Exam technique: Seven steps to help students write under timed conditions

In an article for the TES, Sophie Hederer, deputy head of English at a school in Nottingham  shares her tips for helping GCSE students to develop the exam technique of writing quickly and accurately under time pressure. 

I’m well acquainted with the despairing looks from Year 11 as they realise, too late, that they’ve run out of time in an exam. The new English language GCSE requires students to use all kinds of different skills in a short amount of time, and learning to work within the time restrictions is an important exam technique that is crucial to success.

To help my students get up to speed (literally), I’ve tried getting them to change the order of answering questions, write shorter plans and develop a more concise writing style. All of these methods help, but are not quite enough to propel them through the exam at breakneck speed.

My latest approach is to combine the above with my barking motivational instructions in the style of a personal trainer: “Come on, one more! You can do this!” This seems to be doing the trick.

Here are a few steps for helping students to write at speed:

1. Cover the basics

Make sure that the subject knowledge is there to avoid students wasting time worrying about what a question is asking them to do. Spend a few lessons going over terminology, teaching mnemonics and practising how to find effective quotations in source material.

2. Look at question types

Spend one lesson focusing on each question on the exam paper. Get students to answer a model question of this type, giving them an example answer and sentence starters to support them. Don’t time them; just give them the chance to see what they are capable of with plenty of thinking time and the chance to develop their answer.

3. Responses with timings and support

In the next lesson, repeat the above activity with the same support, but under timed conditions. Most students will manage to write a sufficient amount when they are given one question in isolation, showing them that they can do it. If they struggle, ask them to go back to step two for a few lessons.



For more of Sophie Hederer’s great tips see Exam technique: Seven steps to help students write under timed conditions

Do you have any tips for writing under timed conditions? Please comment here or on Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Michael Bassey

    No doubt helpful advice. But the question should be: why are examinations so time-based? Few occupations require rapid writing – journalism perhaps alone. It should be the quality of thought and its expression that is judged, not whether it can be written quickly.

  2. I have been searching out for this similar kind of post for past a week and hardly came across this. Thank you very much and will look for more postings from you.

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