Understanding Your GCSE Results


So you’ve just received your GCSE results and you don’t understand what all the numbers mean?  I get many parents calling me on results day trying to get their head around their child’s GCSE results.  The grades are easy enough to understand, after all, a C grade is a C grade, and that’s all that matters right?don't understand GCSE results slip

But what if you didn’t get that grade and want to know exactly how far off you were?  Because if you were only 2 marks away from a C grade, it might be worth getting the paper re-marked.  Or if you want to re-sit the exam in November, you’ve got a better chance of passing if you close to a C grade.

Most schools in Luton follow the AQA examination board in English, so I will use AQA as an example to explain how you can find out grade boundaries.

UMS POINTS Versus Real Marks

Grade boundaries are the marks needed to achieve a particular grade.  For example in the GCSE English Language Foundation paper, there are a maximum 80 marks.  If a student gets 56 out of 80, then that’s a grade C.  Grade boundaries based on raw marks differ depending on whether the student has done a foundation or higher paper.

If you want to see an example grade boundaries based on raw marks, see this document.  The English grade boundaries are on page 8.

However, on your results slip, you will NOT get raw scores.  You will get UMS points.  So when looking for grade boundaries based on the numbers on your results slip look for UMS points grade boundaries.  “The Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) is a way of turning the raw marks achieved in a unit in a particular sitting into a mark that can be used to compare with those achieved in other series.”

Grade boundaries based  on UMS scores are published when exam results are out.  However, these documents are usually a collection of the grade boundaries of 100’s of exams.  Rather than searching these documents page by page, make sure that you know your course code.  Open the document, press CTRL F and type in the course code, for example “4707” and it will take you to the results you are looking for.

The UMS grade boundaries for AQA are here.  So it’s that simple.  One of my students got a UMS score of 104 in one of his English exams (4 points away from a C grade), so he will be re-sitting the exam in November.  He doesn’t want to take another year to get his GCSE, especially when he was so close.

If you need to get some help for your GCSE’s, just give us a call. 01582 402225

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How To Revise 2 – Do Some Mock Exams


Right about now, students studying for their GCSE’s should be revising. One thing they should not leave until the last minute is going over past papers and sitting  mock exams to test their knowledge. Here is a blog I wrote a while back explaining the best way to do this.

Kip McGrath Luton Tutor's Blog

There are many aspects to creating good study habits, and the first of these I have already mentioned in a previous post which is to get organised.  Creating a timetable can save many precious hours as we come to exams.

Another component of revision is going through past papers.  In fact this should be included in your revision plan.  Giving yourself mock tests can highlight how you work under pressure and it will show you the gaps in your learning.  Going over your revision notes many times is a pointless exercise if you haven’t  tested your knowledge .

When you are ready to do a mock exam (at least three weeks before the exam), make sure that you do it under exam conditions and that you keep to the time limit.  You may have gone through exam papers in class already, so choose an exam that you know you have not…

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Student Alert: Why You Probably Won’t Get The Grades You Hoped For.


I get a lot of comments from frustrated GCSE students who just don’t know how to revise effectively and get the grades. Despite trying their best to study and swatting up for exams, they keep failing. Some do well in class, know all the answers but flop in exams. Others will spend hours making colourful notes, drawing mind maps, reading books, and trying all sorts of revision strategies and still end with a fail. So what’s going wrong? Are they just not cut out to be A* students?

