Our take on Mock Exams

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Sue Laidlaw offers advice on using mock exams wisely and carefully.

Read Sue’s latest published article in School Report Summer Term 2019 edition:

At home, we always laugh fondly at the memory of our (now very grown up 26 year old doctor) daughter, at the age of five, learning how to skip and practising over and over (and over) again until she could really do it. It took all week-end and, every so often, there were cries of “Daddy, come and count now!”. Eventually, Daddy gave up counting as it got to 223, 224, 225……

We encourage our children to keep practising and encourage them that “practise makes perfect”- and rightly so. Often, years of nagging about piano/saxophone/learning tables/French verbs etc., finally pay off- perhaps not perfect but getting there.

However, I am getting more and more perplexed by the culture of constant mock exam practise, advertised so widely during recent years. I have even seen yellow AA signs showing directions for weekly mock exams. Is this really best practise for 10 year olds or is this a worthwhile commercial venture for the ever-growing and lucrative tuition industry? It certainly has all the makings of a product which is easy to sell to vulnerable and concerned parents.

Here at Laidlaw Education, we are proud to have been at the forefront of offering mock exam practise to 11+ candidates over 25 years ago. At the time, this was cutting edge but it also seemed to be a time when there was generally a more balanced and calmer approach to Senior School entrance exams. The key, both then and, in our opinion, now, is that children do not need and indeed, should not, be taking mock exams on a weekly or even monthly basis. We take a great deal of time and care over the mock exams that we offer for children for 7+ up to 11+ but, crucially, we limit these opportunities to just a few mocks per child. For example, the first of our carefully timed 11+ mock exams takes place in May, towards the end of Year 5. This is pitched to give children a realistic exam experience in order to assuage any fears and also to give parents valuable insight into which schools might be academically appropriate, well before any school registration deadlines. Commercially, we could optimise our excellent reputation for these mock exams by rolling them out much more regularly. However, as long-standing educators and professionals, we don’t; the child’s wellbeing and progress is central to our ethos.

Simply put, practise does not make perfect when it comes to mock exams, past papers and constant mock interviews.

Rather like playing a tennis match without putting time in to the training or singing in many concerts without breaking down the piece and learning it phrase by phrase, participating on endless mock exams without breaking down the key skills is a waste of time and takes the spirit out of learning and the true sense of education.

So parents, having seen how much education has become big business over the past quarter century, resist, have confidence in the support you are giving your child and use the mock exams available wisely and carefully. Don’t saturate your child – he might just drown in mock-exams….

For details of our series of mock exams (carefully timed) please click here

To find out more about our holiday courses, mock exams and private tuition, go here

Harriet Hoult