Don't knock the mock

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Iain MacDonald shows how self-questioning leads to better answers

Most schools conduct their GCSE mock exams in December or January of Year 11 and, after marking, the papers are dutifully "gone through" for the benefit of the students.

Frustratingly, many students display little interest once the mark has been converted to a report grade, and even those who listen diligently to the teacher's words of wisdom will almost certainly have forgotten them by the time they sit the real thing five or six months later.

One way round this is to return the mock exams with a self-help cover-sheet, highlighting some key areas where students frequently lose marks - everything from the basic "Did I answer at sufficient length for the marks awarded?" to more task-specific points such as "Did I demonstrate that I understand that opinion can be presented as fact?"

The cover-sheet shown here is designed for AQA GCSE English Paper 1, but with a little tweaking it could be adapted to support any specification.

The immediate benefit of the cover sheet is that students are forced to engage more thoughtfully in the initial review, but it also proves a useful revision tool. I staple each student's sheet to his or her paper, and as late as possible before study leave starts I spend a session going through both the mock exams and the cover sheets again. With the exams looming, I find the students considerably more focused.

They then remove the cover sheets (I retain their mock papers, for obvious reasons), and mark them in large colourful letters with the words "ESSENTIAL REVISION MATERIAL - READ ON THE DAY OF THE ENGLISH EXAM!"

I can't say for sure how many of them manage to follow this final key instruction, but I reckon that those who do save vital marks.

Iain MacDonald teaches English at Truro School, Cornwall

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