How To Analyse Exam Results

Analysing Exam Results

So, how did results day go?

I always ask this question with my fingers crossed behind my back. For some teachers and some students, it will have been a day of celebration. For others, it might have been a very different kind of day. Tread carefully!

It’s very easy to take one look at the exam results your students have achieved and let your emotions take control. Many teachers have told me that they immediately look to see who achieved the top grades and also who failed outright. (The middle of the road students being ignored yet again! Aaaarrghh!!) Many of us want to jump for joy when we see our (students) work pay off. However, many teachers also feel deflated and even under pressure to ‘explain themselves’ when they return to school if a student or group of students has not made the progress expected of them.

But now that Results Day has passed, with all of its euphoria, hysteria and emojis, we as teachers need to re-evaluate how we will teach our next cohort of students. This is probably the most important part of my planning for the following year, more important than individual lesson plans, or even marking assessments. Without knowing how to analyse exam results deeply and accurately, there can be no clear strategy for the following year.

As I mentioned in my post on Making Better Decisions, a clear strategy is the key to success. Otherwise, the same mistakes will be repeated and ultimately results will decline. For next year’s strategy to work, we need to make sure that we are fully knowledgeable about what is going to improve students’ chances and how we can avoid the triggers that lead to them dropping below their potential. It’s easy to panic when things don’t go as well as planned and you might have a thousand thought flying around your head. Those thoughts need to be organised if they are to create better conditions for learning next year.

How to Analyse Exam Results

Below are my Top Ten Questions for analysing exam results for your classes. You can answer them with the focus on students, teachers, school leadership, resources, attendance, behaviour, whatever is most appropriate. The most important point though, is honesty. Only a truthful examination of the reasons for the results being what they were, will lead you to a better strategy for next year. If you shy away from the true reasons for a dip in results, then you will never put it right. This means analysing your own performance and the performance of those in your team. Sometimes this can lead to difficult conversations (particularly with yourself!), but they are conversations that must happen and they must lead to action, to build upon successes so far and improve the following year.

Answering the Top Ten Questions in as much detail as possible makes it easier to have these conversations with yourself and others, as you will invariably move from ‘blame’ to ‘solution’, a much more positive conversation point.

Top Ten Questions

  1. How close were my predictions for these results?
  2. Which results were surprisingly high? Why might that have been the case?
  3. Which results were surprisingly low? Why might this be the case?
  4. Which surprising results should be investigated further, via recall of scripts or a re-mark?
  5. What steps should I put in place to reduce the probability of low results?
  6. What steps should I put in place to increase the probability of high results?
  7. Did students in my classes perform to a similar level in their other subjects? Why or why not?
  8. How do my results compare to results in similar schools?
  9. How do my results compare to results in schools nationally?
  10. How do my results compare to previous years? (Does a trend emerge over time?)

What next?

Once your analysis is complete, create an action plan to tackle each of the factors that emerged as being influential, both positive and negative. This action plan should include short-term and long-term tactics to raise achievement. Share this action plan with your team and see what else they can bring to the table. Good practice is to see what other departments are doing too. They may have similar positive and negative points that could be better tackled inter-departmentally.

Finally, good luck for the next year!

Knowing how to Analyse exam results is a huge challenge for all of us every year. I’d love to know what questions you ask, or how you tackle underperformance – particularly of pre-identified groups.

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

Marginal Gains to Raise Achievement

apply marginal gains to raise achievement

Marginal Gains: Achieve Olympic Success in the Classroom!

This week’s post on Marginal Gains is a short but highly practical one that you can use with your students. You could use it as a starter task in each of the first lessons with your new classes.

I take my inspiration today from Sir David Brailsford, the man behind the incredible success of the British Cycling team. When he took over Team Sky back in 2009 he set himself the goal of achieving success in the Tour de France within five years. His philosophy, achieving success through marginal gains, was to take every aspect of a cyclist’s life and make a 1% improvement in each of those aspects. This included training methods, nutrition, technology, clothing, etc as you would expect. But he took it even further, looking at things like making sure that the team members had the best possible pillow to sleep on, monitoring how much sleep they got, spending time visualising success and a whole host of other daily habits. He even had the team learn how to ‘properly’ wash their hands, cutting down risks of infection, which could have led to illness and therefore underperformance.

Each of the things that Brailsford tried to improve by 1% would have made a negligible difference on its own. However, when added up over a long period of time, these marginal gains not only led to improved levels of progress on the track but a complete dominance of the sport. Team Sky achieved their Tour de France success within three years, not five. Added to that, British Cycling has amassed a significant number of Olympic medals at London 2012 and now at Rio 2016.

