Reflections on the challenge of linear exams

16 January 2018

Author: Karen Roskilly - Sandringham Research School Lead

We recently welcomed teachers from across the region to the first day of our Maximising Achievement in Linear Exams training course. With the introduction of more challenging GCSE and A Level courses, and a return to linear assessment, the aim of this course is to equip teachers and school leaders with evidence-based strategies to meet this challenge successfully.

One of the first tasks of the day was a reflection activity, which asked delegates the following:

Linear exams ppt

Whilst there were lots of different responses to each of the questions and lots of discussion between delegates, there were some patterns and themes that emerged that might resonate, so we thought we would share them here.

In what ways do you prepare students well for linear exams?

The overwhelming response focused on additional revision sessions and the practicalities of supporting students with exams, such as parents’ information evenings and assemblies. Other key suggestions focused on practice testing and quizzing, clearly supported by evidence such as The Science of Learning by the Deans for Impact.  For example, the Deans for Impact state that:

‘Teachers can space practice over time, with content being reviewed across weeks or months, to help students remember that content over the long-term.’

‘Teachers can explain to students that trying to remember something makes memory more long-lasting than other forms of studying. Teachers can use low- or no-stakes quizzes in class to do this.’

In what ways do your students prepare themselves well for linear exams?

Again, a clear picture emerged here too. Delegates stated that students are becoming increasingly successful at planning revision time and designing revision timetables, but are not always as successful in implementing them. This was a concern raised by teachers at Sandringham when we carried out a similar activity with them on a recent Professional Learning day. Students are not always clear on how best to actively approach revision and which strategies are the most effective, often falling back on re-reading notes and highlighting text.

During the training session we spent some time identifying those strategies which evidence suggests are the most effective approaches to study and that we should be encouraging our students to use, using the work of Dunlosky et al in Strengthening the Student Toolbox. The table below summarises the effectiveness of each of the techniques they evaluated, and clearly identifies practice testing and distributed practice as ‘very effective’ techniques and the re-reading and highlighting much loved by our students as far less effective approaches to study:

Dunlosky effective strategies

What are your concerns relating to success in linear exams?

Three key concerns dominated here: 1) Teaching the content of the new exam courses in the time allocated 2) Supporting students with retaining information over time and 3) How to develop student independence.

The content of the day provided many suggestions on how to address two of these concerns: knowledge retention and independence. Firstly, our keynote speaker Dr Duncan Astle focused on working memory but also discussed strategies to develop long term memory.  The Deans for Impact summary and Dunlosky article both identify key strategies to support students in retaining information over time. The potential impact of metacognition was also highlighted as a key way to develop student independence and to support successful learning.  More on metacognition can be found in a previous Teaching Tip, with links to other useful resources.

There is clearly more work to do over the next two days of the course to address these issues. Day Two focuses on effective teaching and, in particular, feedback and literacy and Day Three looks at how to plan for sustained high impact practice.

Posted on 16 January 2018
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