When I worked at a girls' grammar school, I took it for granted that my students would do loads of past papers in the months leading up to their GCSE and A level exams. They didn't need much encouragement, they just got on with it. At A level they'd often end up doing every single past exam paper so I'd have to hunt for extra resources. I thought this was normal.
Two years ago I moved to a boys' comprehensive school. Last year I taught a Year 13 boy who had achieved a grade E at AS level. One day we sat down and talked about what he could have done differently in Year 12. I asked him how many papers he'd done in the lead up to his AS exams. "None", he replied - totally straight-faced. I almost fell off my chair. "None?! No, seriously - C1 papers for example - did you do many?". "No. I didn't do any papers at all," he replied, with a smirk... He ended up with a U at A2. My first ever U at A2, and hopefully my last.
I've approached this a bit differently with my current Year 11 class, in the hope that it will have a bigger impact.
In January I had a Year 11 Parents Evening. During Parents Evening I spoke to every student and their parents about the importance of doing lots of exam practice. I told them that they are competing for top grades against students who would had already done dozens of papers by that point in the year. I told them about the four students I taught last year who exceeded expectations because they'd done papers with me after school. It got their attention. I then handed them my leaflet:
The plan was simple: I'd be available after school every Monday from February half term until their summer exams. I'd have biscuits. I'd have papers. It would not be a lesson or an 'intervention'. It would be optional. Papers with friends, simple as that. I'd just be there to provide help if and when they needed it.
The parents' reaction was fantastic. Most immediately said to their son "Right, you're definitely going to that". The best bit is, the students agreed. "This way, I get to do regular maths revision, and I don't have to make myself do it at home. Because I know I won't do it there".
One mum even enthusiastically said to her son "There'll be biscuits! You love biscuits. It's worth going just for that"!
I'm pleased to say I now have 21 students who come to my Papers Society every week. They come along to my classroom after school, grab a paper and work through it for an hour while they eat biscuits (well, they hoover the biscuits up in the first five minutes... it only costs £1.40 a week and genuinely seems to entice them to attend!). It's quite relaxed - some listen to music, some chat with friends while they work.
I'm so relieved that my students are now doing exam papers regularly. I'm mainly using Linked Pair papers because we have loads already printed out from previous years. The weekly practice my students are doing after school is in addition to the Churchill Papers that they took home to do over half term and in the Easter holidays.
I have detailed plans for helping my Year 11s prepare for their exams in maths lessons after Easter, and I expect that the amount of independent practice they do at home will increase as the exam gets closer. My Papers Society is just part of a bigger picture. But it seems to be a very successful initiative for increasing the amount of exam preparation my students are doing from earlier in the year, so I thought I'd share it here in case other teachers want to try the same thing. In schools where Year 11s already have a great work ethic, this sort of thing probably isn't necessary. But if you think your students could be doing more, this idea might work for you.
If only I had more days in the week when I was free after school, I'd run something similar for my A level classes too.