As we head back from the Easter holidays, and the sun begins to shine, and the days are so much longer, the summer does not seem far away. However for a large number of our students we are heading into the busiest time of the year; exam time. In lessons the last bits of the exam specifications are being taught to students in year 11 and year 13, and the emphasis turns to recall of previous content, linking key concepts together, to help students be able to answer whatever the exams throw at them. Some students will have begun revising in earnest, while others are still being cajoled by parents and staff to settle into a revision routine.
As I face my last summer of school exams as a parent I am secretly looking forward to a spring and summer not punctuated by revision. I have provided the mental support when the work gets boring, the cups of tea and food to keep my children going through these challenging times for the last six years. Currently I find myself quietly sneaking out so that I don’t disturb my son who is studying for A levels this summer, and struggling to find a space to work myself, as he has taken over the desk at home. Each child works differently; my house was covered in post it notes when my daughter was revising for GCSEs and A levels, with key points in the bathroom, the hall, her bedroom; anywhere that she might see each day. She also made copious notes on cards, using colours to highlight key words, and used Quizlet when creating her own quizzes. Her younger brother works differently, with some key notes made and lots of exam papers completed. Both used myself and their dad as quiz masters at various times. To be honest my heart sank each time one of them appeared with a revision guide or notes, and a wry smile to ask if I could just test them on a subject. I learnt a lot about History, French, Food Technology, English and Geography that I had long forgotten as well as some things I had never studied. Crucially, as well as feeling like I have been able to contribute, these times also gave me chance to check on their mental wellbeing, to offer positive thoughts and reaffirm the benefits of revising for exams. As parents we help them see beyond the brick wall of the revision, especially when their favourite activities have to be put to one side for a while. The short term hardship is made up for by the long term gains and everyone in the family gives up something when one child is completing exams.
Every child is different and every parent will have developed unique ways to support their child. Sometimes we need to remember to give up some of our favourite things to set an example and to provide time and space for our children to revise. To be honest this starts for most parents while the child is in primary school, as we listen to our children read, and help them to learn spellings and times tables. As our children enter secondary school parents can help by providing time and space to complete homework, and to keep helping the recall of key knowledge. End of year exams in each year allow students to practice revising, getting them ready for the exams at the end of year 11 and 13. This practice is so important as it develops the routines and habits of learning, making the exams at the end of year 11 less daunting. Our current year 11 students have between 20 to 23 exams this summer over 25 possible exam days, with A level students having around 10 exams. This means that revising in the run up to the exam period is essential. (As an aside, some suggested ways to help your child revise can be found here.)
So, yes it is stressful for the students in year 11 and year 13, facing greater uncertainty in the exams for new specifications and an increasingly more difficult test for all subjects, and as parents it is our job to help our children use some of this stress to motivate them to revise, while doing everything we can to help absorb the rest of the stress. In August we will be able to enjoy watching them when they collect their exam results, and see the doors that open as they move onto their future, and quietly congratulate ourselves that we helped them get through. And on a personal note I will be quietly celebrating the fact that next summer will be the first in six years when I don’t have a child at home revising!
Deputy Head Teacher