Mocks and the sky falling in, Chicken Licken Syndrome
Sometimes I ask why do we do the mocks? In fact, in recent years I have charted that where I have students in schools which don’t do the mocks, they perform better in the leaving certificate in a few months time. Why? Because they don’t have to recover from what I call “Chicken-Licken-syndrome” where students seem to genuinely feel like the sky is falling in on top of them! The mocks are a test run – you are meant to make mistakes. That’s the whole point of doing them.
Often I refer to this time of the year as “crushing season” because I watch the students who we have built up since September lose complete confidence in their abilities. We have to build them up again from the floor. I really question at this stage if the mocks are a good exercise at all? Surely there must be a better way to have a test run?
Ironically, if you did brilliantly you also need to have a little bit of caution at this stage. I often find the students who do exceptionally well in the mocks take it as a given that this is how the papers will look next June. They may be totally different. Did you just get lucky with the topics or do you really have a good exam strategy?
The biggest mistake that is made at this stage is students and parents alike being convinced the mark you get now is the mark you will get next June. This is not true. The course has not even been completed in many cases. The students don’t know their best topics yet and they have often had little or no exposure to exam papers at this stage.
Students and parents are often bullied into dropping down a level in the subject. This is also a very bad idea at this stage of the year. The higher you learn a subject too for the longest time possible the better you do in June. For example, if you continue in an honours class and then drop down to ordinary level closer the time you are more likely to get at least a B and often an A at Ordinary level. In a world where points matter this is much better than “passing” an ordinary level paper. In fact, with the new grading system, it may still be better to get a lower grade at a higher level. Do the points math and the worst-case scenario before you dropdown. But the higher you aim and the more complex the material you cover, the better you will do with an easier paper if you do decide to play safe in June.
The sky really isn’t falling in and there is loads of time left to fix the mistakes – but it is very hard to show people your mistakes when you are made to feel so bad for making them.
You need to do a proper evaluation of your exam papers. Where did you do well? What went wrong? Did you waste time? Did you read a question wrong and answer a different question than what was asked? Did you miss a whole section? Did you get stuck on one math problem and not move on? Did you not know any quotes? Are you good at the details or the generic writing?
For some students with learning difficulties, the mocks go badly in a more spectacular fashion than most. I myself did very badly in my mocks as do many students with learning difficulties. As the department of education has not granted who will and will not receive accommodations in their exams, very few if any schools allow these students to sit their exams in a similar environment to how they will in June. We are overwhelmed by the exam hall experience. I’ve conducted some research into why some students are hyper-sensitive and how this can be helped. We don’t have a reader and hence we read the questions wrong. It’s common we take the wrong meaning and answer a completely different question to what has been asked. If you are going to use a laptop in the state exams maybe you didn’t get to do this in the mocks? It’s rare I find for students to get the accommodations they need and will have in June at this stage for the mocks.
Some students haven’t got to grasp with the whole course in one “bulk” form. They are struggling to put all the sections together and maybe they haven’t covered their best section yet. There are people who need to see the big picture first.
No one tells you how to sit an exam and for some students they really do need to do a visual map of the answer and the question, this is highly discouraged. Often, it is implied to be a waste of time when it’s not at all. It’s a vital way of thinking for visual students.
There are so many factors as to why students find exams hard. With so much time left to refine the way you work best, the sky is not falling in. It’s time to realise that making mistakes is how we learn best. How we evaluate our mistakes is what will determine how much we learn from them and how much better we will do in the next exam. The one that matters. Put the mocks in context, they are a test run.
Originally Published for Family Friendly HQ in February 2018