Merrier Mocks:
Achieve progress and balance over the holidays

Christmas Magdalen College Oxford

The festive season presents a challenge to students who need to revise for mocks over the Christmas break. In a normal year, having to study in between celebrations may dampen their spirits. This year, given the disruptions to learning caused by COVID, and with Centre Assessed Grades having been issued last August, Christmas revision may seem more daunting, as students imagine mocks factoring more heavily into final results.

In good news for education, the government has pledged that GCSE and A-Level examinations will ‘absolutely’ go ahead in 2021. This prospect can give students some assurance, as they embark upon holiday revision, that mocks are not the be-all and end-all, but the valuable practice exercise they are meant to be. Readjusting that perception is crucial, as it can help students make the most of their mocks, by demonstrating what teachers really need to see: progress.

The meaningful metric of progress

Mocks are developmental assessments; they are not final exams. Contrary to the common view that they predict final results, the purpose of mocks is to give students an exam experience. By December, students are not yet halfway through their exam year, so in fact teachers don’t expect them to be performing at the level they will come June. Rather what teachers hope to see is students demonstrating their strengthening knowledge and skill sets.

Students can demonstrate progress on their mocks with these efforts over the holidays:

  • Focusing specifically on the topics the mocks will cover

  • Reviewing mark schemes and assessment objectives for the tasks at hand

  • Developing checklists for methods to be applied, and expectations to be met

  • Revising and applying targets from recent assessments

  • Engaging with practice questions under timed conditions

Where students can show teachers they are working to improve incrementally, this tracks them on an upward trajectory towards their final exams. On that learning curve is where they need to be – not at the end of it. Mastery is gained progressively, and this mindset can help relieve some of the pressure students feel in applying themselves over the holidays.

A healthy balance

As the current crisis has refocused our attention on health, it is worthwhile aiming for students to have a healthier revision experience – one that prioritises their wellbeing by balancing their work with the need to rest and revive their minds with holiday cheer.

A beneficial method students can apply is time blocking: building revision blocks as well as relaxation and celebration blocks into their holiday schedule. The moments students have to spend time with their families should feel earned and unfettered by the unpleasant feeling of procrastination. If work times are honoured, rest times will feel lighter and more restorative.

Within a revision time block, students can break hours down into shorter periods of more intense focus. The Pomodoro Technique offers a useful method for time management: 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a short break of 5 minutes. If distractions – such as mobile phones and the Internet – are eliminated for those short times, one hour can achieve 50 minutes of deeper work, in two manageable intervals.

Revision now goes a long way

A final note for students: Good revision for mocks is revision for final exams. These holidays present an opportunity to do the kind of work that will serve in the months ahead. In that way, holiday revision can be satisfying and give them a merrier mindset.

— Katie Musgrave (