Mock Exams: Preparing Your Students The Right Way

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

For many of us the next few weeks will be very eventful. Christmas is just around the corner and we’re all looking forward to spending time with our families and enjoying the festivities.

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For our final year students, however, the festive period will be very busy. They’ll be preparing for mock examinations in IGCSE’s, GCSE’s, ‘A’ – Levels, IBDP subjects and others. Many, unbeknownst to us, will also be topping up their revision time with private tuition and extra classes. 

The pressure is on: as it should be. 

My view point has always been that if students are going to give up a whole Christmas break revising and studying in this way, then they need to be doing it properly. 

As teachers, I feel we have a duty to train and monitor our students thoroughly as they get ready for the most difficult exams they’ve ever taken. 

In many schools, students are simply told that they have mock exams coming up in January and that they’d better revise or else! But is this really fair?

We sometimes assume that our students are old enough to take responsibility for their own learning. Sometimes we are content to take a back seat and let the students take ownership of their own revision.

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I believe that standpoint neglects the true needs of our learners in terms of guidance and assurance. By adopting the idea that we can leave these kids to their own devices over the Christmas vacation, we are essentially being negligent in our duties. 

So how do we make sure that our students are really making the best use of their time? What can we do to truly help them achieve success in the mock exams?

#1: Provide Past-Papers

We must not assume that our students can, or will, find past-papers online.

We must not assume that our students can, or will, find mark schemes and model answers online.

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Consider doing the following:

  1. Print out booklets filled with past papers and mark schemes. Give these to your students just before they set off for the Christmas vacation. Perhaps set the papers as a homework? Between 10 and 15 past-papers usually suffices.
  2. If you’re conscious of the cost and/or environmental impact of printing so many past-paper booklets, then simply share the pdfs with your students. You can publish these online via your school’s VLE or even set up a padlet or bulk e-mail. 
  3. Encourage your students to complete the past-papers under timed conditions: this will train them to answer efficiently without leaving blank spaces.
  4. Provide the examiner’s reports for each exam paper: these offer rich information which the official mark schemes don’t offer. Show your students how to use these.
  5. Just prior to the mock exams (i.e. just after or just before the Christmas break), consider holding some past-paper ‘clinics’. These can be run after-school if class time is taken up with whole-school exams. Use these clinics to go through the mark schemes to specific papers. Whilst you’ll be sacrificing some of your time, the pay off is that you’ll be helping your students immeasurably and at exactly the right moment for maximum impact. 

#2: Teach your students how to revise

Just recently I held a very active Year 11 revision class. It was a summary session on polymers and plastics. 

Providing material for revision: such as websites and printed summaries, I gave the students a menu of options from which to complete their topic overviews:

  • Mind-mapping
  • Flash cards/revision cards
  • Writing bullet points
  • Recording notes on their phone (spoken verbally)
  • Creating a website summary
  • A Google slides presentation
  • Build a game or quiz
  • Past-paper question hunt
  • Anything else they could think of

Sessions like this encourage the students to find out what their preferred methods of revision are. They also show students new methods they may never have thought of before. 

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Try to increase the frequency of revision sessions like this as the terminal exams approach. Use tried-and-tested methods you already know about, and draw upon the ideas of your students for new creative inspiration. 

#3: Do your students know when to revise?

Have you done the research yourself? How many hours per night should students be revising? Are morning sessions better than afternoon sessions? How many breaks should they have? When should they have breaks? What should they eat? When should they eat? When should they sleep, and for how long? 

Surprisingly, the vast majority of educators do not know the answers to these questions. As a consequence, our students are often misguided and left to figure all this out by themselves. 

Whilst research in the area of effective revision and knowledge retention can be conflicting, there are many startling consistencies. I’ve summarised this research in my ‘Mock Exams Preparation!’ infographic below. Please feel free to share this with your students, colleagues and parents. They need to know this information!

mock-exams-richardjamesrogers

#4: Monitor their revision over the school vacation

Yes, I know that we’re on holiday too. 

Yes, I know that we deserve a break too.

What I’m suggesting is not massively time-consuming, but it will have a MASSIVE impact on the success of your students. 

