Preparing for exams

I have spent a fascinating hour this morning listening to Radio 5 Live. The discussion was on revision. How much is enough? Should pupils be put under pressure to do well in exams?

Barnaby Lenon suggested, in a blog for the ISC, that pupils should aim to revise for seven hours each day in preparation for GCSEs. To say that this has provoked a strong reaction is an understatement. Some agree with Barnaby; more, though, seem to feel that this is way beyond the capabilities of most teenagers.

Exams can be stressful, they put pupils under pressure, certainly. What we must ask ourselves is, is this necessarily a bad thing? Providing the right sort of support is in place, putting a bit of pressure on pupils can help to get the very best out of them. I am concerned that if they never face pressure whilst at school, how will they begin to cope with life after school. What is school if it is not preparation for life?

There are those in the prep school world who no longer believe in the benefits of Common Entrance. They don’t feel that making pupils learn for these exams is in their best interests. I would suggest that the debate over how to prepare for GCSEs is an excellent argument for the benefits Common Entrance in prep schools. Our very name ‘preparatory’ tells us exactly what we should be doing.

This set of exams, at the end of their prep school journey, is fantastic preparation for the public exams they will face at their senior schools. They will learn how to revise, how to cope with the pressure and understand how hard work reaps rewards. One young person on the radio this morning said that this was the first set of important exams she had taken. This does not surprise me but surely this is an argument for a rigorous and intellectually demanding set of exams earlier on, which can help prepare pupils.

Children also need to understand that sometimes we have to make sacrifices if we want to be successful. It may be that the Easter holiday before their exams is not the most fun holiday they will have but I would argue that this is a price worth paying in order to get those good grades that will set them up for their future.

I am very aware that we need to support pupils’ mental health.  Removing challenges from their lives, though, may protect them when they are young but it does not prepare them for adulthood. We need to build resilience and give them strategies to cope with stressful situations. We cannot do this if they are never faced with such situations.

Top tips for Common Entrance Revision
set a clear timetable for your revision – try to have a routine that you follow each day
break down each syllabus into small, manageable chunks
tackle one chunk at a time so that you can see that you have really learnt it
take regular breaks – work for 45 minutes at a time
give yourself rewards – once you have learnt a chunk really well, tell yourself that you have earnt 15 minutes on the XBox or a kickabout in the garden
don’t just stare at a page of notes – the process of writing helps you learn
test yourself regularly or get a friend or family member to test you
For Common Entrance, three hours a day is enough. Try to do two hours in the morning and one in the evening.