Do GCSE and A-Level Mock Exams Really Matter?

Do mocks really matter?

Do mock exams really matter? Afterall, they're mocks, not the real thing.

In this blog we're going to consider whether GCSE and A-Level mocks really matter and, ultimately, how seriously you should take them as a parent or a student.

Do mocks really matter?

What's the point of mocks?

Mocks are held for several reasons.

1. Practice the exam experience

Some GCSE and A-Level students find exams very intimidating and get very anxious about them. They only way to get over this anxiety is to learn from experience that nothing awful is going to happen to you while you're taking an exam. Mocks are the closest most students get to the real exam situation, without taking an exam. Some schools will hold mocks in classrooms, others will hold them in exam halls complete with outside invigilators.

2. See whether you're doing the right kind of revision

It's very difficult to know whether the revision you're doing is the right kind of revision until you're actually faced with an exam paper. Many students under-prepare and some over-prepare.

An example of someone not doing the right kind of revision is a former member of The Extraordinaries Club, Polly. She said:

I was in denial about my GCSEs and the amount of work I needed to do for them. I refused any help from my parents and thought I knew everything already and was doing enough work when I was actually just making pretty flashcards and posters and hanging them around my room thinking I had done enough work.

The importance of being organised and how much work you actually need to do and what I actually need to do in terms of revision had not hit home. I wasn’t facing reality at all. I thought I didn’t need the help and I was doing OK on my own.

The Extraordinaries Club enabled me to realise my mistakes.

I have just completed my AS levels and I have never done so much work and preparation before exams. I am delighted with my results – they’re very different from my GCSE results and really show how much the right work matters!”

On the other hand, I remember when I was preparing for my own GCSEs and A-Levels I definitely over-prepared. Studying Geography I had lots of case studies to learn and I would go well beyond what I need to in terms of learning the number of facts and figures required to get me the top marks. I could have spent a lot less time on revision and more time relaxing if I actually knew what was required of me – by doing the right kind of revision.

3. See what it's like to perform under pressure

Exams are usually a pressured situation where you have to manage your time very carefully in order to do your best.

Exam technique is the skill that helps you perform at your best – and it is something that is learned through experience rather than a gift that young people are born with. That's why it's great to have mocks – to practice the skill of exam technique. (If your child needs help with exam technique we have an Exam Technique Masterclass inside The Extraordinaries Club, as well as masterclasses about a wide variety of individual subjects which help students with exam technique).

4. Retrieval practice

Learning works through repeatedly practicing a skill, or recalling a piece of information. Do you remember your child learning to walk and talk? The first time they tried to take a step or say a specific word they might have stumbled or got it slightly wrong. They kept trying until they got it right – and then, once they'd got it right they kept practicing until it became automatic.

As the saying goes, neurons that fire together wire together. When brain cells are used repeatedly to retrieve a piece of information or execute a skill that particular neural pathway gets stronger and stronger.

That's why many schools hold mocks and frequent classroom tests – they more often students revise, recall and use information and skills the more hardwired it will be in them come their real exams.

5. As a backstop

Through the two years of the pandemic we've seen mocks take on an even more important role than previously, as they've become a key part of how students' grades were awarded. However, even before the pandemic if students were taken ill and couldn't take an exam things like mocks would be used to help give them a grade.

This school year (2021-2), just like last school year, the government is assuring us that exams will go ahead in the summer, although they will be in an altered form. However, we know they were cancelled last year and mocks turned out to be very important. With the government's track record I don't think we can take it for granted that exams will go ahead in summer 2022 so students should take the opportunity of mocks to show what they're capable of.

How hard should students push themselves for their mocks?

It's always the responsible and sensible thing to try to do your best in your mocks (see the reasons above). However, you have to remember that they aren't the real thing and you shouldn't push yourself to your limits to do well in them.

I remember when I was at school, and being the perfectionist A grade student that I was, pushing myself really hard to get As in every mock and test. One time in particular, I had my A-Level chemistry mock on the Monday. I pushed myself so hard on the Saturday that I actually made myself ill on the Sunday. I was distraught thinking that it was destroying my chance to be predicted an A and this would ruin my chances of getting into Cambridge. However, I still scraped the A on the Monday, no-one else in the year got an A on that particular paper and I realised that I was pushing myself too hard. Lesson learned.

When students ask me how much they should revise in a day over the holidays my short answer is always ‘Whatever's sustainable for you.' This is going to be different for different students – but no-one should be pushing themselves to the point of burnout for the sake of their mocks. It's much more important to also have a rest over the school holidays, even if you have mocks when you go back.

What's the most important thing about mocks?

The most important thing about GCSE and A-Level mock exams is that you learn from them. Once they're over I really encourage students to do an exam season review and reflect on:

  • How they revised, what was good about it and how they would change it going forwards
  • How they looked after themselves during the mocks and how this could be improved
  • The exams themselves, including detailed feedback from their teachers, so they can understand how to improve both their exam technique and their revision

If there are some valuable learnings from mocks, they are not wasted.

Equip your child with the skills to do well in their mocks

Every year I see students stressed out and overwhelmed by the prospect of their mock exams simply because they don't know how to revise or create a revision plan. If your child is in this situation, sign them up for my Revision Kickstarter Workshop. As I write, the next one is on Saturday 16th October 2021 (we hold them throughout the year so if you've missed this one, click on the link to sign-up for the waitlist).

During the Revision Kickstarter Workshop students will:

  • Prioritise what to revise in a quick, easy and repeatable way so that they don't get over-whelmed by trying to revise everything
  • Decide which revision techniques to use so that they don't waste time on things that don't work for them
  • Create a personalised and flexible plan for their revision so that they know what they need to get done and when, and when they're going to take a well-earned rest
  • Find out how to incorporate a little bit of revision into every day so that they don't fall off the revision train once their exams are over and can sustain their revision to support them next year

The Revision Kickstarter will be very practical – it's about getting a revision plan sorted so that your child knows what to do to get to work as soon as it's over.

Find out more and sign-up to the Revision Kickstarter here

 

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