Exam preparation

Exam Preparation

Exam preparation

Exam Preparation

Students, parents and teachers are in full flow of exam preparation and are now counting down the days until May 16th and the first GCSE exam of the season. Tensions are mounting, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

 “My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

Exams in 2022

The Context

Firstly, I’m going to deal with the elephant in the room… the corona virus pandemic has had an enormous impact on the lives and education of all students. Whether they, or their families, have been directly affected with illness, or whether as a result of being unable to access education during lockdowns, students have suffered over the last two years.

Students are feeling the pressure more as a result. Parents and teachers are helping to manage the stress of the exam process more than ever. 

 

Library exam preparation

Exam preparation

Balance of Study and Work

Many students, irrespective of how old they are, need to work on finding the balance between study and work. 

Inevitably, there are some students who have a more relaxed approach to revision. For the parents and teachers of these students, it’s often an uphill battle to get them to open a textbook, let alone revise from one.

For other students, however, the opposite is true. There are many people across the country who need to be reminded to take a break. To rest. Have some time out of the revision schedule each week to recuperate and relax. Yes, sometimes last minute revision is useful, but not when it negatively impacts mental health. 

The importance of mental health

Mental health and exams

Without good mental health we cannot function to the best of our ability. So during exams it is even more important that we take care of our students.

People deal with poor mental health in many different ways. Some students might throw themselves into extra work, while others will avoid it at all costs. Irrespective of the behaviours, poor mental health can cause forgetfulness, irritability, and the inability to concentrate and focus. Not ideal ahead of an important exam!

 

 

Supporting Students

What can teachers and parents do to support students' mental health during the exam season?

Parents are in a unique position to support and guide their children through this time. Many students in a typical exam year will not have learnt how to deal with the stress of exams. This year, with exams restarting after a two year hiatus because of COVID, students are struggling more than ever. 

Depending on the child, they might need more or less freedom than usual. They might need to be made to sit at the dining table to revise and avoid distractions in their room. One student might need to be told what they are revising, how, and when in order to motivate them to do something. While another may need to be told to put the textbook down and go out for a walk. 

Irrespective of all of this, what matters most is that students have someone to talk to. Help and guidance with individual topics and things they find difficult is important. But it is also important that there is time to socialise with friends and family, time to be outside and enjoy the weather, time to exercise too. 

Exam preparation is not all about revision, it’s about being prepared and mentally fit to tackle the next challenge. 

Food

When people are stressed, they are likely to either over or under eat. One way to support students is to encourage healthy eating habits. Even better if dinner time is sociable.

Sleep

Sometimes students think that revising all night before the exam is going to make up for lost time. It won’t. Sleep is vital for brain function. Turn off that laptop and get an early night.

Social

It is easy for some students to lose touch with their friends when the stress of exams starts to build. Meeting up and socialising on a regular basis is a great way to destress. 

Exercise

It is a well known fact that exercise releases endorphins that make us happy and combat stress. Running, playing sport, or practising yoga are all great stress relievers.

Other places of support

NHS

If you are really worried, get in touch with your GP who will be able to guide you to local service

A national charity aimed at supporting teenagers, parents and carers through mental health. 

A major, widely recognised organisation supporting anyone needing mental health support. 

The school/college

Speak to the pastoral lead at the school/college. They should be able to offer additional support.

Local Service

Your local council website should have a page of support services for mental health.

JMTutoring

Our inbox is always open for students and parents needing support. Contact us for help.

Exam Anxiety

Exam Anxiety

GCSE and A level exams are creeping around the corner and many students are feeling the pressure. Whether we like it or not, exam anxiety is building and we need to be mindful of that.

What can teachers and parents do to support people taking exams?

For further information, support or guidance, contact Jennifer.

Getting back to normal

For the last two academic years students, in the UK at least, have not had to sit examinations as a result of COVID. This has meant that teachers were asked to assess students over the course of the school year and submit evidence of grades to exam boards for approval. 

