“Dear Exam, please be nice to me!”
These words or something similar go through our heads whenever we sit for an exam. The pressure of appearing in mock exams can be even more immense since mocks give you the first taste of your CIEs or IGCSEs. And God Forbid, if you don’t meet the passing criteria and have to re-appear for the mocks until you do!
Personally, I feel that no piece of paper or a grade should hold the ability to let you or your dreams down. After all, there’s so much more to a person than that A, B, C or D, right? But it is a fact that grades and exams are a concrete, objective way for examiners to assess a student’s abilities.
As a student, I used to hate the school for putting us through the prequel to hell a.k.a. mock exams! But later, when I received As and A*, I begrudgingly understood the relevance of mock exams and here is why my perception changed:
A relaxed mind learns better
The human brain, in all its complexity, is able to learn and memorise better when given enough time and peace of mind. Appearing for mocks basically requires students to learn, understand and memorize concepts WAY before the finals so that they are in a better position to absorb the syllabus beforehand and avoid last minute cramming and stress.
Practice makes perfect
Google ain’t sitting with you in your exam, is it? The fact is that when it comes to CIEs, the more your school makes you practice for the mocks, the higher are your chances of better grades in the finals. You may think of it as a waste of time but applying theories and practicing answering exam questions CAN improve your solving and writing efficiency in the final exam.
“I’ll start revising tomorrow”
How many times have you said this to yourself, your teacher and your parents? They say that an expert in anything was once a beginner, but the question is ‘When to begin?’ Research suggests that more than 70% of students procrastinate. They keep putting off assignments and studying till the last minute, often leading to less-than-satisfactory results. And in most cases it’s not that the student is unintelligent or incompetent; it’s simply that he/she didn’t give the required time to understand the content.
Mocks are one way of avoiding this. Through mocks, schools ensure that students study and revise much much before the finals and have a better grasp on the concepts as well as solving exam questions.
In a study on mock exams, researchers found that students who did a practice test after a period of revision did better on the final exam than those students who didn’t do so and just spent the whole time revising.
The trick, I suppose, is for teachers to help students see their mock exams as a way of improving their applied knowledge and memory instead of as a potentially threatening event or judgment of their ability.
Call to action
Of course, any amount of practice does NOT guarantee an A grade in the mock exam. Like one teacher put it, “Better to have the shock in the mock, than the final exam!” Mock exam results act as a call to action and help assess whether the student needs to work harder, change revision strategies and/or develop skills to perform better under pressure.
Pressure can do funny things to students. For some, it can lead to anxiety, frustration and sloppy mistakes, culminating in poor performance, while other students THRIVE under pressure; they are able to concentrate more, work harder and perform better. Although this can depend on personality types, it usually takes time and practice to perform well under pressure. And if the CIE exams are a student’s first exposure to this level of pressure, their performance can be more of a gamble.
Mock exams are a great opportunity for students to figure out and practise what works best for them. Techniques to manage exam nerves can include consciously slowing down, channelling the stress into focus or listening to some relaxing music beforehand.
Mock exams, if framed correctly, can be incredibly beneficial for students. They can teach students the importance of constructive feedback and help them devise strategies to improve learning, working under pressure and attempting exam questions. But it is the teacher’s responsibility to help students see them as more of a gain than a burden.