A question to my students at the start of this year:

What can you improve by 1% in order to make a  significant difference to your learning over the next year?

I’ll be getting my students to come up with their own suggestions first and to discuss just how much of a difference they will make to learning, over the course of a year. Then I’ll add in the suggestions below:

  • Go to bed earlier
  • Drink more water
  • Eat less junk food
  • Eat more healthy food
  • Turn screens off for an hour before bed
  • Spend 30 minutes revising each week, even if you don’t have a test coming up
  • Spend 5 minutes at the start of each week organising your workspace
  • Write a to-do list at the start of each week and complete it
  • Spend some time improving your physical fitness
  • Spend 5 minutes organising your files each week
  • Spend 5 minutes speaking to your teacher on how you could improve your next assessment
  • Spend 5 minutes speaking to your parents about what you achieved last week – positive thoughts
  • read a daily motivational quote to help develop resilience in tough situations
  • Read a book for fun to stimulate your imagination
  • Listen to a podcast on a topic related to your subjects
  • Read a broadsheet newspaper
  • Contribute to a forum on the internet related to your subject, e.g. www.thestudentroom.com
  • Keep a weekly or daily journal, related to your learning in school – be honest and periodically read back over previous entries
  • Follow some academically useful Twitter accounts

This task is a nice target setting exercise for the beginning of the year and once completed you can revisit student responses to see how far they have stuck to their plans. Keep the results, or even display them in your classroom!

As usual, contact me with any ideas I’ve missed and let me know of your success stories!

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

Making Better Decisions

Making better Decisions

Making better decisions makes the biggest difference

There are many schools of thought on how we make decisions. Some people seem more rational, others seem more emotional. Some take a short-term view, others take a long-term view. Personally, I think we all do all of these things at different times. The problem though is when we make decisions in the wrong way in high-pressure situations with long-term consequences. There are very few decision points that change our lives. We need to equip our students with the tools to make the ‘right’ decisions under pressure. Here’s a guide on how we can teach our students to practise making better decisions.

How should we make decisions?

I recently read Winners: And How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell, a former political advisor. In Winners, he explores the different ways that people at the top of their game (sport, politics, business, etc) behave, make decisions and form a ‘winning’ mindset, in order to achieve success. His main theory throughout, is that most, if not all of the people he studied were adept at formulating and operating the following three-part system:

  1. Objective
  2. Strategy
  3. Tactics

Set a clear objective

Students are given objectives all the time. They could be learning objectives, punctuality and attendance targets, predicted grades for assessments, obtaining entry to a good university, etc. However, many students don’t know what their targets are. At the risk of sounding like I’m preaching to the choir, sharing these objectives with students is crucial to raising achievement. Having the students write them down and reflect on them is a simple but effective way of cementing the objective in their minds.

For example, if a student wants to attend a good university then they need to write this objective down. They then need to be able to explain why this objective is important to them and what the pros and cons of setting this objective might be. Evaluating the objective helps the student to appreciate more fully why they are seeking to achieve it. Without this discussion, they risk falling into the trap of asking “why am I bothering with this?” when times get tough in pursuit of the objective.

Objective

How do we set the ‘right’ objective?

As usual, it’s a case of practise, practise, practise. Students (and the rest of us!) need reminding, each time we make a crucial decision, that we should step outside of ourselves and take a range of perspectives. That way, we avoid (or at least minimise) the risk of making poor judgements or of basing our decisions on the wrong factors. Setting the ‘right’ objective can save a lot of time and effort.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson says that if you have a good idea, then share it with as many people as possible. The upside is that by presenting your idea or decision to a range of people, you will refine it through debate. If at the end of your conversations you still want to make the same decision, then it’s probably already had the wrinkles ironed out – your decision will be the right one and will avoid many of the problems that an unexamined decision would encounter.

Define your strategy

Strategy is everything. But what is it? Isn’t it just the same as tactics? No. Strategy is a static idea which underpins your tactics so that they all pull in the same direction. An example of a strategy to achieve the objective of obtaining a good university place might be “demonstrate a high level of ability to admissions teams”. This might seem like a tactic, but it isn’t – it’s very broad and can be implemented in a number of ways. You’ll see the difference when I outline “tactics”.

Strategy should rarely, if ever, change. In Winners, the ability to stick to a strategy, nomatter what else is going on, is a key difference between those at the top and everyone else. Students need to be reminded of this. Give them examples of strategies you’ve employed in your own lives, to achieve success in your career, or how you were able to afford to buy a house, or how you completed a marathon. Alternatively take inspiration from top performers in sport, music, politics, etc. Students are much more likely to engage if they see someone relevant to themselves going through a similar struggle.