Now, things are ‘back to normal’, which means exams for GCSE and ‘A’ level students. But things are far from normal. Normally, students would have been in education and had continuous face to face teaching throughout their schooling. Students would have been sitting mock examinations as an entire cohort, rather than class-based assessments. Normally, students and their teachers don’t experience days or weeks at a time where they’re not allowed to attend school because of ill health. In a normal academic year, there are educational trips. There are more social events that are available for them. There might be holidays that aren’t at risk of being cancelled at the drop of a hat.

Nothing is normal yet for these students. Mental health is at the forefront of many conversations, and exam anxiety seems to be really high. 

Exams are a part of life...

I can almost hear the armchair warriors now:

“Young people nowadays are too sensitive…” “Exams are a part of life, they just need to get on with it.”

Well, actually, no they’re not.

Exams might be a part of education, and developing exam technique might be important to get through to the end of an academic career (wherever that end may be), but they do not feature in many adults lives. They’re hotly debated in education circles, because they don’t always reflect the knowledge or the capabilities of the students. And when they’re over, a lot of the knowledge that students have spent learning is quickly forgotten.

Young people aren’t more sensitive than any other generation. They’re more capable at expressing their thoughts and feelings, they’re more emotionally aware. Society has shifted so that a conversation about emotions is no longer considered taboo. 

What can teachers do to reduce exam anxiety?

Conversations with students are usually the best place to start. Different students might express anxiety in different ways: while one student might well revise constantly and suffer burn-out as a result of anxiety, another student might well ‘bury their head in the sand’ and stop engaging in lessons, homework or revision. Understanding what each individual student needs is important to support them all.

Obviously, this is easier in some schools than others. If you have a lot of students in a class, giving individual attention to every student suddenly becomes a mammoth and a seemly impossible task.

Sometimes, being mindful of work that they’re set (and when) can help reduce exam anxiety. Hopefully, there is some form of homework or revision timetable in place already. Use this to support the learners’ independent work and help students organise their own revision sessions and complete any tasks they need to. 

Discuss with them what revision in your subject looks like. While revision techniques are usually covered in PHSE lessons, it’s often surprising how little they use this information when it comes to revising for exams. In the past, I’ve given students checklists and PowerPoints on ‘how to revise for English’. This has been useful because it breaks what they need to know into different tasks of differing lengths of time. Arming students with ideas of how to revise, as well as where to find information, revision materials, and their own targets usually gives them a clear direction for their revision and, therefore, they’re more likely to do it. 

Ofqual have also written extensively on the subject, and have a variety of pedagogical ideas to support teachers.

 

What can parents do to reduce exam anxiety?

Students aren’t always the greatest when it comes to balancing their revision and their social activities. 

For many students, exam anxiety leads them to over panic about exams and work until they burn out. With the exams still over a month away, this is not ideal!

Other students might be anxious about their exams and so plan on revising. There are colour coded revision time tables and lists of what needs to be learnt… but very little in the way of content gets covered.

Or, some students stop revising altogether. They go off to ‘take a break’ from revision after 15 minutes and come back 4 hours later. 

Helping and supporting students to create a sensible, balanced timetable that works for them is one of the best ways to reduce exam anxiety. It is important that there is time set aside for family meals, social time with friends, opportunities to play sport or do some physical activities, as well as time for revision for key subjects. This balance is something that many students, particularly GCSE students, really struggle with.

What can students do to reduce exam anxiety?

Be open and honest with how you’re feeling and what support you need to do well. 

Parents and teachers are all there and want the best for you. Listen to them and let them help. 

While nobody can sit the exam for you, there is always a network of people to help you along the way. 

Remember, there are other places you can go to get support.

Additional Support for Exam stress

World Book Day 2021

World Book Day 2021

March 4th is World Book Day. And this year it all feels a bit... funky.

