Preparing our students for exam success

Jonathan Cox, Deputy Principal Secondary Years (Grade 9-12) October 18, 2018
Preparing our students for exam success

Support for exam preparation should come largely, if not exclusively, through timetabled classes. As far as is possible, we avoid ‘teaching to the test’. This means that when it comes to assessment time, students are ready to complete tasks because they have acquired a good understanding of a topic through a variety of teaching and learning methods, led by enquiry based learning.

As students get older and externally standardized testing becomes the norm (IGCSEs, IB Diploma, etc.), then we do recognize the need for specific examination preparation.

Rubric or Assessment Objective based tests do require students to have a knowledge and understanding of what they are being tested in and, frankly, what scores points and what doesn’t. This is where education and qualification still require a different focus. Students are given study guides for each subject; they go through past papers, looking at the marking rubric and examiners reports; some classroom time is spent breaking down papers and questions and looking at ‘exam tips’.

Simple tips like tackling the high scoring questions first and leaving the 1 and 2 point questions until last can easily make the difference between grades.

For high pressure/high stakes examinations like the final IB Diploma papers, we do offer additional classes before/after school and during breaks. These may be taught classes targeting specifics or they may be ‘drop-in clinics’ where students can come for individual consultation.

Students firstly need to be aware of what works for them – if it doesn’t work, don’t do it. Overall though, good old-fashioned note taking is hard to beat. It does require students to read ‘consciously’ and to make an effort to really understand what they are reading. The most challenging thing for them in this ‘cut & paste’ era is to then take notes in their own words, summarizing their understanding. This is a crucial step in ensuring that the learning is actually taking place. Notes can then be revised and reduced until they are a series of ‘buzzwords’ that are sufficient to trigger full recollection of the understanding and application of a particular piece of learning.

Healthy eating, exercise and sleep are proven to contribute positively in all sorts of ways. Cramming the night before an examination with a gallon of coffee to hand is never the best!

And I always advise my students to know exactly what is expected of them in each examination, even what the paper will look like, so that they enter the examination room focused and confident in what they are going to do. Nothing replaces a proper revision schedule. If you have consolidated your learning over a period of weeks (months for higher level examinations) beforehand, then even the toughest of tests can become straightforward.


Jonathan Cox, | Deputy Principal, Secondary Years (Grade 9-12)

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