kind of gloomy) it helps to take advantage of the emptiness and sort of re-train your mind to see the mini-benefits of the situation.

I hope all of these tips help you to get through the Christmas break!  Also, please do drop any of your own tips down in the comments section!

Thanks for stopping by!

Dr Gabi

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Bouncing back after bad midterm results

University is challenging and for most students examinations are by far the most difficult and daunting tasks. Having been through my fair share of exams (as both a student and as a lecturer), I understand first-hand how disappointing it can be when you don’t perform as well as you thought you would. However it’s important to remember that learning is a process and the great thing about university is that there is always an opportunity to do better, whether it be in the remainder of your course’s assignments, in your other courses or even in the next academic year. In this blog post I discuss a few tips which can help students can bounce back from bad grades and hopefully improve their academic performance:

  1. Ask for feedback

One of the easiest ways to improve your performance on exams is to ask your lecturer/teaching assistant for feedback whenever you get your paper back. It’s amazing how few students approach the lecturer when this is the one person who can explain exactly why you performed poorly. Asking them for some quick feedback will help you identify your shortcomings and give you clear guidance that will definitely prove beneficial in the future. Also trust me when I say lecturers do not mind giving feedback– we like to see our students do well and want to help you grow.

  1. Figure out what you are doing wrong

While it’s tempting to just toss a bad paper in a drawer and forget about it – it does you a disservice. In grading papers, lecturers usually leave comments letting you know what mistakes costs you marks – you need to study these comments so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. Even If there aren’t any comments, you should still re-read the paper and try to determine where you went wrong, using your class notes and text books as references. I really believe that this process will help you recognise your weaknesses with regards to your knowledge of the course content, your writing style and  even your comprehension of exam questions.

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  1. Try new methods

If you’re consistently under-performing in your exams you need to explore new ways of studying and preparing for exams, simply because your usual methods are not working. There are so many proven study tricks that you can try e.g. speaking out loud instead of just reading, creating mnemonics to help you remember, making cue card notes to carry with you; using flow charts or diagrams; participating in group study sessions etc. As tedious as it sounds, you just need to keep trying methods until you find the one that works for you. (For more tips, check out our blog on ‘How to prepare for an exam’).

  1. Reach out to your classmates

While this can seem intimidating, reaching out to classmates who have done well is an easy way to find out what your examiners are looking for when grading papers. If your friends have done well, you can ask to see their papers to get an idea about the quality of work that needs to be produced in order to get good grades. Or, you can simply just ask them for advice about their study methods, how they write their essays, what resources they access on campus etc. This works because in one simple conversation you can get keys tips from the people who are taking your course and excelling at it.

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  1. Make use of university resources

Another under-utilised resource that most students forget about are the student services offered by your university. No matter what your problems are I guarantee that you are not the first student to face them and that there are personnel on campus who are trained to help you. Whether it be general concentration issues, anxiety while sitting exams, the crippling effects of imposter syndrome, or financial/personal stresses that cause distractions, there are student advisors, academic advisors, financial advisors and counsellors that can help you sort through your problems so that you have a better chance of excelling at university. Pro tip: Find them and make use of their services.

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Finally, do not beat yourself up over bad grades, it really is just a part of university life – a right of passage if you will 🙂 . Having been in university for almost a decade, I can tell you that at every level you get knocked down at some point – it’s completely inevitable and part of the process. So just remember to always do the best you can and vow to do even better next time.

I hope these tips have been useful and do let me know if you have any other tips that have worked for you!

Best of luck in your exams!

Dr Gabi

Black Friday – A student guide

If you’re a university student – you learn quickly that ‘sales’ and ‘specials’ are your new best friends. Below I’ve rounded up the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that suit the student budget. ENJOY!

If you’re looking to update your WARDROBE:

  • New Look: 25% off everything (no code necessary). Shop the sale here.
  • ASOS: 20% off everything (CODE: WIN20). Shop the sale here
  • H&M: 20% off everything and free delivery (CODE: 1662). Shop the sale here.
  • Topshop: Up to 50% offeverything (no code necessary). Shop the sale here.
  • Zara: Up to 20% off selected items (no code necessary). Shop the sale here.
  • Mango: 30% of everything (CODE: BLACK17). Shop the sale here.
  • Pretty Little Thing: Up to 50% off (no code necessary). Shop the sale here.
  • Missguided 50% off everything (CODE: CYBER50). Shop the sale here
  • Boohoo: Up to 50% off everything (no code necessary). Shop the sale here

shopping idea

If you need some new TECH:

  • Amazon: Anything you can think of you can find here. Seriously. Shop the sale here.
  • Argos:  Great deals on laptops and tablets. Shop the sale here.
  • Currys PC World: Hundreds of deals available. Shop the sale here.

 

For some new BEAUTY products:

  • Boots: Various deals site-wide. Shop the sale here.
  • Superdrug: Up to 60% off. Shop the sale here.
  • NARS: 20% off everything (Enter your email address for code). Shop the sale here.

For a little bit of everything….

  • Selfridges: Various deals (CODE: SELFCCE). Shop the sale here.
  • John Lewis: Discounts site-wide. Shop the sale here.
  • House of Fraser: Up to 40% off. Shop the sale here.
  • Debenhams: Lots of sales across the site. Shop the sale here.

Let us know below if you shopped any of the sales and what you got!

Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Dr Gabi