Exam stress


I love this term. It’s when all our hard work comes to fruition. However it’s the time of year when the stress begins for year 11 students. The first written GCSE is next week and teachers are trying to squeeze in all their last minute tips and go through a whole course in the final few lessons. Teachers are tense, students listen and the stress is passed on. Teachers suddenly expect students to be spending 2 hours after school each day on their subject. It’s totally understandable. Some teachers’ pay progression relies on it.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.*

I had my last lesson before the first written exam this week. Essentially it was the same as every lesson I’ve taught them since day 1; I knew what I wanted to cover with them and we did a practice exam question. We played a game (which I rarely do). I didn’t mention anything like ‘remember to do X’ or ‘in the exam…..’. Their exam could’ve been next week or next year.

This is because I’ve been planning for this for two years. We’ve spread out that stress over two years. My expectations and sense of importance started from day 1. ‘Revision’ started from HW one; I’ve not set any ‘revise’ homework in recent weeks. I do think these exams are important for them and I expect them to work hard, take them seriously and do their best, but I’ve expected that all along. Not in the last few weeks. Nothing’s changed….in my classroom anyway.

I deliberately don’t make a tense atmosphere or present a sense of urgency to them. In fact I’ve set minimal work for them to do as HW in the past few weeks. No holiday sessions or after school ‘revision’. I’ve never told them to spend hours on my subject; I’ve interleaved all they need in lessons and HWs.

If we want a calm and positive learning environment we should be teaching and training our students how to plan and prepare for something in the long term, not resort to last minute, short term gains. Our professional stresses don’t need to be shared with them. I am still accountable for their progress and results but I have planned and prepped throughout. I have no doubt they will all do well on the day. We’ve covered all bases for a long time.

This time should be for them to be proud of what they’ve learnt and want to get on with it. I believe that if teachers spoke about the importance of exams throughout and planned a careful curriculum then any last minute interventions or assemblies wouldn’t be needed. The skills of the teacher is not to offer more interventions it’s to carefully and strategically know their specification and the time they have and plan a course that benefits long term learning. Moaning about not having enough time is pointless.

All of this shifts the rhetoric around exams from an urgent, stressy, fearful experience to a satisfying recognition and denouement of all their hard work.

* I understand this only applies where a class has had one teacher for the entire course. Classes that have had multiple/no teachers over the GCSE may need special provision.


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