Teaching Tips for GCSE

No matter what the subject may be, you must help your students prepare for their upcoming mocks and GCSE exams, which can be incorporated easily into your lesson plans. 

In this blog, we are going to take a look at some common pitfalls, alongside useful suggestions on how you can fully help your students ace exams because no matter how hard they revise, they need the right techniques and information to make the revision worthwhile.

What do you think experienced teachers do to help their students in the exam period? And which qualifications boards suggest are excellent tools for meeting exam demands? Let’s find out.

1. Teach The Meaning Of Key Command Words

Every exam question, no matter the subject, is asking the student to do something. All GCSE subjects frequently use command words in questions. For example, English GCSE exam questions may ask the students to compare two pieces of text, or they might be asked to describe how a writer evokes imagery in a highlighted paragraph.

When looking at another subject, let’s choose History as an example. Students may be provided with a question that asks what the source infers (this can be a common question) along with comparing and contrasting.

Listed below are commonly used command words that may be found in exam papers, which can help students craft their answers to meet the question –

State – Asks for a simple answer, such as the correct name, phrase or term.

Describe – A question featuring this word, in the beginning, is asking the student for more detail of what happens, where and when.

Explain – This command word is inviting students in to provide detail as to why something happens. In this type of question, using terminology and being language-specific in regards to the subject help to get those high marks.

Suggest – This asks the students to provide an answer based on their knowledge of a subject or topic.

Although there are many ways to understand command words, you must teach your students how to nail it in time for their exams. You could do this by creating a student thesaurus that contains definitions of command words that are commonly found on exam papers, as well as including plenty of practice of creating answers to past exam questions.

2. More Reading & Less Panicking!

Ask any exam invigilator and they will all say the same thing…

“Most students on being told the exam has started, will turn the booklet over and begin writing immediately.”

It is known that very few students actually take the time to have a look through the exam paper for the first 5-10 minutes to get an insight into what topics are in the exam, although this is the perfect opportunity for them to make notes on the questions they are going to answer and therefore will prepare them for the multitude of questions they need to answer.

Encouraging students to take the time to read the questions and take notes is a step that helps to yield much better results, in terms of a GCSE grade (1 to 9 in England.)

If you are struggling to find the right teaching method to help your students process this technique, then using the acronym ‘BUG’ may help students who panic in exams, as they go into a state of mind that doesn’t allow them to perform to the best of their ability.

BOX – The B stands for a box. As they read the question, students should draw a box around the command word, as this helps to instantly tell them what the question is asking them and what the examiner is looking for.

UNDERLINE – Underlining keywords always help to jog the memory (in terms of knowledge.)

GLANCE – Encourage your students to look at the rest of the question, they need to understand what other information is given or being asked for. Students have the means to give a full answer.

Let’s take a look at this example:

For this 30 mark question (provided from an AQA English Literature Question) using BUG, would look like this –

Starting with this moment in the play, explore how far Shakespeare presents Ariel as a loyal servant to Prospero in The Tempest.

Students can practise using BUG, by not only using it on past questions but writing their questions for their peers too.

3. Acronyms (For The Chunkier GCSE Exam Questions)

Without a doubt, every student should be taught how to effectively analyse a question, as well as taking into account the maximum mark awarded for it. For example, a 4 mark question dictates a more concise answer, compared to one that is worth 30 marks. However, this doesn’t mean that shorter questions and answers should be dismissed, as these four mark questions can make the difference between getting one grade higher or lower.

Although, constructing a long answer under exam pressure and a battle towards time can mean students neglect important points and instead provide long, rambling answers.

Teach them to use an acronym as a scaffold for longer answers. In this case, using the acronym ‘PETAL’ is a newly adapted learning source that was introduced when the 9 – 1 GCSE grading systems was put into place:

Point – Start the paragraph with a point.

Evidence – Make sure to back up your answer with quotes, dates, statistics etc. to strengthen the answer.

Terminology – Include keywords and other phrases that emphasise your understanding.

Analysis – Explain how a point is proven and link it with your knowledge.

Link – Refer back to the original question.

Again, the best way of getting to know PETAL and any other revision based acronym is to use it. But rather than writing whole answers, use it to plan an answer and check it against examiner comments on past papers.

4. Practice General Questions

As we have mentioned above, the questions with fewer marks are just as important as the long-answer questions, but in many circumstances, many people may associate answers that need less structure, can seem easy, but examiners from a variety of qualifications boards point out that for some students, they lose marks with poor responses to 2, 4 or event 10 mark questions.

Even general questions require succinct answers, so make sure that you practice this with ‘elevator pitches’, verbal responses to questions and deliver concisely without omitting detail. This is a great ‘against the clock’ game for the end of your lessons.

5. Discover Deeper Exploration Of The Material

For English language and literature students, there is no denying that the more comfortable and familiar they are with certain texts, the better their knowledge will be in the exam.

Reading one key piece of text is NOT enough, it needs to be read and annotated for some time ahead of the exam. Likewise, you should consider using film adaptations or play screenings to help bring the words on the page alive for your students. Even audiobooks can help in a great way, and in some cases, you may even find ones that include a discussion and debate around key areas of the text.

Without a doubt, many, if not all students fear exams. It is a strange environment for first-time students, which provides pressure that can sometimes even affect their capabilities, so help them with effective preparation, not just in terms of subject knowledge, but exam technique too.