How to Help Your Secondary School Child with the English Mid-year Examinations

The mid-year exam period is a stressful time for everyone. They can be an opportunity to find out your child’s strengths and weaknesses, helping them reprioritise the time they devote to their subjects (and the amount of money you spend supporting them!) They can also spur you to start a dialogue with your child’s teachers when requesting specific feedback or action points to work on.

What can you do to help?

Talk to your child

Find out which subjects they find most difficult and those they find easy. Chatting openly like this shows your child that you are interested in them, not just their results, and makes you approachable when and if they have questions.

Give your child responsibility

The most successful students are those who take ownership of their learning. This doesn’t mean leaving your teen to their own devices (we all know where that usually ends: their own devices!) but you can share your adult expertise to identify specific goals, and prioritise what you need to do to achieve them.

Make a study plan

Like with any project, set your goals, identify your priorities and draw up a timeline working backwards from the exam date. Start this well in advance so you have plenty of time, avoiding last minute panic as much as possible. Factor in tuition, revision and don’t forget the very important ‘down time’ – computer games, sports, music, hanging out with friends, these can serve as vital motivators in exam periods. Remember to involve your child in this throughout – after all, it’s their time and without their buy-in it’s not going to work!

Preparing for the English mid-year examination

English language sometimes seems like a subject you can’t revise for, unlike Mathematics or Science. However the one tip that every English teacher gives is to read more. And that’s because the frequency and variety of what students read is what makes the biggest difference to English ability. However, with the many distractions that life offers teenagers, this is easier said than done.

What to read?

You child should read texts on common exam topic areas such as technology, sports, travel, the environment and the elderly. Hit the bookshops and choose a novel, short story collection or non-fiction book exploring these themes. Popular non-fiction reads are Into the Wild about a young man who abandons his comfortable life to discover his true self in the Alaskan wilderness (explores the theme of travel and the environment) and Persepolis, a graphic novel about a girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution in the Iran-Iraq war (explores the theme of conflict). For a cheaper and quicker option, browse international newspapers like The Guardian for articles on these topics.

How to read?

Simply reading through a text is unlikely to make much difference to your child’s English ability. They need to actively engage with what they read by making notes, recording questions about things they don’t understand, summarising the main points and linking the text to things they already know about the topic. These notes can be a useful revision tool for future exams.

Composition: include a range of ideas

When writing expositions, the top grades go to those who include a range of different points as this keeps the essay interesting for the examiner. So, when analysing the question, list out the various related topics. For example, one of the questions from last year’s ‘O’ Level paper asked students to discuss whether they agree that teenagers lead an unhealthy lifestyle. The topics that are relevant to this question are: Technology – how some teens are addicted to smart phones; Sports – the amount of sports teens do; Food – the types of food that teens eat. Following this method you can be sure that you are covering a range of topics and avoiding the cardinal sin of essay writing – repeating yourself!

Composition: Practise writing essay plans

In the time it takes to churn out a full essay you can produce 3 or 4 essay plans on a range of topics, giving you more practice of the vital skill of generating ideas. To encourage your child to keep things short and in note form, give a 50 word limit to these plans. Discuss mind mapping techniques with your child and get them to see what works for them: some people like using charts to organise their ideas, some use pictures and symbols, others use old fashioned spider diagrams. It’s a good idea to help your child try out different approaches to figure out what works for them. One less thing to worry about on the big day!

 

By Robert Playfair

Head, Secondary Courses