With the exam season looming (and the results of new GCSEs looking less predictable than the country's future government), I've been reflecting on how my students have been prepared for a new specification where their two GCSE grades for English rest on four exams. Mocks and exam practise have played a large part in this.
In terms of the process of mocks overall, they're clearly nothing new. Even with the old specification, students would have the dry-runs of exam day- with most schools scheduling mock 'seasons' to help students feel more used to the panic. But how much use are mock exams? What do the students get from these apart from more panic ahead of the final exams? And how can we make the process more beneficial?
When I read Alex Quigley's (@huntingenglish) 'The Confident Teacher' earlier this year, I found an idea that would help with the questions above: the mock wrapper. Essentially, this is a self-evaluation that students fill in at three stages in the mock process: just before they sit the mock, the lesson after the mock and when they get their feedback. Overall, it aims to help students see that sitting a mock exam is more than just practising exam timings- if we help them to reflect effectively then it is a chance for them to prepare more effectively.
When trialling this with my current Year 11 class, I started by putting together a document that would ask questions to prompt students to evaluate their preparation and performance overall. You can see some examples below, though the template is also available to download here.
Firstly, I found the comments students added useful when I was marking their mock papers. It allowed me to support students in their revision by giving further support. For some this involved notes on their wrapper; for others it might mean a verbal conversation in class. It also allowed me to see who had been listening to the top tips I'd given them for revision. For example, the fact that so many were focusing their revision on revising quotations for an exam where it was more important that they know the text more holistically made me consider how I'd get them to realise this in future lessons (before they wasted more time on revising areas that weren't needed). Likewise, it also informed my teaching in terms of considering how to teach them revision skills: though this has always been something I've tried to embed into lessons, the feedback on these forms meant that I could plan future revision-based lessons to be more effective for these specific students.
It also let me know where they thought their weaknesses were after they'd completed the mock- which could then inform the written feedback I gave for the mock. It might be that I'd direct them to a model we'd used in previous lessons to help them work on the area they lacked confidence in, or I might note how they'd actually done well in an area they thought would need improvement- therefore helping them to recognise their own successes.
The final section students filled in as they responded to their feedback, so I had to ensure that the mocks were stuck into books to allow me to look at these and use my findings to inform my teaching. This allowed me to check their understanding of my feedback, along with responses to questions that I'd written on their mocks, as well as letting me check to see if they were confident on how to then improve their revision processes and future responses- meaning that I could again have verbal conversations with any students who I felt needed more support.
I found the wrappers to be effective in helping both myself and my students to reflect more effectively on the whole mock process- meaning that they could use it to improve their revision and I could use it to make the precious few lessons left more tailored to my students' needs.
However, it does need to be said that students have to be told that they need to be honest- otherwise some students are bound to see this as an opportunity to impress by writing a hyperbolic account of the gargantuan mound of revision they've completed in order to be ready for the mock. There was also the danger of the middle rating (3/5) when I asked them to rank their feelings/confidence- so much so that I might consider using phrases that mean less students 'play it safe' by picking a rating that sits on the fence.
Overall, I thought that using this strategy (again, thanks to Alex Quigley for suggesting it in his book- no plug intended) definitely made the mock process more meaningful than a chance to practise sitting still for more than an hour.