15 Minute Forum – Getting the most out of exams

Steph Holt led a 15 minute forum on how we can support students with exam technique and preparation – with a particular focus on Y11 as they approach their exams.  Many of the strategies she discussed have been based around CPD work the science department have been doing with Science Learning Centre  led by Karen Parks (@betterscience1) – who did a great job as a trainer.  (If your science department is not using this excellent CPD resource, I strongly recommend that they do).

A summary follows:

Do students know what they need to do to succeed?

  1. Are they aware of the different style questions and the skills involved in answering them successfully? Obviously this will vary from subject to subject, but the following example relates to science:
  • Reading comprehension
  • Graph interpretation
  • Drawing conclusions from data
  • Evaluations
  • Chemical calculations
  • How science works
  • Sequencing facts
  • Literacy

2.  What strategies need to be taught and practised to help them access all questions successfully?

  • Point, Evidence, Explain

The PE department have been developing the way they use this with longer answer questions, by using the following resource:

pe lit

  • How many marks are awarded – do students understand how the number or marks awarded, relate to the structure of their answer?
  • Skim reading/underlining – encourage students to highlight the ‘command word’ of the question e.g. escribe, explain, compare etc.
  • Difference between describing and explaining – a common mistake, so very important to stress.
  • Use of Mind maps to help them sequence facts.
  • 1 minute plan, picture scaffold- A writing skeleton sheet like the one below can be used by students to plan their written answers before using them:

writing skeletons

  • Connectives – The connectives sheet used by the science department is a great resource to use to develop writing:


  • Use the Exam Talk sheet – a great way of encouraging students to analyse and understand what is expected of exam questions:

exam talk

Other important strategies

  • Use the examiner’s report from previous years to spot areas of misconception, not only content based but skills based.
  •  Set up a simple spreadsheet to analyse student/ whole class performance in individual questions, following a mock exam. This can be made to include content or skills or both. Get students to identifying their own areas of weakness and use this to plan revision accordingly.  As a teacher, this will also enable you to identify whole class weak areas, and so plan appropriate whole class interventions.  An example follows:

mock analysis

  •  Are they setting their own targets and self-assessing regularly in lessons?
  • Use the syllabus- give them a copy and get them to tick off sections when completed and RAG their understanding. Give them ownership!
  • Use Mark schemes with the pupils – make sure they understand how marks are awarded.
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3 Responses to 15 Minute Forum – Getting the most out of exams

  1. Pingback: The Finishing Line | Class Teaching

  2. Pingback: Developing a growth mindset | Class Teaching

  3. Pingback: What to do with Y11? | Class Teaching

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