Quality V Quantity – HSC Exam practise

In preparing students for the HSC Examinations, their ability to write quality responses is crucial. Students can have an excellent understanding of the content but if they misread a question or are not able to address all aspects of a question clearly then this will impact on their results.

Most teachers therefore spend considerable time on HSC practise questions and my approach is to work on quality rather than quantity, particularly in the early stages of preparation.

Focusing on quality for me means that we can spend a whole lesson on a 3-5 mark question in breaking down the question, developing a response, marking / critiquing this response and then reattempting. Students will always be involved in marking these and providing feedback for each other before I collect these and mark them myself. Students will be expected to generate a top mark response before we move on.

This process of peer marking also involves a lot of scaffolding and specific instruction. We mark as a class and go step by step through what we are looking for. Eg: If a question asked students to evaluate then they would need to highlight or underline where they had made a judgement. If they cannot do this then it becomes clear they have not answered to question appropriately and addressed the key term. I find it useful to have a prepared answer to help with the marking process that we can all mark together and show key features of a response that we are looking for, particularly when students first begin marking responses.

After students have marked these I then look at these and can see which students have not only answered the questions well but provided good feedback for others showing they have a good understanding of the marking process (and more importantly those who have not understood and need further assistance). Students can just put their name at the bottom of a response to indicate they provided feedback for the response.

I will always start with relatively simple questions to build students understanding of structure before moving to more difficult questions. I also try to avoid setting students too many questions initially as this can effect the effort they put into the responses and also mean that I cannot provide the feedback required to improve the responses. If the responses are not up to scratch then they generally require a lot of feedback to improve and if this is not provided then students can be reinforcing bad habits and wasting their time and mine.

Once students have developed good technique and knowledge of what is required in a quality answer I find their responses require less feedback and it is more manageable to have them complete more practise questions. It is only at this stage that students would be encouraged to complete a higher quantity of responses.

As we get about 8-10 weeks out from the trials we are having an Exam practise lesson once a fortnight where we complete the peer marking and detailed analysis of questions and students are then given a few questions due the following week for homework.

While this may be seen by some as teaching to the test it is a reality of the system we work in and a responsibility of teachers to best prepare our students for these tests. Whether we like the HSC or not (I don’t so much) we have a responsibility to our students to help them prepare and I think that Exam practise is crucial in helping students achieve what they are capable of in the HSC.

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2 Responses

  1. Leaving the “teaching to the test” argument aside (because it is an unfortunate byproduct of the HSC system) I liked your approach for three reasons – student involvement in the process; constant feedback and focused, task specific routines. Maybe consider this approach in everything you do, right from the start of Stage 6, instead of a focussed effort in Year 12? That would certainly transform the thinking of the students IMHO

    • Hey Jonesy – thanks for the comment. We do work on our writing technique from the beginning of Yr 11 but not as intensively as we are now. We cover the basics in Year 11 like PEEL and working with marking criteria’s but don’t spend as much time on it then. I think this could be an area to explore. I find the students are very receptive to HSC exam technique now as we get much closer but it makes a lot of sense to develop this much earlier. We went through a similar process before our Half Yearly Exams also.
      Our school does not have a big focus on exams in 7-10 but at my wife’s school they have moved this writing practise right back into the Juniors – Particularly Yr 9 & 10. Being able to write well is important skill and many students coming into Yr 11 struggle with this. Because the HSC Exam has such a huge influence on overall results we are obliged to do everything we can to help students do well. Finding the right balance is important for Exam practise and I am keen to keep exploring and seeing the impact the different approaches have.
      Hope all is well!

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