- Analyse the exam papers
- Find sources of help
- Commit to doing the work
- Sharpen exam technique
- Review and assess progress
Mock exams are essentially where students mimic the real exam as closely as possible. They are a really important step in exam preparation, where teachers can use this all important data to help fill knowledge gaps and assess students’ progress. So what happens if you fail mocks? If your child’s grades aren’t what you hoped for, don’t worry, we’ll talk you through what to do next.
Failing mocks or not getting the grades they want can make students feel devastated, especially if they put in solid revision time beforehand. However, mock exam results aren't an indicator of their eventual grade if they are willing to learn from what went wrong.
The hard work starts now. It’s time for your child to put in a new study plan, lots of time and dedication and a smart strategy to turn things around.
This is our practical advice from a teacher, so let’s go through the steps.
1. Analyse the exam papers
Failure is a big word. When we fail it can feel like the world is frozen around us, as if we aren’t making any progress or improving. In our formative years like adolescence, it’s all the more important to both experience failure but also to learn how to bounce back from it and try again.
For many students, failing in their mocks might be the first time they’ve ever experienced true failure. Especially after early secondary school success, GCSE mock exams are the first big taste of what a proper, national exam might be like.
The first thing to do is to make a clear game plan, starting with the exam papers themselves. Students will need a copy of the paper that they sat to be able to sift through it by themselves, with their tutor or their teacher. If they aren’t able to take it home, they or you should ask their subject teacher to photocopy it.
This is a key document to be able to find the key gaps in their learning.
Don’t forget, after exams teachers will often give their classes feedback, but not everything they share will apply to each child. They’ll need to ensure that they have even more individual, targeted feedback, as well as a copy of the mark scheme to be able to compare their paper too.
Then, encourage them to go through the paper and identify 3-5 ‘big hitter’ sections or questions that are the easiest and simplest to master first so that no silly marks are lost before moving onto the more challenging parts.
Get them to use textbooks, exercise books and knowledge organisers to re-write perfect answers to these failed questions. Chances are after a first read through, that they’ll notice a lot of avoidable errors!
Having a copy of some model responses which are plentiful in GCSE exam revision guides and freely downloadable on exam board websites like AQA or Edexcel are imperative in showing students exactly what the exam board is looking for.
After following the next tips and after some further, structured preparation time, it’s a very good idea for your child to sit the exact same exam paper again to notice how they’ve improved and give it another go.
2. Find sources of help
After moving on from their failed grade, analysing their exam paper and having another go guided by the right resources, it’s time for your child to consider whether their core knowledge is strong enough, and whether or not this impacted their performance during their mock.
Subject-dependent, it’s time to do a knowledge audit by noting down all key knowledge needed in every subject and section of the exams. Algebraic equations? A list of reasons why a particular period of history was impactful? Learning poetry quotations and methods for English?
Whatever it is, knowing more will ensure your child can do more with it, and for longer by committing it to their long-term memory. Don’t forget to read all our advice on knowledge recall.
There are plentiful resources to be able to fill in knowledge and learning gaps, especially at GCSE which have been tried and tried again. Consider:
- Revision videos
- Exam revision guides
- Free summary websites
- School resources like lesson slides
- Study groups and shared notes
In essence, after mocks it might be time for students to re-learn and re-commit knowledge to memory before getting back into quick revision methods.
Was it learnt properly the first time? Was it truly understood? If the answer is no, answering questions under exam conditions will feel all the more difficult, and impactful revision won’t be as effective.
3. Commit to doing the work
If we’re talking about Autumn mocks for GCSEs and A-Levels, that still leaves around six months till final exams. That can feel like a really long stretch for a young person who feels panicked and underprepared!
It’s important to be SMART. SMART targets are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. This strategy entrails being strict and realistic with your child about the targets they are setting.
Poor targets include those such as ‘get better at Science’ or ‘revise Geography every day’ because they encourage vagueness and failure. Time and time again, we know that this doesn’t work and students feel worse as a result.
Here’s a worked SMART target that would make sense to a GCSE student:
S - I want to better understand the purpose of my modern novel for English Literature to be able to strengthen my AO1 analysis
M - In my next practice paper, I will go from a Level 2 to a Level 4 in my AO1 assessment objective, and my marks will increase by at least five
A - I will achieve this by reading two excellent model examples, asking my tutor or teacher to provide me with feedback on a new essay, and by watching a revision video on my modern novel
R - If I do this now, I can strengthen my text knowledge and then focus on learning quotes later in the year, which is easier and simpler
T - It will take me the next month to get better at this, and then I will redo my English Literature mock essay to note my improvements
This SMART strategy can be replicated for each subject. Then it’s important to stay focused and accountable.
Ask your child to write these down and pin them up somewhere visible, so you can check-in and watch them tick off their targets and goals. Every mark counts!
4. Sharpen exam technique
Blaming the exam boards for having high standards, the exam for being too difficult, or the examiners for being too rigid or your child for being a poor student are quick, easy ways to shift blame during exam season.
Exams are tough, and it’s about getting exam technique right and not just hoping for a lucky, easy question. Unfortunately due to the rigour of Further and Higher Education entry (Sixth Form colleges and Universities), exams are needed by institutions to assess students’ capability for entry.
Neurodiverse children can have an especially difficult time with exams, which is why mocks are all the more important.
They provide a very real practice of what the actual exam will be like. And lots of students can get extenuating circumstances for sitting them, like having extra time, a reader or a separate room.
Exam technique encompasses a whole host of areas to master:
- Short recall in the days leading up to the exam (no cramming!)
- Getting exam timings right
- Writing clearly and neatly to avoid any prejudice
- Physical preparation like proper sleep and healthy, fueling food
- Mental calmness on the day
Was the failure due to small mistakes or something bigger? Has any key, core knowledge been forgotten? Is it to do with recall and memory? This means that revision needs to start much earlier, to be able to commit facts, ideas and knowledge to their long term memory.
Changing the way (the how) as well as what they revise is just as important, and having a multisensory approach to learning can really help. Going from just making revision cards to frequent, short, sharp timed practice questions at regular intervals (marked and with feedback) can be much more fruitful.
Mark schemes are vital. They outline what makes a ‘simple’ and what makes a ‘thoughtful’ response, and sometimes it’s the difference between a few and many more marks! Most exam boards provide plentiful model answers that students ultimately need to recreate.
It’s difficult to work on these focused areas in bigger classes, so intervention is one of the major keys to success. A tutor can be the ideal solution if your child has had disappointing results in their mocks. Crucially, a tutor can give a student 100% of their time in every single lesson.
Have you considered booking one of our free trial lessons to be able to find one of our brilliant and exam-pro tutors for your child? Our tutors can help your child get back on track.
5. Review and assess progress
Post-mock failure is just the start of the marathon. Now’s the time to take control of the situation, make a clear plan, and stick to it!
You’ll be a key person in your child’s learning journey to be able to provide accountability and a positive, helping hand. Work together with your child, their teacher or tutor and their school to approach the next set of exams with a better mindset.
Over the next period of revision, your child will feel moments of real deflation, lack of positivity, an overwhelming sense of the need to procrastinate and wanting to give up. They’ll also want to keep comparing themselves to their peers who might be on a very different trajectory. Don’t let them!
Keep reminding them of their SMART targets, study plan, success so far and the reward afterward, whether it be the great grades, the place at college or university or a gift like a family holiday or break from school.
Now’s the time to take control and change their exam mindset for years to come!