19 March 2017

Papers Society

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.
Later in the year, I was teaching a Year 11 class who were worrying me. Many were working at a grade C or B when they were more than capable of grade As. I took numerous approaches to fixing this - one of which was to impress on them the importance of exam practice. I knew that it would be a challenge to get them to do lots of exam papers - it just wasn't in the school's culture in the way it had been at my previous school. I invited them to come back after school and do papers with me once a week. A group of four students took me up on my offer and came every week for a few months. Those four boys ended up smashing their GCSE exams... Perhaps the papers they'd done with me had made a difference, or at least the work ethic I'd helped develop.

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing Jo. I too was caught out after changing schools last summer and have had to try a different approach this year. If it doesn't work, I'll probably try the biscuits and papers route next year!

    1. Thanks for the comment! It's funny how school culture has a big impact on these things.

  2. Absolutely. ...our Y11's do a past paper a week from beginning Feb. A member of SLT comes around every week and talks to those that don't hand one in. We are a 'bog standard comprehensive' it makes a huge difference to our results....it's about culture and work ethic and expectation...(might nick your club name...much cooler than maths revision sessions! !!) Good luck and thanks for the fab blog.

    1. It's great you have that support. It's all about work ethic.

      I don't want my lot to hand their papers in - too much marking!

  3. Do you not have year 11 revision sessions as a department? We each have a group of students every Thursday who are underperforming and have to attend, or they get a detention. I don't like it (neither do they!). I like helping kids who want to come and do extra!

    1. We do have that, yes. Intervention for underperformers. This is a separate thing, for anyone who wants to come.

  4. Great idea....I'm calling it a workshop as they won't 'get' society!!!