5 tips on taking GCSEs and A levels in a pandemic

GCSEs and A levels

Taking GCSEs and A levels in a pandemic: A guide for parents

In case you’ve been living in obscurity in 2020 we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected every area of society. We saw the Algorithm fiasco of last summer that forced the government to abandon its approach to awarding qualifications this year because of the public outcry from students and teachers alike.

In this article Samuel Adu-Gyamfi from Sam Tutoring discuss some of the areas parents should be considering and how to best prepare for the GCSE and A Level exam season to come.

  1. Staying up to date with key information

Information about the exams on a national and local level is going to be essential. The Department for Education has already announced that they intend to go ahead with this year’s exams but exam season will start later than normal to allow more teaching time, however we do not know if we will have the virus under control by this time.

For some subjects the content assessed will be less to make up for the fact that students have missed out on so much teaching over the course of the year. There could also be interrupted or different forms of assessment, this is especially likely if your child is doing a vocational qualification for example btecs. We’ve seen over the course of the year how things can change very quickly and unexpectedly, so it’s essential you’re up to date with the latest exam and education news both on a national and local level.

  1. Communication

Having good communication with your child is already crucial, this will need to be extended to their studies also, understand where they’re at and what they’re finding difficult. You can then have a three way conversation with your child and their school and potentially identify ways they can be supported. Ideally their school should have information about how they plan to navigate through the pandemic and react to changes on a national and local level. They should also have a plan for preparing for and handling mock examinations. We saw last year the vital role that mock examinations played in determining the grades of students, and understandably this year more students are going to be taking them a lot more seriously in case we find ourselves in a similar situation. This of course can lead to stress and anxiety for students, support from home and school staff is going to be vital during this time. You may need to need to communicate with your child’s specific exam board in some cases if the school is unable to help.

  1. Resources

Resources have been and continue to be one of the keystones to academic success. They were important before and even more so now with the possibility of teaching being further disrupted. There are a myriad of different resources available;Textbooks, content checklists, websites, explainer videos and of course past papers are all essential resources students should be using.

  1. How to Study?

guide for parentsIt’s all well and good having all the resources, but how is your child supposed to learn it? Surprisingly, we seem to invest a lot of time in many different aspects of education but one area that is often neglected is actually how to study. A mass of research conducted over decades show a lot of our conventional methods including reading and highlighting alone are not effective for the majority of students. Whilst there are a lot of effective methods I’m going to concentrate on two in particular, active recall and spaced repetition, these should form the foundation of every students’ exam and revision framework.

Active Recall is a method committing information from short term to long term memory. When learning something new we all tend to forget the information quite quickly this can be modelled by the forgetting curve, but active recall interrupts the forgetting curve and allows us to retain information for much longer and if applied correctly will allow us to remember information indefinitely.

Spaced repetition is reviewing information at certain intervals depending on how well the information is understood or remembered. For example a topic that your child knows and understands well will be shown much less frequently than something that your child doesn’t understand, they will encounter this more frequently giving more opportunity for understanding and retention. Following on from this, a retrospective study timetable will enable your child to identify the areas in which they are especially weak and hence spend more time addressing these areas, this can boost their grades significantly. 

  1. Timeline

These very effective study methods require our next component and that is time. You want to give your child as much time as possible to understand, process and practice these methods. Working under the additional pressure of revising last minute doesn’t make sense especially after everything young people have been through in the past year, so it’s essential that the process of preparing for exams is started as early as possible. This gives students, teachers and parents time to assess what is working and make changes if necessary. Knowledge of key dates and deadlines allows students and parents time to evaluate and work back, deciding how long to allocate to different areas of exam preparation.

On the subject of time, I think it also pays to plan for the future. If your child is unsure which direction they want to take post 18, It would be wise to keep your options open. If they are likely to go on to further education, these exams will be important in determining where. How well they do in these exams will have a direct impact on where they can apply and the options available to them. So although the target is to do as well as possible in these exams it’s important students and parents don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and prepare accordingly. 

  1. Tuition

I think there is decades of evidence that reinforce the benefits and effectiveness of tuition, but is tuition a core requirement to excel? In short no, this might sound counter intuitive especially coming from an experienced private tutor such as myself, but from experience this is the truth.

Your child can do well without tutoring, but they will need good infrastructure supporting them to be able to do so. Support from teachers and home, along with development of independent study techniques like those mentioned above can bring about great success, but if needed a good tutor/tutoring company can expedite and support the process. 

Final Thoughts

As mentioned before the pandemic has affected all spheres of society, and although young people have experienced a lot of disruption to their studies because of it, I do believe it is possible for young people to not only cope but in fact thrive in their GCSEs and A Levels

It will require foresight, careful planning and a flexible attitude because we still are not certain how long the virus will be around for. Well done and keep going as you continue to support young people through their studies! You can read more on things to consider when selecting a secondary school for your child, in case you need the help.


sam tutoring Samuel Adu-Gyamfi is the CEO and founder of Sam Tutoring, a tutoring service and consultancy in London he founded a decade ago.

Sam Tutoring provides private one to one tuition along with group and online tuition for families in Central London and internationally, as well as tailor made services for schools.

Working with students from the ages of 7-18 we provide academic support and mentorship.

Email [email protected], to book a consultation or visit www.samtutoring.london to see how we can help your child succeed.