Pre-exam Stress? 

Tomorrow is the first GCSE Geography exam and after half term we’ll have the A Level ones. Usually this time of year feels pretty fraught for pupils and teachers alike. This year, in my department anyway, not so much. I’d usually expect a flurry of emails this weekend from worried pupils but this year I haven’t had a single one. Talking to classes about how they feel shows that they are all feeling very calm and very confident. Teachers in the department say the same. Is this misplaced? I don’t think so. I think it comes from knowing that we have all done everything possible to make sure that this exam just isn’t a threat. Without a sense of threat there is no stress. 

  1. We play the controlled assessement strictly by the rules. But we made sure that we set a challenging title that allowed pupils to really demonstrate the top of the mark scheme. They are going into the exam with some great results.
  2. We didn’t waste time on revision classes. We finished the course at Christmas and have had plenty of time to revise in class. 
  3. We targeted intervention. Rather than last minute revision sessions we ran a small number of highly targeted intervention sessions for those pupils who needed them based on weaknesses we found from the mock exams.
  4. We worked out where the weaknesses were. Pupils did a lot of past papers, knowledge quizzes and checklists. We identified gaps in knowledge and filled them.
  5. We made sure that they had very secure knowledge and then focused on exam technique that was specific to the subject (I wrote about how we approached that for TES here – Why you need to teach exam technique ).
  6. We talked to pupils about how to revise and shared ideas on memory from the likes of Daniel T Willingham. 
  7. We have spent a lot of time looking at how we apply knowledge to a range of questions and used worked exemplars and live models. 

Of course it could all go horribly wrong. Perhaps in August I will reread this with a sense of horror wondering what more we (by which I mean me, my pupils, the rest if the department, SLT, parents – the whole team) could have done. But at the moment I don’t think there is anything. 

It’s a bit like waiting on the start line of a marathon. If I know I trained well, ate well, planned my strategy well, I can wait there feeling calm and relaxed. It isn’t hubris but the reward for the hard work done. 

I’m not writing this to boast, because actually I don’t think I’m in the minority here, but because I think we should all worry less. We are highly skilled professionals who know what we are doing, and who then do it. There are things that are beyond our control but we all of us work hard to create the best possible conditions for success.

So I would say to all teachers and pupils approaching their exams – relax. You’ve done the hard work. This is now the payoff. 

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