When our year 11 class go into that exam hall for their final exams, I always experience a mixture of emotions.
- Fear. Have I done enough? Will they cope? Is it going to be a ‘nice’ paper?
- Relief. It’s over. I can do no more. This is it…breathe
- Excitement. Which juicy questions are they going to ask? Will a circle theorem question come up? I wonder if a nice big 6-mark question on scatter diagrams is going to appear?
I think most of us experience similar emotions, and I think it’s natural to be scared, relieved and hopefully excited.
As a department, we wait on tenterhooks all day until we can see the paper. We usually race to Elin so we can be the first to see it, and fight over the few copies available. Then we race to the staff room to actually ‘do’ the paper. I’m not embarrassed to admit this, but I love it. It’s not work, or a chore: it’s a pleasure. We teach maths because we enjoy maths and what’s not enjoyable about a lovely fresh GSCE exam full of questions we won’t have seen before? It’s nice to put yourself in the shoes of our year 11s and complete the paper (usually as part of a race against others). We can then see which questions they may have struggled on and which marks we can almost guarantee they achieved based on our knowledge of our students.
Sometimes this fills us with hope that maybe, just maybe we have done enough and they are going to smash it (in the hope that the rest of the country have done terribly). But sometimes, this also fills us with dread. If it was an ‘easy’ paper, we have to hope that the grade boundaries won’t be too high and that it won’t hinder our students too much.
If there is another paper to follow, we frantically write a list of the topics that didn’t come up so the students can focus on these areas before the next exam.
I think completing the paper as soon as the students do is valuable CPL. It allows us to have conversations with students about specific questions, and gives us a real idea of what the paper is like (especially now that the specification and style of papers have changed).
It’s nice to go through our solutions with the students too, modelling the (hopefully) perfect solution, and sometimes, multiple solutions using different methods. There are plenty of ‘worked solutions/ exam papers’ out there on the internet but I do think that seeing our solutions is more powerful for the students.
I am teaching the new A-Level specification this year, and as part of this I have also been completing exercises from the textbook (mainly the challenging questions). All my solutions are in my ‘little black book’, and I regularly refer back to this in lessons when helping students with problems. They are comfortable borrowing the book to browse over my worked solutions and this really helps them in getting used to setting their work out in an effective way as well as spotting their errors.
I will no doubt complete all the practice papers that they do, as well as sit that exam as soon as I get my hands on a copy.
I think I will always complete the papers for as long as I teach but I wondered if teachers in other subjects do this too. Is it something you’d be willing to try? Would it have an impact on your teaching?
Harriet Lambert, Maths.