First I must apologize to those of you in the southern hemisphere. The November session is eons away for you, but for those of us north of the Equator (or south but on the northern school schedule) the IB exams are now 2 months away. Many schools choose March as the time for mock exams because the syllabus is nearly complete in most subjects and the students are well enough prepared for them.
There are a lot of questions about mock exams – the philosophy behind them, how seriously to take student results, and whether or not to make them part of the student’s grade are just three of these, and there are probably as many answers as there are DP schools.
In History, these exams are especially useful if you are in a school with short class periods. If your classes are less than an hour long the students have not had the opportunity to practice these tests in the allotted time frame. And, since the HL Paper 3 exam is 2 1/2 hours long, this is probably the only opportunity that they will have to see what it’s like to write 3 essays in the given amount of time. Some schools have students take all their exams in the mock period; others reserve the time for those that go beyond normal class periods. A lot of time the deciding factor is how long classes can be suspended for the mock exam period.
Students can use exams in a number of different ways. The mock exams can be a low-stakes way to find out what they know, what they need to review, and what they missed entirely when the subjects were covered the first time around. They can prepare as much or as little as they’d like – and then use the results to determine how much work it will take to achieve the desired result. Some students will use it to begin intensive study of the material, and review material that was covered in the first year. Others will wing it.
Teachers can also use exams in a number of ways. If the mocks are late enough in the year, they can be used to help determine the predicted grade. They can also be part of the semester grade, especially if you are hoping the students will take them seriously. They can also just be a process piece so that students learn how to arrive early, receive materials, read instructions, and sit still for that length of time. If a staff member other than the subject teacher can oversee the exam, so much the better. Students often have a difficult time not asking questions if their teacher is in the room.
Once they are complete, you may find yourself with 5 essays per student to grade (2 from Paper 2, 3 from Paper 3) and not much time to grade them. If you only have 6 or 7 DP students that might not be so bad, but if you have 100, it could be brutal. You can always anonymize the exams and then have the students do peer marking. In marking work themselves, they often learn more about the test and how to approach it. You can also have them mark their own work. This is also a good strategy, especially if the mock exams are not part of the students’ grades.
Lastly, mock exams serve as a wake-up call. It is a clear reminder to students that IB exams are on the horizon, and that they need to begin preparations.
So – are mock exams necessary for students to do well? No. Do they help students? Absolutely.