Study skills for teens’ preparation for GCSE and A Level mocks
Following on from our article on exam preparation for 7+, 11+ and Common Entrace, we asked Simply Learning Tuition to give us their advice on study skills for GCSE and A Level mocks which many children will be facing soon. Examination cancellations over the last two years have given mock exams increased importance. Mock exams also form a vital part of the backup plan for assessments if exams are cancelled in 2022. With our teens already profoundly impacted by the pandemic and the pressure on mock exam performance increasing, we provide our stress-busting tips for mock exam revision.
Planning and organisation
Make sure you and your teen are completely in the know about when their mock exams are. We advise them to plan a revision timetable around these dates. Creating a revision timetable can be a daunting exercise, but it is an important tool for staying motivated and keeping the end goal in sight. Our advice would be:
Step 1 – Work out how much time there is to revise and work backwards, taking care to consider any extracurricular activities, social commitments, or holidays.
Step 2 – Break down subjects into different topics. For example, for A-level English Literature – Poetry, Prose and Drama, and the various texts studied.
Step 3 – Prioritise different subjects and topics using a traffic light system: topics most confident in are green, topics relatively sure of are orange, and topics that need the most work are red.
Step 4 – Allocate revision time slots between 30 and 40 minutes long (any longer and concentration will suffer). Find a balance between green and red topics during the day.
Step 5 – Plan plenty of breaks. Physical and mental well-being is essential, and prioritising this will also boost productivity—timetable in enjoyable and relaxing activities as rewards.
Step 6 – Avoid revising every day; having at least one proper day off each week is essential to avoid burnout.
Setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) will help keep your child’s revision be focussed and manageable. Setting SMART goals forces them to think about what they want to achieve in the specific time they have, maximising productivity and reducing stress.
Your teen will need to set and take ownership of the goals themselves to feel motivated to achieve them. There are two types of goals: outcome-based and process-based. An example of an outcome-based goal is “I want to achieve an A grade in my A-Level French”. An example of a process-based goal is, “During the next hour, I am going to learn how to describe all the different types of erosion without looking in my textbook”. Both goals are important and should be written down and visible, written down as an intention for that revision time slot, or perhaps stuck on the wall. Ticking off the goals as they are completed can be highly motivating and will help drive your child through those hard days of revision.
Use a variety of revision techniques
The fundamental aim of revision is to accurately recall as much information from a subject syllabus under exam conditions as possible. Exam technique is essential, but without the knowledge, your child won’t achieve any marks. Using a variety of revision techniques keeps the revision process engaging and improves the ability to recall information.
Your child can adopt three effective revision techniques ahead of their mock examinations: spaced repetition, flashcards, and blurting.
Spaced repetition involves taking the content to memorise and repeating revision over increasing intervals of time. The brain works like a muscle, so we need to slowly add information and build it up over time by covering the content repeatedly, so it enters our long-term memory, and we don’t forget it. Repeating revision of topics that we think we know, with days, weeks, and months in between, will ensure that the knowledge is not only in long-term memory but also easily retrievable. Creating flashcards and labelling them with the traffic light system will help prioritise which subjects can be left for a couple of weeks, and which need to be looked at more regularly.
Flashcards are great visual aids for revision. The best method for using flashcards effectively is to put an exam question on one side and the answer on the other side. Then, children can quiz themselves or ask a family member to test them.
Blurting is when a certain amount of time is allocated for reading over a topic before covering it and writing down as much information as possible. Then, finally, reopen the textbook and compare notes; this will highlight the areas that are known well or require more revision.
Working through past papers is an excellent form of exam preparation as it allows children to familiarise themselves with the format of the exam and the styles of questions they will tackle. As well as looking at past papers and mark schemes, examiners reports are also available. Exam boards publish reports that go through typical questions or past papers, often commenting on how students need to answer each question, what candidates did well on and how they could have improved their responses. Examiners’ reports can help students avoid obvious traps, pitfalls or mistakes and include what examiners are looking for in each question, often breaking down the allocation of marks and the terminology required. Do make sure to refer to the correct exam board website and specification.
Mind and body
Brains work with maximum efficiency and focus when they are looked after. During revision season, instil the importance of routine, getting plenty of sleep, taking regular exercise, keeping hydrated, and eating nutritious food. When we are tired and stressed, it is hard to resist the temptation to reach out for an unhealthy snack or fall into a deep hole of procrastination. This can be avoided by following a healthy lifestyle and a realistic revision timetable.
Encourage your child to take proper breaks during meals and throughout the day to move and have some screen-free time.
Preparing for mock exams is a very effective way to revise. The use of mock exams to determine grades next year is a daunting prospect. Whilst acknowledging this with your teen, we advise keeping stress and concern low and focussing positively on what we have control of – learning with helpful revision techniques!
Image: Green Cameleon