I don’t have a magic formula to help students pass their exams but I can draw on my past experiences when helping students revise to come up with some winning strategies. There are 4 types of problems:

1. When You Get Good Marks in Class Tests But Not in Real Exams

A class test is usually taken in the classroom and it is usually with the class teacher present. This makes it easier for students to relax because they are not faced with something unfamiliar. The class test is often not taken as seriously because “it doesn’t count” and so again helps the student to be more relaxed.
Another reason is that class tests are taken straight after a topic is finished whereas exams are on topics which might have been done months ago. For example, if your child is taking AS exams, then they might have to revise all the work they’ve done since January or even September. For GCSE students, they will be tested on topics they’ve covered since the beginning of year 10. For KS2 SATs students, they will be expected to know everything they’ve done in year 6.
To get over exam nerves , students need to get used to working under timed conditions and under pressure. Practicing past papers at home with a stop clock ticking away can help a child get accustomed to it. Getting used to the idea that it is normal to be nervous for exams, and learning strategies to cope with such feelings can also be beneficial. I have taught students who have well-used revision guides and text books, but haven’t seen a single exam paper. They haven’t had mock tests, and they haven’t timed themselves to see if they finish on time. So you must:

  • get used to working under pressure

  • practice tests at home under timed and un-timed conditions

  • compare your test results to see if you really are performing as well as you can in exam conditions

2. You Don’t have Enough Time To Learn It All

There’s no point in revising topics you know already. Find out what your weaknesses are and which skills you need to brush up on. You can ask your teacher if you don’t know. Then choose one topic you need to improve on and find exam questions on that topic. For example if you need to improve your vocabulary, then you need to read more and work out the meaning of unfamiliar words in the context of a passage of text. If you are a level 3 because you don’t know how to read tables and graphs, then find questions on data handling.

Exam papers are written so that the easy questions come first. For a higher GCSE maths paper, the C grade questions come first, for KS2 SATs, the level 3 questions come first and for English reading papers, the easy comprehension questions come first. Save time by finding out what level/grade you are working at. If you are already a C grade and need to get a B, then just skip the C grade questions. If you want to get a level 5 in your SATs then start at the back of the level 3-5 paper to practice harder questions.

3. You Spend Too Much Time making Notes/Mind Maps/Revision Cards

I encourage all of my students to have a good bank of resources to help them revise. For some students, this could be a set of colourful index linked revision cards, for others it might be mind maps and for some may even be their school text-book with highlighted text. In fact it’s essential when it comes to revision.

But some students take this as the “be all and end all” to revision, just because they’ve spent hours writing these beautiful colourful notes. Revision resources have to be used once they have been created. Aim to have all resources ready at least 4 weeks before the exams. There are many ways to use revision resources. You can:

  • read them

  • edit them

  • re-write them

  • shorten them

  • add questions to them

  • pin them up in your bedroom

  • use them when revising with a friend

4. You Don’t Know How To Revise

Read my other blogs on revision techniques:

How To Revise 1-create a timetable

How To Revise 2 – do some mock exams

How To Revise 3-read with a purpose

How To Revise 4- understand the wording

So You Didn’t get a “C” in English and Maths GCSE….


Exam results are out this week, and I’m hoping the 40 or so students I helped this year have achieved the grades they aimed for. I get a lot of calls from panicking parents and students who don’t know what to do when they fail their GCSE English and Maths exams.  It’s not the end of the world.  Here’s a guide to what you should do next if you get a “D” grade or below.

you didn't get a Grade

Most people think of a fail as NOT getting a grade “C” because this is the minimum grade expected of students if they want to go into further education.  In fact, getting that all important “C” in English and Maths is so important that universities can refuse to give you a place even if you’ve got A* s in all your other subjects.

So a lot of students have to re-take their GCSEs.  I have taught students taking their GCSE’s for the first time and those who are re-taking.  Students re-taking their exams face the following problems:

  • Students often have fewer lessons when retaking because they are at college and often have a busy timetable dedicating more time to the new subjects.

  • They are either over-confident and get complacent.  They think they will pass because they’ve done it all before. They have all their other subjects’ work to do as well and tend concentrate on those.

  • They can get too negative and start thinking that they will never pass.  Some get a mental block and continue to fail….

  • Students are very rusty – the last time they did maths or English was at least 3 months ago.

  • Students quite often GET THE SAME GRADE again!

To avoid all of the above, retake the exams as soon as possible and be prepared to do more work!

