‘Mock exams aren’t a fair way to decide grades’

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Mia Cleal-Bramley

If the government call mock results a safety net, in some cases they are deluding themselves.

I’m Mia, I’m 18, and I’m waiting on my A-level results.

The Department for Education has announced a last-minute “triple lock” – saying our final results will be no lower than our mock exams.

My mock results were far lower than I need for university, and whilst not being entirely bad, they’re not the grades I need.

The decision to tweak the methodology of results day at the 11th hour could be seen by some students as panic, or certainly poor planning from the government, and potentially puts more stress on the shoulders of some students in an already anxious year group.

So what do I think is wrong with mocks?

A practice run or exam conditions?

Some schools don’t give you a grade for mocks, but feedback for you to focus on instead. Others do them at different times, they use old papers, or teachers set the questions themselves. It isn’t fair because it isn’t standardised.

One of my teachers used it as a practice run and gave us plenty of advice and hints on what to revise, as well as timings we needed to follow. Another teacher gave us no hints in regards to possible questions, and pretended it was the final exam so we would be more prepared.

In other words, one took it seriously, the other was far more laid back.

It’s not a standardised process even within the school, let alone the country as a whole.

Some teachers use mocks as a way to see where students need support, and often use the feedback as lesson plans for the lead up to exams, focusing on problems shared by the whole class. So it’s fair to assume we’re expected to get things wrong, at least to some degree.

This expectation of some errors, or more than would be expected in the final exam, could mean that mocks are not reflective of the highest ability of a student.

Marking harshly or with leniency?

One teacher told me they had their “head in their hands” over the government’s change of plan.

“The mock exam means many different things to many different people,” they said. “Even within our college, from department to department they’re treated differently.”

“In one department, which is under scrutiny from college management due to recent results”, the teacher said, “they took the decision to inflate their grades for political reasons.”

Meanwhile, another department was “harsh”. They said it “used the final mock to ensure that the kids buck their ideas up, and give them that bit of extra incentive for them to put the work in.”

This shows how different teachers approach mocks – some mark with the benefit of the doubt, others mark very harshly. In the final exam, I feel like there is not the same spectrum of leniency.

“It’s just going to cause so much trouble,” the teacher said. “I know that a lot of them will genuinely believe they have been hard done by, and for some of them, rightly so.”

People being forgotten

Within my class there were those who barely revised and preferred to use it as an opportunity to find out what they needed to work on, and others who stayed up until 2am to cram all the knowledge in to get the best mark they could.

People react differently to mocks than to final exams – I think there is an understanding that if you mess up your mocks, then you can fix whatever needs to be fixed by the final exam.

And some students also don’t necessarily try as hard for mocks as they do for the real thing. One student who admitted he hadn’t tried his best also explained how the system affects people with learning difficulties.

“When it actually comes to the real thing you focus more,” he said. “Leading up to the real exam you put more effort in. During a mock exam you don’t do those things.

“I have dyslexia. They did an assessment with me and gave me 25% extra time in my exams.

“During the mock exams I wasn’t given that extra time, just because the class wasn’t long enough.”

Again, it varies from school to school – my sixth form allows for extra time, and takes students off timetable so they can sit the mock with the time that they would have in the “real thing”.

So what should we do?

I would have preferred to stick to the predictions given by teachers. The teachers know the students best, they understand their potential growth and work ethic, and this can all be factored into their predictions.

It would perhaps be a fairer system on which to calculate someone’s future.

Using mocks as a backup glosses over a lot of issues that come with them, and a student’s performance in those mocks should not be indicative of their final academic ability for the course of two years.

The way that a student treats their mocks varies spectacularly from individual to individual, which makes it difficult to moderate, and make “fair”.

Whilst we know that moderation is clearly critical to ensure that schools aren’t inflating grades without a true foundation, it is important not to conflate moderation with delusions of safety or reassurance.

One way of looking at it is to look at exams as a concert – the orchestra would not perform a rehearsal instead of their opening night as it does not reflect the ability of the musicians in the best possible light.

In the same way, using mocks would be to partially disregard the predictions of teachers, who factor them into predicted grades, and allows for growth, application, and some extra revision.

Mia was talking to Tom Gerken and Andree Massiah.

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