Disciplinary knowledge in RE – How does it impact the curriculum?


After a few chats this weeks about assessment and the disciplines in RE, I’ve been thinking about how we might approach using disciplinary knowledge in the RE curriculum and the teaching of it in RE lessons. (For more on the disciplines in RE and further reading Disciplines: A new direction for assessment in RE?)

In the absence of a National Curriculum for RE to guide the way, the CORE report (2018) proposes that ‘Pupils must be taught:….the different ways in which religion and worldviews can be understood, interpreted and studied, including through a wide range of academic disciplines and through direct encounter and discussion with individuals and communities who hold these worldviews.‘ It suggests … ‘ Religion and Worldviews should enable young people to…develop skills relevant to various disciplinary approaches to Religion and Worldviews, including qualitative and quantitative research skills (at age appropriate levels), philosophical enquiry, hermeneutical approaches to texts, and approaches for understanding the arts, rituals, practices and other forms of expression.”

For many, this is a new way to consider curriculum content and ways of teaching about religion & belief in RE. The inclusion of disciplinary knowledge is relatively new and I’ve seen little about the practical implications on curriculum writing (please do point me to anything!).

In this blog, I’ve decided to present my thoughts in different models, each with a different approach to including the disciplines. For the sake of simplicity I will use Theology, Philosophy and Social Sciences (to include history, geography, sociology etc) as the disciplines that I’m referring to. These are not in a hierarchy of recommendation/best practice but I think they show how the disciplines can be part of the RE curriculum ranging from ‘not at all’ to dominating it.

Model 1 – No discernible disciplinary knowledge

This curriculum model is created using purely substantive knowledge including substantive concepts in what is taught. It does not reference implicitly or explicitly any of the disciplines. It would study everything as facts but without any mention of where they come from and how we know that they are facts. It could include diversity of views but no reference to the root of the differences. In reality this type of curriculum and teaching would be very difficult to do but possible in a short period of time e.g. within a lesson, and may be especially accessible to a teacher that has little background knowledge to address the ‘how do we know this?’ question when looking at substantive knowledge.

In this model it is not possible assess disciplinary knowledge as it doesn’t exist. Progression would purely be shown through accumulation of substantive knowledge.

(I do suspect that some ‘anti’ knowledge-rich people (‘It’s just facts and more facts’) believe that this is what happens in some RE classrooms. I’m really not sure it’s possible though).

Model 2 – Implicit disciplinary knowledge

This curriculum uses the methods (and resources associated with it) of disciplinary knowledge in the curriculum but without any explicit recognition of them with students. The curriculum may be based on a series of enquiry questions that specifically relate to a discipline/s being used which the teacher may be aware of.

An example might be whilst studying the Trinity, students look at the story of Pentecost in the Bible and what the Catechism says about the Trinity and analyses them but without mention that these skills might be used when using a Theological approach. It also wouldn’t be made explicit what the key features of this approach might take e.g. hermeneutical approach thinking about how we read a text. Students are exposed to the methods but there is no requirement to know what they are and how they might differ depending on the discipline.

I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) the Big Ideas for Religious Education follows this model. The website says that the Big Ideas have been derived from disciplinary knowledge ‘The Big Ideas proposed for RE in this project are a product of disciplinary thinking and reflect both the processes of study and some of the key theories to emerge from the disciplines with which RE is most closely associated: religious studies, theology, philosophy, and others drawn from humanities, social sciences and the arts.‘ However, the model doesn’t require students to explicitly learn the names of the disciplines and specific methods and tools as they are embedded in the Big Ideas.

In this model, it might be possible to assess disciplinary knowledge by specifically telling the students to use the methods in a task however it would relate wholly to them recalling substantive knowledge.

I suspect that most RE curricula and teaching of, follows this model, with a mixture of those that are consciously/deliberately doing it and those that are not. We are teaching the disciplinary stuff but we’re not really conscious of it. If you’re at this stage I really recommend taking a look at the ‘Balanced RE’ self audit tool (primary and secondary) to start to think about how your curriculum may or may not use one or more of the disciplines. This is a start to thinking more consciously about how they work.

