“Not a past paper again…”
I bet we’ve all heard that refrain over the past couple of weeks, as the stack of past papers is placed ominously on the teacher’s desk. The exam is a few days away and we’re running low on time, papers and patience. So are the kids.
Or maybe it’s not so urgent for you? Both of my Year 11 classes have their final AQA Additional Science B2 paper on Thursday. (Assuming that they’re not doing Additional Science resits or Core Science module papers in the hope of crossing a grade boundary by iteration, if not dedication.) Perhaps you’ve got longer. But anyway, it seems worthwhile considering a few more imaginative ways of using exam papers.
Please let me be clear – doing practice papers in exam conditions is a very valuable way to prepare. But there are ways to improve their use, as well as to mix them up a bit so that kids don’t burn out too quickly. Some of these methods are also a good way to use individual questions, perhaps from previous specifications, without having to put together an actual full paper balanced between all topic areas.
Full Practice Papers
If students are doing past papers at home, we know that they won’t always be strict about exam conditions. So why not use this? Have them do it three times, but each time having a chance to focus on improvements:
- Timed exam conditions, then write a post-it note of weaker areas.
- Second attempt after active revision of areas flagged up in 1 above.
- Third attempt, with folder/revision guide open.
Of course some will combine 1 and 3 as their first attempt, perhaps with the markscheme, and stop. But others will learn at each stage.
Combining revision with exam questions in lessons can be very helpful. Start off by asking students to predict what words or key phrases will show up in revision material on a specific topic. They could do this individually, or in small groups – ideally they should try by themselves then compare ideas with another. (Think-Pair-Share) Then either show them an example (such as these pages from S-Cool), or play podcasts for them; I like using the podcasts produced by the Naked Scientists and available free from BBC Bitesize. They can improve their summary but only in the limited time available. Then attempt a relevant question. What was useful? What did they miss that would have been useful? What facts or methods will they add to their summaries for future reference?
Write The Markscheme
I suspect this is similar to what many colleagues already do. We all know – and point out to our students – that a lot more appears on the markscheme than students are expected to write. It will point out traps and make distinctions between correct answers and those that are in the right ballpark. So why not have them, in small groups and with their materials handy, write a markscheme to a question? Even better, give them each a different question and as a class they can finish the job. Perhaps a chocolate-based prize could be offered to the closest match to the official version? Their suggestions can also be tested against the next approach.
Mark The Teacher
This is often very popular. I produce sample answers to a full exam question, often parts of it based on student attempts from the past (suitably adapted) or illustrating common mistakes or misconceptions, e.g. osmosis vs diffusion, all genetic diseases are recessives and so on. I then challenge pupils to mark these answers as if they had been written in an exam, and improve them. (It’s particularly useful to give D-grade answers that can be brought up to a C, or A/B grade working that need fine-tuning to get the highest marks.) More able students can explain to others why particular answers are better than others.
Improve the Question
I like having students write their own exam questions but this can often be a little daunting. They can usually cope if you ask them to produce a simple factual question with one unambiguous answer, but anything more leaves them struggling. (Although giving them a range of structures can help, especially if they can see how it is based on ‘common’ exam questions.) So why not have them change one part of a question, or add on a more challenging section to the end? Alternatively, they could convert a Foundation question to one more suited to Higher tier, or the other way around.
I’m sure colleagues have many other approaches – I’d be particularly interested in quick and easy ways to use exam questions in a more active way. Please add your comments, ideas and suggestions in the comments below. Hope it’s not too stressful before they finish…