Expert view: Prepare for the exam years ahead

Expert view: Prepare for the exam years ahead

If you have children at secondary school, teacher (and mum) Louise Farnell offers advice on preparing ahead to ease the strain of the exam years to come.

You don’t have to be a ‘pushy parent’ to simply want your child to do the best they can while they’re at school or college. But short of doing their homework for them, what can you do to make a difference? Here Louise Farnell offers some useful advice. She is an assistant headteacher at a mixed comprehensive school for children aged 11 to 16 in County Durham and she has two daughters of her own. You’ll also find more useful advice from Louise in Getting through exam time and 10 exam-time tips for parents.

Preparing the way for happier exam times


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  • Start early in your child’s educational career! Your child gets used to your involvement and the interest you take, you get used to the nature of the work that they are doing and how they are learning. Start with supporting homework and revision for end of year exams in the first years of secondary school.
  • Attend parents’ evenings and information evenings – schools run sessions about what options children can take, and about how students are assessed, as well as the usual subject-by-subject parents’ evenings.
  • For each GCSE, get to know the nature of the course, how much of the grade is examination, how much is coursework etc. Some courses are 100% coursework, some courses are worth four GCSEs – Nationals, GCSE, NVQs, ASDAN. There are many GCSE-equivalent courses – these should be explained through the options process when students in year 9 decide what to study in years 10 and 11. 
  • Follow your child’s progress – effort grades and behaviour grades are important, but they need to be making progress within their own capabilities.
  • It’s really important to understand what your child is doing and when – dates of exams, and type of exam should be put on the family calendar or stuck up in the kitchen (somewhere it’ll be seen). This way you can help them remember what is coming up and what they will need; help your child draw up a revision timetable, or ask to see it if they have already done one.
  • Check out the school’s website – it should have information on exam dates, revision classes, catch-up sessions etc. This information should also come out as a letter. If your child has been asked to attend special sessions encourage them to go along – most students do. Those that go along to additional teacher-lead revision sessions tend to do better than those who do not; this is about placing value upon the revision process.
  • Revision guides and notes are available – schools often bulk-buy and pass on savings to students. Some subjects provide tailor-made revision notes specifically for the course. Ask the school what is available and/or recommended if you need to buy guides yourself.
  • Schools now operate websites that allow students to access online information from the school. This is broken down into subject areas – students should be able to find revision notes, activities, past papers, marks schemes online. A parent should take the time to familiarise themselves with it too.

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I remember when I had exams in secondary school and it was the most terrifying experience of my life but my parents helped me through it. Grades don't define you!

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