What to do with mock exams – part 1

Thanks to Martyn Bajkowski, Head of History at Pleckgate High School and a member of HA Secondary Committee for this, the first of a series of three blogposts to help us to make the best possible use of mock exams. 

The Year 11 Mock Exam Season has hit.  Whether your school does one, two or even three sittings of examinations I wanted to share what we do that aims to maximise the effectiveness of what can be a very labour intensive process. Ultimately if you are going to put so much effort into marking you really want to ensure everyone gets the most out of it. Within my department over the last few years we have introduced the strategies below which have allowed us to more accurately assess where students are; forecast accurately and plan effective next steps by deciding which data is and which isn’t significant.

Overall my advice would be:

  1. Prepare an unseen paper well in advance
  2. Agree what good answers should look like
  3. Mark a range of ability answers
  4. Spot themes through QLA
  5. Look for / offer support to colleagues
  6. Develop a theory for performance
  7. Decide next steps and when you will test your theory
  8. Make sure you focus your teaching on content, identifying and correcting misconceptions before you start, to allow them to understand and demonstrate what good history looks like, irrespective of the exam board they are sitting.

Stage 1 – Before their exams

  1. Deciding what is on the Paper

What we used to do and why

When I first joined my school they used past/specimen papers for mock exams.  This had the benefit of students seeing a ‘real’ paper with questions written by the board alongside an official mark scheme. This then gave a sense of validity and comfort in the grades we then reported to SLT.  Despite this assurance the difference between mock results and forecasts was significant.

What we now do and why

We decided to change this approach and instead sit down every September and write our own examinations.  How we do this is by discussing as a team which are the most important topics in each unit. We then look at all the past/specimen papers and work out what topics have been asked for each question and decide the topics for each question.   We also consider topics our students struggle on and make sure they are included which, in a small way, is a quality assurance mechanism of how effectively we have changed our teaching.  Finally we spend time deciding on the wording of the question.  We follow question stems from the board but we want to ensure students can access the question and the focus isn’t too narrow.  We want our exams to inform us about our students and are aware that a poorly worded question not only distorts overall marks and their approach to other questions but ultimately the only thing it tells you as a teacher is that it is a poorly worded question.  These exams are then printed and locked away which avoids any unconscious teaching to the test or trying to avoid a topic and not teaching it because you know it is on the test.

  1. Making it important for the students

If you expect students to revise for their final examination you should expect them to revise for these examinations. Some, but not all, teachers run revision sessions after school but all students have access to revision material. If a student does not revise it tells you little about how they will perform in the GCSE examination, it also gives them the easiest, and in my experience least effective, plan for future success of ‘next time I will just revise’.

We inform students to only write their candidate number on their examinations and that it will not be their teacher who will mark their exams.  Just like their summer exam they are not allowed the false excuse of ‘you know what I meant…’ after they have failed to fully develop their explanations and instead this gives them an extra incentive to do so.

To be continued…

Meanwhile, did you know that the students of Corporate HA members have their own dedicated ‘Student Zone’? It’s being revamped, updated and improved right now!















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