- What are mock exams?
- Why are mock exams important?
- How can you support your child through mock exams?
For plenty of students around the UK, there are two words that have become scarier than the real thing itself: mock exams. With mocks often approaching as early as mid-way through their GCSE or A-Level courses, students can feel overwhelmed and underprepared. We’re here to talk about what they are and why they are such an imperative part of exam preparation.
What are mock exams?
Many students dread mock exams more than the real thing: too early, too much pressure and they feel too underprepared! But mocks are a very important preparatory tool for national exams like GCSEs and A-Levels.
These national exams are incredibly challenging and competitive, and require a huge amount of careful preparation. As well as being knowledgeable and interested in a subject, students have to prepare themselves to be exam ready.
- Knowing the exact requirements of each exam paper
- Understanding what every question is asking them to do
- Being skilled in answering each question and meeting the needs of the mark scheme in their responses
- Doing multiple of practice papers and tests, having them marked and then filling in gaps and errors with the support of a teacher or tutor
- Timing themselves carefully to be ready for the pressure of the day itself
What are mock exams? Mock exams are essentially where students mimic the real exam as closely as possible. Schools usually create an exam timetable and set a date and time for each subject, lay out papers on desks in exactly the same way, stick to timings and won’t let students use notes or books.
It’s all about the dress rehearsal!
In the case of GCSEs which are a two-year qualification taken over Year 10 and 11 in UK schools, mocks can be as early as the end of Year 10 in June or July, halfway through the course, and if not during the Autumn term of Year 11 in November. Lots of schools also choose to create a second set of mocks in the Spring term, just before Summer exams so that every exam and paper has been formally practiced in exam conditions at least once.
For A-Levels, students’ mocks might be as early as Spring in their first year of the course in Year 12, and definitely some formal practice exams by the end of the year before Year 13 mocks which have become the big decider of predicted grades for university UCAS entry. The content is much more challenging and can take longer to get to grips with, so the sooner students know the areas that they need to work on, the better.
Schools will often prepare by scheduling mocks early enough to find knowledge gaps and assess students’ predicted grades (which also supports applications to Further Education colleges and universities). The sooner they can get through a set of mocks, the more beneficial the long-term gain for every student because mocks allow students to see what grade they could expect in the final exam.
So you can see why mocks fill students with dread!
Why are mock exams important?
There are so many reasons why mock exams are such an important time to prepare for the real thing. Not only do they allow students to practise key questions and test their knowledge; they also encourage them to complete the exam under the same time conditions as on the day itself.
Ultimately, mocks build confidence in a way that ordinary revision can’t, and we know this is vital for long term progress and exam success. We’re going to break down the main reasons why mock exams are so key.
- Have the right mindset
Instead of seeing an exam as a potentially challenging event or as some sort of judgement on their ability, it would be great if we could help all students to see their mock exams as a vital way of improving their knowledge and memory.
Exam performance strategy is just as important as knowing all the key facts, ideas, dates and essay strategies that their subjects require. Just like an athlete would practise for a big race, students need to put themselves through as many mock exams as possible to reduce their ‘flight’ fear response on exam day.
- Encourage structured revision
Mock exams are the perfect time to make a structured revision timetable for the first time. Committing to this necessary groundwork well ahead of the real exam is another form of disciplined practice, so by the time that they’ll need to make their final revision timetable, they’ll know exactly what they need to do.
- Spot errors and knowledge gaps
Mock exams should give students a strong sense of where they really stand, and if that means they are pretty far behind, they can work with a teacher or tutor to make a new study plan.
Lots of teachers will agree that doing badly in mocks is almost just as beneficial for students as doing well. Whilst getting those key target grades early can feel brilliant for self-esteem, it can also lead to complacency and false confidence.
They may have been revising in the wrong way, or not doing enough practice questions, and it’s really important that they know this sooner rather than later.
We know it can be difficult to consistently remind your child to revise and work hard, so mock exams are a reality check for many students to put into real terms how their learning strategies are faring.
- Be exam prepared
As adults even we know that everything is less scary and worrying when you’ve done it once. A long train-route? A busy airport? That terrifying gym class? After your first time, it can feel a breeze.
Mock exams give students the chance to become familiar with the process of answering an exam paper and that sense of familiarity can really help to remove a student’s fear when faced with the real thing.
Don’t forget that we have so much excellent exam support content at GoStudent, like plenty of advice on how to prepare well.
- There are so many ways to prepare for an exam, so taking the time to understand the best way your child revises can hold the key to successful results when they come around in August.
- Cope with the pressure
Picture this: students queuing to get into the exam hall, clutching water bottles and see-through pencil cases, ready to find their seat (labelled with their candidate number) and get ready to sit for long stretches of time. It can be a nightmare!
Probably the most vital aspect of mocks is their ability to build students' confidence and ensure that they can cope with the pressure a little bit better. By going through mocks, students know what to expect and what it actually feels like to do the exam in timed conditions.
Then, for the real thing they have a little more confidence about what it will feel like, as well as their target areas they need to work on. The exam process needs to feel really familiar so they can focus on what’s important - that all-important problem-solving and knowledge recall.
How can you support your child through mock exams?
Remember that your child’s school or tutor are key in preparing them to be mock-ready. But at home, you can continue to encourage a positive and healthy narrative around mocks by outlining these three reasons that they are key to their success:
- ‘Mocks are an opportunity to show off what you’ve learnt, remember that you haven’t revised everything yet, so you can use these mocks to highlight the key areas that you need to work on next.’
- ‘The real exam might be quite scary, so treating mocks as seriously as the real thing is a chance to get your brain and body used to the rigour and stress of a real exam, including all of the important timings.’
- ‘Your mock exams will allow your teachers and school to carefully estimate your predicted grades, which will indicate what you might achieve in your final exams and support your college or university applications.’
There are lots of other ways you can be a strong support during this time, such as by having a copy of their knowledge organisers for each subject, the mock exam and revision timetable so you know where they’ll be and when, and by asking some key, quick recall questions for each subject.
You could even help them to memorise and learn these in car rides, over breakfast or in the evenings. Remember a healthy body and mind = a confident mindset for an exam. So prioritise healthy meals, lots of water and fresh air during mock exam season.
What about the handling of results-day nerves? Let them approach you with their results, to give them time to process them properly first.
Our ultimate guidance is to support your child in coming out of mock exams feeling really positive. Remember to ask them how each exam went, and aid them through any really difficult moments (remember, it’s a practice!) so that they approach the next set, or the real thing, with a fresh mindset.
You can facilitate even further by finding the right tutor to fill knowledge gaps, foster exam support and build confidence.
Book a free trial lesson to match with exactly the right tutor to help your child through this mocks season and their final exams.