Mock Exams - How to use them to your child's advantage

Mock exams may not affect the final GCSE grade, but they can determine whether your child makes it into the best sixth-form colleges. As well as that, mock exams are a golden opportunity to gain some experience and identify building points. Allow us to explain… 


What is a mock exam? 

Mock exams are an opportunity. We want you to remember that as you read on… But what actually are mock exams? In simplest terms, mock exams are practice GCSE tests which you do to help prepare for the real thing. 

To be clear… mock exams are not part of the final GCSE grade. They are internally set and marked. And the result does not determine – or contribute towards – a student’s final GCSE mark. 

A school will set a mock exam for two main reasons: 

  • to help children experience the examination process 
  • to identify areas of weakness in a child’s learning which they need to improve

Not all schools will do mock exams (although, most will), and not all schools will use the same exam papers. In the ‘real’ GCSE exams, students all over the UK will be answering the same questions as everyone else who is using the same exam board. 

Mock exams are usually past papers. A past paper refers to the actual GCSE exam script that was used in previous years. Most past papers from the main exam boards are available online for free, including in core subjects like maths and English!

But… the exam paper from the most recent year is normally not made public. That is because the exam boards hold them back so that schools get the chance to keep them secret for the mock exams. This means that students are less likely to see the exam script before taking the mock exam. 

To make things easier for you, we’ve created a series of links to the past paper sections of the main exam boards: 😇

Not all schools use the most recent past paper. If the school has multiple mock exams, they have to use different papers (some of which may be public). In some cases, the schools create their own exam papers – they usually use official past papers though as these are guaranteed to be as close as possible to the real thing. 

Schools will typically have mock exams for children in KS4 (year 10 and year 11). It’s normal for the school to have multiple mock exams over the KS4 years. That means there may be several in year 10 and several in year 11. In the mock exams, students will have to follow some very strict GCSE exam conditions. We’ll outline these in a bit… 

Why are mock exams important? 

As we’ve already hinted, the opportunities that come from mock exams are phenomenally important. 

  • Firstly, they help children learn the formal conditions under which exams are taken. 
  • Secondly, they give children an opportunity to identify learning areas that they can strengthen. 💪
  • Thirdly, they can determine which place of further education your child can go to! 

1️⃣ On the first point… 

Exam conditions are tough. There is a lot of stress and formality which can result in exam anxiety. Many children don’t appreciate how strict exam conditions are until they sit through their mock exam. While many children have taken tests in a classroom, most haven’t sat in an exam hall with hundreds of peers and had to listen to a clock ticking away whilst some unfortunate person three rows back is distractingly sniffling away. 🕜 Mock exams are one of the ways that schools help students prepare

For many people, the experience of a mock exam helps them realise just how important GCSEs are. So if your child is the kind who doesn’t take things all that seriously, perhaps this will be the wake-up call that they need – the reality check that gets them into gear. 

Whether out of worry or naivety, many students don’t take the mock exams as seriously as they should. In cases where children do this, it is so incredibly important that they have support from home. Ultimately, you know your child best. Maybe they need a bit of pressure and nagging, or maybe they need some love and reassurance. We can’t emphasise what a difference family support can give to kids in what is, for them, the most stressful thing many of them have ever had to do. 

2️⃣ On the second point… 

The mocks are usually done with enough time to improve on any gaps in learning. The mock exams won’t be marked by an external examiner. They will be marked by the class teacher who will likely be pouring their heart and soul into giving as much feedback as they can. 

We can not emphasise enough how important it is to learn as much as possible from this feedback. Odds are your child’s teacher knows exactly what your child needs to do to get those extra marks. 

Remember, if you’re not sure what your child’s progress targets are, or what they need to do to improve, talk to their teacher. The more you know, the more you can support your child. From topic knowledge to exam answering methods, exam practice is incredibly important in both year 10 and year 11. 

It is also helpful to pass progress targets on to the child’s tutor. The tutor can potentially use the teacher’s feedback to adapt the way they support your child with their exam practice – this can be from the topics they teach or the exam methods they need to develop. 

