Saturday, November 24

My Beliefs In Developing Students For High-Stakes Exams

When I look back upon the year, I'd stay that beyond my duties as a chief warden, I played a very large part in shaping this year's PMR students. Close inspection of my methods reveals my underlying beliefs in developing these students to face high-stakes examinations.

Méthode #1: Year-long Brainwashing

Need I say more?
Many administrators & teachers think that one hit wonders like Motivation Camps or Guru Pakar Lectures are good enough to motivate or push students to do better. These programmes are great & they do provide a short-term injection of enthusiasm. However, I do feel like an ongoing programme throughout the year would be more effective. It's human nature to procrastinate & this is especially rampant in today's microwave generationHumans need reminders & constant engagement to stay focused. With so many subjects & so much to cover, the preparation should actually begin from Day 1, if not earlier.

That is what I did with my Weekly Motivation Sessions. Every week without fail until the last week of PMR (See... I'm so proud of this fact. haha~~), I'd meet with my PMR students & I'd remind them of their goals. For those who needed encouragement, I'd remind them of how great they were. For those who needed to be put in their place, I'd put fourth my thoughts candidly. I was with them from the beginning of the year & I monitored their progress throughout to tailor my message to their individual / seasonal needs. I made sure they left every session with something to think about.

Méthode #2: Regular Exercise

Preparation for the rat race.
Many teachers brush off anything beyond the classroom or their office hours as 'none of their business' even though it is an opportunity at the extraordinary. I have read that nutrition & general health plays a powerful role in cognitive function. Better health = better cognitive function = better focus + better retention + better processing = better academic performance.

I was unable to dictate what they ate every day so I gave them advice on nutrition. What I was able to do was improve their general health through physical exercise. I did this during my Weekly Motivation Sessions. I took them jogging with me & watched as their stamina & self-esteem improved. They also enjoyed themselves = stress relief. That in itself is a good enough reward & boost to their preparations.

Méthode #3: Exam Drills

A predicted outcome of our school system.
At the end of the day, students are evaluated with their exam results. I agree that exams are simplistic evaluations which do not do justice to our talented students & their multiple intelligences. However, that is our reality at this moment & we have to do our best to portray our students in the best light. Even though a certain Swede called this cheating, I advocate exam drills & believe wholeheartedly that it makes a difference in a students performance in the actual exams.

Every year after the mid-year holidays, I'd tell the Form 3 English teachers to perform exam drills in classes. The teachers would conduct an actual exam of a full English paper during class time to get students used to having the exams (esp the time frame & the pressure). We would use 5 periods for this & 5 periods to discuss the exam paper. During discussions, emphasis was given to best practices & how they can present their answers better.

Méthode #4: Best Practices

The straight & narrow.
Examiners mark according to a schema. This means that they look for certain things & overlook other things when contemplating the marks to award a particular answer. Naturally, different questions require different kinds of answers. Examiners are humans too. I please them to get more marks from them. I do this by making their jobs easier. I make their jobs easier by making it easier for them to find what they are looking for in my students' answers.

Thus, I train my students in the best practices for the exam early on. So that the other Form 3 students are not left out, I gave up half of my August holidays to stay in school & give the students a seminar on best practices.

Why didn't I enlist the help of Guru Pakars? Well, they were too shy to risk their lives getting on a skimpy wooden boat & traversing crocodile-ly waters to my school. I do it on a weekly basis. BOOYA!

Méthode #5: Personal Touch

Yes, we were posing.
At one stage, the benefits of preaching to the masses reaches a plateau. This year, I tried to breakthrough the glass ceiling with individual coaching. My hypothesis is that personal touch & individual attention makes a difference. It also humanises us & shows them that we care for them. Love & attention. Something that all humans crave but are too shy/proud to admit.

I dedicated a whole weekend (Friday afternoon - Sunday night) to give personal time to each student from my Form 3 classes. I went through an essay assignment I gave them & discussed with them how they could improve & what they should look out for. I also highlighted grammar errs & lexical mismatches. I decided to focus on essays because that was where most of the marks & potential improvements were.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to quantify the benefits of such a taxing exercise but feedback was very encouraging. Students reported that they remembered my advice from these sessions & it motivated them to study harder. I might expand on this next year & meet individual students a few times over the year instead of having it crammed into one weekend.

Méthode #6: Being There

I didn't ask. I knew they needed it & I gave it to them freely.
This year, I wasn't called up to invigilate the PMR examinations. Since I had a lot of free time, I decided to spend it with the PMR students during their examinations. I started the year taking care of them so I might as well finish well & see them through the last of their exams.

I'd be there during their self-study time. I'd go down earlier every morning to pray with them & give them a little motivation speech. I'd line them up, wish them well & give them a high five as they leave the study hall for the examination rooms. I'd wait for them when they finished & ask them how they did. I comforted those who needed comfort. I reminded them to focus on the next paper instead of worrying about the one they just had. I did all that for EVERY exam.

I believe that children need more quantity time than quality time. Just being around for them is good enough to encourage them or remind them of their goals. Too often we push them away & then wonder why they do not want to spend time with us.


These are some of the programmes I developed exclusively for the PMR students. They may not be the best but I am still learning, innovating & cooking up a storm. Feel free to adapt any of the above & do share your experiences! Also, I feel that my methods & beliefs are strongly linked to my personality & my talents so keep that in mind when adopting any method. Make it an extension of yourself instead of a copycat of someone else.

I'm sure all of you have your own unique & awesome ideas on how to develop your students but you may not have the courage to put it into action or the confidence to believe in your ability to pull it off. Honestly, I struggle with the same doubts... but I say f**k it & do it anyway. Often times, fortune favours the bold.

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