GCSE ENGLISH RE-SIT

If you do not achieve a “C” grade pass in English language, then you can re-sit the exam in January 2013.  The exam is on 10th January 2013.

As a general guideline, if you got a “D” overall then you can re-sit in January.  Anything lower than that means that you have to repeat the whole year and retake the exam in June next year.  You can re-submit your controlled assessments and speaking and listening assignments from year 11 if they are good.

If you want to re-sit in January then you’d better get your skates on!  I’ve calculated that there are only 18  teaching weeks left.  First you will have re-learn all of the course, then make sure that you know what you need to do to get a “C” grade and finally get in plenty of exam practice.  If you do mock tests and past papers, then these should be marked and graded so that you know where you are going wrong.  You can either mark them yourself or get them marked by a teacher.  If you are re-sitting in June next year then you have more time, but you also have more work to do.

GCSE MATHS RE-SIT

The GCSE Maths re-sits are in November.  There are 2 papers, paper 1 is on 6th November 2012, and paper 2 is on 8th November 2012.  The results will be published in January 2013. There are only 11 teaching weeks left, so don’t waste any time.

It is important that all the main exam topics are covered several times before the exam, but if you are short of time, then prioritise the topics you need to know to pass the exam.  A good way of doing this is by doing a mock test and looking at the results to see what you know and don’t know.  Then work on what you can’t do.

Don’t just revise ‘favourite’ topics – this won’t be enough, something must be changed this time around.

As with GCSE English, get in plenty of exam practice and get used to working under timed conditions.  Always mark the papers or get them marked and monitor how you are improving.

My blog article on understanding your examination results slip will help you to work out how close you were to a C grade.

Nobody wants to retake exams, but if you do find yourself in this situation,  let us help you pass.   Book a free assessment and we will show you the way.

Early Entry GCSE Maths and Pass Rates


Schools used to pick the brightest pupils in the year and allow them to take their GCSE maths exam early. This was called early entry and the pass rate was very good. These students could then take on an additional maths GCSE like statistics. Nowadays, the majority of pupils are sitting early entry GCSE maths whether they have a good chance of passing or not.

This article by the BBC and this paper by the department for education summarise the consequences of this practice. But I want to tell you my story….

Last week, all the students who sat their GCSE Maths in November 2010, got their results. Last week, I had many calls from panicking parents whose year 11’s failed to get that grade C. These now have to re-take their exam in March or in May this year. They will have to revise everything again but this time they will have other subjects to revise as well so the pressure will be much greater.

Having assessed these students, I’ve come to 2 conclusions:

  1. that they should never have been entered for the exam in November in the first place. I assessed a student who got a “U” (ungraded) in the higher paper suggesting that at best he was a low “D” grade at the time of the exam and that he could have done worse because of exam day nerves. The grades possible in the higher paper are “A*” to “D”. If a student gets lower than the pass mark for a “D” then they fail.

  2. that the students have already forgotten some of the maths they studied for the exam. In the majority of cases, the students who told me they got a “D” in the exam for example, got an “E” in my assessment. The student who got a “C” in the exam got a “D” in my assessment.

These students are cramming for exams and are being taught to pass exams and not to learn skills which can be applied to real life or in further education. A good friend of mine who teaches A level Maths at College says that the students who pass the early entry exam, struggle with A level Maths because they have forgotten everything they learnt by the time they start college. He has to spend the first 2 weeks of the A level course going through basic maths skills to make sure that the children are able to cope with A level standard work. I teach A level Chemistry which needs a good foundation in maths. I find that I have to teach skills like being able to work out ratios, re-arranging an algebraic formula and using a calculator. And the same goes for english skills, like comprehension and being able to answer a question so that it makes sense.

It’s an old argument and one that will always exist as long as exams exist. Students take pride in getting their GCSE’s early and they pride themselves in getting more GCSE’s. Schools have a reputation to keep, and league to tables to worry about. Many teachers view pass rates as a reflection of their own teaching. We all have our own agenda. I just wish that parents didn’t have to get dragged into all this!