Mock exams

‘Practice makes perfect’. And that is why most school pupils in year 11 across Bolton will have done mock exams just before Christmas or be preparing for them soon afterwards. Any parent whose son or daughter has prepared for exams will know this can be one of the first significantly stressful times of school life. So, is it all necessary and what can we do to help?

The first, perhaps unwelcome, news is that mock exams are most certainly an important part of the school year for pupils preparing for GCSE. Although the preparation may be stressful: working through the arrangements of being in an exam hall on time, with the right equipment and with revision complete, it is absolutely essential to experience all that first hand. Until the pupils feel the adrenaline of the exam they will not know what to expect when it really matters in the summer. This is not something you can be told about or understand by watching a documentary, you have to feel it.

Having established that mock exams must happen, then how can we best help at home? The first thing to bear in mind is that it probably matters whether you are supporting a son or a daughter through the process. Your son is likely to need a little more encouragement to feel the importance of the occasion. Your daughter is more likely to have started preparing a good while ago and may well be working just a little too hard. For entirely different reasons, they will both need you to help with a plan and to pace things. In both cases the parent’s job is to set the task in context: it needs to be important but not overwhelming.

Once revision is in progress then you are the support team. It is unwise to engage in the detail of preparation unless you are asked, since you may well not be expert in 10 subject areas at GCSE and the exams are almost certainly not like they were when you did them. It is right to help with routines – regular and good food and drink, ensuring they have enough sleep and a good life balance, with a little exercise thrown in.

So long as the basic revision is done, what will make the difference for those top grades is being lively in mind: and that needs your son or daughter to be rested, fit and healthy. That cannot occur only in the darkened revision room.

Whilst they may hate it at the time, that bracing Boxing Day walk may well be the best preparation for the mock exams you can help your children with.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys’ Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.