Last Minute Exam Tips from Qualified Tutor Members

April is a tricky time for tutors. Those who support students facing exams find themselves inundated with last minute requests. New students, presented by frazzled parents in a last-ditch attempt to help their child over the line, contact tutors asking for help. Plus, requests for extra sessions from existing students who are hoping that months of effort and investment will have paid off. Qualified Tutor members tell me that they work weekends and longer into the evening to try to accommodate as many of these requests as possible.

But tutors are in a difficult position. We empathise, deeply. We want to help. We want every student to achieve and have a brilliant time doing so. That’s where we get our sense of purpose and fulfilment. But we are not miracle workers. One member in the Qualified Tutor Members’ Whatsapp group said: ‘We’re five weeks before the exam and most of them want a 2 turned into a 4🤦🏻‍♀️. I can’t do that in five hours 😢’ For me, what was most telling was the disappointment this tutor felt. She really wanted to help.

I asked the group what can be done in the final run up to exams to help new and existing students. Maths tutor James Holton said ‘I try to set expectations for parents. If they come with a 2 at this late stage I point out nothing is guaranteed and the student will have to work really hard outside of the classes to achieve what they want. It’s a difficult balance of being positive, setting expectations and being realistic. Sometimes earlier in my journey I used to please people too much but now I’m a bit more ‘Well if this isn’t right for you have a look at other options.’

Sharona Adler Posen, said ‘Getting back to basics, quick wins on things they can do and build on that – being very encouraging, supportive and positive to increase self belief. “Practically” it’s past paper questions. “Spiritually” it’s being super positive and giving them a good feeling. A lot of magic happens when there is care. A new person can inject a lot of self belief. All this in the best case scenario.’

Helen Osmond advised ‘Last minute tips: How to answer the question to get the marks, what clues are in the questions to hint to what needs to be done.’

Claire Torbett agreed ‘The last minute students I’m seeing for maths need a boost in confidence and help structuring their revision plans. I’ve used the internet to break down the curriculum into rough grades and topics so the student struggling to get a 5 isn’t faffing about trying to understand grade 8 content. Oh, and how to use their calculator is a big one!’

Georgina Green shared ‘Mindset is incredibly powerful. If someone can be convinced they’re capable, it massively increases their chances even without changing anything else.’

English tutor Sam Mcormack shared a generous overview of her approach ‘Last minute wins for me are: Lots of praise / confidence boosting – positive mindset is a powerful thing. Using a range of punctuation – I get them to do a bit of writing and grade it (usually low). Then get them to consider a range of punctuation they could insert to lift grade (I tend to work with grade E-C students). Creative writing planning – think of an emoji you want the reader or central character to feel at beginning /middle /end. Then ask – why do they feel this? Who else is with the central character? Where are they? It’s a quick way of getting over the fear of the blank white page when approaching creative writing. Poetry – I get them to write all the possible things we could comment on in unseen poetry question (simile, metaphor, rhyme scheme). So when they say they can’t write anything because they don’t understand the poem they can see a long list of features they ‘could’ write about. ‘Meaning’ is one of many things you can say about a poem but there’s so much more – so they feel they DO have something to write about. These feel a bit silly now I’ve written them down but they do make my students feel a bit better / more confident and less fearful of what they perceive as difficult questions’

Alongside all this positivity and commitment to boost their students’ confidence, there was a sense of frustration from the tutors. Alexia Taylor said ’I’ve turned down eight students in the last month and then existing parents want more – as if I’ve been waiting around for the academic year with loads of free slots!’ Helen Osmond put it succinctly ‘Educate parents that they need to book up earlier! The best tutors fill up fast and early!’

Emma Harper asked ‘This comes down to educating parents of the signs, the language schools use, what to look for in reports, making sure they are aware of mocks and results’. 

Georgina Green added ‘And better relationships between tutors and teachers. So we can collaborate. That’s where parents are going for information about what their child needs.’

There is much work to be done on behalf of students. This April, tutors are doing their best to provide the last minute boost that parents are hoping for. But for next April, Qualified Tutor members would love parents to start earlier, notice the need for tutoring sooner and give them more time to really make the difference. If you’re a parent looking for a Qualified Tutor, search our free members’ directory here If you’re a tutor who wants to join the conversation, find out about becoming a Qualified Tutor member here

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