It’s the final countdown! By Patrice Miller @patricemiller_

It is that time of year again. Daffodils. Yellow. April. Rain. Extended evenings. Warmer days. Exams.  This academic year alone I have marked close to two hundred GCSE English controlled assessments. A change in workplace meant that I have had to learn the IGCSE English language and literature specification in a matter of weeks. I am having to take through students I’ve known for less than six weeks, through formal exams.  Please someone feel sorry for me. 

Now my drama queen moment is over I want to reveal the real thorn in my flesh. I am struggling. Exam season is fast approaching and I want to ensure my students are in the best possible position to not only approach their exams with minimum stress but feel confident enough to do well. I have been taking students through formal exams for a few years now and I feel just as nervous as I did the first time round. I want my learners to do better this year. I want them to enjoy the revision period. I need them to achieve. In order to do that I will be encouraging and teaching my students to make to achieve this. 

Use previous exam papers from the awarding body to practise exam skills

I am a firm believer in practise makes perfect. However, in the case of exam practise, exposure to past papers make learners wiser, prepared and more confident. They have the opportunity to recognise and identify any patterning in the way questions are asked. It provides a chance to describe, compare, infer and explain terminology, presentational features or layouts that would have been studied throughout the course. It also gives students the opportunity to measure their exam strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. My mantra is, “past papers are your best resource” (Cottrell, pg.310). 

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

For the benefit of my blood pressure, I would like to believe that my students have put together some kind of personal revision timetable in order to prepare for exams. Adequate planning needs to include scheduling of a specific time to fulfil revision commitments. It would break my heart if as a fly on the wall I saw one of my learners revise a piece of unseen poetry the week before their exam. Set a homework activity or a tutorial session to encourage learners to create a personal and unique exam timetable with SMART achievements for each session. 

“I could not finish the paper; I ran out of time”

The very words I hate to hear. Modern technology has created an environment that depends on students typing nearly everything that they write. Whether it is an email, instant messaging, controlled assessment they write without a pen. I have often questioned their ability to write at speed within given time frames. Do we give our students adequate time to practise speed writing? It is a question worth asking. I plan to develop my learners handwriting skills in my lessons leading up to their exams because Office Word will not save them. 

These are just a few exam tips that I will be teaching and developing with my learners as we cross over into exam season. I know there are an abundance of exam essentials that we often teach at this time of year. Do you have any tips to share? 

Dr Stella Cottrell, 2008. The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave Study Skills). 3rd Revised edition Edition. Palgrave Macmillan.