Featured Article / 11 Jul 2023
Teaching & Learning
An excellent education is about much more than academic success. Our aim is to develop young men who are confident, motivated, and have a strong sense of personal integrity and compassion.
At Watford Grammar School for Boys, our emphasis is on meeting the needs of individual students and developing their commitment to and an enthusiasm for learning. To achieve this, we provide a well organised and disciplined environment, which is directed and structured by a team of specialist subject teachers, pastoral staff and learning support staff.
We have introduced the WBGS Learner initiative to help our students to learn how to learn through developing the attributes they will need to become successful life-long learners. Please click on the logo above for a parents' guide to what being a WBGS Learner means.
All subjects are treated with equal value and students are encouraged to find their own academic interests by offering a wide variety of subject areas including the arts, sciences, languages, humanities, technological and physical activity together with personal, social and health education. You can find more information on our curriculum and academic subjects in this section.
Top Tips for Exam preparation
1. Adopt Effective Learning Strategies
Research shows that some traditional revision strategies such as: re-reading, highlighting and last-minute cramming are generally ineffective in transferring knowledge into the long-term memory and being able to get it out again under pressure.
More effective strategies include scheduling revision to allow multiple short but focussed sessions for each subject spaced out over the time available before the exam. ‘Retrieval Practice’, (that includes self-testing or quizzing), has been shown to be a highly effective study strategy.
Boys will gain more value from doing exam practice questions if they are reviewed and marked after a ‘books closed’ attempt at the question and also if the basic knowledge is first secure through revision and retrieval practice before exam questions are attempted (summary of learning strategies here:https://www.innerdrive.co.uk/what-are-the-best-ways-to-revise/ )
2. Minimise Distractions
Distractions increase ‘extraneous cognitive load’ - this means that they reduce the brain’s ability to efficiently store learned information in long-term memory ( summary of Cognitive Load Theory here: (https://my.chartered.college/impact_article/cognitive-load-theory-and-its-application-in-the-classroom/ ). Exam performance is also ‘context dependent’ meaning that learning and practice in conditions similar to an exam will be better preparation than activities carried out under different conditions. Therefore, boys should be encouraged to practise working quietly without music, notifications or attempting to multitask during revision.
3. Adopt good routines for sleep and exercise
Although sixth formers are adults their brains will still be developing until around the age of 25. This makes them particularly susceptible to a lack of sleep and this in turn can have a major impact upon learning and exam performance. (more on sleep and studying here: (https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180815-why-sleep-should-be-every-students-priority ).
The average nightly sleep for boys nationally is less than 7 hours. For optimum performance however they should be getting between 8-10 hours sleep per night. Good sleep hygiene is important so avoiding screen-time close to bedtime and having a regular time for going to bed can go a long way towards helping them to get enough sleep.
Becoming almost nocturnal at weekends and during school holiday periods is not a good idea. as the effect on the brain is the same as being jet-lagged when boys go back to their usual routine! To help with managing stress, keeping healthy and allowing optimum focus exercise is also really important, particularly now the sun coming out more often to help raise levels of endorphins and vitamin D. As we approach the external exams season for the first time in three years, please help your son to adopt efficient habits which will help him perform at his best and manage the pressure of exams. More advice on preparation for exams can also be found on the graphic below. A useful article on how parents can help their sons with revision can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zckydxs
The VESPA Mindset summarises the traits seen in the most successful students across five areas:
The most successful students have a clear vision of what they want to achieve, often these are related to wider goals rather than achieving certain academic grades or very specific university courses/ job roles. For example, someone who is motivated to do whatever they can to help alleviate suffering due to illness is at an advantage over someone who knows they want to be a doctor but hasn’t thought about what they really want to achieve through that particular career. Those who have clear goals tend to achieve better academic grades, show more resilience when challenged and are more creative in pursuing their vision. Please discuss with your son his aspirations and goals to allow him to develop his vision.
The most successful students are ‘high effort’, they are proactive in identifying how they can improve, complete all tasks set to the best of their ability and are revise or read ahead when they have not had homework specifically set. Please ask your son what homework he has been set and, when he does not have very much, encourage him to be revising and reading ahead regularly.
High achievers have a routine which incorporates spaced retrieval practice throughout their course (this involves completing recall and/or exam style questions without notes open in front of them then going back to notes to check and fill in gaps). They also tend to have the discipline to study for a similar amount of time and in the same places regularly to build consistency and make work something they do as opposed to a deliberate choice each time. Please discuss your son’s systems with him - does he have a good routine? Is he regularly doing retrieval practice outside of lessons rather than trying to ‘cram’ for tests at the last minute?
As boys move up the school practice becomes more important. At all levels increasing familiarity with the course content and the mark schemes comes from practice attempting questions. Individual subject teachers can advise on where the best sources can be found for practice questions in each subject. Those who do not practice answering questions prior to assessments or exams often struggle with exam technique and do not gain full credit for their knowledge.
The most powerful single aspect of education for improving student progress is feedback. However, for feedback to be effective, it has to be engaged with and used effectively by students. The most successful students have a ‘growth mindset’ where they look to constantly improve and realise that they will become far more knowledgeable, capable and accomplished if they seek feedback and try to change what they are doing in response. Research often shows that attitude and willingness to accept feedback is one of the most important predictors of future success.
The teachers at Watford Boys were fortunate to have Martin Griffin, who developed the VESPA Mindset, during an INSET day to help us shape how we aim to develop these attributes across the School. We passionately believe in the potential of every boy here, in their ability to improve from their starting point and in achieving their goals and are therefore working around developing this mindset in our pupils. In several of these areas this can be supported by parental reinforcement and we are grateful where you can discuss these areas with your son and help him adopt the vision, effort, systems, practice and attitude which will lead to his future success.