Thursday, 14 February 2019

Top 5 Tips for Exam Success

Ever since reading High Fidelity, I've found Top 5s to be a useful way of navigating life. 

I recently held some tutorials with some groups of 6th form students and thought I would share my Top 5 tips for A Level success. I constructed it around a Top 5 Problems and then a Top 5 Solutions:

Top 5 Problems:
1) Procrastination & Distraction
2) Forgetting Stuff
3) Time Management
4) Insufficient Notes & Resources
5) Cognitive Overload

Rob, Dick and Barry would definitely argue over this list - is it a true list of 5?

Top 5 Solutions
1) Pomodoro Technique
2) Cornell Note Taking
3) Keep a Record
4) Knowledge Organisers
5) Practice in Part

So, let's go through the tutorial and explain my rationale. I'm not going to link to everything but I will try give a summary of what I shared with the Year 13 students:

1) Pomodoro Technique
Inspired by hearing Barb Oakley recently, I started the session with my real life tomato timer on the desk. I set it 25 minutes and said that was all we had. I then spoke about how this was devised in the world of work when days run from 9am to 5pm with little structure unlike the school day. I pointed out their weekends, evenings and holidays could be like this. I shared this PDF. After 25 minutes work, you have a 5 minute break. After a few sessions, have a 10 minute break. Obviously phones go in the other room. Always. 20 mins to get back to full focus after a distraction?!

2) Cornell Note Taking
I explained about Ebbinghaus's Forgetting Curve (see PDF). I said that forgetting stuff is good - because we then remember it quicker when we review... but we need to be systematic and regular in that process. They know my advocacy of the CNT method, and how I urge student do have a weekly summary session, and a separate weekly cue column session (and then putting paper over their main notes and testing from summaries and cues). I gave them a reasonably detailed PDF on CNT. I then explained my greatest revision tool... a blank sheet of paper! I asked what they would do when they had written down everything they knew for a particular topic - and every time the answer was look it up! We talked about struggling and practising retrieval. Eventually they would need to add to it (when our 25 minutes was up?) - in a different colour - and then repeat the same task the following week.

3) Keep a Record
I gave them a revision timetable (PDF) but then asked why it has never worked for them. Universally it was because it had gone adrift and then they gave up quickly. I emphasised the need to put to fun stuff on first - Saturday evening Nandos - but also that every day is a new day and if it doesn't work on Tuesday, don't wait until Monday to restart. Yet I offered an alternative - a "work diary" when they needed to record every thing they actually did in a day - like a food diary - and how eye opening it would be. One student came back to me later in the week and said it had been a revelation and upped her productivity overnight. This is also useful so revision can be systematic and all topics covered.

4) Knowledge Organisers
Some teachers make them, and provide them at the start of a unit. At A Level, I use as summaries and students produce themselves. It is always a useful took to work out what is missing - "Why do I have no scholars to put in this box?" "What are the weaknesses of this theory?". I then explained the idea of "Unknown Unknowns":

I encouraged them to get a copy of the exam spec and then highlight only when they had actually found notes in their exercise book on the topic - and do it word by word, not by big statement / topic. I also suggested dating it every time they revised a topic.

5) Cognitive Overload
Are you trying to practice retrieval or are you trying to write a great essay? For students that are struggling, doing both can be tough. Obviously they need to do this in the exam, but we used a 'big game' analogy and discussed David Beckham practising his free kicks for hours the day before the Greece game. Practice the skills separately and build up to the final 'big game' exam.

I added two further documents to their pack:
The last thing I did was urge them to change the narrative. I'm as guilty as most in saying, "It's only 4 months until the exams!". However, the other way is "We have 4 months, that's lots of time to do lots of learning!" - Get that Pomodoro timer set back ready for another 25...

Image courtesy of BBC

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Books Not Blogs [Edexcel RS Update]

There has been very few blogs from me this academic year. I have been busy at work covering a second role within our Teaching School Alliance, our family grew to four last April, we've had building work going on, plus I have been busy writing books. 2019 is looking like an exciting year... please find a brief update to the OUP Edexcel GCSE series for Catholic Christianity papers on Spec A.

UPDATE: Download OUP's Updated Revision Guide pages here - focused on Part D/12 marker questions - we are now confident they are all Level 4 responses in accordance with last summers marking.
UPDATE 2: Download a DRAFT / INSPECTION copy of Workbook 1 (Catholic Christianity) - Get your orders in now for delivery very soon!
Work Books

One of the main concerns that many teachers have had about the new GCSEs is that they are not accessible for all students. Alongside the revision guide, which many teachers and students have found helpful, we wanted to work on something more.

As such, I have been working with the brilliant Ann Clucas (author of How To Teach Everybody: Strategies for Effective Differentiation) to find ways to break down and build up the content so that all students will be able to access and succeed with the new GCSE. We are hoping to publish ASAP, with Book 1 hopefully coming in March / April - just before the 2019 exams!

To reserve a copy, email your local OUP education consultant. Find yours  <here> 


From the January 2019 OUP update flyer

Revision Guide

When students required just 67% to get a Grade 9 on last summers paper, it was clear teachers hadn't been fully prepared for how the exam board were going to mark the RS exam. Many of the (d) evaluation questions got 25-40% nationally. Teachers were advised by the exam board that strengths/weaknesses/conclusion approach "should be sufficient." - yet this was sufficient for just L2 and 6/12 marks.

The OUP team looked carefully at our books, and while confident that our guidance was helpful to students, we felt a few tweaks would be beneficial to help further emphasise the need for careful analysis and evaluation and reflect the latest exam board guidance.

The updated pages of sample responses for the (d) question will also be available for free on the OUP website from 6th February - so if you have already purchased this book, or purchase before February you can still access the most up-to-date advice.

This new updated book will be available from 6th February 2019 and can be ordered here:

Huge thanks to all that helped with this, including various examiners from the 2018 summer series.

More Books

There are few more exciting projects in the pipeline which may mean the blog remains quiet... watch this space!