Modelling success for high achievement in examinations

The word ‘invention’ is often misused as it is very rare for people to invent things or ideas. There are not many original thoughts and ideas out there and most of what we often call invention is really the notion of developing an idea that already exists and presenting it in a different way. Sometimes a very old concept is presented in a new and innovative way. In most cases, ideas from different places or in fact fields or industries are borrowed or stolen and repackaged to create something that looks different.

Jubilant young people, with glee on their faces

In August, when exam results are released, we see in newspapers and on the TV, a lot of jubilant young people, with glee on their faces. Those young people come from different backgrounds in term of socioeconomics, ethnicity and psychographics. Some of the parents are conservative and some are liberal and the way they and their children live their lives are all different. However, there are certain commonalities in terms of what the parents and the students do. It’s not at all important the fact that they are all different and vary widely and we are not interested in those differences; we are more interested in what they have in common. Those commonalities are the factor that influence the high level of success the children achieve.

Let’s look outside of the education sector for a moment. For example, both Donald Trump and Richard Branson are billionaires and they are completely different people in terms of personalities and public persona. However, they have some commonalities in terms of how they do things to achieve the financial success they both have. If anyone aspires to be a billionaire, a good starting point will be to try and model those common characteristics and ignore their differences.

I have taught in mainly grammar schools and independent schools (fee-paying) in the last two and half decades or so and I have been very fortunate to have taught many successful young people, who have achieved top exam grades in subjects that matter most. I’m speaking about those that employers and society value most

Having observed these successful young people and their families, I’ve been able to pick up a few things and I will put all those three things into three categories.

The three categories in which I’ve decided to classify those are: clarity, action and nurture. My colleagues and I run masterclass seminars to make presentations on these three areas and I’m not going to go too deeply into them here but I’ll just offer a brief explanation of each and I’ll then provide you with a list of a few actionable points you may want to think about and share with your teenager. I will just list a few of the basic tips that I want to share for now and I’ll urge you to think about those points and share them with your son or daughter.

Ideas to speak about with your teenager at exam period

  1. Subjects they want to focus most attention
  2. Areas of concern and action to take
  3. Failure to plan is a plan to fail
  4. Use of technology – a blessing and a curse
  5. Exams are still done in writing – too many bright young people lose mark as they can’t articulate….
  6. The student should try at least five past exam questions…
  7. Too many students make is to look at a question on a computer or smartphone or tablet
  8. Never use a mobile phone as a calculator. Not even in practising
  9. Switch off your mobile at least an hour or two before going to sleep…
  10. Sensible study blocks … between 1.5 to 3hrs is most effective
  11. Adopt a good sleeping pattern in the months and weeks leading up to the exam

More details of some of the key ideas

  • An idea of subjects they want to focus most attention on and the grade they want to achieve in each of those.
  • Areas of concern and action to take in order to improve chances of a high grade.
  • Failure to plan is a plan to fail.
    •  the plan needs not be too detailed, as a brief plan is usually sufficient.
    •  some sort of revision timetable, including the environment that suits the child best for revision.
  • Exams are still done in writing – with pen and paper in most cases.
    • Revision must include learning concepts and trying past exam question to diagnose understanding and develop exam skills and technique.
  • Use of technology – the blessings and curse of
    • most students and teachers overuse technology.
    • the internet and computers are good at finding useful information, but…
    • certain numbers of questions should be printed out and attempted in writing.
  • The student should try at least five past exam questions for each exam and a minimum of three should be printed out and done under exam conditions after the student has revised and understood the topics. Too many bright young people lose marks in the exam because they cannot articulate themselves in writing with the competence the examiner demand.
    • Print out and do questions and try to find a teacher to mark at least two exam papers for each subject of importance. Peer marking between friends does not count as part of the two.
    • Peer marking can be part of the mix but at least two papers should be marked by a teacher – with meaningful feedback provided.
  • One big error that too many students make is to look at a question on a computer or smartphone or tablet; think of a possible answer to the question and then look at the mark scheme to see if the answer they had in mind is what the mark scheme says. This is largely a waste of time. This can be done as an addition after about three to five past exam questions have been done properly by printing out, attempting in writing and getting them marked.
  • Never use a mobile phone as a calculator. Not even in practising.
    • calculators are not allowed in the exam
    • it’s key for a student to get used to using a proper calculator at all time.
    • stress and panic can set in if as a result of using a calculator that one is not fully familiar with in an exam.
  • Get used to switching off your mobile device or put it on aircraft mode at least an hour or two before going to sleep and it should never be the first thing to be switched on in the morning
  • For most people, a study block of three to four hours, with two or three breaks is the most effective.
    • it is usually unproductive to study for more than 90 minutes without a break – if only a 10 to 15-minute break
    • When having a break, try to avoid going onto electronics – computers, mobile phones and tablets are a distraction.
    • When having break between study periods, have a cup of tea, play with the cat or dog, go for a short walk or cycle but do not get distracted.
    • -Go back to your study and maintain focus for a length of time.
  • Try and adopt a good sleeping pattern in the months and weeks leading up to the exam and also during the exam period.
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