Ten strategies for exam success

In light of the new GCSEs, Mehul Shah set about skilling up teachers and students on how we learn and how to plan revision effectively in SecEd.

The new GCSEs, with their increased reliance on knowledge retention and synoptic assessment have meant a new focus for teaching and learning leaders on strategies which encourage long-term recall.

As an assistant headteacher in an already outstanding school where we have a dedicated and skilled team of teachers I have been faced with the challenge of how we can improve our teaching and learning so that it directly impacts on results.

Here I have summarised the approaches that have had the most impact on improving our results (our Progress 8 score improved from 0.03 to 0.27 last year with the highest positive residuals seen in the new GCSEs which focused on linear assessment and increased content). Many of these ideas have come out of action research projects that staff participated in last year as part of our twilight CPD programme. This year we have used our CPD programme to share these ideas school-wide.

Learning how the brain works

We have used the ideas summarised in the book How We Learn by Benedict Carey to dispel some of the myths about how the brain retains information. Things like always studying in a quiet place and learning one topic at a time are not as effective as we think they are. We have encouraged teachers to mix up how and where students learn to make it memorable. One teacher even taught a lesson in the exam hall to help build up memory queues ready for the real thing.

Removing the terror of tests

Studies have shown that one of the most effective ways to learn is with frequent low-stakes testing. However this only works if the student does not feel exposed or worried about the outcome of the test. Teachers have introduced routines of mini-quizzes and self-assessed tests where scores aren’t recorded to encourage students to use tests as a learning tool rather than an assessment tool.

The Revision Generator

It has been proven that interleaving revision is more effective than revising one topic at a time. Research has been done into the best time intervals to revisit information – after one day, two weeks and one month is effective in encouraging long-term memory retrieval. One of our maths teachers has designed a revision timetable generator which takes this into account. Students input the topics that they need to revise and it generates a timetable which ensures topics are revisited at the correct intervals.

Read more ideas for the classroom Ten strategies for exam success

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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