As a secondary school teacher, World Book Day has often passed me by. Unfortunately, the series of reports, marking assessments, planning lessons, dealing with issues that students have, and then the actual teaching of students themselves often means there’s not a lot of time to pause, reflect, and celebrate reading. 

That is such a shame. I’ve often looked at the social media feeds of those in early years and primary education and wished there was an opportunity for that in secondary. Each year, there are scores of teachers flooding my pages in fancy dress. Children parade the streets as the Gruffalo or Harry Potter. Themed cakes are distributed and people genuinely seem to be enjoying talking about reading. 

Then children hit secondary school and attitudes change. Teenagers are less engaged with reading. Teachers seem to have less time to model it in classrooms. World Book Day means the distribution of a book to year seven students, and nothing at all to those in KS4. 

This year, during another national lockdown, World Book Day seems even more strange. For many, reading has been a great source of escape during lockdown. So, this year more than ever, we need to take the opportunity to talk about reading in all its glory. 

book, dog, fairy tales

Teenagers Engagement in Reading

I could list the extraordinary number of reasons why reading matters. I could extol the merits and benefits of reading on academic attainment alone. But I wont.

The fact of the matter is that there is a dramatic drop in reading when children hit their teenage years. Every parents’ evening that I attend, adults lament at how their child ‘used to read so much’. There are a huge number of reasons for this: from increased freedom and opportunity to express and develop their social relationships, to testing out other media and forms of entertainment. These new found interests are just as important and influential as reading. Teenagers are navigating a new, more independent environment. They’re learning how to be adults. This includes developing the relationships that they have with their peers and supervising adults. It means they’re learning about responsibility and meeting (home)work deadlines. There’s a lot for them to do and reading is a small aspect of this. 

Reading Matters

Non-Academic Benefits of Reading

All of this being said, reading still matters. Engagement in reading for pleasure drops dramatically when children reach their teenage years. Understanding the reasons behind it goes a long way to creating realistic ideas and expectations that we have of teens. 

It is also worthwhile to realise the non-academic benefits of reading in the first place. Student engagement in reading improves when they see it as something that they can actually enjoy. 

This lockdown I’ve tried (and quite often failed) to read every day. I enjoy reading so much. It’s an excellent form of escapism and offers new insights and perspectives to the world. That’s been particularly important for people over the last 12 months, but it’s also something to consider later in life too. 

Novels, plays, and poetry give us access to worlds and experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. They give us opportunities to imagine entirely new species and can shape the way that we engage with others. Yes, reading exposes us to vocabulary useful in exams, but books do so much more than just that.

Reading doesn’t have to be highly academic to be worthwhile. Students don’t need to download obtuse reading lists and read them from start to finish. Instead, what’s often a lot better, is having the freedom to explore and find something interesting. Something enjoyable. Reading for pleasure should always be the goal of any student, parent or teacher. 

woman, reading, book

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How can teachers and parents support reading?

Without wanting to sound like William Wallace: “Freedom!”

Many parents and teachers give students lists of books to read. The intentions behind these lists are always good. It’s saying to those teenagers that there’s always something new to read. The problem is, particularly when the reading lists have come from school, it makes it sound like work.

Reading lists can, therefore, actually disengage students from reading anything. Teenagers are more likely to see reading as additional homework, as opposed to something that they choose to do for fun. 

Encouraging Reading for Pleasure

Think about what the teenagers are actively engaging in at the moment. In a normal world, they’d be going to the cinema or spending time watching films and series with friends. The film industry is geared up and markets the films so that there is a great rush to watch them. Similar things happen on streaming services like Netflix, where there is the top 10 placed right at the top of the screen for you to pick from. Ideally, the same would happen for books. 

Goodreads is great at doing something similar, though it’s not quite perfect (particularly for younger people). You simply create an account and add books as and when you read them. There is the option of writing a long review, or you can simply give it a star rating out of five. It’s a great website because the more you read, the more recommendations you get for other books. These recommendations are based on what you have already read (and enjoyed) and is linked to other books that other people have rated highly. 

