The Headteacher: Preparation and self-confidence are important when approaching exams

Jonathan Britton is the headteacher of Woldgate College
Jonathan Britton is the headteacher of Woldgate College

I recently led a school assembly for year 11 and shared with students the many achievements of Alistair Brownlee.

Alistair is the 2014 Commonwealth Games Champion who won a gold medal. As a triathlete, he competes in a demanding sport, where as part of a race, he will swim 1.9km (1.2 miles), cycle 90km (56 miles) and then run 21.1km (13.1 miles), which is a half marathon.

It seems nearly impossible to imagine how anyone could prepare for what surely must be one of the most demanding sporting events.

As a keen cyclist I know that cycling 56 miles in a day at a rapid pace, does place a strain upon the body. The thought however, of swimming, running from a cold lake, jumping onto a cycle, before then finally running a half marathon, is sufficient to make my 56 miles seem insignificant. Of course, the training for a cycling race is very different to the preparation required to compete in three distinct sports. Developing the skills, physical fitness and endurance required, week-by-week, in each discipline, before finally combining all of your knowledge and skills for one race.

The level of fitness required is impressive. This is matched by the drive and self-belief as willpower helps to create a mindset that drives the body to extraordinary feats. When we watch athletes such as Alistair, I do wonder if we forget the months of determination that underpins such success. We can sometimes see athletes as superhuman and forget that success is not born of good luck, but of hard work.

I shared with students the training regime that Alistair follows every single week and students watched a video and listened as he described the early morning starts and outlined his daily routine.

He spoke about the routine that helped him to focus his mind on the goals he wanted to achieve before the end of every day. My message to our students approaching examinations was to consider the journey ahead.

To plan carefully the training they would undertake, the regime they would follow and the goals they needed to achieve before they walked into the examination hall.

I’m sure we all remember this period of our lives, as we approached the final few weeks of schooling and started to prepare not for one, but many examinations. Our young people in year 11 (5th year) or in sixth form will, this Easter, enter the final stages of their preparation as their examinations draw closer.

I’m sure as we recall our own experiences of examinations, however young or old, we can all empathise. I know our pupils and sixth form students are working extremely hard, supported by parents and my fellow teachers, in class and after school, through additional sessions and tutorials.

As part of that process creating a revision timetable is a great way to organise study time, as it also helps to boost motivation. Many versions can now be found from the traditional wall chart to websites that will priortise your studies automatically. Recognising a need for a revision timetable means that a pupil has already made a positive start. The structure is important, to ensure days are focused and sequenced to maximise progress.

Practicing past papers will help a pupil to become familiar with the exam format, question style, timings and also help them to retrieve information quickly.

Human experience teaches that, through practice and preparation we can prepare ourselves, ensuring true mastery of our subjects. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle (384 BC)

If your son/daughter finds revision to be a little overwhelming, then why not discuss their revision study notes and help them to test their comprehension at the same time each week for a particular subject? This will develop knowledge, provide motivation as progress becomes measurable and, of course, improve confidence.

As with the tri-athlete the preparation is important, but so is self-confidence, as the date approaches, it is human to question our ability to succeed. Belief is important, that through the careful preparation we’ve undertaken, the time invested and the mastery of our subject content, we are prepared and will be rewarded. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford (1940)

Preparation for examinations has also changed over the last few decades. The traditional methods such as reading and writing are now complimented by a variety of different study methods, including listening to podcasts, producing mind-maps, watching on-line videos or documentaries. It is these methods that will help students reap the harvest they’ve planted.

Finally, as we come full circle, regular study breaks and exercise is proven to engage the brain in studying and to improve exam performance in the long run. Exercise is a powerful enabler, which boosts the brain’s ability to be productive. The balance is an important one, to ensure study is both productive but not overwhelming. As with any athlete, a good routine will provide a suitable balance.

I do wish all of our pupils the very best with their revision and I know that my colleagues will do their very best to ensure our young people are thoroughly prepared as they enter the final lap of their GCSE or A-Level studies.

I am confident that for our pupils and sixth form students, the challenge ahead will be rewarded with progression onto sixth form and further study or university. The skills learned here, the mastery of subjects and the eventual academic success, will ensure our young people are prepared for future challenges, as they become young adults and look forward to the many opportunities that await them,