Exam preparation – Is there much we parents can do to help the teenager at this crucial time?
For parents who have children in the final year of their courses GCSE or A-level (Y11 or Y13 – 5th form and U6th), they will experience what goes on when their child is preparing for an exam twice. One at GCSE and the other at A-level, and I can only relate to half of that experience so far and I don’t know if I’m looking forward to the other half.
It is now the second week of April, and my son is in Y12 and my daughter is in Y10. This time last year, my son was preparing for his GCSEs. This time next year, he will be facing the final of his A-levels, and my daughter will be taking the final of her GCSEs.
One point I’d like to make is that much can still be done at this stage to help the teenager improve their prospects in this summer’s exams. Yes, even at this late stage. It’s all about being able to pick up those crucial extra marks. In case you think it is too late, there are two things you ought to be aware of:
- All the main exams start in in the week commencing 15th May and some papers will be done in that week and the week after. It gets busier from after half term, with the rest of the exams taking place between 5th and 21st June.
- A lot can be gained still, in the one or two weeks before the exam, and in fact even after the exams have already started.
We are where we are, and nothing can be done about what the child could have done before now. The focus now is just to do as much as can be done to pick up those extra marks, and it boils down to two things:
- Reinforcing knowledge in key areas and strengthening weaknesses where necessary
- Mastery of the skills needed to answer exam questions in the way the examiner wants.
The second aspect – exam skills – can and must be done by practising of exam questions. It is more powerful if they can get some feedback from teachers where possible. Just using the mark schemes is helpful but not enough.
There is a lot of misconception about exam technique being everything. No, it is not. Exam technique is very important; however, an understanding of the concepts comes first. A good comprehension of the idea, followed by question mastery is what helps the child to achieve their full potential and leads to a good grade. Practising with past papers and looking at mark scheme is fine but if the concepts are not well-understood first, the next past paper will always be harder than the last one. This will end up in the actual exam being harder.
One key issue is how young people use their time over the exam period. As a parent, I was of the opinion that I can dictate to my children how and when they revise. Last summer, when my son was taking his GCSE, I learnt one thing, which my 29 years and 8 months in the English education system had not prepared me for. That lesson was that my son took control of his exam preparations, and he more or less ignored my advice! Well, he did listen to some of the sermons that I was preaching to him, but not all. I remember him going to bed very late and setting his alarm to wake up very early – like before 5am on some days. This is not something that I had advised, and I still do not. I think he needs plenty of sleep during his exams, but somehow, he got by and achieved top grades. I’m now preaching to him that he must work consistently harder throughout the two-year A-level course – not do what he did last year at GCSE. We’ll see how that works out!
I was very pleasantly surprised when I was speaking to my daughter a few weeks ago and I asked her target for GCSE Maths, and she said Grade 8. Up to then, I had diagnosed that she is capable of getting at least Grade 8 in Maths but that she does not believe in her own ability. Of course, as a parent, I have to believe my child is bright! My diagnosis was confirmed when I met her Maths teacher at the parents evening and asked his opinion and he confirmed that Grade 8 is what she ought to be targeting. I do not know if she will get that grade or not, but what I know is that it is important to dream. It’s not always about the destination but the journey matters. In fact, the journey in terms of the preparation and the action towards the goal are often more important than the result. Usually if one does what needs to be done, the results usually come but not always. But, even when you do not achieve the result, the experience prepares you for life’s challenges, which will surely come later.
I agree that people are different in the way their body and mind work. Some of us need more sleep, and others can cope with a short sleep at certain key times. Different people are able to absorb, process, recall and articulate our understanding to answer questions in an examination environment in different ways. We are all a product of our habits, and it is important that each person finds what works for them and have the discipline to implement to a successful outcome. However, there are certain things that all those who do well implement, but the way one person does it may be different from the next.
As a parent or teacher, we still have an obligation to speak to young people about things that are important, and to suggest how they should do things. Some of what we say will be acted upon and some won’t. The fact that the child will not do some of the things we say does not mean we should not say anything. It is still a worthwhile exercise, as, at least, that conversation will act as some sort of guidance, or at least as part of the thought process.
One topic that my seventeen-year-old boy brings out all the time is that he does not know what he wants to do later in life. My response as always is as follows: just like I was at your age, I did not really know what I wanted to do, even though I had some ideas. Most young people do not know exactly what they want to do later in life but it does not matter. The key thing is to have a focus on what they are doing and to try and get the best outcome by fulfilling their potential in whatever they are doing. That’s all we can ask for.
As for my son and daughter, I wait to see how it all pans out.
I repeat again: much can still be achieved by the young person in the remaining weeks – before and during the examinations. It’s all about maintaining focus and using their time productively to maximise their chances of high grades.
Everything is not all about getting the top grades, it’s about fulfilling their potential. If they do what they need to do, July and the first few weeks of August will be relaxing and more enjoyable, and they can look forward to the autumn with glee on their faces.
If you have read what I am sharing up to this point, aspects of which are rather philosophical, thank you and I hope you find it thought-provoking, at least!
Change the above in the blog Word file after proofreading.