Walking Talking Mocks: Not as useful as they seem?

A few weeks back our English department did a series of walking talking mocks (WTM) to a large amount of praise from the students. They worked really well and students gained a lot from seeing the live modelling of essay answers, picking up tips.

I was first introduced to WTMs from my first PiXL meeting. It seemed like a great idea to simulate the exam venue and experience, but to guide the students through the completion of paper.

In years past I have devoted hours of lesson time during the revision period to ensure all students had a WTM for each of the sciences. Now I have decided to not do a pure WTM for the following reasons:

1.The variety of courses and tiers in science makes for a logistical nightmare

English being single tier makes it much more suited to WTM: everyone gets the same question and each student’s ability to structure their answers determines their mark.

2. ‘Exam technique’ is not really transferable

There is a growing body of evidence that generalised skills are not really effective when taught in isolation. Tricot and Sweller’s research here  seems to show that without the subject-specific (declarative) knowledge, generalised skills are poorly applied by students. So practising evaluation questions really only has value if the students know enough science to have things to evaluate. This was not always true for the science GCSE of the past decade, but is the case now.

It seems to work for English because we are looking at a small  range of questions with a particular focus. In this case the modelling shows the ideal answer structure and outlines procedures and processes to interpret the information. A recent blog by Adam Boxer about  mock feedback gives a great summary of the problem with sampling the broad knowledge domain in science. If you then consider how the assessment objectives (AO1: demonstrate, AO2: apply, AO3: analyse)  are spread through an exam, it creates an extra layer of complexity about how the curriculum could possibly be assessed.

For example, the carbon cycle could be assessed by:

  • Recalling the names of various processes (possibly by labelling a diagram),
  • Being given as a context to explain the concept of carbon neutrality,
  • Being described in a extended response question,
  • Explaining the role of micro-organisms in returning carbon to the atmosphere,
  • Being evaluated to identify which areas human have changed the world to increase carbon dioxide levels, using quantitative or qualitative information given in the question.

I fell for this assumption a few years back. We had an issue with students on the 6-mark extended response questions. So I designed a series of WTM focusing on these questions, organised for the hall to be set up with exam desks, cover etc..

When they finished the students reported increased confidence in answering 6-mark questions and I was pleased as punch! I got a big pat on the back from line management and was certain this was the year they would excel at these questions.

Come the summer the answering of 6-mark questions was still poor (surprise!) apart from one question, which coincidentally was on the same topic as one of my examples. So it wasn’t the strategies I used but their specificity to that question and the chance to revise the content that helped.

Yesterday I did prepare for our science WTMs. We will spend one hour focusing on the only aspect of the science curriculum that is essentially devoid of subject-specific content, and no I’m not talking about ecology 🙂

The generic maths requirements!

The maths assessed at GCSE now should be carefully interwoven into the question to make it subject-specific, but it’s not. It is essentially a maths question using some scientific keywords. It fails the donuts test.

gn-gift_guide_variable_cIf you can change the subject-specific key word to ‘donuts’ and still work out the correct answer then it’s not really interwoven. Reducing the fear caused by the unfamiliar situations of these questions is a good reason to invest an hour to demonstrate the link with their maths lessons. I also think it’s time well spent improving students’ ability to describe graphs, plot graphs, draw CURVED lines of best fit, compare data and calculate means, whilst avoiding anomalies, and unlike the rest of the course the content is transferable because the maths skills is a tiny knowledge domain that is just bolted on to the science spec.

Here is a link to a folder of the edited WTM questions and answers (open them in Word). I did higher and foundation tier versions using combined questions, but will use them for triples as well as after all they are essentially generic 🙂

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