With the recent changes to GCSEs and A-levels, coursework and controlled assessment now has little or no effect on final examination grades.

Exams are shifting back to the older format of more essay-type questions and fewer multiple choice or shorter questions.

Now that coursework no longer contributes to final grades, students can only achieve good grades by successfully completing their exams, and mock exams can help define how they progress towards their real exams.

Why take mock exams?

Why should students care about their mock exams? After all, there are no certificates awarded for mock exams, and they just add to the stress of living up to expectations and working under pressure.

Mock exams are not just about grades. Students can use this opportunity to learn how to:

  • create a revision schedule and practice effective revision strategies
  • manage any nervousness or stress brought on by sitting exams
  • behave in the examination hall
  • complete exams within a limited time frame and under exam conditions
  • discover where they have strengths or weaknesses in different subjects
  • see examples of the questions they will be asked in the real exams
  • follow up with their teachers to discuss their results

Whilst the results are important, the process of learning about taking exams and how they might perform under exam conditions can be just as important.

If a student takes their mock exams seriously and puts in the effort and revision that they would for a real exam, then their mocks can be a fairly accurate test of their abilities and knowledge.

The practice of learning and revising for exams helps with knowledge retention and, in a study of memory tests, it was shown that revising and taking practice test generally improved the final outcomes of the real exams.

…..prior testing produced substantially greater retention than studying, even though repeated studying increased students’ confidence in their ability to remember the material. Testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it.

Do the results matter?

Yes and no.

Yes, mock exam results are important because they can imbue or drain confidence. They show gaps in knowledge and understanding, and practice is essential for students to understand the entire examination process.

Learning how to revise for exams can only happen when students are engaged with their mocks. If they are dismissive of these practice papers, they will learn little from the process.

Of course, this is, in itself, an indicator of how seriously a student considers good exam grades to be important to them in their future life.

The opposite side of the argument is that no, mock exam results are not important because they are just practice exams.

No-one will fail their real exams because of failing a mock exam. And even if they are not successful when taking their mocks, assessment and analysis after their mocks can be the best way of understanding what they need to do to gain good grades in their real exams.

Every unanswered or incorrectly answered question is an opportunity to learn.

The student is the key

In all of this discussion, the obvious answer is that it depends on the student.

If they are focused on their revision and taking their mocks, and then apply what they have learned to their real exams, the chances are that their mock exam results will be an excellent indicator of future grades.

A lack of engagement with their mock exams will, however, not be very helpful in predicting the outcome of their real exams. Unless, of course, that same attitude is applied to future exams.

In general, mock exams can be a good indicator of real exam results, and are much more important now that coursework is no longer counted towards final grades.

But it’s important to note that there is a lot of learning and revising to do between their mocks and sitting real exams. Success or failure in mock exams is no guarantee that the same outcomes will be achieved in the future.