Making the most of mocks
Making the most of mocks
1. Mindset – mocks should be more helpful than stress-inducing. Here’s why.
Mock exams can be incredibly helpful. They give students a chance to have a consequence-free dress rehearsal for the real things. That said, it really does depend on a student’s mindset about them.
If your child is putting too much pressure on themselves over mocks, it’s going to a) stress them out, b) stress you out and c) make them miss out on all the helpful aspects of the mocks.
The way you help them mentally ‘frame’ the mocks can be a game-changer.
Before any big show, there’s a dress rehearsal. It is used to find all the glitches, so they can be fixed before the curtains open for real. Hat falling off during the big dance number? Hair grips. Leading actor keeps mispronouncing a word? Rewrite that line with a different word. The point is, you’ve got to find the glitches by screwing up in the dress rehearsal, or you can’t fix them.
No-one expects the dress rehearsal to go perfectly. That’s not what it’s for.
Mocks are just a dress rehearsal. The results don’t usually make much difference, except maybe to your tier of entry (foundation / higher) in a few cases.
Here’s why they’re so useful:
– You can try out different revision techniques to see which work best for you.
– You can see which bits you know pretty well already, and which you need to revise.
– You can find knowledge gaps. You won’t have covered everything yet, so don’t panic about them!
– You can rehearse your exam technique.
– You can get used to sitting in the exam hall / being silent / writing for aaaaaaages / lining up etc. It all makes the real thing less ‘new and scary’.
Warning: There is a LOT of bad advice on the internet – just search ‘mock exam tips’, and you’ll find forums full of teenagers saying ‘don’t bother revising – they’re just mocks’. You and I know that’s bad advice, but teens tend to take whichever advice they like best…
2. Pre-mocks – ways to prepare, things to remember.
Make a cheat-sheet. While they revise, jot down key facts / quotes / dates / formulae. Keep it as short and simple as possible – it’ll have to go on an A4 sheet. They’re aiming for a page of important things to remember, so they can take the page with them, and read it to themselves just before they go into that mock. It helps reduce the memorising aspect of exams. When they get in, they can even regurgitate that from memory onto the back of their answer paper or some scrap paper, so they don’t have to remember it for more than about 10 minutes!
The act of condensing their revision to those few things to ‘remember’ is also really helpful itself – they’re having to triage and choose the important vs the trivial, the bits they know vs the bits they don’t, and all this is helping their brain get information filed away effectively.
Read a mark scheme. It’s not the most fascinating reading, but reading a mark scheme for any past paper the night before an exam can be really helpful. Exams are about giving the answer the examiner wants.
Imagine someone asked you to do your driving test again tomorrow. You’ve probably been driving for years, but do you remember all the little things you’re supposed to do? I reckon I’d fail on minors because I’ve a) developed lazy habits, and b) I can’t remember the ‘textbook’ way to do it all. I’d have to read up on ‘what the examiner is looking for on your driving test’, and maybe look at their marking sheet template. School exams are the same. The mark scheme shows you what things you have to include in answers to get the marks.
Don’t just read your notes! It’s one of the least effective ways to revise, but the easiest (so most tempting). They should be using their notes to create a mindmap / flashcard / synopsis / bulletpoints of key things. The more different things they try, the better. It’s a great chance to try out different techniques to see what works best. They could also explain key things to you – it’s a very effective way to revise!
Write, don’t type. When revising, it’s useful to write notes out in pen – they’re going to need to be able to scribble away for at least an hour in the exam, so building up writing stamina is a good plan!
3. During mocks – getting every last drop of ‘helpful’ out of them.
Use the clock. If they have a 60 minute paper, worth 60 marks, they should be aiming for a mark a minute. If they’ve taken 15 minutes to answer a 5 mark question, they’re gonna struggle to have time to get enough marks from the rest of the paper. Seriously, cut it off, move on, and then come back at the end if they have time. They shouldn’t spend ages struggling over one question.
Skip it, don’t bluff it. There are going to be questions in the mock on topics they haven’t covered yet. When they find one, they shouldn’t try and bluff their way through, they should skip it and do the questions they have studied. If there’s time at the end, then great, go back and have a go by all means, but don’t waste time on a guess until you’ve completed the questions you can do.
3. Post-mocks – how to debrief a mock paper, and where to go from there.
After each exam, get them to do a debrief. They may not thank you at the time, but they will later.
All they need is a page with the headings:
– topics I didn’t know
– things I couldn’t remember
– the hardest thing about this exam was…
– the easiest thing about this exam was…
It’ll help them focus their revision, and remind them when they get their results that actually they hadn’t done 3 of the topics, so a grade 4 isn’t actually that bad (for example). It’ll also help them know which bits to add to their cheat-sheet for the real thing! They can then compare this with their paper when they get it back too.
Finally, get them to pick a reward for when mocks are over. However pragmatically you look at them, mocks are still a pretty intense week or two of exams and revision. It’s important to have something to look forward to, whether that’s a day out somewhere, or a trip to the cinema with some mates.