I’m approaching one of the busiest times of the school year now as, being a teacher of A-Level Economics and Business, every one of the around 200 students I teach will be completing mock exams to help them fully prepare for the ‘real’ exams that are just around the corner. These mocks serve several purposes – hopefully they act as a ‘kick up the backside’ for those students who may have spent too much time playing Clash of Clans over the Easter brea. But more importantly, for all students, they provide vital feedback on their current performance in the subject. This is the students’ opportunity to fail- to make loads of mistakes now when, at the end of the day, it doesn’t count for anything, so that they can avoid these mistakes in those all-important A-Level exams.
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Students can identify any areas where their subject knowledge is lacking and correct these but, more importantly, they can get that experience of completing a whole exam paper in the right amount of time. Time management is a vital skill in an exam- for example, knowing not to spend five minutes trying to work out the answer to a multiple-choice question that’s only worth one mark and then running out of time for the final 20- mark essay question (a quarter of the marks in our new AS exams!).
So, getting back to all those mistakes the students have made, it’s important we spend time AFTER the mock exam has been sat seeking to correct these. In terms of feedback for me, they help me plan our next few revision lessons, whether it’s particular topics to revise or particular types of questions the students need extra practice on. However, the most vital thing for me is the first lesson after the exam. I will devote this whole hour-long lesson to helping students identify the mistakes they have made and plan their ‘next steps’ to ensure they can reach their full potential in the summer exams. This requires a highly differentiated lesson- every student is going to have made different mistakes, although there are often some common trends.
Speaking of those trends, whilst marking I always have a blank piece of paper next to me which, by the time a set of exam papers is marked, is usually full of my barely intelligible scribblings. These will be the common issues I’ve identified across the exam paper, and I’ll use these as the start to my lesson- discussing them with the whole class and including examples of students’ work (usually anonymous) in my presentation to make these major issues clear. After that, though, it’s up to each individual student to work out what their own specific needs are. However, they will obviously need significant help and guidance with this and so we provide them with individualised feedback sheets. These are adapted from a ‘5 minute exam review’ sheet created by @Laura_OLeary. You can see an example sheet below. It contains three main sections, which vary depending on which subject/exam they relate to as not all exams have the same structure. These three sections are:
1: Your results: This section gives the students their individual results for each question so they can immediately see where they’re getting it right and where they still need to work on things. It also gives them their overall mark and grade as well as the grade boundaries, so they can see how many more marks they need to get to move up to the next grade.
2: What did you lose marks for?: Here the students list the issues they have identified with their exam paper. I will often monitor this closely to make sure students are clearly picking up things, especially those students who find it harder to accept weaknesses in their own work.
3: Next steps- probably the most important section- now you’ve identified your problems, what are you going to do about it? ‘Revise more’ is not an accepted answer in this section! I will remind them of the importance of SMART targets if needed.
To assist with this process I also give out to each group in the class the mark scheme and (if possible) examiners report from that exam so they can independently look up what is missing from their answers.
To make this process work effectively, mail merging is vital. If you’re not sure about how to do this, I strongly encourage you to look up some tutorials on the Internet. It’s an incredibly useful and time-saving tool in many situations. So, I create a spreadsheet and enter in all the students’ marks for each question. The spreadsheet can then calculate the total mark and grade for each student (saving me the hassle of needing to add these up). I then set up the mail merge in Word, ensuring that the marks from each question will be put into the correct places on the page, and then simply print them all out ready to distribute in the lesson.
In addition to this review sheet, we have recently been making the students consider the revision activities they completed in the run up to completing their mock exam, asking them what percentage of their time they spent on different activities. This list starts with very passive activities like reading a textbook down to completing practice questions, reading examiners reports, and such like. Hopefully, these can be used to show the class that those students who did more active activities have achieved more highly than those who focused on more passive activities, and this will again help to focus their minds on what they need to be doing in the next few weeks.
Whilst it’s a long and time-consuming process, often leading to late nights marking whilst working my way through a large bar of chocolate (no, you can’t have any more until you’ve done another 2 exam papers!) I do feel that, as long as sufficient effort is put into the feedback after the mocks, this is a vital and highly rewarding process to undertake.
If you would like to use or adapt any of the resources I have discussed in this article, please feel free to download via bit.ly/uked16may14.
If you have any questions about how to make best use of them, please do get in touch on Twitter.
David Carpenter is a Teacher of Economics & Business at Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School in south-east London. He can be found on Twitter @dizzleeducation.