So it seems the best way to prepare students for their exams are ‘mocks’ and I emphasise the plural. Although many teachers see the impact of over testing it appears with the new curriculum reforms up and running it’s their main weapon against the problem of adequate exam preparation. Whether the new subject specifications really are tougher or the focus on application of knowledge over regurgitation is causing the most headache, it seems students are struggling with the changes. However, should they really be taking the fall for a system that up until a couple of years ago thrived on ‘teaching to the test’?
There’s no doubt schools seem to be turning up the heat by squeezing additional support sessions out of their teachers and are communicating the need to revise harder and earlier more than ever. I have always wondered what the idea of ‘working harder’ really means to a student (as I hear them spill out this line every week). For some it may be true, a few additional minutes/hours at their desks could make a valuable difference. I worry that at best most are going through the motions and often zoning out completely or praying for their next WhatsApp message to appear.
If you have a member of the family preparing themselves for the first of their mocks then what should you do? The school will stress the importance of the experience and use the results to support the build-up to the summer exams. This is true if the individual can focus and prepare adequately instead of the denial often experienced around this time by year 11 and 13s (although the other extreme is panic and exhaustion before 2019 even begins)!
If you need to help your child take things seriously an exam overview of the next 6 months might work. I have used this with pupils struggling to get down to the business end of things and by displaying through a calendar or using flashcards to represent the weeks remaining to their exams the time is easier for them to visualise. I then block out days/times where they will not be working; holidays, birthdays, family gatherings, sport or recreational commitments etc… They see the number of days/weeks they have to prepare falling. I take out 5 more days over the next 6 months when they might be ill and a few more for unexpected activities/circumstances and what seemed like all the time in the world has diminished. This plan can also be used to work out a rough revision schedule for their mocks. Dividing days into subjects and including blank sessions where revision can be ‘carried over’ if missed. By constructing a revision timetable going into their mock’s students have the opportunity to see what works for them and most importantly what does not. When they come to prepare for the final few weeks before the summer series they know how best to approach their revision plan.
A child that gets anxious or ruled by their exam preparation a similar approach can be used (without the countdown method). A realistic timetable that emphasises their recreation and gives opportunities to ‘carry over’ missed revision sessions can help alleviate some of the stress and control they face during these crunch periods. The more effective they are the more relaxed they should be. It also allows parents to see what their child has planned without questioning what they are doing and aggravating what can sometimes already be a tense feeling within the home.
I haven’t addressed what students should be doing during these ‘revision sessions', but watch this space for a blog on ‘how to revise’ coming soon. Right now it’s all about preparation for the next few months of peaking intensities and managing workloads so no one gets taken by surprise or burnt out before May.