Be Prepared For Exam Season | Living North

Be Prepared For Exam Season


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As the summer exam season draws ever closer, we speak to teachers at some of the North’s leading independent schools to see how they prepare their students to perform at their best

Royal Grammar School, Newcastle

‘It’s important to recognise that success is not solely down to what happens between now and the exam. The work that has been done in the classroom over the years, together with homework, in-class tests, end-of-year exams and mock exams, have all played their part. Students will also have been reflecting on their work, setting themselves targets and monitoring their performance during the course. They will have developed plans and learned how to manage their time effectively. This has taken a lot of time and effort from both students and teachers alike. Of course, poor revision from now on will undo all the good work that has gone before, and we prepare our students well, we think, for what’s coming.

‘There isn’t one right way to revise and students need to explore the various methodologies that we’ve shown them – and that they’ve found for themselves – to make sure they have a good range of options available. We have found some successful strategies to include refining and condensing notes, teaching each other, mind maps, flash cards to test recall, and using past papers to test for gaps in knowledge.

‘Teachers have given our students lots of practise with past papers and timed exam questions to help build their confidence and competence. They’ve also been given written reports that support their learning, and have had a Parents’ Conference to discuss approaches to revision and how to manage what lies ahead. They’ve been encouraged to work together and help support each other in a collaborative way; clinics are full, and teachers give their time generously to answer questions and offer support.

‘Ultimately, the results will depend on how much work the students have put in. Teachers can’t sit the exams for them! But we also recognise that self-belief is hugely significant. Positive self-talk is important and making sure that students understand that it’s critical to push the negative thoughts (“I’m rubbish at exams”, “I can’t remember anything”, etc.) to one side and listen to the positive voices that reinforce the belief that they can succeed.

‘But successful revision also depends on being well-prepared, and so we encourage students to be honest with themselves about how they are going to work. Recognise that practise means doing questions on topics you don’t find easy and deliberately tackling areas you find difficult. Work hard and you’ll get what you deserve: good luck!’

– Roger Loxley (Director of Studies), Sarah Longville (Head of Year 11) and Tom Keenan (Head of Sixth Form)


Giggleswick School, Settle

‘Planning is vital, and so significant time is spent in the tutorial slots throughout the year – looking at effective time management and helping the students to plan realistic and thorough revision programmes. Subject teachers also provide detailed guidance on the nature of material to be revised, as well as giving students the opportunity to complete tasks under exam conditions. Particularly important is the feedback on past paper or examination-style questions given to individual students from their teachers, so that they can adapt their responses accordingly and practise key exam techniques. We also have a year-round programme of departmental clubs and clinics that students can attend, in which they can access one-to-one support from subject teachers. It is this ability to access individual feedback that is extremely beneficial to students.

‘Ensuring that, from Year 7 onwards, students understand the metacognitive aspects of revision is also key, and pupils work together with their academic tutor to experiment with different methods. This hopefully means that, by the time they are completing public examinations, the student has a greater understanding of the methods that are most effective for them personally. Students are encouraged to try different methods and, during prep time, have access to various spaces both in Boarding Houses and the main school, depending on whether they want to work alone or in small groups – given the significant benefits to revision of peer-tutoring.

‘Little and often is a very successful method. In my experience, those students who, throughout the course of their GCSEs, ensure that they seek support from subject teachers if they haven’t grasped something studied in class, consolidate topics as they are taught and regularly revise topics do very well. In addition, completing exam-style questions is hugely beneficial and should form a significant part of a student’s revision programme.

‘The advice we also give alongside this is to ensure that students are looking after their general health by getting enough sleep and eating well, and that they have a balanced revision programme that includes frequent breaks and incentives to keep them motivated. Regular exercise is important – whether it’s walking the dog, going for a run or a trip to the gym – and should be included in their programme.

‘I think that encouraging each student to be ambitious in their approach to all aspects of school life, and providing the environment in which they can develop this ambition, are the keys to the academic success we are proud of here at Giggleswick School.’

– Emma-Jane Wharton (Head of Middle School)


Barnard Castle School

‘In Year 11 and Upper Sixth, the pupils sit their mock exams in January, but we start giving them advice and assemblies on how to revise before Christmas, and we follow these up with dedicated revision sessions throughout the year. They prepare in class as well, as their teachers come to the end of the course in each subject, but we complement this with bespoke revision sessions, and we also send a revision guide home to Year 11 parents, so they know how to support their children ahead of the mock exams.

‘One of the most unusual things that we do is that we have a lower-Sixth Former who sets up a subject mentoring programme. So in after-school activity time, they organise a small group of Sixth Form students who help younger year groups, including the Year 11s who are revising for their GCSEs – so they actually work through tutorials with them and support them in that way. We’ve got pupils helping pupils which is brilliant, and that’s driven by the students themselves.

‘For any student in the school – whether they’ve got the big exams coming up or not – we have subject-based tutorial sessions in pretty much every subject between 4pm–5pm on certain weekdays throughout the year, so it’s very normal for teachers to be available after school to help anybody who wants a bit of extra revision advice. We’re also really proud of our non-academic activities programme; we have over 100 extra-curricular activities in the school, and we think that’s a really important thing to continue throughout the year, even when the exam pressure is on. We encourage everybody to get outside and get involved in these activities, because it’s a necessary bit of down-time.

‘Yes, exam season is a scary, high-pressure time. Yes, there’s going to be an investment of additional effort that everybody needs to make in the months leading up to the exams. But we don’t want our students to get to results day, look back and think: “do you know what, I didn’t do everything that I could.” So the advice we give is: do absolutely everything you possibly can now. Occasionally, when it comes to our very high-performing students here who will want to work every hour, day and night, we do remind them that it’s important to get some sleep and to actually structure your revision so that you’re not cramming through the night. Sleep is so important to help you feel as though you’re in a position to be able to do your best.’

– Dr Michael Truss (Deputy Head, Academic)


Durham High School for Girls

‘Mental and physical health and wellbeing are crucial at this potentially stressful time for our students. Therefore, while staff provide extra revision sessions, these are optional and focused on the specific needs of individuals. Our Chemistry Clinic, for example, is provided for A Level students who want to focus on a certain aspect of the course they are not yet feeling secure about, while students of Art, Graphics and Textiles have the option of spending three days in school over the Easter holidays to work solely on their portfolios.

‘Meanwhile, just before Easter, all of our Year 11 and Sixth Form students were involved in an interactive, multi-sensory learning workshop: showing them how best to prepare for exams, and equipping them with a range of learning tools and preparation skills. The workshop also advised students on how to reduce exam-related stress through organisation which, in turn, enables them to prepare more efficiently. More importantly, the girls were given tips on how to relax to reduce exam-related stress. And if that’s not enough, the staff panto is always guaranteed to be a stress-buster!

‘It is important that students maintain a heathy balance between academic and non-academic pursuits, so the usual wide range of extra-curricular clubs here, such as sport and music, remains in place during the lead-up to exams and girls are encouraged to attend. It is crucial that they have the opportunity to clear their minds, have fun and enjoy physical exercise and being creative. Our girls all work hard, but it’s important that they play hard too if they are to prepare effectively and pull out their best performances in the final exams.

‘Pupils at Durham High For Girls are extremely well-motivated to learn, which is what makes them such a pleasure to teach. Excellent relationships with staff mean that the girls are always happy to ask for advice – knowing that their teachers are prepared to go the extra mile to support them.’

– Linda Ibbott (Assistant Head)

Published in: May 2019

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