GCSE exams 2019: Five pitfalls to avoid

Exam board AQA shares some common pitfalls of GCSE exam preparation for 2019, and what you can do to avoid them

GCSE exams 2019

Whatever subject you teach, you will already be well into your preparation for this summer’s GCSE exams. Here, a member of AQA’s relationship management team, who regularly visits schools to provide advice, describes some of the most common gaps that she sees in exam preparation and explains how to make sure they don’t trip your students up.
 

Give adequate weight to all assessment objectives

When we speak to schools, it’s clear that many of them are very strong on some assessment objectives, but not on others.

In GCSE science, for example, many schools are strong on AO1 ("Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of: scientific ideas; scientific techniques and procedures"), but less strong on AO2 ("Apply knowledge and understanding of: scientific ideas; scientific enquiry, techniques and procedures").

Perhaps that’s why some students took to Twitter after their exams last summer, complaining that they’d been asked a question about osmosis using carrots, when they’d used potatoes during the course.

But the question wasn’t the problem; students simply needed to use their knowledge and understanding of what they’d learned about osmosis and apply it in the new context.

Forty per cent of marks are awarded for AO2, so it’s really important that students know how to apply their knowledge and understanding.

It should become apparent in your mock exams if students are weak on certain objectives, which will help you to focus your teaching.

Practise the more ‘general’ questions

Students commonly struggle the most with the less "structured" elements of exam papers – these are often the questions they will need to practise most.

In MFL, for instance, students are usually well prepared for the role-play and photo-card tasks in the speaking test, but they often struggle with the general conversation. But half the marks (30 out of 60) in the speaking assessment are for the general conversation, so it’s really worth spending time on this, using strategies to help students stretch their vocabulary and range of language.

Get the tier right

It’s really important to make the right choice about which tier to enter pupils into for MFL, maths and science. But we know this isn’t always easy.

In summer 2018, Ofqual put in place some exceptional measures for MFL and science to avoid a large number of students "falling off" the higher tier without a grade. But Ofqual has recently said that this was a one-off, so you really need to choose tiers very carefully.

Writing recently in Tes, our head of curriculum strategy offered some advice about how to do this. Looking at how students perform on questions that are common between the tiers can be a good guide to help you make these difficult decisions.

It’s also worth thinking carefully before changing your strategies. Maths teachers have generally made the right tier decisions over the past two summers. However, we’ve heard from a number of schools that had good success in 2017 and so increased their higher tier entry last summer – only to see a significant drop in outcomes as a result.

Make the most of mock-exam support

Mock exams are useful practice for students, but they are also crucial to help teachers understand where students need more support. That’s why it pays to make mocks as effective as possible.  

Exam boards have a lot of resources to help you with this, but it’s not just past papers. If you’re with AQA, using Exampro gives you access to thousands of past GCSE and A-level questions, their related mark schemes and examiner comments, all mapped to the current specifications. You decide which questions you need, and you can also use them to create a lesson, topic test, class discussion, homework task or revision exercise.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with the resources offered by your board and really make the most of them.

Know your key deadlines

The school year is busy, so you really need to be on top of your key dates for GCSEs. Here are some upcoming dates to be aware of:

  • 31 January 2019: the last date to request modified papers for pupils who are partially sighted.
  • 21 February 2019: the deadline for entries for summer 2019 exams. This is also the final date to process applications for access arrangements.
  • 21 April 2019: the last date to change tiers (free of charge) for all tiered subjects (MFL, maths and sciences).


And don’t forget to tell your students their non-examined-assessment (NEA) marks and give them enough time to appeal, as this is now a requirement from the Department for Education and Ofqual.

Gail Nielen is a member of AQA’s relationship management team, who regularly visit schools and colleges and provides advice and guidance on curriculum issues

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