Strategies to help students with terminal exams

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As a teacher who has only ever taught subjects with 100% terminal exams I have developed strategies to deal with this. I have also had to deal with seeing students once a fortnight and regularly not seeing them for four or six weeks due to holidays or interrupted lessons.

So I thought I’d share some ideas of how schools may start to work with their staff on a coherent strategy to ensure students always do their best in this exam.

  • Practice makes perfect – ‘Mock’ exams – we manage to squeeze in 1 full mock exam before they sit their paper. Maybe schools should have regular practice of this? I believe it should be in the exact location, under the exact same conditions that they will be in in the real exam. It is about the ‘experience’ and ‘feeling’ of an exam that has the potential to make a difference
  • Find out which students have exam nerves. Find someone in school who can run a series of sessions on how to control nerves etc
  • Playing the ‘game’ – exam boards have their own rules and in some cases ‘hidden’ hoops. I teach students these from the first lesson. I believe that taking an exam is about 60% skill of answering the questions in the correct manner and 40% knowledge. i.e if you know HOW to answer the question without much knowledge you will do better than having complete knowledge and no idea how to do the exam.
  • Forewarned is forearmed – I believe students should see exemplar exam papers as early as possible. If they know what it looks like and touch them and see what they’re like, they’re less likely to choose the question they never studied or the question on a text they never read.
  • Homework – The homework I set has a direct link to what is needed in the exam. Is ‘finishing’ a piece of work a good use of homework time? Would it be better used embedding what they’ve learnt in class, to help with the memorisation of the topic?
  • Memory – I’ve been in contact with @davidfawcett27  this week. He has strategically planned his course based on research on how memory works. This includes common sense things like repetition of concepts and using thinking skills to stimulate independent thinking. I THINK THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO HAVE THE MOST IMPACT and I really want to start to use ideas in my course.
  • Tracking & monitoring – if we are accurately tracking and monitoring student progress, including across subjects we have a powerful tool to see how a student may perform in an exam. We can then do something about it. The problem is, it must be meaningful data. Teachers need to work together and have guidance on what this means in their subject.
  • Intervention strategies – At teacher, head of subject and whole student level this can have a massive impact. If we have the accurate data we can then do what is needed to ensure the student achieves. If we are doing regular testing, we can easily find out what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are. There can then be personalised intervention.
  • Teacher collaboration – We are the people teaching the students. We see them on a daily basis. We know how they think and how they work. Staff should be given time to discuss and share successful strategies. You never know, one member of staff may have the ‘magic touch’ with a student whilst the rest of his/her teachers are struggling. If this is shared, that student will have a better chance of success.
  • ‘Mock’ results day – I’ve seen this happen in other schools but haven’t done it myself. On a day after a series of mock exams students receive their results in an envelope, in the hall, as they would on the real results day. The idea is that any shock that may happen, happens in the mocks not on the real day.
  • High expectations – I’m really focusing on this, this year. ‘OK’ is not good enough. ‘No homework’ is not good enough. ‘sloppy presentation’ is not good enough. This creates an ethos. If the whole school does this, expectations change and the ethos changes.
  • Stress management – How many schools offer students stress management sessions? drop-in at lunch time? My year 11s are already saying their stressed. They still have 7 months!
  • 24/7 learning – Students work at weird times. For sure when I’m in bed snoozing! However, if we provide them with the facility to work when they want to with a high level of support then this may help. Students can email me anytime ( although I don’t keep my email on 24/7!), we have all resources on our website, staff are using Edmodo, I have a subject Twitter account, I have put help videos on the website for them and I have used podcasts in the past.
  • AfL using exam papers – Towards the real exam, my students are so sick of doing practice papers. They do a paper, I mark it, with feedback, they make improvements. They do another exam, reminding themselves before what they did wrong last time, and I repeat as many times as I possibly can! I keep a record of how they do on specific question types. I can then focus on specific intervention and students can focus on their weak areas in class. I truly believe that no work my students do is summative except for the final exam.

How about using a staff INSET day (or CPD session) to think about these and to share ideas/resources? Now that may have some impact!

Apologies for all the cliches 😉

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