3 tips to get GCSE students studying independently

Helping students become better independent learners in the run-up to the GCSE exams can be highly beneficial - both for their success and teachers' time

Child studying at home on her own

Exams are starting to appear on the horizon for a lot of us, with the slog to June becoming ever more grueling. Typically, this is when we all start to feel the strain. 

The combination of pressure from the students (and their failing memories) and the pressures we put on ourselves (and are put upon us) regarding results means that quite often teachers end up putting even more work in than usual.

There’s no magic formula to fix this, but there is something that can certainly help reduce workload in the run-up to the exams: building self-efficacy - essentially independence -  in students and how they learn as it can be a really high yield investment of time.

But how can it be instilled?

1. Organisation

Teenagers are typically disorganised, and even if they are organised, when it comes to independent study they still need some help. Ensuring that they are clearly directed and shown exactly what to do and when is paramount to their success. 

Spaced practice and interleaved approaches to revision are complex for students to get their already full heads around, so effectively modelling how to best revise is a sure-fire approach to getting the most out of your classes. Here's a great guide from professor John Dunlosky explaining all. 

2. Support

Self-efficacy relies on the confidence to study independently. Ensuring that there is sufficient support for learners is another key part of the process. 

Even though you are trying to build a sense of independence, you still remain the expert and taking the time to support you students shouldn’t be forgotten.

Helping with creating revision plans is a good way to build a common ground and ensure that your support remains tailored.

3. Tracking

If you want to reduce your workload around revision, you need to effectively track students’ progress. Having heaps of past papers to mark isn’t an effective way of ensuring that they are on track. 

Low-stakes testing in lessons, tutorials with individuals and mock exams are good ways to monitor who needs the extra help with revision. 

Effective tracking and checking for understanding with regard to how well students retain knowledge also gives you the option of introducing or amending approaches to revision.

Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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Adam Riches

Senior Leader for Teaching and Learning, Head of English and Specialist Leader in Education

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