Making Better Decisions

Formulate tactics that support your strategy

Tactics are the individual actions you perform in order to uphold your strategy. In the example above, the strategy is “demonstrate a high level of ability to admissions teams”. There are a number of tactics that students can implement to help this strategy. Revision, attendance, enrichment activities, independent learning, work experience, responding to feedback, teaching others, maintaining a ‘growth-mindset’, writing a strong personal statement, etc. These tactics are all employed to implement the strategy.

Tactics are much more subject to the ever-changing conditions of the world we live in. Football managers often change tactics at half-time, or when they substitute a defender for an attacker. Tactics must be relevant to the individual situation and to the individual person. Tactics must always, however, support the strategy. If they do not, then a different tactic should be used. If unsure of what tactic to use, refer back to the strategy. When the strategy is implemented well, the objective will be met. Simple! (Just stick to the strategy!)

As usual, tweet me your ideas! 

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

Building Resilient Learners

Are your students tough enough?

Resilient

Every year the same questions in education appear again and again. One question I’ve been wrestling with recently is about resilience. Specifically, “Are our students resilient enough?” or “How can we make our students more resilient?” I suppose the answer differs, depending on the expectations we have, the age or maturity of the students, or perhaps even our own subjective perceptions of what it means to be ‘resilient’. But however you look at it, more and more is being expected by exam boards, universities and employers. Just to keep pace with previous cohorts, students need to achieve ever-increasing exam scores. To do this, they must study in more depth and in greater breadth. But how can they manage such a monumental task? The answer: resilience.

Let’s take a look…

Resilience

noun
  1. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
  2. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

Why do our students need to build resilience?

Students need to know why resilience is important. They need to see the relevance of it, to achieve good grades in their exams, but more importantly, that they need to leave school as resilient people. Our students will encounter challenges in their jobs, relationships, day-to-day decisions and long-term plans. They need to know that they WILL be able to find the answer if they look in the right places. They also need to know where those places are! Once you’ve given some lucid examples (from your own life if you are feeling brave!), they will see the benefit of practising resilience at school.

Resilient learner

How can we tell if students are resilient enough?

This one is easy. Ask all students to do something challenging. Read their faces as they work through the problem. Listen to how many of them say “this is impossible”, or “there’s no way I can do this”. Watch to see how many of them put their pens down before writing anything, or start looking out of the window. These are our target students. Building resilience is important to all of our students, but some are already more resilient than others. Focus your attention on where you can make the greatest difference.

How to build resilient learners

1.  Give feedback using SMART targets

As a student myself, when I was stuck on a task or struggled to come up with an idea, I often heard my teachers come out with comments like “You need to try harder”, or “Just put a little bit more effort in”. This made no sense to me (and made me pretty annoyed too!) because I felt like I was putting maximum effort in, with no results to show for it. A better comment from my teachers might have included something specific that I could research. Or they could have scaffolded the steps I should follow. They didn’t have to give me the answer, but they could at least have pointed me in the right direction! This would have helped me progress further, in subjects where I essentially became disengaged.

I use the SMART method to help my students overcome their challenges. Feedback should always aim to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. By using SMART targets, students will be much more able to find solutions for themselves and will be much less likely to just give up and become disinterested.

Building Resilient Learners

2. Develop independent learners

I’ve blogged in the past about the necessity of developing Independent Learning as a strategy to raise attainment. As students move up through GCSEs and A Levels it becomes crucial that they are able to direct their own learning beyond the classroom. However, if they haven’t learnt how to do it beforehand, then they may see this as yet another hurdle. Therefore, developing independent learners lower down the school is the long-term solution. Give students

Give students long-term, open-ended projects, rather than heavily prescribed and weekly homework tasks. Then make sure that you give SMART feedback at some point during the process, before they submit their final piece of work. But most crucially, make sure that students take full control of what the end-product looks like, so that when they submit it, they can feel as though they have challenged themselves and can fully appreciate that they have earned their marks by overcoming their challenges. Students seeing their hard-won success is key to building resilience.

3. Use motivational quotes

Another thing I’ll be doing this year is to have some motivational quotes and pictures displayed around my classroom to refer to from time to time, whenever students begin to find challenges mounting up. An excellent quote I’ve used in the past, particularly in the run-up to final exams is by William G.T. Shedd: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for”. For me, this sums up what resilience is all about – moving away from what is comfortable and towards what helps us show our true potential. It’s short, visual and inspirational. Students can relate to it and in my experience, it works.

Motivation - Michael Jordan

Now, over to you…

I would love to hear some ways you have built resilience into your students. 

Follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too. 

And don’t forget to click on the share buttons below!

WooCommerce
%d bloggers like this: