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October 31, 2018

Preparing your child for entrance exams, GCSE’s and A-levels

Expert advice on Test and Exam preparation

Written by Andrea Joyce – Cambridge education specialist, teacher and mentor

Working in education for over 10 years, as well as having many friends with school age children, means I am fully aware of the pressure that students and their parents feel when tests or exams are looming.

The benefits of tests:

Deadlines and reviews of progress are a fact of life and testing is an important part of preparing young people for the world of work. Students get the opportunity to become familiar with working to deadlines and reviewing their own progress, both useful tools. Resilience, planning and focus are additional skills that testing can bring out in our young people.

In recent times there have been calls from parents, as well as schools, to reduce the significance placed on the results of tests and exams. In some cases, such as GCSEs and A levels, it is difficult to ignore their significance due to their gateway status. But in other cases, such as SATs and stage/progress tests, it is most definitely possible.

The UK Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) recently announced a move away from focusing on “outcomes for pupils”(1)  and instead they will be looking at “quality of education” as one of four key areas of inspection (1). It is hoped that this shift in emphasis will take some of the pressure off students and teachers.

Advice and Support:

There is a lot of advice for parents when it comes to supporting children through exam periods and preparing them for tests. This can range from the practical tips such as getting a good night’s’ sleep the night before, incorporating problem solving games into their play,  recommending various brain foods such as blueberries, fish, nuts and even broccoli to the more holistic guidance such as helping them with relaxation techniques, discussing their feelings and encouraging them to think about giving it a try rather than believing they can’t do it.

Liz Parker of Cambridge Academic Performance (2)works with students of all ages, and their parents, throughout the academic year to prepare them for tests and exam sessions. Cambridge Academic Performance is an occupational therapy based service supporting students to manage stress, build confidence and improve their grades. They offer a fusion of academic strategies with personal development techniques.

“There’s a need for students to access a service that doesn’t feel remedial and is therefore not stigmatising. However whilst developing personal growth we offer a clinical level of support to students”.

Getting a private tutor to support your child in subjects they are finding particularly challenging is an option that an increasing number of parents are exploring. Organisations such as Tutorful (formerly Tutora) and Tutor Doctors are becoming more and more popular. It now couldn’t be easier to quickly find extra support in a range of price brackets. The website shows you a profile for each tutor, including reviews from previous students, and their experience. You can book and pay online and get going within a matter of hours. “You could even team up with some friends and ask a tutor to work with you in a small group. Team based learning can be very effective and cost efficient” says Biba Fadli, Digital Business Management Tutor. Students can be tutored at home, at a nearby cafe, a local library or even online, there is much flexibility in this service.

Online resources:

However, if getting a private tutor isn’t a realistic option then there are many revision websites available such as BBC Bitesize, Khan Academy and (3)which are accessible for all. ZNotes offers free notes for iGCSEs, AS and A levels and also for SATs. It also has advice for how to study, how to build a study plan and how to revise. ZNotes was founded by Zubair Junjunia who is now studying Mathematics at University College London. He offers some advice to both students and parents who are preparing for exams or tests:

“I urge parents to firstly appreciate the immense change in today’s world of education with its increased competition in every way. Try to be flexible and understand how your child’s performance can vary in different subjects and at different ages. Be supportive of the choices they make, stand by them at every misjudgment and when it comes to the final exams, remain vigilant to their every need – spoken and unspoken. In the end, these flowering buds are yours: you’ve watched them grow and helped shape them, count on your instincts as it’ll quite often be right. And to those heading into exams, be relentless in planning your time and building a revision schedule tailored to your learning strengths be it writing notes, doing past exams or actively reading.”

There are so many sources of support for parents and students that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. My advice is to make a calendar leading up to the exam period, or test date and factor in some relaxation time and fun activities as well as study sessions. Work backwards from the exam date to make sure there is enough time for revision without feeling under pressure. Help your child feel prepared by making sure they have a suitable space to work and all of the relevant materials they need, then get preparing those brain food snacks.

Ref Source 1: Guardian Online, Thursday 11th Oct 2018.

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