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.
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.
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.
Consider doing the following:
- 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.
- 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.
- Encourage your students to complete the past-papers under timed conditions: this will train them to answer efficiently without leaving blank spaces.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
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!
#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.
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”
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.
- 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.