Model 3 – Explicit disciplinary knowledge modelled

The third model is the same as above however the curriculum and consequent taught lessons makes students aware of the disciplines. There may be an ‘introduction’ to them as a whole and/or individually, and the teacher will mention which discipline/s are being used at any given point. The use of disciplinary knowledge is how the teacher teaches the substantive knowledge.

Progression of learning would come ‘overall’ having been exposed to the disciplines several times over a key stage/s so that student recognise how the teacher dealt with the source from a disciplinary perspective. Students would recognise that they are looking through a specific discipline but would not be expected to know how to do this autonomously. Assessment could over time start to include giving students the chance to use disciplinary skills but it would be over a longer period of time having repeated each discipline several times.

Model 4 – Explicit disciplinary knowledge taught and used (with direction)

This model deliberately plans for both substantive and disciplinary knowledge to be taught and for students to knowingly use the disciplines in their learning. How structured the disciplinary skills are taught can vary.

I suspect that the Ofsted RE research review may be alluding to this type of model when it says “Some curriculum approaches formalise ‘ways of knowing’ into simplified disciplines, such as ‘theology’, ‘philosophy’ and ‘human/social sciences’. In these cases, the curriculum content is framed as if it were considered by, for example, theologians, philosophers or human/social scientists. These can be taught in simplified ways in primary schools.” Begging the question, what is a ‘simplified way’?

I think (although I’m happy to be corrected!) the REToday ‘Challenging knowledge in RE’ series is a basis of this model, although albeit in small topic chunks and not as a planned curriculum. In one example it introduces students to the discipline through an information sheet including an ‘investigator’ in the field, and then teaches substantive knowledge using the discipline and at the end recommends recalling the details of the discipline to review the learning and how it applies to the discipline. This actively involves the students in the discipline but doesn’t require them to practise it independently. Structure and activities are given to explore the discipline.

In a similar way The Norfolk Agreed syllabus may be used to create a curriculum aligned to this model. It says ‘We need to understand which disciplines it draws on in order to understand the object of investigation and the research methods to employ in RE. This ensures that content chosen for RE is appropriate and well-established within academic traditions and ensures that pupils use and develop a range of subject-specific skills.’ (my emphasis). The implication here is that students are able to use the disciplinary knowledge themselves. This comes through a set of disciplinary questions which are interleaved between the disciplines over the key stages. The exemplar curriculum map shows this as one question approached through one discipline although it does say in the guidance it is possible to use more than one discipline.

In this model, progression comes from knowing the substantive but also knowing what the disciplines are and specifically what you ‘do’ when you use each one however with limits on how they can be used independently.. Therefore, assessment would involve testing both. Assessment could assess:

  • Substantive knowledge by itself e.g. short qus, multiple choice qus EXAMPLE Name the 3 parts of the Trinity
  • Knowledge of the disciplines themselves and how they work EXAMPLE Which discipline would you use if you wanted to find out about beliefs? Which discipline would look at the logic of an argument? What questions would a Theologian ask about this?
  • Substantive knowledge through a discipline EXAMPLE Give the Pentecost story and the questions a Theologian would ask and they have to answer them using the substantive knowledge they’ve learned

The key issue with this model is that significant time is spent teaching what the disciplines are and how they work. To what extent does this mean a reduction in the substantive knowledge taught?

Model 5 – Explicit disciplinary knowledge taught and ‘practised’

This model is as above however, the emphasis is that the curriculum is building towards students being able to use the disciplines independently and confidently.

I think that the RE-searchers model (Freathy et al) possibly aims to do this (please do correct me if I’m wrong) at primary level, through a set of characters. Interestingly it uses self-assessment of the key skills for each character to get students to reflect on their performance/confidence/perceptions.

