Parents Guide to GCSEs 2021: Practical Tips to Help Kids Get the Grades

How do you get the best GCSE results you can during Covid-19?

If your child was expecting to be sitting GCSEs in 2021 the chances are they and you have been been feeling quite stressed since the announcement that GCSEs will not go ahead “as normal” in 2021.

Empty exam hall for GCSES 2021

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

The uncertainty around how GCSEs will be graded has certainly caused some worry in our house as our daughter prepares to achieve exam grades based on something completely different to what she was expecting. And the lack of clarity over what exams will look like in the summer of 2021 has left year 11 students and their parents wondering how to maximise their chances of good grades in GCSEs, whatever format they may take.

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How to help your child revise for GCSEs

This week’s episode of the Teenage Kicks podcast addresses those worries. Teachers Emily and Paul Hughes recognised that parents were struggling to know how to help a child revise, and came up with their website Parent Guide to GCSE. Their resources aim to answer common questions parents have about their children’s secondary school homework and offer revision advice for parents to support their teenagers.

Emily and Paul have 33 years of teaching experience behind them, as Head of Maths, and 6th Form Tutor and lead UCAS tutor respectively, so they’re well-placed to advise families on maximising their chances of good GCSE grades despite the pandemic. They gave me 6 great tips for year 11 students to get the grades they deserve despite the uncertainty of Covid-19:

Practical revision tips for GCSEs during Covid-19

In the podcast Emily and Paul answer the question of how to pass your GCSEs in straightforward terms, starting with this piece of advice:

“The most important thing you can do right now is impress your teachers.”

  1. Impress your teachers. Now that externally marked GCSE exams are cancelled it makes sense more than ever to show your teachers what you’re capable of. We know that there is likely to be some type of formal testing for GCSEs in 2021, but as yet we don’t know how it will be graded. What we do know is that the initial marking of any GCSE tests will be done by teachers. It’s also quite likely that coursework and ad-hoc testing may be taken into account as part of a student’s grades. So making sure your teachers know what you’re capable of makes sense.
  2. Be proactive. This means doing more than you need to. Complete all the work set by your teachers, but do as much as you can on top of this to give your teacher the evidence they need to award you the grades you deserve. You could show your teacher your revision cards, or write practice essays that demonstrate your wider knowledge. Submit these for feedback, or ask if your teacher might be willing to mark an extra essay. It all helps to give a teacher a fuller idea of your ability when they are allocating your grade.
  3. Use past papers. Testing yourself is one of the most effective ways of cementing your knowledge, and completing past papers – even if you get lots wrong – helps you figure out what you need to spend more time on. Marking schemes are available online, and you can ask your teachers to mark essay subjects for you.
  4. Approach every test as if it’s a final exam. Although there is still some uncertainty over how GCSE grades will be awarded, it’s probably wise to assume every end of module test will count towards your grade. If you do your best it will help raise your grade; if it doesn’t end up being part of the final result, at least you will have done some great revision for the final tests.
  5. Make a revision plan. A good revision plan doesn’t need colour and glitter! It only needs to take 10 minutes to make one – the most important thing is that you stick to it!
  6. Make your revision effective. Paul and Emily talk a lot about working smarter, not harder. With good revision techniques and no procrastination a 5 minute revision session can be more effective than a longer time spent re-reading notes.In fact, looking over notes is one of the least effective ways to move information into your long term memory. Instead, Emily and Paul suggest using Kahoot or Quizlet to set yourself short tests that can be repeated more frequently.Another revision hack they love is Mind-Mapping. Create a mind map of your subject, then turn it over and try to recreate it. Each time you do this you’re creating another link for the brain to access that information more easily the next time.

Listen to the podcast:

You can find the episode in your usual podcast app, or if you prefer, you can listen online below, or through the podcast page.

Teachers explain how to get good GCSE results even during Covid-19

You can find more from Emily and Paul on their website Parent Guide to GCSE, where you can download their free revision planner, or subscribe for their full service and receive weekly tips on supporting your child through their GCSEs. Or you can access the same information in Emily’s book GCSE Survival Guide for Parents.

You can also join the Parent Guide to GCSES community on Facebook, where Emily explains all the latest updates from the government in straightforward terms so that parents and teens can cut through the jargon to find what really matters to them.

When should you start revising for GCSEs?

The answer is right now! Whatever year you’re in you need to take every end of module test as seriously as if it counted towards your final GCSE result. Coronavirus has shown us that nothing is certain, and teachers may well need to contribute to your GCSE assessment in some form every year.

If nothing else, doing the revision for tests means you’ll be in a much better place when the real things come round. Once you start actual GCSE modules (usually in year 10) the need to revise content for every test becomes even more important, as this will form the basis of your learning for the actual exams if and when they happen.

How much revision should teens be doing for GCSEs in 2021?

As much as possible! But don’t let it wear you down. Teenagers need to mix short bursts of effective revision with breaks for exercise and relaxation. The most important thing is to make a sensible revision plan and stick to it, with regular short breaks for fresh air, downtime and a change of scenery.

How can I get my child to revise without feeling like I’m nagging?

Firstly, avoid telling your teenager what you think they should be doing. Instead, ask questions about their subjects, and how they’re feeling about their revision. Make time to eat together or go for a walk, and let them use the time to run through all the things they’ve learned. It will help them figure out where the gaps are in their knowledge.

Subscribe to Parent Guide to GCSE for more of these tips from Emily and Paul.

How important are GCSEs?

GCSEs are an important part of your education because they allow you to progress to the next stage of your studies. All schools and colleges require at least a Maths and English GCSE pass for you to be able to access A-Levels and further study. Schools also require certain GCSE grades in the subjects you plan to study at A-Level.

What happens if you fail your GCSEs?

“If I fail my GCSEs is my life over?” is a question I see lots of teens asking and the answer is absolutely no. The options open to you are appeals or resits. If neither of these are an option for you, don’t panic. There are plenty of jobs that don’t require GCSEs. Retail, the emergency services and the military are all areas where you can work your way up without formal qualifications.

In 2021 there will be an appeals process, although at the time of writing (January 2021) that is still to be decided. Appeals will be probably be made to examining bodies via schools in the first instance – Emily will have more information on this in the Parent Guide to GCSEs Facebook group.

It is possible to resit exams that are needed for progression to the next stage of your education. English and Maths are usually required for college courses, and most subjects have resit dates in the Autumn. Check with your school or examining body.

Do GCSEs matter after A-Levels?

GCSEs seem to become less important the further away you get from them. At 54 I can honestly say I haven’t been asked the results of any of my GCSEs (or O-levels as they were when I sat them) since my University interviews. However Universities do take GCSEs into consideration when making offers, and they’re likely to count towards Apprenticeships too.

If you’re following a career path based on your A-level subjects your GCSE results shouldn’t matter too much once you have your A-level grades. But employers might want to see a good Maths and English GCSE result if those weren’t your A-level choices.

You can retake GCSEs at any age, so if you find you need certain subjects later in your career, you will be able to retake GCSEs in college.


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