Set up some kind of online journal, where the students can record a few sentences each day describing what they revised. Consider the following ideas:

  • Make the journal open for all students to see, maybe by creating a Google doc that every student has access to. This will provide other students with ideas as the vacation progresses and they see what their peers are revising. It also adds a thin layer of accountability, as it’s easy to see who hasn’t added to the class journal. Use your judgement of your students to see if this is appropriate. Maybe ask them for their opinion about it before you set it up. 
  • Make the journal closed, perhaps by setting up a Google doc for each student that you can check each day. Maybe an e-mail system works better for you: where students e-mail you a few sentences each day. 
  • Market the idea as a ‘help tool’: an online journal where students can record what revision techniques worked well for them that day, and ask any questions they have. The other students in the group can then answer those questions, comment on the suggestions and the teacher can even offer written guidance too. This ‘collaborative’ form of journaling can have an amazing motivational effect, and can even raise students’ enjoyment of your subject. 

There’s one experience in my sixth-form schooling that I’ll never forget as long as I live. It shows the impact that a dedicated teacher can have on his or her students.

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It was Christmas 2001. I was 17 and getting ready for my mock exams, but I was slacking off. One week into the holiday and I hadn’t done any ‘AS’ – Level Physics revision.

Then, the telephone rang. I picked it up and to my shock and embarrassment it was my Physics teacher.

“How’s the revision going, Richard?”

“Err, err, it’s going okay, sir” 

“Do you have any questions so far?”

“Err, no I think I’m good”

“Okay then. Don’t forget that the exam is only 10 days away”

“Okay. Thank you, sir, bye”

“Bye Richard”

If ever there was a wake-up call in my life, that was it. I was embarrassed to have to lie to my teacher. The revision wasn’t going well – I hadn’t done any.

That day I pulled up my socks and went at my studies like a steam train. It was the phone call that did it – a call from someone who cared. Someone I respected.

Sometimes a little bit of pain does a lot of good. Left to my own devices I would have crammed my Physics revision into the last few days of the holiday. 

Summary

  • Provide plenty of past-papers, mark schemes and examiner’s reports. Crucially: go through the papers when the students have completed them.
  • Teach your students the science of good revision. Feel free to share my infographic with them!
  • Monitor revision over the Christmas vacation (very powerful!). Set up some kind of online journaling system that suits your students. Ask for their input on it before you set it up. 

 

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Don’t miss the Christmas Giveaway for 2017! From 25th – 29th December, Richard’s book will be free to download on the Amazon Kindle store globally. Merry Christmas and enjoy (and tell your friends)!

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Developing Independent Learning Skills: Teaching Our Students to Teach Themselves

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The ability to learn independently is a key aspirational skill of all of our students; or at least it should be.

Not only do our top students need to learn how to study independantly when they get to university, but all of our students need to be prepared for careers that may not yet exist.

Empower students through marking

When you first meet your advanced learners, or when they are starting out on their ‘independent learning training’, empower them with encouraging comments on their work.

Take this recent example of mine for instance:

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“Excellent advice!”

This work is from a final year IBDP student. She’s done a good job of finding and filtering relevant information by herself. I’ve praised the things she’s done well, and offered tips on how to extend her research.

Over time, the amount of written comments I give on this kind of project work/research will definitely decrease. This is only needed in the initial stages.

For her next piece of work, peer assessment and some verbal feedback from me may be all that she needs to be encouraged to keep on track and continue to improve.

Design project work with a creative outcome in mind

Here are some ideas for group and individual projects:

  • Create an infographic about a particular topic, to be displayed on the classroom wall
  • Create a class presentation, perhaps on Google slides, to be presented to the class at some future date
  • Create a website summary of a topic
  • Build a model or a demo to show the class
  • Create a dramatized play/news report about a topic
  • Create a song/rap
  • Create a stop-motion animation of a process
  • Create a spatial Learning activity (kids might need some training for this one: see my blog post here for help)
  • Create a leaflet or brochure, to be distributed to another class or Year group (cooperate with other teachers on this one – perhaps a leaflet exchange is a good idea)

Can you think of more to add to the list?

Use Imaginative Evaluation

When people think of an ‘evaluation’ they’re often drawn to their early memories of their Science lessons at school.

In those kinds of evaluations students have to decide what worked well, what didn’t work well and what changes could be made to methods and equipment to make the experiment better next time.

With Imaginative Evaluation, students use their ingenuity to think of what they could do better if there were no limitations in terms of equipment, time, resources and technology.

In an attempt to create the innovators of tomorrow, Imaginative Evaluation aims to get kids thinking about what technology, currently not available, that they would invent to solve the problem they’re facing.