Progression in this model emphasises if students can use the disciplines, ask the questions and apply the methodologies. When assessed this could take the following forms:

  • Students ability to use the discipline/s independently on previously used material EXAMPLE Give them a copy of the Bible text of Pentecost (already studied) and get them to use a Theological approach to ask appropriate questions about it and identify key parts of the story that link to the Trinity.
  • Students ability to use the taught discipline/s independently on unseen material EXAMPLE Give a survey on belief on the Holy Spirit (previously unseen), using a social science (taught in this topic) approach to ask appropriate questions and analyse the results, linking to beliefs about the Trinity.
  • Students ability to use different discipline/s (not used in this topic)independently on previously used material EXAMPLE Having used a theological approach on the story of Pentecost, ask them to use a Philosophical approach, asking the appropriate questions and coming up with answers
  • Students ability to use different discipline/s (not used in this topic) independently on unseen material EXAMPLE Give a survey on belief on the Holy Spirit (previously unseen), using a social science (not taught in this topic) approach to ask appropriate questions and analyse the results, linking to beliefs about the Trinity.

As above, a key issue here is how much time should proportionally be spent on learning substantive and disciplinary knowledge?

Model 6 – Teaching disciplinary knowledge through the substantive

This model swaps the main curriculum focus from the substantive to the disciplinary. The curriculum is designed so that students’ core learning is about the disciplines and how they work, approached through substantive content. An example of an enquiry question might be ‘How does using a Theological hermeneutical approach to religious texts help us to understand them more? (using Genesis 1-3.). The overall learning is about how to read texts but it uses an example of the Creation narrative in the Bible to exemplify it. A curriculum would therefore develop over time using disciplinary knowledge and progression would be similar to the above bullet points. Students are ‘becoming’ skilled in the disciplines and that is the key method of assessing progression.

This model leads us to ask the question of how we select the substantive material. Are there certain topics that are more conducive to teaching a discipline? If we’re teaching through the disciplines, does the substantive need to be ‘discernibly ‘religious’? (see an analysis of Jayne Eyre using the disciplines by Georgiou & Wright in ‘Reforming RE’ chapter Disciplinarity, religion and worldviews: making the case for theology, philosophy and human/social sciences’)

This model is problematic as it may marginalise the religious/non-religious substantive content as it would spend significant time on learning how to use ‘tools’ for studying it. The Ofsted RE research review says “Pupils need to acquire these components through typical forms of RE content, which are not separated out from their in-depth context.” which makes me think that this model, in its extreme takes the knowledge out of its context which isn’t desirable.


Issues with using the disciplines

What is disciplinary knowledge? From my reading of the disciplines and how people are using them in RE it is still unclear what we mean by disciplinary knowledge in RE. Some have interpreted it as the ‘skills’ that students use in RE, others use ‘procedural knowledge’. Should it be separated from substantive and personal knowledge? And as briefly discussed above, are we introducing students to what each discipline is and its methods and/or getting them to use the methods? The REC Draft handbook suggests ‘For younger age groups, drawing on a variety of methods is sufficient, noting with pupils that different methods handle content in different ways and should be evaluated appropriately‘ and then ‘ As pupils make progress through the school, they should be taught how disciplines construct different types of knowledge. This means that there are particular assumptions behind the various disciplines, and different types of question being addressed within them.’ What might this progression look like? What are the different methods and tools we want students to know about for each discipline? Should we use one discipline at a time or more than one? In case we think we are unique in this, this chapter ( Disciplinary knowledge denied?) is a fascinating read in how similar disciplinary issues arise in History. The term ‘disciplinary-lite’ is interesting here. How might these RE models be ‘disciplinary-lite’? i.e. we teach certain aspects of disciplinarity but not all. This is all another blog post.

Assessment is a huge issue. What does progression mean? What does it mean to ‘get better’ at Theology? There is also a danger of making them into a set of levels for each discipline – would that work if they were specific? The REC draft handbook goes back to a levels system in their 3 models to measure progress and so does the Big Ideas assessment model using Anderson and Krathwohl’s Taxonomy as a basis (with no discernible mention of disciplinary knowledge). Assessment and disciplinary knowledge is also a whole blog in itself.

