A week  from Friday, the IB exams begin; while Lieutenant Kilgore might “love the smell of Napalm in the morning” what IB teacher does not love the sound of the word ‘invigilate’?  For those of us not in British-based systems, it is a rarely-used word that connotes a most uncomfortable action.  But I digress …

There are a few school-based syllabi that have exams on Friday May 2nd, but most students will have their first exam with English A and other students will not begin until later, if they are not taking English as an A subject.  History exams begin on Wednesday May 14th and all Diploma candidates will have the same disadvantage of Maths Paper 2 in the morning, followed by History Papers 1 and 2.

At this point in time, many of us are struggling to finish the syllabus and a lucky few are in the process of revising material.  In an ideal world, 2 weeks of revisions would be wonderful; and at the least, we should be able to schedule one class per examination paper to go over the requirements.

With revisions, a detailed examination of each test is important, and if the students have completed mock – or trial – exams, it is a good idea to have the students go through their exams as a class so that questions can emerge.  The marking that we provide as teachers does not have to be detailed but it does have to let students know what they did correctly and what they still need to work on.  This is  not the time to berate students for what will be impossible to fix in 3 weeks, and is instead the place where we do our best to help each student maximize potential.  This is highly individual: weaker students need to be coached on how to pass; strong students, especially those who need to meet their predicted grades for university entrance, have very different objectives.  If their predicted grades have been assessed realistically, they need concrete advice on how to continue forward progress.

Mock exams expose the quirks of each paper.  To my astonishment, one of my best students thought she had to answer 3 questions from 3 separate sections of Paper 3 (the HL paper) and that she could answer any two on Paper 2 (essay test for HL and SL students).  A number of students tried to convince me that Stalin and the USSR should count as Asia, and while I was sympathetic – and appreciate the geographical nature of their argument – I had to explain that, according to the IB, the USSR was located in Europe.

The mock exams are a place to open dialogs for students to ask questions of the exam process.  Many are unclear of what they can and cannot do during the reading time, so we can cover this for them with each exam specifically in mind.  One of my colleagues has his students do peer marking as he feels very strongly that, with this exercise, they learn and understand the rubric in a way that is otherwise impossible.  To ensure confidentiality, he has to do a little bit of coding, and he still needs to read through all the exams to see if the papers were marked properly, but he feels that the experience for the students is invaluable, but only at the end of the 2 years, when they are really interested in understanding the markschemes and markbands.

This is also a place for students to get a grasp of the material that they know well, and what they need to go back and re-learn and review so that they have the detailed knowledge that IB history requires.  In an ideal world, the school has a mock-exam week so that students can simulate a 2 ½ hour exam in real time, but sometimes this has to be assigned as homework.  Either way, the experience is invaluable for the students, and the curriculum does not have to be complete for the mock exams to take place.