This excerpt from my book shows a planning and evaluation form that can be used with any assignment, in any subject, to encourage Imaginative Evaluation:

Slide1

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Build things

Get your students to build what they are learning in some way. You don’t need fancy equipment: straws, bottle caps, crumpled paper, cardboard, paints and even plastic bottles can all be mashed and mangled together by students to create amazing models.

I’ve used this technique across my teaching in Science to get students to create everything from atomic models (a recent example is given below) to makeshift ‘eco gardens’.

Can you think of times where you could use this technique in your curriculum area?

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Spatial Learning: A Powerful Teaching Tool

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was a cold October morning in North Wales. I was a fresh, Newly Qualified Teacher at Denbigh High School. 

Young and inexperienced with rose-tinted goggles: I was mindful of my responsibilities as a new Science teacher. Expectations were high.

When the Deputy Head of the school suddenly asked to observe one of my Year 9 Physics lessons I knew I had to perform well. As a thriving school with a great reputation, Denbigh definitely set the bar high.

My Year 9 kids were typical 13 and 14-year-olds. Some days they were great and some days they’d just had enough. Keeping them on-task was a challenge for an unskilled teacher like me. 

Frantically thinking of ideas for this major lesson observation that was coming up, I thought about how to keep the kids interested whilst maintaining challenge at the same time. I was going to be teaching a lesson about series and parallel circuits, but I’d made the mistake of not ordering circuitry and equipment from my Science technician. A class practical was simply out of the question at such short notice, and the circuitry was booked by a number of other teachers that day anyway. I could only order enough equipment for a class demo.

What on Earth was I going to do?

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“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

Simulations and online learning was out of the question – this was 2006 and kids didn’t have the right mobile devices and they didn’t carry laptops. Online resources were also limited.

I felt uneasy about taking the kids to the computer lab, even though it was available. My Deputy Head wanted to see me teach, not watch the kids work on computers for 40 minutes (or so I assumed).

In a moment of despair and perplexity I was suddenly given a flash of inspiration: what if I could turn the lab into a giant circuit? The kids could become ‘model electrons’ and could walk around the classroom holding up little signs, pretending to be flowing around a circuit. I could even hold up a sign saying ‘cell’, and a few kids could be model ‘switches’ and ‘bulbs’. Hell, it might just work!

The day comes

I frantically printed a class set of A4 signs – just simple sheets which said ‘electron’, ‘switch’ and ‘bulb’ in big letters. 

‘This crazy idea might save my day after all’, I thought!

The kids came in and sat down. Back then I hadn’t mastered the art of giving students something quick to do as soon as they enter the door (see my three A’s in my book). I got right into this activity as a starter (which turned into a semi-main body of the lesson). 

robot

I lined all the kids up and gave them each a sign. Most of them would pretend to be electrons and a few would be switches and bulbs (‘switch on’, ‘switch off’, ‘bulb on’ and ‘bulb off’ signs were given to these pupils). 

The desks were arranged in rows, so I started with a series circuit. I explained the route the kids had to take and they started walking, holding up their signs. They smiled and giggled along the way. When the ‘electrons’ passed the ‘bulb’ it ‘lit up’, and when the ‘switch off’ student held up his sign, the ‘electrons’ stopped moving and the ‘bulb off’ sign was held up, proudly.

To my astonishment, the kids absolutely loved it. More importantly: they understood the concepts of the lesson brilliantly. They completed a short worksheet after the ‘circuit walk’ (which they all could answer with ease) and then I gave my short circuit demo with actual wires and bulbs and switches. 

Feedback

My deputy head was very impressed. She praised my creativity and said that the ‘circuit walk’ was very effective.

Not bad for a freshy who prepared in rush!

That day I became a hardcore Spatial Learning fan. Fast forward to today and all of my students will tell you that I use spatial learning in almost every lesson I teach. It’s effectiveness speaks for itself.

But what is Spatial Learning?

There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:

Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations. 

Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool. 

Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:

A human graph and true or false?

Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.

A human graph might be the right tool for you!

What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method! 

Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall.  Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question. 

This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:

Human graph and true or false

Body numbers

Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!

Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:

Human numbers

For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!

Modelling

The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about. 

I find that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another. 

I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task. 

Modelling example one: Diffusion

Textbook definition: Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles. 

Modelling activity: As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow. So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.

See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):

Spatial Learning Diffusion Richard James Rogers

Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network

In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT

Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.

Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room. 

Spatial Learning ICT Richard James Rogers

Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?

Further reading

My debut book is filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’s Lucy in the City:

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Also, a great manual for designing great spatial-learning activities is Dr. Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (highly recommended):

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