And the results are in….. Reflections on two years of GCSE


I’ve blogged several times on specific strategies I’ve used with the outgoing year 11 including an evaluation blog. Now the results are out its time to reflect on the impact these strategies may have made. The links to the blogs are hyperlinked where referenced.

The results were pretty much as expected, which I think were good. What makes results good results? Also there were some nice surprises that I’d really hoped would happen but weren’t 100%. I was going to publish their LOPs but then deleted. If you’re interested I ‘m happy to share privately.

Attitude matters

One of the students that achieved 6 LOPs is an interesting case. From day 1 she was keen to learn but struggled. She reflected all the time, many times being disappointed and frustrated. She was always the first with her hand up with the correct answer in class but when it came to writing, she struggled to get it down.

At parents evening, her mum told me their house was covered in post it notes. She always asked for more index cards for revision. She cared, she was bothered and she struggled.

In my opinion the reasons she did so well are:

  • Positive attitude (true growth mindset in action), self motivation, independence and organisation – I didn’t nag. She did so much work by herself. I encouraged and praised.
  • Simple AfL. She knew what she’d got wrong, she knew what she needed to do to make it better. I don’t mark endlessly at GCSE; just exam questions once in a while.
  • Determination – I continuously told her she can do it and she wanted it.
  • Early repetition of content – using the post its and index cards
  • I taught to the top, not to her ‘expected grade’. Giving out differentiated worksheets that are aimed at a grade is the biggest mistake a teacher can make.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

That’s not strictly true but it matters a lot in exams.

One student started in year 10 with what I call big ‘bubble writing’. You know the type; 4 words to the line in large curvy letters (not with hearts as the dots of ‘i’s). Whilst handwriting doesn’t matter as long as it’s legible, I could see that it was limiting her ability to use the space for her answer in the best way. There was lots of ‘I can’t’ in year 10; whether it was a topic she didn’t like or writing in the time limit. I told her exactly what she needed to do to get her target grade. Year 11 could have gone either way.

With lots of practice and some more nagging, the handwriting started to shrink and the quality of the writing improved. She seemed to shift mindset. She started to show signs of becoming more motivated and focused. She was proud of her work. She kept her folder meticulously organised (using the majority of my poly-pockets!). I think that using folders at GCSE is so important, not necessarily for learning but for attitude. I’ll blog on this another time.

Test test test

When I emailed the second student to ask permission to write about her,she said, unprompted, “Tell your gcse students now that your key word tests do help lots”. I’ve blogged about these and the testing that I do with students. This group asked for more and established the current structure of weekly keyword testing that alternates between current and previous content.

My analysis of their papers shows that the majority of the students got 100% of these answers correct (out of 120 questions they answered on keywords, 4 answers got 0 marks). It’s impossible to analyse the impact that these had on other questions, but without an understanding of the keywords, they won’t have known what the questions were asking.

There is no doubt that this long-term strategy from day 1 made a significant difference. You must keep testing students. In my opinion, this no/low stakes testing was the difference in grades for most of the students. I also let them ‘cheat’ in tests taken in class.

We also did lots of topic testing, interleaving the topics throughout the course. They experienced several ‘full time’ exam practice papers, not just the one mock that the school calendared.  I believe this had a significant impact on knowledge retention.

I also interleaved the units (instead of teaching all of one paper and then all of the other paper). I can’t evaluate how they would have done if I’d taught paper by paper. This is the issue with in class trials; if you believe they might have impact is it right to have a control group that may not benefit?

We don’t learn without effort

So many teachers seem to think that children should ‘just learn’. That they’re some sort of sponge that will suck in knowledge and retain it. It just doesn’t work. If anyone ever says ‘but I’ve taught this to them’ without any sort of further action, they don’t understand how learning works.

In lessons, I planned this for them. Repetition of topics and structured revision lessons took some of the effort out for them. My aim for the next couple of years is to ensure that those that do not put effort in out of school have the structure given to them. They will be quizzed throughout the course.Homework will be the same from day 1 to the day before the exam; quizzing.  ‘Revision’ will be ditched.

What about those that have no effort? Whilst this post wasn’t supposed to be about mindset, it keeps cropping up. I’m not convinced that a teenager, that couldn’t care less about school will be changed by a whole school ‘Growth Mindset’ campaign. My strategies are: endless positivity, “You will do well if you bother to try” and peer pressure, “Your mate X is doing work”.

Know your enemy

It’s true to say that I was brutally honest with them. There’s no point sugar-coating things. I knew the grade boundaries would be ridiculously high (They were. C=76% and A*=96%. God help us next year). I taught them how to play the exam game and make sure they are all aware of what is required but also the possible hazards. Being an examiner helps. I made them do things that weren’t part of the exam assessment but I know had the potential to make a difference e.g developing reasons as two separate sentences, instead of one long punctuated sentence. I highly recommend examining for your exam board at least once and recommend negotiating with your school on how you might do this efficiently.

Of course, we can never really attribute specific things to results. For all I know, they had private tutors and learnt nothing in my lessons.

Overall, it seems that mindset and structured learning (simple AfL, memory techniques, interleaving, spacing) are the two keys to success; nothing too fancy in my lessons. For this class anyway.


2 thoughts on “And the results are in….. Reflections on two years of GCSE

  1. Very well done, Dawn – to them and to you! Hope you’ve had a very good summer break and we meet again in the autumn.

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