I had a coffee and a catch up with a fellow tutor a couple of weeks ago and he was sharing with me that he felt that one of the major problems that he encounters is that students and parents simply do not know enough about the education process to help themselves effectively. We were both joking about the fact that when we ask our students which exam they are studying for they simply respond ‘well I’m taking maths GCSE’ not having a clue that there are actually three different exam boards for maths GCSE, each having different options within them, i.e. modular or linear, which dictates what kind of exam they’ll be taking and what kind of exam technique we have to teach. My colleague has gone so far as to build websites for Maths and Science outlining the syllabus for each school year in order to give parents and students more information on what to expect.
I have written before on how I feel that most of the art of tutoring is teaching ‘the rules of the game’ but I had never really appreciated how this apparent mystification on how the teaching and exam process works really disempowers both parents and students. Students are not encouraged to take ownership over their education, instead relying on teachers to spoon feed everything they need to know, and parents feel that they don’t know where to begin in order to help their children navigate their schooling. This can generate a lot of fear when it comes to approaching exams, especially if you are told that your child is underachieving.
To me it seems absurd that it should feel this way. The information is out there if you only know where to look for it. All the exam boards have very accessible websites which have past papers, mark schemes and specifications of work that tell you exactly what to expect from both your teachers and your exams. Websites like Edexcel even have revision packs for students for certain subjects, condensing the essential information that each student needs to know for each exam – how much easier could they possibly make it? I personally always feel that at the start of each module students should be shown the kind of exam question that they’ll be aiming to answer by the end. This gives them an idea of where they should be heading and makes approaching the exam further down the line, less intimidating. It is unfortunate in my mind that our education system is so exam focused, and is becoming more so with the scrapping of coursework for many subjects, but if that is the way it is then it’s much better to get informed early on about what is expected. And if your teachers aren’t doing it for you, then do it for yourself.
So my advice is to find out from school exactly which exam boards and which papers you or your child is taking and do a little research. It only takes five minutes to pull up an old exam paper. Then you can have a bit more of a clue of where the gaps are and how best to fill them. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a teacher or a tutor to tell you what to do, find out for yourself and then ask for help on the stuff that you really can’t get your head around.
Website details for the three main exam boards: