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The year 13 mock exams are now over and the results will be given out shortly, and the year 11 mocks begin in a few weeks’ time.  We are all now definitely in the early stages of the big build up to the summer exams.

I know many parents have attended the ‘Now You’re in Year …’ evenings and will have heard us express how important it is to get it right with revision and exam preparation.  For some students they are bombarded with advice and suggestions, but frankly there is too much out there suggesting all kinds of whacky strategies and quick fix solutions, which unintentionally can cause confusion and stress to the young person.  In our view, there are two main things students at this stage in year 11 or 13 need to be doing. Two revision approaches that have high impact, which were validated in a study by Prof John Dunlovsky, of Kent State University in 2013. He and his colleagues reviewed 1,000 scientific studies looking at 10 of the most popular revision strategies and assessed their effectiveness. There were only two that had high impact.

Firstly, students need to be testing themselves regularly. Students who can test themselves or try to retrieve material from their memory are going to learn that material better in the long run.  For example start by reading the text book or your own notes, then make flash cards of the critical concepts and test yourself.  A century of research has shown that repeated self-testing works.

And secondly, the most impactful strategy is the most obvious. The best strategy is to plan ahead and not do all your revision on one subject in a block before moving on to the next – this is a technique called “distributed practice”.  Prof Dunlovsky says it is the most powerful of all the strategies.  In any other context, students use this technique, for example, if they were doing a musical recital they wouldn’t start practising an hour before, yet some students seem to think that intense cramming before an exam works, when it doesn’t.

I raise this to reinforce the idea that students mustn’t leave their revision to the last minute.  They should plan backwards from their exams and work out when they are going to spend available time on all of their subjects equally in a distributed way.  Year 11 students need to be preparing in this way for their mocks now, and year 13 students should be revisiting their existing learning to self-test and secure that learning sooner rather than later. I hope you are able to support your son at home with these two principles.  Please contact your head of year for further guidance and advice.

Last night’s year 11 parents evening was really well attended, with nearly every child having a parent there, listening to teachers about strengths and weaknesses in their boy’s work and progress.  A child’s success in exams can be significantly improved by an engaged and informed parent providing support and guidance in the build up to exams, and, judging by last night’s attendance, I am reassured that you all know this already!

Finally please make sure you have your ticket for the school musical, which this year is Kiss Me Kate.  Rehearsals are going really well and it looks like it will be of the very highest standard, and a very jolly night out. Be warned, tickets sell out fast.

Gavin Henderson