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Roland Martin - Issue #44

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Half term over ... public exams countdown.
 

Roland Martin

February 21 · Issue #44 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Half term over … public exams countdown.

Public exams
Yes, they are just around the corner now, it seems. 
Having a son preparing for his GCSEs, I’m well aware of how quickly public exams come upon us. Last night, he proposed a pretty unworkable revision schedule model of eight hours a day every day of the Easter holiday. 
It’s important to be realistic.
So, I find myself combing the internet for evidence to support my argument as a parent (albeit one with a degree of specialist knowledge in this area, but that doesn’t always count for much, as a parent of teens) that ‘spacing’ is better - three hours or so (with breaks) per day over ten days, for instance, is more lucrative than trying to cram 30 hours into 24. 
Parent to parent, this Guardian article on the science of revision is probably my favourite so far, as it’s rooted in theory which even the most cynical 15 year old will find hard to dispute. Apart from the music part. We parents all know by now that whatever we tell them, they will try to tell us that 'music helps me to learn!’ 
The science of revision: nine ways pupils can revise for exams more effectively | Teacher Network | The Guardian
It’s also perhaps most in line with the teaching of Elevate Education, whom I’ve cited in a previous blog. We’ve been working with them at Freemen’s pretty regularly over the last couple of years, and they have a tremendous impact, these sparky young things, much closer in age to our children, influencing them more profoundly than many a (lame/pathetic/boring/annoying* *delete as appropriate) 40 something parent/teacher could hope so to do. One of the aspects of a talk I’ve attended by them focused on ’eating the frog’. The do the hard things first, reward yourselves later school of thought, the antidote to procrastination, of which more later.
Planning is certainly crucial, and there are tools out there to help, such as the free online planner available at Go Conqur where you plot in your GCSE or A Level choices and material is generated for you - important to note that you need to be careful of syllabus material here though; one teen’s Chemistry course is another’s irrelevance. Resourceful teens will have come up with their own preferred mode of timetabling, I’m sure, but these sites are useful starters at this stage in the day, when all is certainly not yet lost, and the promise of planning is a positive reality. They will need to beware of falling into a trap of spending too long planning and prettifying and not leaving enough time to do the graft, of course.
Here’s an apt guide for the teen in your life, it even features geek-pin-up Sheldon Cooper, for cool points: 
17 killer revision tips for GCSE and A-Level | Studying & Revision | Student Hacks
Practising exam questions with notes to hand (building up to full papers, under timed, silent conditions, with no notes to help) is the advice most often dished out, with good reason. It will help to isolate areas of weakness, or where knowledge is lacking - again, in good time to put it right. Kinaestetically leaning teens will enjoy practising the ceremony of sitting exams too, the rehearsal complete with clear plastic pencil case. 
Some of the greatest grade inflations that I have seen in my teaching career have come from students who practise, practise, practise and learn from their errors in these important rehearsals! As ever, teacher feedback is key here, but where possible, looking at the marking criteria and examiners’ reports can really help a student to see where extra marks could be garnered as a student starts to familiarise him/herself with what an examiner seeks and which targets need hitting.
Balance in the force ...
Alongside all of this planning and executing, it’s obviously always important not only to reward oneself with treats, but also to get your body moving too. Two evidence-based articles here from The Guardian and the Harvard health blog: whatever form of exercise your teen prefers, it is proven to boost brainpower.
In the end ...
If your teen really does find themselves lacking, and you are revisiting this blog in April, here’s a couple of last chance saloons … 
1. A TedTalk on memory tricks (very Sherlock, or is it Derren Brown?):
Joshua Foer: Feats of memory anyone can do | TED Talk | TED.com
2. An entertaining/amusing talk on procrastination, making a case again for spacing and introducing us to both the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster:
Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED Talk | TED.com
The nepomuc life calendar is a fun/sobering/inspiring appendix to this. I have 49% of my life left, allegedly, and my wife has 51%. Together that gives us 100%. An interesting glass half-full way of looking at it, I suppose. More optimistically, our 15 year old has 82% left … that’s a lot of time to fill, so really, for year 11 or 13 students, getting heads down for the next couple of months is no great hardship in the long run.
Which brings me back to the immediate, the here and now real last resort - but more serious - piece on revising for Science GCSEs in the nth hour:
Last minute revision tips for GCSE science - Telegraph
Every best wish to every parent shepherding a teen or two through the next few months. Let’s hope we all get to raise a glass in August!
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