An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).
Mock exams offer an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to assess current knowledge and discover common misconceptions. They (should) provide a rigorous and thorough ‘trial run’ of the finals and may even act as a sharp and frightening wake-up call to some learners.
Considering the immense importance placed on mock exams (not least for providing a good basis for making final grade predictions), one would assume that the preparation of students for them should be organised like a well-planned military operation.
That’s certainly what should happen, and the aim of this article is to cover the ‘battleground’ that your students will need to fight through in order to be well-trained for those all-important practice exams.
Roger that! Let’s get right into it then!
Go through past-exam papers
These are by far the best revision materials for exam-level students. Rigorous past-paper practice, under timed conditions, offers a number of benefits:
- Students become used to the ‘style’ of questions that will be asked in the real thing.
- Frequent exposure to the ‘command terms’ that will be used in the real exam (words like ‘Deduce’, ‘Explain’, ‘Sketch’ etc.).
- The level of challenge presented by past-paper questions will be at the level expected by students of that age-group.
- When taken under timed conditions, students can develop their time-management techniques too (ensuring that they don’t run out of time in the real mock exam – a common problem!).
Some examination boards share their past papers for free (e.g. Edexcel), whilst others sell them them for a small fee. If you have the money (or if your school has the budget), then they are always worth the spend. Some ideas for saving money when purchasing exam papers include:
- Keep any spare examination papers that you get sent each year by the exam board, and scan them to pdfs. Within a few years you’ll have a comprehensive bank of exam papers ready to share with your students.
- Purchase a user account to an exam-board’s question bank and share the account with colleagues.
Make sure your students go through the model answers (mark schemes) when they’re done, and make sure they know how to actually use the mark schemes (Do they know that OWTTE means ‘Or Words to That Extent’, for example? Do they know what M1, M2, etc mean?).
Should your students be strict or lenient when marking past-paper questions?
Always be strict, because the examiner will strict and the final exams will probably contain questions that the students will never have seen before. If the answer does not match the mark scheme, then mark it wrong.
What about handwriting?
If the examiner cannot read the answers given, then your students will be penalized. Make this point really clear, as it is an issue that does affect many students (especially when rushing under exam conditions – another reason to train students by exposing them to past-papers under timed conditions).
Go through exam-style questions
These are a little different to past-paper questions and tend to be found within textbooks, on great websites (like BBC Bitesize) and inside revision guides and workbooks (like those made by CGP, for example).
These provide much of the same benefits as a past-exam paper questions and are often organised by topic, allowing students to reinforce their subject knowledge in stages and target areas of weakness with relative ease.
Make sure that model answers are provided and that students mark their work strictly (just like with past-papers).
Provide a topic revision list
An obvious one I know, but worth mentioning. If students don’t know the topics that are going to come up on their mock exams, then how can they possibly prepare?
Share the official syllabus, perhaps through your school’s VLE, MOOC or even by e-mail if you have to. Make sure the students know which topics from the syllabus are going to come up in the mocks.
Provide topic summaries
Summaries of key topic areas can really help students to grab the essentials in a short space of time. Share these as Mind Maps, bulleted lists, end-of-chapter summaries in textbooks and even, again, revision websites that you recommend.
A lot of schools cannot afford physical textbooks for every student. However, we should at least be recommending textbooks that the students can buy themselves if they want to.
One way to solve the problem of textbook costs is for schools to build their own (e.g. from slide presentations that teachers create), get students to create textbooks for themselves by setting up a learning journals system and even paying for an online subscription through the publisher’s website (which is often cheaper than purchasing physical books).
Recommend revision websites
There are many great websites that offer excellent, free resources for revision. My personal favorites are:
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