It Mock Exam
Sitting a mock exam early highlights areas that need attention to students. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Many things happen in the first week of December: Christmas songs get played incessantly in supermarkets and restaurants; you have to turn the thermostat up to 23 degrees; and for many students, mock exams start. It may be a stretch to get students excited about these, but here are five ways they can help students make sure they’re on the path to exam success:
Motivating students to start revision early
Research suggests that 75% of students consider themselves to be procrastinators (pdf), with 50% doing so regularly and to a level that is considered a problem. The author of one of the biggest studies on procrastination, researcher Piers Steel, states that “the further away an event is, the less impact it has on people’s decisions.”
In essence, summer exams feel like a lifetime away for teenagers so some will only really start working hard for them after Easter. By having mock exams halfway through the year, students have the opportunity to focus their attention and effort earlier.
Practising effective revision strategies
Some of the most commonly used techniques to aid revision are actually the least effective, including highlighting or re-reading key passages. One reason for their ineffectiveness is they do not force you to think deeply and critically about the topic, so they often end up being done on auto-pilot.
Mock exams let students practise revision strategies that are proven to be more helpful and discover what works best for them. There are several memory strategies that have been found to be effective. In one of the most comprehensive reviews on memory, researchers found that the following strategies are useful: spacing out revision sessions (so that there is enough time to forget and then re-learn); teaching the material to someone else (this forces you to think about the material in a clear and structured way); and switching between topics every now and then (which helps you build on previous revision sessions).
Another technique is what psychologists call “elaborative interrogation”. This is essentially asking yourself “why”. In a fascinating study on memory, students were divided into three groups and asked to remember sentences such as “the hungry man got in his car” (pdf). The first group just read the sentence. The second group was given an explanation (ie because he wanted to go to a restaurant), and the third group was asked to consider why he might have got in his car. The results? Students who were prompted to ask “why” remembered 72% of the sentences when tested later, compared to only 37% in the other two groups.
Testing yourself is an effective way to improve your knowledge and ability to recall information. In a study on mock exams (pdf), researchers found that students who did a practice test after a period of revision did better on the final exam than those students who didn’t do the mock exam and had just spent the whole time revising.