Make the most of Exam Revision

It would be great if there was no such thing as exams, but for those of us in the formal school system, they are a reality that we have to deal with every year, possibly several times. So... how do we make the most of them, so that they serve some educational purpose? And how do we as teachers really help our students to do well, given that so much judgment about them is based on exam performance?

How do you eat an elephant? 

Preparing for exams can seem like a mammoth task for our students - it can seem like there’s too much to do and too little time. 

So now is a good time for our students to reflect on what worked well in their exam preparation last term and in term 2, and (with our help) to devise better methods if necessary. Here are some tips you can share with your register class and as part of your subject teaching.

  • Encourage students to use Google Calendar as their timetable: it is flexible, portable and can’t get lost. They will have it with them at all times!
  • Work out the time remaining - days and available slots on each day.
  • Assign specific topics to each slot, in 30 minute chunks. As a subject teacher you can help with this when you give out the scope - break it into bite-sized pieces.
  • Try to make homework that is revision, and include repetition of key topics. 
  • In class and homework: 
    • Give emphasis to topics that you know have been problematic during the year. 
    • Help them get an overview of the subject and the key topics so they can see what is more important and needing focus.
  • Use DO NOWs to check for understanding of topics from earlier in the year.
  • Use tools like Quizizz, Kahoot and Blooket to have fun while revising.

So, how do you eat an elephant?
In small bites and with lots of chewing!

What does excellence look like? 

At what point can you say that your students have really learned something?

It can be tempting to think that because you have explained something a few times, and the students have all said they understand, that the topic has now been “covered” and that they will do OK in an exam. But have they really learned it? Does that “understanding” translate into exam success? What is the best way to check for understanding for real in a way that will yield good exam marks?

Using past papers

When you assign a past paper, choose a particular question, and then have the students all work at it (on their own, in pairs/groups, and/or with you) until they have a very clear idea of what an excellent response looks like. Only then should you move on to similar questions from other papers. 

This might seem uneducational and test-focused. And to some extent it is. But in exam prep mode we need to shift focus and ensure that our students can play the exam game well!

Who is doing the work? 

What can you do to help students study actively?

You can explain concepts many times over, but until students actively engage with the content themselves, they will not truly master and understand it. So what can you do to help them be more active?

  • Promote note making by requiring notes/mindmaps/summaries for homework and/or marks.
  • Have a test and allow one page of “crib notes”.
  • Encourage peer teaching, in pairs or possibly by using a jigsaw design.
  • Have a quiz in teams, preferably with students creating the questions.
  • Play games like Kahoot, Quizizz or Blooket.

Spaced Retrieval

What can you do to teach 2 of the most effective study methods?

As a student, it is quite easy to think you understand and know something while it is being explained or when looking over notes, only to find that it has disappeared in an exam. You only really know something when you know you know it. As teachers, we need to encourage students to test themselves on a specific topic several times. And they need to space out these retrieval sessions. How can you promote this?

  • Ask a lot of questions on current and past topics.
  • Surprise tests.
  • Homework to study a section followed by a pop quiz; repeat after some time.
  • A scope document arranged as a study timetable, showing the same topics more than once.
  • Have a quiz in teams, preferably with students creating the questions.
  • Play games like Kahoot, Quizizz or Blooket.

Specific Exam Strategies & Requirements

What can you do to help students deal with YOUR exam better?

Each exam has a particular format and types of questions. These all require different strategies. In the short time remaining, help your students know how to deal with these different kinds of questions. The Grade 8s, particularly, have very little experience of writing exams. Here are some suggestions what you can discuss to help students manage an exam better.

  • What kind of questions to expect.
  • Which questions to tackle first/last based on skill/ability level.
  • Multiple choice: Try to think of the answer before looking at and choosing one of the alternatives.
  • Time allocation per question (if it is not given in the instructions).
  • What is expected in response to different question words in your subject (eg discuss, describe, state, indicate, etc).
  • How to plan essays/longer answers; what to do with rough work.

It could be a good idea to through a past paper explaining the format and expectations, not the content.

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