Year 12 exams: The Challenges and Opportunities

In the English and Welsh education system, most schools hold year 12 exams in the summer term, halfway through students' A-Level courses.

In my experience as an academic coach, year 12 exams can often be a rude awakening for A-Level students – showing them where they haven't paid enough attention over the last year.

In this article, we're going to address four important aspects of year 12 exams:

  • Are year 12 exams important?
  • Why do students find year 12 exams challenging?
  • The opportunity of year 12 exams
  • How to approach year 12 exams with a healthy mindset
  • Balancing year 12 exams with starting the UCAS personal statement process

You can listen to the podcast version of this article using the podcast player above or find The School Success Formula podcast on Apple podcasts or in your podcast player of choice.

Year 12 exams: The Challenges and Opportunities

Are year 12 exams important?

Yes and no.

Year 12 exams are sometimes called ‘UCAS exams' because they're the exams teachers use to give students predicted grades for their UCAS applications. If you want to be absolutely sure of your predicted grades you need to do well enough in your end of year 12 exams.

However, teachers rarely arrive at UCAS predicted grades in a 100% scientific and rigorous way (that's why universities take them with a pinch of salt) and year 12 exams are only internal school exams so don't actually count towards anything truly official.

So, year 12 exams are important, more so than any other internal school exams a student has ever taken, but they're definitely nowhere near as important as the final externally set and marked A-Level exams.

Why do students find year 12 exams challenging?

I've talked about it many, many times before but at the beginning of year 12, many students (and their parents) think they can relax a bit after the rigours of GCSE.

This is true to a certain extent, but the students who don't start year 12 with a really good study and revision routine struggle more and more as their A-Level courses progress.

This is because A-Levels have a huge amount of content compared to GCSEs and, particularly at the beginning of year 12, much of this content forms the foundations of what students will learn later in the course.

Basically, if students don't take their studies seriously from the beginning of year 12 they often get a rude awakening at some point over the first 15 months of their A-Level courses.

Students like this will struggle with their year 12 exams.

The opportunity of year 12 exams

Year 12 exams, halfway through a students' time in the sixth form, offer a great opportunity to:

  • Consolidate their learning so far
  • Create revision resources (if they haven't made them as they've gone along)
  • Identify knowledge, understanding and skills that they need to improve over the next year

If a student hasn't been following a good study and revision routine through year 12, it's even more important for them to take the opportunity of year 12 to get up to date with their revision resources and consolidate their learning.

If students don't do this at the end of year 12 they will have a mountain to climb in year 13.

Balancing year 12 exams with writing UCAS personal statements

Schools often start talking to students about their university applications in the term leading up to their year 12 exams – often in June or July.

Students often feel overwhelmed by this because they're beginning to make important decisions about their future whilst also revising for the exams that will give them the predicted grades for their UCAS applications.

Many schools will also ask for the first draft of their students' UCAS personal statement before the summer holidays.

In order to cope with this, I would advise students to start thinking about both university applications and revision from the beginning of year 12. 

If students revise, create revision resources and do further reading as routine tasks from the beginning of year 12 it will not be nearly as difficult for them to balance the UCAS stuff with year 12 exam revision.

Similarly, if students start looking into universities, what's required and start building their super-curricular activities from the beginning of year 12 they'll be more motivated and better prepared when teachers start talking about UCAS.

The Boost Your Motivation module in The Extraordinaries Club helps students start thinking about their future and taking steps towards it any time from year 10 onwards. My Personal Statement Masterclass provides an easy to follow framework for deciding which courses to apply for, preparing applications and writing a top-quality personal statement.

It is more than possible to organise your time and attention in year 12 so that you don't have a stressful time in the build up to the summer, and the first term of year 13 is much more manageable too. This is something we help students with in The Extraordinaries Club and through our 1:1 academic coaching.

How to revise for year 12 exams

These are the basic steps you need to follow to revise effectively for year 12 exams:

  1. Get a list of what you need to know for each subject – ask subject teachers for this or download your specification from the exam board website
  2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses – this means you can focus your revision on your weaknesses, which are the things that will make the most difference in these exams and in your build-up to A-Level exams
  3. Choose active revision techniques like making and testing yourself using flashcards and doing past papers using the Revision Power Hour
  4. Review how you did and make a plan for future exams using the exam season review

If you'd like more detailed guidance on how to set up an effective revision strategy for year 12 exams, come along to a Revision Kickstarter Workshop. During the live workshop, I will guide students through creating a personalised revision plan, that can just be revisited and tweaked as they go through year 13. You will also get access to a series of subject-specific How to Revise masterclasses which give students revision tips and exam technique for the core academic subjects.

Click here to find out more about the next Revision Kickstarter Workshop.

They happen frequently throughout the year and it's never too early to get a year 10 set up to revise in the right way.

Year 12 exams – in summary

If you make revision part of your routine and get ahead with researching universities, year 12 exams can be a really positive validation of all your efforts throughout year 12. However, if students haven't been able to do these things they offer an opportunity to consolidate their learning and create revision materials so they're ready to hit the ground running in year 13.

If your young person needs some help getting themselves into a good position for their year 12 exams sign-up for the Revision Kickstarter Workshop or consider 1:1 academic coaching.

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