From education to employment

Students need to focus on practicing assessment skills, not just on catching up on lost learning

Emma Slater, Director of Education, GCSEPod

Students, teachers and parents are all tired of hearing about lost learning and the need for ‘catch up’ caused by the pandemic and I completely sympathise with this.  Most of those in the education sector now want to crack-on and make sure those in their charge get through the curriculum requirements necessary to ensure they are ready for their exams next summer.

However, there is more to being ready for exams than simply learning the contents of them.  To succeed within an examination setting, being bright and grasping the subject matter is not enough.  Young people need to be equipped with resilience, the ability to focus and keep themselves calm in a stressful situation.

Following a public consultation, the Department of Education and Ofqual, announced that exams will return for GCSE and A-Level students in 2022, marking a sharp departure from the teacher assessed grades that were awarded this year.  Some modifications will be made in an effort to recognise the educational disruption these cohorts have faced due to the pandemic.  This comes in the form of advance information on what topics will be covered in some subjects and a choice of what subjects to cover in others.

Though these allowances are undoubtedly helpful and go some way to imbuing the examination process next year with some fairness, they do not address the likely diminished capacity to concentrate that students have faced as a result of time out of the classroom.

Current Year 11s and 13s had a significant chunk of one of their most meaningful education periods thrown into disarray.  Students, teachers and parents made heroic efforts to continue education as normal at home during lockdowns, but we cannot pretend it was possible to mimic the structure and discipline of lessons in the school premises.

We will never be able to calculate the impact of missing out on mock exams and in-class tests that other years were able to take for granted as exam preparation.  It has long been recognised that excelling in exams is a skill in itself that comes down to a combination of knowledge, skill and training.  However,  this seems to have been forgotten in the understandable drive to make next year’s examination procedures as ordinary as possible.

Young people are now busy cramming in as many topics as they can before the end of the academic year.  The inability to ensure they cover the curriculum as fully as those who came before them has been acknowledged by the Department of Education via the modifications to exams they have announced.

However, we need to ensure that students also take some time to build up their assessment skills and capacity to concentrate in the coming months.  As the Director of Education at GCSEPod, a leading EdTech company, and a former teacher, I know that it’s no good stuffing children full of knowledge if you don’t also equip them with the tools they need to demonstrate it in examinations.

A driving test offers a similar example, how many of us who drove with perfect competency during our driving lessons then failed a test due to nerves?   Often those who passed first time were lucky enough to have a top quality instructor, who took a holistic approach to making sure they were ready for the test and felt confident in our ability to undertake it, rather than just driving well enough and giving it a go.

Failing a driving test knocks your confidence for the next time and confidence is crucial to succeeding in exams.  Once doubt starts to creep in it is insidious.  We can all remember a time during our own exams when we froze at a question, mind blank, staring in silent terror at everyone else seemingly scribbling away in a fury.  My fear is that this experience won’t be the exception for next year’s exam takers.

I truly hope that practicing  assessment skills will get more attention going forward, whether this is through extra mock exams at school or via timed tests which guide you how long to take to answer a question, such as the ones created by GCSEPod.  This is the only way that students will learn to build the resilience and endurance they need to succeed so that when they come across a question that stumps them, they can take it in their stride and apply a learnt method rather than panicking and jeopardising the whole exam.

Emma Slater, Director of Education, GCSEPod

Emma spent over ten years as a high performing Lead Practitioner and Head of English in London, she was also an English Consultant for a number of large trusts and The PiXL Club.  Emma is  published author with Harper Collins, York Notes and OUP and spent some time at the BBC and think tank Policy Exchange.

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