Control the controllables – coping with the uncertainty of teacher assessed grades

The last year has been a challenging time for all students and teachers, but in particular the government announcements since January have left many A Level and GCSE students anxious, confused and uncertain. In these situations it’s easy to get swept away in the media frenzy and so I thought I would offer some advice for students (and parents) on how to deal with the uncertainty and emotions around teacher assessed grades.

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Try to be patient

It’s enormously frustrating not knowing what you’re doing from one week to the next. Teachers know this – one of the reasons I love my job is that although it can be exhausting, I usually know when the most exhausting bits are and can plan accordingly. As I’m writing this article on a Monday, I currently have no idea whether on Tuesday I will be carrying on teaching my current A Level students, or revising for mock exams. 

It’s frustrating for everyone, but your school leaders are trying to deal with an enormous amount of variables in a very short space of time. So before you send an email or make a phone call asking what’s going on, take a moment to think about whether it’s really going to be a useful query. Of course you have questions about when and how you will be assessed for your course, but every student in your year has the same questions. If you feel like you’re being kept in the dark, it’s because it takes time to decide on the best arrangements for everyone – sending another email really won’t help! 

Remember to try and keep a sense of perspective too – it may feel like your exams (or lack of) are the most important thing in the world right now, but in a few years time this will all be a distant memory!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Remember that teachers are professionals

There have been some strange comments in the media and online in response to the announcement that teachers will be responsible for deciding GCSE and A Level grades. Some have described the decision as allowing teachers to ‘seize control’ or have ‘absolute power’ – as if this is some prize that they’ve been trying to win for years. Scroll down to the comments section and you’re bound to see the desperate cry ‘but what if the teacher doesn’t like the student?!’.

What if they don’t? Teachers are human beings, and many of us in secondary or Sixth Form environments may deal with 100-200 different students in an academic year. Statistically speaking, we’re not going to have warm and fuzzy feelings about all of them. On the other hand, teachers are professionals who are paid to do a job. They will award the best grade that they have evidence for, regardless of their personal feelings. Doctors don’t always like their patients, but they wouldn’t let that change their mind about a decision that affects their patient’s life.

Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

Focus on what you can control

We’ve all had a tough year – teachers, students and parents alike. Emotions are high and it’s easy to understand why – GCSEs and A Levels feel like a massive deal and many feel like they haven’t had a fair chance to prove themselves. Perhaps you didn’t put as much into your studies as you could have at the start of the course, and don’t think your past tests or assignments reflect your ability. Maybe you had other mitigating circumstances or commitments which made you fall short.

No matter how real your issues were, no matter how good your reasons for attaining less than you could in the past, there is no point in obsessing about it or trying to change past grades. Imagine how overwhelmed teachers would be if everyone in their classes started trying to haggle or reason their way into a better grade for tests or mock exams they’ve already taken – they would have no time to actually do their job of supporting you to do better in future assessments.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is the key difference to the situation last year – there will be more opportunities to demonstrate your abilities. Last year’s GCSE and A Level students entered a strict lockdown at the end of their course, and there were no further opportunities for schools to assess them. This year, you will be able to go back into school for several months. So instead of trying to apportion blame for past performance, focus this time simply on learning and improvement. 

  1. Ask questions. You’re more likely to think of questions when you’re studying on your own – use post it notes or an app to record them so you remember them when you’re in class.
  2. Get organised. Make sure you know what topics will be covered in assessments along with dates, and make a timetable to allow time to go over the material thoroughly.
  3. Don’t wait to feel motivated. The truth is, being motivated is hard right now. Just stick to a (realistic!) study schedule and get on with it – you’ll feel better when you do and your motivation will increase naturally. 
  4. Practise. No matter what sort of assessments you might face, practising past questions under timed conditions – and using the mark schemes to self assess – will always be an effective way of preparing.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Above all else, be kind to yourself and others. Take breaks and remember that we’re all humans, doing the best we can in a difficult situation. Don’t binge on the news or social media – they will just be trying to evoke emotional responses from readers without really putting the facts in perspective. Concentrate on how you can control your own words and actions, and treat your teachers like the allies they are – not enemies! 

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Claire Costello-Kelly

Claire Costello-Kelly

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