1 Plan well ahead
Whatever you do, there never seems to be quite enough time to complete the course, so have a schedule well in advance and get organised. Have a look at the school calendar – you may find you miss lessons at crucial times due to events in and out of school. When there are only a few lessons left before an exam, you’ll find that half your class are out on a trip or doing exams in other subjects. So factor that into your planning.
2 Break up your material
Rather than embarking on an intensive programme of revision at the last minute, try to break up exam work into chunks over the next few months. This is particularly important for younger students as it will help them to absorb the information gradually.
3 Get your class involved in the planning process
Keep you pupils well informed about the schedule and tick off what you’ve got covered so that you all feel you’re making progress. This should help reduce time-wasting in the class as you can calmly point out to unmotivated students how much material has to be covered in the time available.
4 Show no fear!
You’re bound to worry that you won’t be able to cover the course and find time for revision as well. But even if you’re feeling panicky about completing the work, don’t show it. Fear is infectious and it won’t help your pupils to learn any better. It’s easy to transmit your anxiety while you’re pushing your pupils to focus, but that is likely to backfire. Better to present a front of control, even if it’s not the reality.
5 Set manageable targets
Encourage the class to appreciate the benefits of regular revision and long-term planning. But give individuals realistic targets for what they need to learn. Tick these off when they are completed – it will help to create a sense of achievement.
6 Raise pupils’ self-esteem
Keep giving your pupils regular praise, even if the work is revision and the tasks seem routine. It is vital that students feel confident and recognise the value of their revision.
7 Don’t raise false hopes
Get you students to stay realistic about their achievements. It is tempting to give them feedback that gives false expectations, and that won’t be helpful in the long term. Make sure individuals have goals that are achievable for them.
8 Take some time out
Be aware that new information can’t be taken in continuously. Some students can cram very well, but many can’t. Class revision should be broken up within each lesson as well as over a period of time.
9 Variety’s the spice of life
Take account of your pupils’ various learning styles and pitch your lessons accordingly. As with your normal classroom teaching, revision exercises at the end of units should also be varied. Posters and mind maps are good for visual learning. Recording information on tape and doing presentations is helpful for aural and oral work. Role-play and physical tasks are best for those who tend towards kinesthetic learning.
10 Use all available resources
Many pupils switch off at the thought of conventional revision and find it boring, but most will respond to alternative media such as music and television.
11 Make use of technology
The internet offers a wealth of ideas for revision and students can be directed to specific sites. Technology can provide some very useful ways to vary the revision routine. Ask your students to produce PowerPoint presentations or make their own website that covers the topics they have studied – all these will help to make their knowledge explicit.
12 Learn from colleagues
Take a look at the teaching techniques used in various subjects by other staff in your school and try them for yourself. It is very easy to settle on a few tried and tested methods, such as end-of-unit written tests. But another teacher might have developed, say, an oral test on a similar subject, in which case your students could benefit from it, too. This approach will also help to keep your teaching skills fresh.
13 Don’t forget the basics
Go through exam criteria and marking schemes with older pupils to make sure everything is clearly understood. Don’t presume that students understand what they’re being tested on – the chances are they don’t, so err on the side of caution. Pupils should know about the exam format – for instance, how many questions they have to answer.
14 Share the burden
If all the emphasis seems to be on you doing all the teaching and testing, don’t forget that you can set up activities in which the students explain a topic to other students. Often, the best way to learn a subject is to teach it. Get pupils to take turns to prepare presentations – to groups or the whole class.
15 Pupils can assess themselves
Following on from the above, get pupils to test each other. This can really help to take some of the pressure off you and can be great fun. Peer learning can be a highly effective way to get students feeling involved in their learning.
16 Make pupils the markers
Show your students some sample answers and get them to do the marking. They are generally very harsh critics of their peers and will realise exactly what is expected of them when faced with exam scripts and a marking scheme.
17 Teach the art of exams
Spend some time on exam skills that are relevant to the subject and the exam in question. Make sure all pupils understand key words such as “describe”, “discuss”, “compare” and “summarise”. Students might understand topics, but could still be let down if they don’t know what a question requires of them or how to time their answers.
18 Keep an eye on good health
Talk your students through relaxation techniques. Your school may have a strategy for minimising stress.In any case, keep reminding your class that taking regular breaks in their revision and eating and sleeping well are vitally important.
19 Don’t overdo tests
Avoid doing too many test papers before the exam as it can make students stale. Little tests at regular intervals are more helpful in the run-up to exams. Try not to talk about the exams too often as pupils will get stressed or bored. Even if classwork is linked to the exam, this needn’t be emphasised all the time.
20 Minor diversions allowed
However tempting it may be, don’t teach to the test. There should still be time for spontaneity and time for students’ own interests to be pursued. Their genuine enthusiasm will be an asset in a test situation.
21 Coach them for success
Emphasise the importance of planning and checking answers. This should become a routine – and not just for exams. Proof-reading is an important skill and drafting classwork will help it no end.
22 Keep parents onside
Involve parents in the process. They can sometimes be responsible for children panicking. Keep them feeling that their children are on course to reach their potential so that they don’t add to the workload at home. Encourage them to support their children in their work and to make sure they get enough sleep.
23 The importance of play
Make revision fun. Have some end-of-module quizzes and games with prizes – it will ease the tension and make the exam season more bearable for you and your class.
This article first appeared in the New Teachers newsletter
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