A site like Goodreads is great to get teenagers to read other books. The recommendations haven’t come from English teachers or parents, so it’s not seen as extra work. Instead, they’re relevant and up to date books that other people have also enjoyed. Other sites, like Amazon/Kindle often do something similar based on purchase history and so are worth checking out too.

 

Be Seen Reading

One of the greatest thing that any adult can do is to be seen reading and enjoying books themselves. Building a reading culture in a school or home is only possible when adults (and leaders) set the example and the standard. 

For teachers, this might include little things like carrying a book around (if appropriate) when on lunch or break duty. It’s an amazing feeling when students come up to you and start asking you what you’re reading and whether you like the book or not. Alternatively, having a copy of the book visible on your desk is another way to generate these kinds of conversations with students.

Parents can model good reading behaviours too. Dedicating time in the day helps reduce your stress, and supports the reading culture in the home. 

Try a Reading Group

This could be for you as much as young people! Reading groups are a great way of getting students to see how reading can be a sociable activity and a great way to generate conversation with people. We run regular reading groups for KS3 students and they’re a great opportunity for teenagers to meet people they might not otherwise. 

The benefit of reading groups is similar to the benefit of Goodreads: people get to share ideas and recommendations. You can always google these, and we try to update our reading recommendations as often as we can. Realistically though, students like to have ideas from people their own age!

What to read after Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Sputnik’s Guide reading review by a student. 

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Great Authors for Young Readers: Onjali Q Rauf

Onjali Rauf

Onjali Rauf is making a big stir in the world of Children’s literature: and for good cause. She’s the founder and CEO of Making Herstory, a non-profit organisation that is “working to end the abuse, enslavement and trafficking of women and girls in the UK and beyond” as well as publishing four children’s books in two years. 

Reading about Refugees

Onjali Rauf published her first novel, The Boy at the Back of the Class, in 2018. It went on to be nominated for a whole host of awards, including the Carnegie Medal, the Blue Peter Book Award for best story, and went on to win the 2019 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.   

The story follows Ahmet, a refugee from Syria, and the friends that he makes as he starts a new school and life in the UK. 

Why is this book great for young readers?

Rauf has managed to write about refugees and racism in a way that is accessible for children. It’s not a big or daunting topic, but something that is approachable and easily understandable. She addresses a range of racist attitudes towards refugees, but she doesn’t point the blame at any individual. Instead, she hints that it’s a lack of understanding about the refugee crisis that influences a person’s perspective. Consequently, the book opens up the possibility to discuss refugees, where they come from and the difficulties that they face. More advanced readers might start to question how newspapers and the media help perpetuate a negative stereotype of asylum seekers. 

Sounds a bit serious...

Yes, they are serious topics, but the characters are well written and likeable that it doesn’t seem as boring as all that. Onjali Rauf places these difficult conversations in everyday situations to make them easy to understand, and yet there is an element of fun in the book too… Including a rather exciting trip to Buckingham Palace!

Night Bus Hero

Her latest book

Her latest book, The Night Bus Hero, tackles yet more social issues in the UK. This time, she takes a look at how people treat those who are homeless and the housing crisis in cities like London. 

What makes this book unusual, however, is that it is told from the perspective of a bully. Hector has a long way to go before he can fully redeem himself for some of the ‘pranks’ that he has played on people. That doesn’t stop him, however, from making friends with the teacher’s pet and proving that he can turn out alright in the end. 

Ideal Books to Read

Readers 8-11

These are exactly the books that teachers will be using in their KS2 classrooms over the next few years. They’re child-friendly and interesting, but also provide so many opportunities to talk about what students have read.

KS2 Readers

KS2 readers might benefit from reading this alongside an adult. either a teacher, parent, or book club leader. The language and content might not be too tricky to understand, the themes Rauf’s books are worth spending some time discussing. 

