Making The Most Of Mocks

By Bhamika Bhudia

While mock exam season is both a work-heavy and stressful time of year for students and teachers alike, it is a fundamental opportunity for students to practise sitting exams, and for teachers and leaders to assess where their students are, diagnose gaps and misconceptions and use these to best prepare students for the real thing.

However, with so much pressure to turn around lengthy exam papers and with some departments marking two or even three subjects’ worth, it can be difficult to ensure that marking is consistent and accurate. Not doing so can paint a skewed picture of what’s to come on results day for you and your students and it also removes useful opportunities to troubleshoot and intervene where necessary.

Here are some strategies to help streamline your mock standardisation process:

Standardisation materials

Standardisation is so important for even the most seasoned markers, (more so for the exams where answers are more subjective) but it’s not always practical to standardise everything just before marking ensues. Trying to do so all at once can be time-heavy and informational overload for teachers at what is already a pinch point in terms of workload. This means that standardisation opportunities for exam questions need to be spread out in the run-up to exams and before. While this does take some forward planning, it can be easily implemented.

It’s logical to assess and provide opportunities to practise the same style of questions that will appear in the mocks beforehand and generally speaking, students are assessed regularly so dividing the questions/papers throughout the year and just before mocks whether that be in meetings or at teachers’ convenience, means that this process can be completed across the board and teachers are provided with standardisation materials that they can use to cross-check their own marking when the mocks do arrive.

Take advantage of the training available to you

CPD opportunities are vital for all staff and there is an abundance of them available. Most exam boards provide online training courses on how to apply their mark schemes and what better place to hear it from than the source? It is easy to take it for granted that everyone understands the ins and outs of the mark schemes – if it were that simple there wouldn’t be so much training for examiners or it wouldn’t be such useful CPD. What’s more, the courses tend to be free and easily accessible and once again, provide materials that can be used in the future.

Removing unconscious bias

The phrase ‘unconscious bias’ has made its rounds in the teaching community and rightfully so. As teachers, we are all susceptible to having expectations of certain students and this can show in our marking. Real exams are marked by complete strangers even removing names to avoid this but practically speaking, marking mocks is a very good way for teachers to understand their classes and what their future teaching needs to entail and focus on. A very simple solution to minimise unconscious bias as well as ensure teachers are still given the opportunities to reflect on/plan their future teaching is to have students write only their exam numbers and teacher names on their papers. Of course, there are going to be those students with recognisable handwriting and those that write their names regardless, but it still helps and it forces focus on the quality of the response without thinking of students in terms of their predicted grades or prior expectations.

Seeded moderation

Accuracy and consistency cannot just be assumed; moderation of marking is vital. Traditionally moderation is done after all the responses are marked and samples are selected per teacher to check for accuracy and look for patterns where this may not be the case. The problem with this, however, is that identifying this isn’t particularly helpful to teachers after all of the responses are marked and people are likely to switch off from the marking mindset once the mammoth task has been completed. This makes actioning discrepancies in marking all the more difficult especially when there can often be tight turnarounds between marking and reporting, thereby corrupting the accuracy of the data and misrepresenting the progress of individual students, whole classes and even subjects.

Exam boards moderate responses as they go where one in every ten responses is quality-checked; adopting this seeded approach can be a much more efficient and informative method. Adapting this to a departmental moderation system involves allocating members of the department who have responsibilities, or if appropriate without exam classes, as moderators for particular questions.

Each teacher is required to have one out of ten responses per question moderated, whether this be the first, one in the middle or the tenth is completely up to the teacher. Moderating as you go ensures that patterns are picked up and can be addressed during marking as opposed to a summative report at the end.

This makes it easier for a few reasons: firstly if a teacher has been identified as being too generous for example, they are aware of this before it is too late and can adapt the rest of their marking with this in mind. Secondly, it is far easier to check and amend ten responses of one question than be expected to amend each question from a stack of exam papers from a list of notes. It also opens up a discussion on why the marks are justified or changed and models the use of standardisation materials to crosscheck and ascertain marks during the process.

It is very easy to quickly check over a response with the teacher right there so they can continue marking and it encourages a culture where teachers are discussing and sharing marking where they are unsure without any stigma of being inefficient or being afraid to ask for guidance. A simple spreadsheet can track patterns and help ensure everyone has been seen and flexibility between the moderators on which questions they are looking at depending on who can be found at the time, makes the whole process that much quicker.

In addition to this, because more than one response per question is moderated during the process, it shows where the moderation has been actioned: logging the responses can show where patterns have been broken. It is also far quicker for the department leaders to check during the marking process while they too are in the mindset of marking instead of as a bulk job at the end.

Reflection and feedback

Mocks are supposed to be a learning process for teachers as much as the students and unless we reflect on the results, this can’t be maximised. Encourage staff to discuss strengths and weaknesses – where did students perform well, what were common misconceptions and did these differ between classes. This provides diagnostics for each class where the necessary focal points can be ascertained and skills built on, but it can also build on the strengths of the department. If a member has shown to have successful responses to a particular question, they can share that approach with their peers and likewise, teachers are able to ask questions and seek support on areas they are unsure of.

Finally, it is impossible to mark each question and provide detailed feedback meaningfully both in terms of teacher time and student overload. This means feedback needs to be carefully considered. If individual feedback is given where students respond independently, it needs to be for one or two questions. More than that won’t be actionable by the student and can end up an inefficient use of time.

Other approaches which involve whole class feedback that is guided, are whole class feedback sheets on the exam where students are given general areas of guidance with examples or whole class class responses per question. For the latter, the teacher keeps a blank exam paper with them during marking and makes notes of misconceptions, areas of weakness and strategies to push students up the mark scheme. This is then put under the visualiser/on the board and students amend their own responses after guidance and modelling.

Education like many other things is about give and take. The time you give to preparing students for and marking the mocks should be something you can get something out of. It is a massive task but it is also an opportunity to prepare for what is coming and maximise the chances of the students in our classrooms.