This week, I am going to focus on exams, as that is exactly what our Upper School children are doing at present, with Year 7 exams next week and the Mocks for our Year 8s immediately after Half Term.
I feel it is wrong to see exams in terms of “pass” and “fail”. Exams show your strengths, and the areas you need to work on. Exams celebrate your progress as you watch your percentages rise over time. Our internal assessments and exams are a chance to make silly mistakes and learn from them. I am sure many of us still remember an answer we got wrong once, but then never got wrong again as a result.
Preparing for exams is not just about remembering things. The whole process of revision is a life skill, and one that will continue to be useful long after your school days. In class, teachers explore a range of techniques for preparing their subjects. It’s just a matter of finding the one that works for you. There are always those people in life who remember things perfectly after reading them once, but the majority of us can make use of other techniques. Spider diagrams, mnemonics, post-it notes on the fridge, and cue cards have long been useful, but now we also have apps like Quizlet, and websites like BBC Bitesize. The Scholarship class has been looking at building a Mind Palace to compartmentalise topics in Philosophy. One enterprising member of last year’s Year 8 recorded herself repeating French vocab, and spent her bus journey to school alternating two minutes’ French with Taylor Swift on her earpods. I understand she was very successful, too.
This pattern is an important one. Lessons at St Christopher’s are very rarely longer than an hour, and revision periods at home should certainly be shorter than this. Short, focused periods of time are most effective. Interspersed with activities that are totally different! Wrap up warm and get outside. Walk along the seafront and stare at the horizon rather than a book or screen. Take the dog! Make bread or pizza dough – it can rise whilst you do the next revision session. Play the piano. Practise mindfulness. Paint a picture. Make time for yourself and things you enjoy. You are working hard – reward yourself.
Upper School pupils have visits from mindfulness and meditation coaches, who have looked at techniques such as breathing patterns and centring yourself, all of which can be done silently and very usefully in the middle of an exam. Form Tutors talk to them about the importance of a good night’s sleep rather than late night cramming. Tutors have explained why even the most butterfly-filled tummies need breakfast to aid concentration levels mid morning. Perhaps most importantly, for our oldest children as they prepare, we have also explained why the brain needs a total absence of screen time for at least an hour before it can even think about shutting down to sleep.
By the time our Year 8 children are ready for their Common Entrance and Scholarship exams to senior schools, they should be calm and focused about the whole process, having practised it many times before. Well prepared, and skilled in how to learn alongside taking good care of themselves, they can show the very best of their abilities.
There is no Newsletter next week due to finishing on a Thursday. I wish you and your families a happy Half Term break.
Ms Elizabeth Lyle, Head