The day commenced with an introduction from our esteemed Head Teacher, Mr Hurl, who talked about how we had reached an important mile-stone in the academic year. Apart from a small number of Year 10 students in attendance, everyone in the hall was going to be sitting public exams in the near future. Mr Hurl spoke about the recent parents’ evenings and the high expectations of the families for our students’ success. He emphasized that the day’s activities were designed to help students have a structured approach to prepare for their examinations and that the college wanted to support this important time by organising two sessions on examination techniques and skills.

The first session called, ‘Ace Your Exams’, ran by Elevate, who ran a successful and well-received session on our previous activity day, was designed to help students understand the twelve steps to exam success. The students were given a booklet to complete during the session. The first task was to discuss the six biggest mistakes students make when preparing for their exams. This was followed by talking about the key to exam success: identifying a time-scale to maximise revision time leading up to the day of each exam. Ross, the presenter, discussed the value of going through past papers and identifying where marks have been lost and the reason that the answer was not attempted properly – there was an emphasis on not being worried about approaching teachers for advice. The session then went on to how to prepare an exam planner and the importance of knowing exactly which date and time the exam is. Ross then gave useful tips on exam-time management to ensure that each exam is completed in the allotted time including answering all the questions. He also talked about developing a routine on the day of the examinations to reduce stress levels. Luminosity and Elevate – brain training apps – were recommended and then the students were led through a series of breathing exercises to help control their emotions. The students were all extremely focused and asked questions about their own particular concerns. Ross guided the students towards the Elevate website where more help could be found.

The second session entitled, ‘Memory & Mnemonics,’ began by discussing both behaviour and physiological processes that maximise retention and the recall of academic content and how the multi-store memory model of repeated practice enables knowledge and understanding to become secure in the brain and retrieved during examinations. The content then moved onto students appreciating how the environment in which they study can influence how efficiently they can study and also how to remove distractions. Ross then talked about the factors that enable or disable the state of active learning. These factors included the mobile phones, social media and television; particularly the theme tunes of popular programmes can act as a negative trigger, disturbing concentration. The conversation then talked about how music can be both a positive and negative factor in efficient studying. The session then moved onto the topic of encoding information based on different types of learning styles. Ross then taught the students how to use mnemonics to remember sequences of information and then described the process of semantic learning, linking non-associated words to produce an emotional response to facilitate memory. The activity was very enthusiastically approached with a lot of student interaction and participation. A focus on retrieval skills was discussed and different techniques of uploading information such as verbal questioning, mind-maps and group learning were explained. The session finished with a memory ‘journey’ and students were asked to identify three strategies that they would implement for their exam preparation.

The third sessions was led by Tim Griffiths, Regent Independent College’s Economics teacher, who presented a fascinating interactive presentation entitled, ‘You, the General Election and the Great British Parliament.’ The session started with students completing an individual audit of their knowledge and understanding of the democratic system of the United Kingdom. Tim then used the results of the audit to fill in gaps in students’ knowledge. The session continued with a brief explanation of the main political parties and showed how to find out who their MP was and the name of the constituency where they lived. The talk then explained how often and reasons why a General Election may be called. Tim then explained that there are 650 seats in the House of Commons and how many constituents there are. He then explained the ‘first passed the post’ system to elect an MP. The discussion then moved on to explaining about the differences between the Houses of Parliament and House of Lords. The next topic was about which people are and are not eligible to vote. Tim then went on to discuss the composition of the current number of seats held by each party in the current government and explained what a coalition was. The talk then moved on to explain the titles and roles of ministers in the government, the role of the whips, what a green and white paper were, what a Black Rod was and how the Prime Minister is elected.

The final session of the day was led by Elaine Kerr, career adviser from CfBT, who talked about employability skills, the skills students need to help find employment and ways to develop those skills. The students were split into pairs to work on and explore issues around communication and interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, using initiatives and being self-motivated, how to work under pressure and meet deadlines, organisational skills, team working and the ability to learn and adapt. The second part of the session talked about the importance of developing numeracy skills, valuing diversity and difference in the workplace and negotiations skills. All-in-all, it was a fascinating day though we all left very tired. We look forward to our next activity day in the 2015/16 academic year!

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