Memory plays a central role in exam success at any level. At GCSE, most if not all subjects require some degree of memorisation, whether it be recalling historical dates, English spellings, foreign language vocabulary or maths methods and formulae. When thinking about exam preparation, we are definitely in the realm of long-term memory – there’s only so much you can cram and hold in your head just before walking into the exam hall!
GCSEs have been changing over the last few years and are due to continue changing; trending toward success based largely or entirely on final exam performance. One key change has been the return to linear programmes of assessment, where all examinations are taken at the end of the two year courses. This comes with its own package of pros and cons, but one key drawback from the pupils’ perspective is the need to memorise two years’ content across multiple subjects all in one go, and then to recall as much as possible during what can be quite a jam-packed exam timetable.
We are also seeing coursework and controlled assessment phased out from most subjects; originally an opportunity for pupils to prove their competency in a subject through extended projects, practical or performance-based tasks rather than more intense time-sensitive examinations.
The overall quantity of content covered in some subjects is growing too, meaning the exams themselves have grown in number and duration. For example, GCSE pupils taking their maths exams in 2017 will have a range of new topics to absorb over the two-year course compared to previous cohorts; not to mention a requirement to memorise formulae which in previous years were provided in the front of exam papers.
In English Language and English Literature, there may be some relief with a trend towards ‘unseen texts’, which are more likely to test pupils’ core skills such as comprehension, analysis and ability to compare texts, rather than their capability to recall facts and quotes. However, closed-book examinations in English Literature will still require pupils to retain key features from their study of the following; a Shakespeare play, a 19th-century novel, a modern prose/drama text and a full anthology of up to fifteen poems.
Moreover, the new English assessments place a greater weighting of marks overall on pupils using correct spelling, punctuation and grammar: 5% for English Literature and a quite significant 20% of total marks in English Language. That’s plenty of tricky spellings, grammar and punctuation rules to get stuck into.
Look out for my next blog on tips and strategies for helping pupils memorise everything from their spellings and vocabulary to their times-tables and those vital formulae!