Whilst invigilating the other day a yr 10 science mock exam, and watching students sitting there believing to have completed the exam with 10 minutes to go, I couldn’t help but think that a large opportunity was missed in me not providing examination performance advice right there and then, in real time. And so I did.

I explained to students that as hard as it may be, that going back over their work was crucial. Now I know we all say this to students ad nauseum, and I’ve presented to them possible scenarios they may encounter in the exam and how to handle them, provided advice on exam performance, and utilised Elisabeth Bowling’s wonderful mock walk through advice, but my observations are that because students are totally over the whole thing at the end of the exam and can’t wait to get out, and because they haven’t had enough practice of exam performance to embed the end of exam processes, without a physical reminder (kick up the butt), they simply won’t do it. Well some will of course, but not the majority.

My contention is that they need a teacher/invigilator in every mock guiding them at the end, explaining to them so they can embed the conversation to replay back in the real exams. This may contradict with what you envisage a mock to be (and you may think my advice in the mock unfairly benefitted those in the room). But for me, everything is a progression to the next major summative assessment and an opportunity to learn about how to do the REAL thing, especially when the pressure of strong performance in the REAL thing, SATS, GCSE and A-level, is more than ostensibly paramount.

Here’s my spiel:

‘It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing right now, but going back over your work is absolutely crucial, as it can, and usually does, help you see any fixable mistakes. Also, what’s really important is that you read back your work from the beginning of the exam, because as at this stage of the exam, your brain is warmed up significantly more, and is now more likely to be able to think better or make connections to other parts of the exam. This is essential if you have missed a question or 2 (maths, science etc) that you didn’t know how to do when you first encountered them. If you do this, it could be the difference between a grade boundary.‘

‘Ok, well done. As I said (signalling those who had obviously changed an answer or written more), going back over work could be the difference between a grade boundary.’

The necessity of this in subjects that assess for language construction speaks for itself, adjusting common errors such as spellings, apostrophe dis/use, punctuation and grammar, and even adjusting vocab for effect and rephrasing if opportunities arise, but arguably it’s even more important in maths.

Imagine the impact of a student hearing this and carrying out the procedure in every mock or KS2, KS3, and KS4 summative assessment, for as many mocks or assessments as they are given over their schooling career.

THE MISSING LINK – AGAIN

The imperative of this preparation ISN’T MISSED IN THE PRIMARY SECTOR. The vigilance taken in ensuring students understand and can react to the multiple nuances of tests, from how to sit, to how to hold their pencils to avoid tiredness, to prescriptive time warnings throughout assessment, to the more powerful active teaching of ‘how’ to check for errors (for example: giving students papers with errors on them and asking them to spot them), is something that the secondary sector could have a better understanding of, so that they can carry it on and utilise the significant effort and energy that has gone into cultivating assessment performance in primary schools.

Recently spending time with a primary teacher, who is quite clearly exceptional at what she does, has made me much more aware of the terrible waste of resource that secondary teachers perpetuate by not being more attuned to what goes on in primary, (such as grammar knowledge), and this must change (blog pending).

A Way forward

If we use summative assessment to measure learning, and we must, then it is essential that we assist students as much as possible in training them to perform in exam conditions. Some may argue that the performance is part of the exam, and those who can handle the pressure and can adapt and pace their answers demonstrate higher ability than those who can’t, and consequently should be rewarded for it. But if you don’t hold this view*, the validity of the exam itself becomes reduced if exam performance interferes with our quest to measure what students know and can do.  

A possible process:

  • †Assessments are extended (not known by students) by 5-10 minutes for the process to be carried out
  • Large posters are displayed in the examination room/hall with the process outlined
  • Teachers/ invigilators work off a script so the information is consistent and therefore more memorable
  • Students could possibly highlight sections/parts where additions/adjustments have been made, making it easy to see the rewards of the exercise once exams are handed back (highlighting to see what is and isn’t known is a highly effective process introduced by Blake Harvard)
  • Post exam feedback could include statistics of gains made

Ideally, by the time students arrive at yr 11 mocks the process would have been embedded to the point of automaticity, thereby reducing the number of permutations of possible errors in examinations, and providing the teacher and school with a more accurate inference of what students know and can do, and of course, what they can’t.

*Actually, even if you do, I think every student has the right to be prepared for the exam as much as possible.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger and follow this blog for more English teaching resources and general teaching and learning ideas.

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