3️⃣ On the third point… 

Your child’s mock exam may be a determining factor in their predicted grade. And their predicted grade might be what scores them that spot at a top sixth-form college. 🧑‍🎓

Many sixth-form colleges have specific entry requirements which have to be met in order to get a place. But how can they know whether someone is a good candidate or not? They look at their predicted grades. And what are predicted grades based on? You guessed it: the mock exams! 

This means that if a child is potentially a grade 6 student, and let’s say they get a grade 4, then they won’t be predicted much higher than a 5. Many top sixth-form colleges won’t accept a student with lower than a 6 in subjects that want to study. And many require a grade 5 in maths and English language (even if you don’t want to study those subjects). 

Finally, mock exams are important because they can be motivational - but this can work both ways. Some students might find that they performed better than they had hoped, and this gives them a sense of confidence. Some, perhaps, get a lower grade than they wanted. This can also be used to motivate them to work harder. 

So the message here is clear: the mocks matter! Whether it is by identifying areas for development or motivating students to work harder, mocks are an important step for children who are looking to achieve their top potential. 

What can you expect in mock exams?

People are often surprised by how strict mock exam conditions are. Most children are used to taking tests in class, but they have not fully experienced the level of strictness of a formal mock exam. 

Most of the rules in a mock exam are to prevent cheating. And the rules can be strict! To help you and your child understand what to expect, we’ve put together a list of GCSE exam conditions which are likely to be enforced during a mock examination… 

  • There will be a seating plan in the exam hall and everyone must be sat at the correct desk
  • Everyone must be in correct uniform (if a child is not in uniform, they may not be allowed to sit the exam) 
  • Everyone must have a clear pencil case - this means that it has to be see-through. This is to prevent people from cheating by hiding notes in their pencil cases. 
  • Only clear water bottles will be allowed – no labels or stickers! 
  • No bags are allowed in the exam hall. 
  • Any type of wristwatch is strictly prohibited – even if it is not a digital or smartwatch. 
  • Mobile phones are absolutely forbidden. If a student is found with a mobile phone, the school will give them zero marks for that exam paper. In some cases, if the phone is on, the exam board may fail them for the entire subject – not just the paper. 📱
  • Students will need to fill in a form with their candidate number and school number – these will be given to all of the kids by the school. 
  • If there are any signs that a child may be cheating, they will be removed from the exam and automatically failed. This includes looking at someone else’s exam paper, trying to hide notes anywhere (whether on paper, or anywhere on their body). It’s a big no! 🚫

If you have a child with special educational needs and you are not sure how your school will accommodate those needs with the strict exam conditions, email their school in advance so that you can ensure that they take all reasonable precautions to accommodate your child. Good parent-teacher communication is key to helping your child succeed. 

These are some of the practical things to expect from the mock GCSE exams. Not all schools follow all the rules for the mocks. But they all do for the real thing. 

The final thing to expect is a bit of exam anxiety. 😱 These mock exams, even though they aren’t the real thing, can be really scary. As well as having the stress of revising for the exams and actually doing them, there is also the stress of waiting for results

How can your child best prepare?

The best way to help your child prepare is to give them as much support as possible with their revision. From flash cards to revision apps there is a lot out there to help. 📚 Obviously, the best way to do this is with a professional tutor who, as well as being a specialist in the subject, will know how to teach exam best practice. 

Using past papers as a revision tool is a great way to prepare for the mock exams. Some of the exam board websites can be a bit tricky to navigate, but if you help your child find the appropriate past papers, such as directly on the exam board's website, they can practise them at home. Many people find it useful to do this under timed conditions. 

As well as past papers, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the mark schemes for your specific exam boards. 

Remember, nothing is as effective as working alongside a dedicated online tutor!

How to use them to your child's advantage

Get as much feedback from the teacher. Different teachers have different feedback methods. Some are general for the class whilst others are individual – all feedback is relevant. 

If your child is struggling with the mocks, help them come up with strategies to cope with the stress, you can also help them identify the revision strategies which work best for them! 

We here at GoStudent would like to wish you the very best for the mock exams! Remember, if you ever need some help, we have a range of brilliant tutors. All you need to do is book your free trial!