After, in some cases, more than 12 months of online, remote study, international students have sat ‘in-person’ public exams this summer. For many, these are the first public exams they will have taken, recognising most students who sat A-level and IB exams this summer will have had their GCSE results confirmed via teacher assessed grades in summer 2020.

How have schools prepared their pupils for not only the exams themselves but for the exam hall experience?

Cory Lowde, Headmaster of Box Hill School , uses a joke to get across his key message: “A tourist asks a New Yorker; how do I get to Carnegie Hall? The New Yorker answers ‘practice, practice, practice.’

“Just because exams have not taken place in a physical space for two years, we have tried really hard to replicate exam conditions whenever and wherever possible,” he adds.

“It isn’t possible to overstate how important this is for all our pupils, but for those pupils with special needs where change is difficult to deal with, getting into exam routines as early as possible prior to exams taking place has made a huge difference and definitely impacted on our results this summer which are ahead of our expectations.”

Pat Moores, Director of UK Education Guide.
Cardiff Sixth Form College announced its best-ever A-level results in August with 94 per cent of students achieving at least three triple A grades, 64 per cent at least three A* grades and a stunning 43 per cent achieving four A* grades or more.

Gareth Collier , Principal of Cardiff Sixth Form College, which is part of the Dukes Education group, has his own clear view on how the college has achieved this level of success: “communication, communication, communication; weekly communication with parents during the pandemic, coupled with our award-winning pastoral care management system CREATE and clear communication about grade boundaries to pupils throughout their courses have all been critical in terms of achieving the success we have seen this summer,” says Gareth.

He also adds that the College found the best way to help pupils focus on their studies was to remove as much anxiety as possible: “Some of the greatest anxieties our pupils faced related to what was going to happen during the school holidays, as many couldn’t return home. Our approach, including not having easter holidays, half-term breaks or exeat closures helped relieve anxiety that would certainly have affected their focus,” he adds.

So, exam practice, enhanced communication to both parents and pupils, coupled with focused pastoral care, have all played their part in helping schools to prepare students for in-person exams, but sometimes additional support is needed to help get pupils up to the levels they need to be, post pandemic.

At Taunton School International close monitoring of individual student progress highlighted the need for specific additional interventions to be put in place:

“Our tutors put on extra academic mentoring sessions which gave students the necessary one-to-one in-person care and attention they lacked during lockdown. Additionally, we offered subject clinics for any students who needed extra help in certain subject areas and tutor group sessions focusing on improving study skills and revision techniques,” says Head of Taunton School International, Camilla Bryden.

But what about the sheer enormity of sitting in an exam room with scores of other students for potentially three+ hours when you are used to sitting at a desk in a bedroom accessing practice exams via Teams?

“Obviously, this year’s A-level students will have never taken public exams before, so since we have got students back on site, we have worked incredibly hard to increase the number of social activities to simply get students used to being around lots of people again,” says Anna Matthews-Stroud , Director, Kings Colleges .

“We are only just starting to properly unpack the profound social as well as academic impact on these students, particularly international students, who have been separated from classmates for many months, in some cases. Looking at the social aspect of learning and preparing for the exam hall again is crucially important, not just for exam success, but for general wellbeing,” she adds.

One thing school leaders agree on is that the interventions that have been necessary to specifically help this year’s cohort of students will need to continue.

Camilla Bryden summarises the views of several school leaders we spoke to: “We will need to offer additional academic mentoring sessions for future years too. Many students have suffered as a direct result of not being in school and have experienced inconsistent learning and methods of being taught during the pandemic.”

This ongoing support will also need to extend across enhanced pastoral care and ‘socialisation’ of pupils if future years of students affected by the pandemic are to reach their academic and personal potential.

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The full article was published by Study Travel Magazine here.