Using enquiry questions – The Ofsted RE research review suggests that we can use specific disciplinary enquiry questions to approach teaching the disciplines however I feel there is a danger that people might think that they are teaching disciplinary knowledge just through an enquiry question rather than what is then taught and the method/s used. Enquiry questions either need to explicitly lead to the use of one discipline or the answering of the question must include the use of a disciplinary methods. For example, in the Norfolk agreed syllabus the questions are colour coded by discipline but just answering that question doesn’t necessarily mean that disciplinary knowledge is being used. In R Kueh, ‘A matter of discipline? On knowledge, curriculum and the disciplinary in RE’, in ‘Professional Reflection: Theory and Practice’, Volume 37, Issue 1, 2019, pages 55 to 59, Richard clarifies “One might think of the way in which different enquiry questions might instead intrinsically be anchored in disciplinary thinking. For example, ‘how have patterns of religion and belief changed over the last century?’ (drawing on the conventions of the social sciences and history), ‘how valid are arguments for the existence of God?’ (drawing on the traditions of philosophy), ‘how persuasive is the case for secularism?’ (drawing on the social sciences, philosophy and theology), ‘what does it mean to have a worldview?’ (drawing on the traditions of religious studies and the social sciences). Here, the disciplinary tradition sets the boundaries for discussion, the conventions to follow, the rules of the game and the legitimacy of the products of pupil work.” We need to think carefully about enquiry questions and how/if they’re used in the curriculum to ensure they promote the use of disciplinary knowledge not just covering substantive content that is masquerading as disciplinary.

I hope that each model is clear and that as reflective practitioners we can see where we are and where we think we want to go. I’m not sure there is a ‘right’ model but I hope that this blog gets people thinking about what using disciplinary knowledge might look like in our curriculum. We can’t even consider assessment until we’re sure what it is that our curriculum does. It’s a long road!

In his Farmington Institute paper ( Professional Disciplinary Dialogue TT428) Paddy Winter summarises…

It is worth noting from the outset that a particular joy of disciplinary knowledge discussions is the need for openness to debate, refinement, and development of ideas.

What do you think?


What’s the point of mock* exams?


Recently I had to invigilate our year 10 mock exams and whilst walking up and down the aisles, started to think about the purpose of doing mock exams. So I thought I’d pull together some ideas on what are the different purposes for them and the possible pros and cons. You may think it is obvious but from talking to students and teachers, we can have different opinions on their purpose.

I think that the purpose of mock exams is important. It is important because it affects how students respond to them, how they’re run and the implications of what students do in them. If staff/students are at cross-purposes with mocks, it can cause issues. Also, students will naturally assume that all subjects are using mocks in the same way. In my experience, many will be using them differently and I think we should make it clear to students how they’re being used in our own subject.

I personally couldn’t care less about grades. A mock is not there to create a number which is generally meaningless throughout the course. The only grade that matters to me is the real GCSE. I think mocks are about the experience for the students, where a student is ‘at’ with the content and for the feedback that is given. Over the different mocks, this then feeds into preparation for the real exam – in class and out of class. I also think it is important to consider what is on a mock. Why give a pre-written past paper? I think that it depends on the subject/cohort/timing/situation as to what you put into a mock exam. For example, with maths I’m not sure giving a past paper makes any difference because students are practising core maths skills. With other subjects past papers are specific content/case studies/themes that won’t be repeated. They are useful for practise throughout the course but might a mock require a more selective, thought-out paper? We have a year 9 exam, a year 10 exam and two year 11 exams. In RS we use these differently, so this influences what content we select, how they’re run. We don’t use past papers. On the whole we write our own papers to suit the purpose of the exam. I appreciate that this is more complex for some subjects than others however I have convinced another head of subject to give it a go after being initially sceptical! If a question has already been asked it is highly unlikely that it will be asked again. Writing your own mock papers means you have to have a good knowledge of the specification and how assessment works. It also creates a good opportunity to work together as a subject; writing a mark scheme together highlights what you have/haven’t taught well and can therefore influence future teaching . It’s more work for colleagues but I think it is worth it in the long run. It also means that no child can know what is on the mock in advance as they cannot access the paper as they can with previous papers.