KS3 and Beyond

While these are really great books for younger readers, some students in KS3 (or older) might feel they’re a bit childish. They’re clearly set in a primary school, which might be off-putting for older children. For older year groups, it might be worth instead looking at short extracts to discuss the themes and ideas, rather that reading the book as a whole class read. 

Reading Recommendations

While you’re here… why not check out our group lessons for KS2-4?

kindle, ereader, tablet

Carnegie Reading Group

An online reading group for KS3 and 4 students. Ideal during lockdown to keep students engaged in reading. 

11+ Group Lessons

For students in years 5 and 6 to help prepare them for 11+ entrance exams and end of year tests. 

private tuition

What to look for in a great private tutor

What to look for in a great online tutor

The online tuition market has exploded recently with new teachers and tutors looking to provide services. How can you ensure you’re hiring the right person for the job?

Questions to Ask an Online Tutor

 Sometimes a lot of consideration goes into building a tutoring business, other times tutors are simply other students that support the lower years. If you’re looking for a professional tutor, here are some questions that might influence your decision. 
Does a tutor have a teaching qualification?

There are many benefits to hiring a qualified teacher as an online tutor: they understand and will have studied the pedagogy of teaching; they actively teach the current curriculum and have seen the curriculum change; they have knowledge about SEND and ways to stretch and challenge more able students. But not every person who advertises themselves as an online tutor is a professional and qualified teacher. They might still have teaching experience: many schools (private schools, free schools and academies) do not require Qualified Teacher Status (QTS/QTLS) for their teachers by law. Ask the tutor you’re talking to about their teaching qualifications and experience.

What qualifies a tutor to teach that subject?

This needn’t be a formal qualification, per se, but the online tutor should know more than the level of the curriculum they’re intending to teach in that subject. If they don’t hold a qualification in the subject, feel free to enquire about their experience in teaching and why they’re interested in tutoring that subject/module. This is particularly important when finding a GCSE/A level tutor online. Different exam boards have different requirements, make sure you find someone with experience in that specification.

Does the tutor have a DBS check?
What safeguarding measures are in place?

A basic DBS check can be done online and takes a couple of days to receive the certificate. It’s inexpensive (only £25) and lasts for two years. Check they have one, and check the date.

 

An enhanced DBS check is slightly more difficult to get as it cannot be done as a single person, but through a company. Teachers in schools will all have a DBS check, but schools don’t often repeat the checks on a regular basis. The tutor might show you an enhanced DBS from several years ago if they’re still working in the same school.

Most online tutors will record the sessions of their 1:1 students for safeguarding purposes. 

Does the tutor have first aid qualifications?

When I decided to go into tutoring, getting first aid trained was the first thing that I did. When you send your child to school, there is a team of first aiders dotted around just in case something goes wrong; make sure this is also true if you send your child to a tutor. Even now that I tutor exclusively online, I’m investing in first aid qualifications and keeping up to date with courses. 

Hopefully, I will never have to use what I have learnt, but the piece of mind that comes with knowing that I will be able to deal with emergencies if they came up is invaluable.

Are they insured?

This – like being first aid trained – is more important if you go to the private tutor, rather than they come to you. However, anyone running tutoring as a business should have Employers’ Liability Insurance according to the Employers’ Liability Insurance Act 1969. Look out for those who also have Professional Indemnity Insurance – these tutors are clearly dedicated to providing a professional service and consider their work on a par with lawyers, accountants and financial advisors who are obliged to take out this insurance by law.

 

Aside from all of the professional certification, the most important questions should remain simple:

Does their teaching style/persona encourage my child to succeed?

Of the six questions, this in the only question that is not negotiable. You should feel fairly confident they’re the right ‘fit’ for you and your child after the first session but it might take up to three to feel confident on this. Online tuition should be fun, not a chore, particularly if the child is starting lessons at a young age. Find a professional online English tutor who is able to make learning exciting, someone who is able to make your child laugh, and you have found a brilliant tutor. 

Contact Us

If you have any questions about online English tuition, or would like some more details on how it work, please get in touch. 

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