Maintaining motivation in students in the run up to exams

Having taught exam years for 8 years now both GCSE and A Levels, I always find these last few weeks before the exams start the toughest. Not only are the students exhausted and sick of hearing about exams but so am I! Speaking to other teacher friends many of them feel the same way so I want to share a few of the ways I handle this tricky period.

Set Clear Goals and Communicate them
Setting goals is essential to motivate students, but it can be overwhelming to think about the larger end-goal, like getting a particular grade. Therefore, breaking the goals down into smaller, more achievable targets can help students to stay motivated. For instance, encourage students to set daily, weekly or monthly targets and track their progress. This way, they can feel a sense of achievement with each goal met. I do this with lessons too for example highlighting that we have 4 weeks to go so I will be going over X Y and Z in each of the weeks so they have some certainty about what is to come. Often these areas are what the students themselves have asked me to go over.

Celebrate Achievements
In the last 3 weeks I start praising like hell! Any progress is celebrated. I especially take the time to highlight to students how their essays have changed for the better to build confidence. Teaching A Level those little celebratory thingsI used to do with my GCSE classes tend not to be used as much but in the last four weeks those techniques come back in force. Mini whiteboards come out. tally for the most answered questions and then chocolate prizes. Whatever it takes.

Verbal personalised feedback
This starts to take over in the last few weeks as time is short. This isn’t just on written work but exam techniques also individual advice to students about how to overcome their nerves.

Encourage Collaboration and Peer Support
Encouraging students to work together and collaborate can help maintain motivation. Students who work in groups can offer each other support and motivation, share study techniques, and test each other’s knowledge. Many of my students come in after school to borrow a board marker and plan an essay on the board. I then go in and check it after 20 mins and mark it up on the board, they then take a photo of it on their phones and go home. Working with subject friends makes revision more bearable.

Promote Healthy Habits
Encouraging healthy habits like good sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and breaks from studying can help students stay motivated. I’ve had to, each year, take some students aside or get parents involved because it’s obvious they are not getting enough sleep. And even though you might sound like a broken record, they need reminding.

Go over grade boundaries.
Sometimes this can take the pressure off. I like reminding my students that they can lose 1/4 of the marks on each of their three papers and still get an A*. They need less than 50% to get a C. These things just help put everything into perspective.