To add to my thoughts I did an informal survey of some of the year 10 students and have included their purposes in italics next to each header.

*if you don’t like the term ‘mock’ then interchange with your preference. I think it’s probably just semantics.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Retrieval Practice

So that we know what to revise for

To help us get into the habit of revision

To get good practice

keep topics we may have learnt a while ago fresh in our minds

If you are going to encourage students to ‘revise’ (I have many issues with this term) prior to an exam then this is an opportunity to teach them retrieval practice skills and strategies. I personally think that this shouldn’t be done in the run up to an exam but from day 1 on a regular basis, but some teachers/schools still do this kind of revision for exam rather than revision for retrieval/learning. Either way the mocks give students a trial run of this process before they sit external exams.

Some may use the exam itself as retrieval practice for learning rather than for assessment. For example, question topics are chosen specifically to get students to retrieve to help with long term memory rather than for knowing what the students do/don’t know.

Mock exams might be the first time that retrieval practice goes from low-stakes to high-stakes. We do regular retrieval practice in lessons, often without even seeing how students get on. Mocks (depending on how they are marked and then that mark used) steps up the stakes. This gradual process of mock exams, supports students in managing the whole experience of real exams.

Summative assessment

Gives teachers and you how you are doing in the subject

helps us see where we are in a subject/what we need to improve on

to see how good you are at subjects

I suspect that mock exams have been and still are, an opportunity for people to make judgements about student learning, in a high stakes manner. This might include:

  • to allocate grades
  • predict future performance for applications
  • to allocate resources/intervention
  • to decide setting/level of paper

If this is the case, I think we need to be clear with students on this well before the exam happens. They need to know the high stakes nature of the outcome.

Also, some schools may also use it as a tool to judge teachers. The results of the mocks may be used to monitor the ‘performance’ of a teacher. Again, teachers should be well aware of this way before the exams. How will the data be used? Will it be discussed with staff? Is a staff member responsible for a grade of a student that joined a group?

Formative assessment – feedback and improving

Gets you ready to prepare how to improve before real GCSEs

to see what you need to learn

to see where we are all at with learning and what points we’re struggling with

Surely mocks are a great opportunity to identify gaps in student learning and to act on feedback so that a gap is closed before the real thing? If students are answering exam questions then it seems an ideal time to work out what they do/don’t know or can/can’t do and do something about it. If we RAG rate each question then we can get a nice clear over view of what students and a class can/can’t do?

Interestingly this seems less popular than you think it might be with teachers. It is problematic for three reasons. Firstly, the exam paper doesn’t test students on all the content. It’s just a sample from the domain. It can only tell you about some specific topics. This may not be useful for the real exam if we spend lots of time on a limited number of things. Therefore RAG rating questions won’t necessarily be useful. Secondly, just because a student didn’t answer a question type well on specific content, it doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to answer that type of question. It might have been the content that couldn’t write about. Thirdly, if you use past papers for mocks, in some subjects, it’s highly unlikely that the exact same question will come up again next year. Therefore it’s not worth while spending too much time using it for deciding what they need to focus on to improve.

Using mocks for feedback is a whole blog post in itself so I won’t go into it here but I think it’s a very important consideration overall for a teacher. I personally think that the way we run the mocks in my department the feedback and improvement from them is very important but I suspect that the relative use of mocks for formative assessment depends on the subject and the paper used.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

The Physical Experience

Gets us used to exam conditions

The experience of sitting in a hall/room to complete an exam is an important aspect of mocks (which is why I shudder when senior leaders ask for them to be done in their usual classroom). Most students are used to their usual teaching classroom and complete work there in relative comfort and confidence. The experience of a often large, open room is physically different and we want students to experience this before the real exam as it can be daunting. Alongside this, the students experience other physical aspects that they may not have done so before:

  • hand strain (from writing for a long period)
  • in a different room than they did their learning in (see David Didau’s blog below on this – it’s fascinating)
  • in a room with peers
  • silence for 2 hours
  • cold/hot extremes
  • invigilators walking past
  • sitting at the desk
  • patience – sitting when done

If mocks are about preparation, then we need to include all aspects of that by exposing them to these things at least once before the real thing. Telling students to complete mocks in their usual classroom, with their usual teacher misses the point of a mock, in my opinion (with exceptions e.g. Art). Read David Didau’s blog here on ‘transfer’ and why it is important to consider where students are learning compared to where they sit an exam.

The Mental Experience

So there’s less panic in the real thing

Some students will have an intense 5 weeks of exams in the summer. It will be the biggest amount of pressure they’ve probably had in their lives. It’s the thing that hits the headlines each year and the potential effect on their mental health can be debilitating for some. The mental impact includes:

  • stress
  • preparation and organisational pressure
  • daily pressure from lessons/revision
  • feelings about success
  • feelings about failure
  • motivation

I strongly believe that schools have the power here. The language we use, the preparations we make, the way that teachers are treated with exams by senior leaders (pressure passes down to students), all contributes and I think we can be really smart about this.

Imagine a student that has an assembly in the morning with their head of year talking about the importance of exams and grades, then first lesson their teacher saying how important grades are and then second lesson getting a test back with a grade on and not achieving their target grade and then lesson 3 the teacher talking about their exams and how important it is for them to revise every night for their subject. Lesson 4 the student is given an exam paper to complete and told if they don’t get a certain grade the teacher will contact home and they will re-do it in their own time. Then after school they have a ‘revision class’ for one subject…… We don’t need to do this.

I think this all comes down to curriculum and assessment. If we plan carefully and we assess well, we don’t need to speak to students like this or behave in these ways. I’m not saying that we should pretend that exams aren’t important, they are. But we are the people in charge of what students learn and we have a responsibility to make things as simple as possible for our students. With a well planned curriculum you shouldn’t need to do after school revision classes for all students from Christmas. Mocks should be a gradual introduction to these potential feelings so it’s not a huge shock in the summer.

Real Exam Preparation

So that we can ‘train ourselves’ for our GCSEs

Gets us ready for GCSE exams

to help us understand the conditions we need to work in, teaches us time management

to help us get into the habit of being quiet for hours

To practise for GCSEs

Preparation for structure of GCSE

Prepare us for our GCSE so we won’t be shocked

I’ve put these together as ‘real exam preparation’ because I think that it is important part of mocks for students to have the ‘real experience’ before the summer. I think that mocks are really important for the following:

  • what the paper looks like – I think that mock papers should always be made to look like the real thing, even if you’re not using all the questions. We want students to get used to what they will see.
  • getting stuck – the experience of not knowing the answer, the possibility that a guess may be better than nothing, not letting it demotivate
  • planning and using time effectively – a huge issue especially in subjects with extended writing. Students need to do this by themselves, using the clock in the room. Deciding what to include/miss out if they’re running out of time
  • stationery – coming prepared to the exam, knowing what they need e.g. a calculator, black pen
  • candidate number – getting used to using it and filling in the front of the exam paper
  • one off performance – what it means to have ‘one go’ at something and that’s it (Anecdote – one year, after the GCSE RS exam I saw a student outside of the exam room. He said to me ‘Miss I’ve realised that I didn’t write the right thing for 1b, can I quickly have my paper back to change it?’. He was genuine. He had no understanding that, that was it, there’s no going back!) When else in their lives have they experienced the finality of doing something like this? (remember some will have missed SATS)
  • question types – This really shouldn’t be the first time that a student experiences the different question types. I sincerely hope that all teachers have prepared students for different possibilities and even prepared for curve balls

Choosing the mock exam content

Choosing a mock paper will probably depend on what you think the purpose of a mock is.

