Coronavirus and your GCSEs and A Levels

The Coronavirus outbreak in the UK is getting more serious by the day. At the same time, anxieties are growing about how measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus might impact the exams your son or daughter has been working towards for months on end.

This blog post is designed to help with your mindset as you approach this important time in your child's life in the face of such uncertainty. I will update it as more information becomes available.

How to manage your exams mindset in the face of Coronavirus

The hardest thing about the coronavirus outbreak is managing uncertainty. With that in mind this is what I would suggest.

1. Focus on what you can control

There are two key things about this situation that you can control.

a) Following the public health guidelines

This is really all about making sure you're doing your bit stop and slow the spread of coronavirus so that it's less likely to have an impact on education and exams.

This page of the NHS website has the basic guidance on it, and I'm sure it will be updated as and when the advice changes so check it regularly to make sure you're following the advice. In summary:

  • Wash your hands every time you arrive at a new location e.g. as soon as you get to school in the morning and when you get home at night. The advice is to wash your hands for 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice).
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues straight in the bin and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
  • Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

For the duration of the outbreak you might also consider social distancing activities such as:

  • Avoiding being in large groups of people
  • Minimising physical contact with others e.g. by not shaking hands, hugging or kissing people in a ‘social' way

If we all do our bit to avoid the spread of the virus then it is much less likely to have a negative impact on education and exams.

b) Keep your children on track with their studies

It's really important that our children don't get distracted from their studies by anxieties about the coronavirus. It's completely understandable that you might be worrying about things like:

  • schools closing when the whole syllabus hasn't been taught and not having access to revision classes
  • whether exams will be cancelled and predicted grades being used instead of the performance in summer exams
  • exams being postponed until the summer holidays

The thing is, at this point in time no-one knows what is going to happen and most of us have no say in what does happen. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to be prepared for all eventualities and the best way to be prepared is to stay on track with your revision.

This is particularly important if you consider the possibility that your child might get ill. If they're on track now, or right up until the time when they get ill, there will be much less to catch-up on aftewards.

2. Try to put the things you can't control out of your mind

As I've already said, most of us don't have any say over the public health advice given out by the government and the health authorities and we won't have any input into decisions about how exams are run if things do have to change this summer because of coronavirus.

Conjecture about all these things is unsettling, distracting and anxiety-inducing. So, do your best to keep your head down and focus on the job in hand.

If your child is easily distracted by worry about the changes coronavirus might cause you might like to try things like:

  • Creating a revision timetable to help them stay on track
  • Writing daily to-do lists about their revision priorities
  • Trying things like mindfulness meditation to help them take charge of their brain and the thoughts they're having
  • Try revising with classical music playing in the background to help increase their focus and concentration
  • Keep their eye on the prize – why are they working towards these exams anyway? (In the motivation module in my study skills programme, The Extraordinaries Club, I help students to understand how these exams are helping them to build the future they want and keep that vision in mind at all times.)

Your questions answered about Coronavirus and GCSEs and A Levels

I asked on my Facebook page what worries and concerns people had about how Cornonavirus was going to impact this summer's exams. Here are the key questions and answers.

Q. 1 I'm worried about how to keep my daughter's motivation going if the exams are delayed.

We don't yet know whether exams are going to be affected at all by coronavirus. If they are, I wouldn't expect any decision to be made until April at the earliest as the authorities will be responding to the situation as it develops, and their preference will clearly be to carry out the exams as planned.

With this in mind, try to keep going as you are. You're worrying about something that might not happen, so just take every day as it comes and deal with the delay if and when it happens.

Q.2 My son didn't do very well in year 10 or his mocks. He's playing catch-up and I'm really worried about them using mock grades as actual grades as they don't reflect his ability.

Again, at the time of writing, we don't know if schools will cancel exams so it's best not to worry about this and try to keep going as if the exams will go ahead as planned (at the time of writing, that is what will happen).

If exams are cancelled the exam boards will have to seriously think about how to award grades that are fair to all students, taking into account the differences in assessment and marking between schools and even between teachers within each school. I'm sure the important people at the exam boards are already thinking about contingency plans that take all these things into account if they don't have them already. In the meantime, just focus on preparing for the exams as if they are going ahead as planned.

Q.3 My son isn't very good at independent studying, he needs the structure of school and teachers telling him what to do to get anything done. I don't know what will happen if schools are closed.

Some students are better than others at studying independently. If schools are closed hopefully, teachers will put on virtual lessons to help students to focus and get things done.

If schools across the country do close I will provide extra support for members of The Extraordinaries Club. I don't know exactly what this will look like yet – it depends on the scale of the demand but things I am willing to consider are:

  • Morning check-in calls to make sure students have a plan for the day and they know where to go to get their questions answered (most likely)
  • Q&A sessions with specialist subject tutors to support students who have got stuck with a topic (depends on demand)

Inside the club we already have resources that:

  • Teach your child how to study independently
  • How to Revise Masterclasses for most of the GCSE core academic subjects: English Language, English Literature, Maths, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, History and Geography. We are currently working on adding ones for French and Spanish.

You're welcome to join the club at anytime to make sure your child is equipped to study independently in the event that schools are closed.

Q.4 I'm worried that my son's school hasn't finished teaching the syllabus for several subjects, and isn't due to until the week before exams start. How will they learn what they need to know if schools are closed?

Again, I think we need to focus on what we can control and work towards the exams as if everything is going to be normal. That means having a good revision timetable in place and making sure you're up to date with revision as far as possible.

Some schools have already announced plans to use virtual learning platforms to carry on teaching if schools do have to close. As I've already said, I will also look at the demand from members of The Extraordinaries Club to support teaching and learning of the exam specifications. However, if you have access to the exam specification and resources such as the relevant textbook and access to the internet, it is possible to teach yourself much of what you need to know. The How to Revise Masterclasses in The Extraordinaries Club are also a huge help with this, giving focus and direction with how to approach each subject.

In Summary

Basically, the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK is a developing situation and unless we're very high-up in the government, the NHS or an exam board we have no say how the virus is going to affect exams this summer. The most sensible way to proceed at this moment in time is to focus on:

  1. Following the public health advice to help prevent and delay the spread of the disease
  2. Keep preparing for the exams as if everything will go ahead as planned this summer. If you do this you will be well-prepared for all eventualities as far as the exams are concerned.

The most important thing of all is that people stay healthy and well, so look after your own and be sensible about mixing with large crowds and physical contact with other people. If schools do close, I will provide extra support inside The Extraordinaries Club, and if you're on my email newsletter list I'll keep you up to date about exactly what that support looks like as events unfold.

I will update this blog as matters develop over the following days, weeks and months.


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