Parents' Guide to Practice Exams

Posted: 25/01/19

As the practice examination season draws to a close, and with parents’ evenings for Year 11 and Upper Sixth on the horizon, we thought it would be a good moment to provide parents with some insight into the purpose of these examinations. Dr Claire Badger, Senior Teacher for Learning, Teaching and New Technologies provides some helpful guidance.

The first thing to note is the name; these are examinations and are not ‘mocks’ as they do not accurately represent the exams your daughters will be facing in the summer: papers were sat over a shorter time frame; the Christmas holidays are a notoriously difficult time for girls to settle down to effective revision; and, in the vast majority of cases, there is still content to cover so the recent examination could not cover all aspects of the specification. Grades at this stage should not be equated with predicted grades - any myths that examination boards use ‘mock’ results to award grades if a candidate cannot sit the summer papers are just that, myths - but rather should be considered to be an indicator of where your daughter is currently in her studies. The key thing to take away from the process is the next steps she will be taking in her learning to improve. 

Throughout this year, we have been considering the difference between the ‘learning’ and ‘performance’ zones as popularised by Eduardo Briceño’s TED talk ‘How to get better at the things you care about’. There is a great deal of evidence that a focus on performance, with its emphasis on grades and test marks, is in fact detrimental to long-term learning so we are encouraging your daughters look beyond the numbers to how her experience can be used to inform future practice.  These practice examinations should be considered from a ‘learning’ zone perspective, where the focus is on improving rather than proving and mistakes are to be expected and embraced as opportunities. The performance zone should be saved for the summer examinations; by then we expect your daughters to have mastered her subject matter, to minimise errors and do the best she can. 

Seeing feedback as a gift is a key feature of the learning zone; in form times we have introduced your daughters to the concept of seeing feedback as a bridge designed to help you get from where you are now to where you want to be. To this end, in this week’s form time, Year 11 girls began the process of reflecting on each of their subjects, identifying what is going well and what she needs to work on; following parents’ evening she will complete this reflection to identify next steps based on feedback received from her teachers. Upper Sixth girls will be carrying out a similar process, albeit it in a less structured way, and our hope is that these reflections will form the basis of honest and constructive discussions between your daughters and her teachers at parents’ evening and throughout the rest of the year which consider not only the subject content but an evaluation of different learning strategies and approaches.

Further helpful reading

Eduardo Briceño on helping students get into the learning zone

Five things students need to understand about marks

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