I suspect that many subject leads just choose last year’s actual paper for the mock exam. It’s easy as it’s already written, it has a mark scheme, it is balanced in terms of difficulty and you could argue that the grade boundaries belong to that specific paper. The problem with using last year’s paper is that students can get advance access and the content probably won’t be repeated in the real thing (subject dependent). Using last year’s paper supports the purpose of experiencing a ‘real’ paper. However I’m going to suggest that mocks should be a carefully curated set of questions made into a unique mock paper. However, how this is done, all depends on what you think the purpose of the mock is.

A mock to motivate – if you want students to be motivated by the mock you may pick questions that are easier or more difficult. If you want to motivate students that lack confidence then use some easier questions and if you need to motivate students that are over-confident in doing no preparation, use more difficult questions

A mock to predict – A GCSE specification’s content has to be covered during the lifetime of the specification which means that if you’re several years through it you can find topics that have never been asked before and create questions based on these. This works better in some subjects compared to others. The benefit of this mock is that students get to practise questions that are likely to come up. It’s a dangerous strategy only if you tell students to only revise these things. Otherwise it’s just another paper.

A mock to practise weaker topics – If you know that students have struggled on certain topics you might include them in the mock. This isn’t to set them up to fail but it is a good way to revise. They experience a question on a tricky topic, you go through it in feedback and then get them to practise it again a a later date.

A mock to show off – If you’re using the mock paper as evidence of student performance for entry to further education you may want it to be a paper that shows off what they can do. Choosing topics that you know they will do well on may be useful.

How to write your own mock

Some exam boards have the facility for you to use previous questions to compile a new paper using questions from different papers. Unfortunately they don’t all do this for all subjects so you may need to do it manually. You need a copy of all the previous papers (and specimen papers for reference) to see what has already been asked. Then choose questions to compile your paper.

Writing your own exam questions

Having looked at what questions can be asked from the specification it is possible to write your own questions. This can be a useful CPD exercise in itself, especially if the specification is new to you. You need to make sure you know the command words that can be used, the balance of assessment objectives and the specific subject ‘rules’ of the paper. I strongly feel that mock papers should be presented in the exact same way that the real paper will be presented (as far as possible) because the visual experience of a paper is part of the practice. So, use the same number of answer lines, where appropriate.

If you work in a department with a few people you can do this process together to ensure balance. You can then all take a copy of the paper, and write notes on how you’d answer the question and create a simple mark scheme of possible answers. As with all mark schemes, students can be credited with different approaches but if you agree the main possible answers/approaches then it makes marking easier

Using analogies

I use and have probably stolen the analogy of a marathon for GCSE exams. Mocks are part of the training. They may not do the whole thing but they are part of the training that can help us diagnose certain things and help us work out what’s left to do before the final thing. Someone else on Twitter used a football analogy (gotta think of the boys….) where mocks are the pre-season warm ups. It doesn’t matter what you use but I do think that (if the analogy is a good one) then we can use it with the students IF we use the analogy from the start. I tell my students that their first homework IS part of the preparation. That every lesson IS the training. The issue of leaving the analogy to the final stages is that it could add to the psychological pressure not help to relieve it. Start the analogy in year 7.

Questions for teachers

  • Do you know the purpose of mocks in your school/subject?
  • Have you made it clear to students what the purpose of the mock is in your subject?
  • Have you explained the rationale behind it?
  • What questions have you included? What paper have you used Why?
  • Have you considered writing an exam paper for the mock? pros and cons?

Questions for school leaders

  • Are all subjects using mocks for the same purpose? Does it matter? Why?
  • Do students know the purpose of mocks? Does it matter? Why?
  • Have you asked them?
  • Do you know how subjects leads have decided what paper/s to use and why?
Links & further reading