I'm an NQT and I've been told to prompt my Year 6 pupils during their mock Sats

('look again', 'think hard' and so on). Is this sensible?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own.

Ted says

The purpose of a mock exam is for children to take the eventual test under conditions as close to the real thing as possible. In the real Sats, you will not be allowed to point and say: "Oh dear, check the spelling," so there is no point in doing so during a mock.

But there is nothing to stop you having a test practice session, rather than a fully fledged mock exam, where you help children look critically at their answers, as long as you make clear that this will not be permitted in the real thing. Many 11-year-olds (and some undergraduates) are naive about exam technique; it is better they make errors during class time than in the formal tests.

I told my GCSE group that I'd be hiding behind a curtain during their exam, and if anyone failed to check their paper, a 50ft arm would reach out and grab them by the throat. One or two may have believed it.

The best preparation for the wretched Sats, of course, is to make sure children have learned what they need to know and are enthusiastic about the subjects. This will help ensure they understand what they are learning and can respond to novel questions. Some practice is useful, but endless mind-numbing drills simply transform lively children into turnips.

A Year 3 pupil told me he was enjoying maths this year, but they hadn't done it last year. "Yes you did," I replied. "No, we did Sats," he said, without any sense of irony.

You say

Don't do it

Peering over a child's shoulder in any exam situation, even a mock one, is off-putting. Teachers or invigilators should never offer guidance on what a child has written in an exam. There is a temptation to offer advice, particularly when results are included in school performance tables. But I'm sure readers have read the horror stories in the media of when teachers are accused of helping children in tests, and the damage this can do to their professional reputation.

Children should be taught to check their work. I always give a 10 and five-minute warning of the end of the test, with an indication to those who think they may have finished to check work carefully. Using this method, you advise children of the need to check work without standing over individuals and providing direct guidance.

Lee Murray, Manchester

You'll be doing them no favours

We all want our pupils to do well, so it is tempting to offer help when we see them struggling under exam conditions. And after all, they're only mocks, so what's the harm? But infringing the rules of exam invigilation, even for a mock, can have a detrimental effect on students' achievement.

The main purpose of mocks is to give them an experience of what is in store. The secondary purpose is to give teachers feedback on how students perform under exam conditions. Neither is achieved if you help them during the test.

It is far more useful to use class time afterwards to go through patterns of error and achievement. You can cover exam skills as well as subject-specific learning points, and there will surely be an opportunity to remind students of the benefits of leaving time to check their answers.

Leo Gilbert, London

Fair enough

This sounds reasonable as long as you are giving general advice and not pointing out specific mistakes.

A mock exam gives pupils a chance to practise under timed conditions, as well as testing what they've remembered and gauging what they need to do to improve. A gentle reminder to check what they have written should instil some good habits. You could even teach them some strategies to do this in the build-up to the tests.

Boosting the results of mock exams brings no real benefits to the school or pupils, so you need not worry that it is unprofessional. But it would be a different matter in the real tests.

Anna Johnson, Watford

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you