It feels like we've been gearing up to IGCSEs for ages. And in one sense, you could say that we have been doing so since we started our Home Ed journey 4 1/2 years ago. But I've definitely been growing more aware of the issues in the last year or so. When I first blogged about it specifically, I admitted how intimidating it all was. Not just because the state system makes them feel like the be-all and end-all of our kids' initial education, but it's true that these are significant exams, and for a home educator they can be pretty costly. And more than that, it can feel like a minefield to get your head around the 'how to' of it all. So as I am at the entry point of actually embarking on our studies I thought I would blog about what I have learned so far, before it all becomes familiar and I forget that I used to not know it. So for a beginner, this is what the process has looked like for us so far.
A/ Getting an idea of future direction (and therefore potential exam requirements).
I didn't want to push Eldest into sitting exams for the sake of it as there are many exam-free paths to various occupations, so we needed an idea of what he wants to do. The only HEors I know personally whose children have sat exams so far have been those who knew exactly what career path they wanted to follow so exam choices were easy for them. It hasn't been that easy for us. Eldest has always been drawn to a broad area but within that area he does not know what precise job, so we did not know which specific exams to sit. In the end we decided that as he has an interest in conservation - more specifically marine biology - it seemed to make sense that he may get a better paid job in the field with qualifications under his belt. So in the hope that he will find his path becoming more clearer in time, we chose to pursue the related GCSE subjects of Geography and Biology - along with Maths and English which are required for most fields.
B/ Finding a local exam centre that will accept external candidates.
This felt like a huge task to me. I am not a fan of talking on the phone anyway, and the thought of calling places to discuss something I don't really understand was quite daunting. Thankfully, as with most places in the UK, there is a thriving Home Ed community in my locality, and when I asked on Facebook if anyone knew of any likely centres nearby, I was given a few recommendations. I called those centres and I now have two to choose from, one of which is about a 20 minute drive away (Norton College), and one which is further but highly recommended by all who use it (Tutors & Exams, Coventry). I don't need to book Eldest in yet (see point F) but it's good to know both centres are available.
C/ Finding which board of exams to use.
Some Home Educators recommend taking this as step B, and then choosing the exam centre according to whether they offer exams from your preferred exam board. However, although I had a slight preference towards CIE, I did not see enough difference between them and Edexcel to really care, whereas proximity of exam centre is a bigger deal for us as health issues limit the distance I can comfortably drive. Both Norton and Coventry use Edexcel, so that is the one we are using.
D/ Finding the right study materials to buy.
This was more complicated than I expected. There are so many online that it's hard to know what you're looking for. Again though, veteran home educators are so generous with their hard-earned knowledge, and Facebook makes it so easy to ask questions of them. I discovered that the materials would change depending on whether we wanted to sit the exams in 2017 or 2018 as the coursework is changing in between. We have decided to attempt Geography and Biology in one year (Eldest's favourite subjects), and Maths and English in two years - Maths because he still has a fair amount of ground to cover, and English because we expect that to be the hardest for him. We are hoping he will learn essential exam skills to help in the harder subjects while studying the easier ones. With the advice from those online and local friends, I tracked down the right coursebooks for Geography and Biology so he could get started asap. I will be buying the Maths and English ones soon but want to get into the groove with the others first.
*UPDATE: there has been some confusion over the dates of the new Edexcel exam syllabuses. I turned to my FB posse and yet again a wonderful lady posted a link to a page with all the details here. Home Ed'ors past and present totally rock!
E/ Dividing the material into time available.
This is where basic arithmetic skills and a cool head help. My mind was a little frazzled and I was not fully confident that I was doing it all right, so I was really thankful for an experienced friend who was happy for me to send her my workings out to check. She had previously advised me to divide the year into months available before the exams, and then take two of them off to leave for revision at the end. There are 9 months until May (the first Geog exam), so we have 7 months of study available - basically, until the Easter holidays. That makes two full terms. I allowed six weeks per half term, which makes for 24 weeks of study (I know there are more weeks than that but am allowing a good margin for contingencies). Twenty-four weeks of five days is 120 days.
Now, there are 265 pages in the Geography study book. Divided into 120 days is 2.2 pages per day - or divided into 24 weeks makes about 11 pages per week.
There are 255 pages in the Biology book. So again, we will be studying 2-3 pages per day or 11 pages per week.
F/ Make a note of the deadline for exam application.
For Eldest to sit the two exams in Summer next year, I don't need to book him in to the exam centre until the beginning of 2017 (by February). I considered booking him in now, but I value having a whole term to get an idea of how well he is coping with the studies. So the date is on the calendar. Applying is definitely part of the process, but as long as I know the date, I don't need to do anything else about that practical bit for now.
HOW we actually study is going to take time to work out as we do it and gain the hands-on experience, but my wonderful friend advised reading through the material together and answering questions, plus discussing and thinking of real life examples to put it into context, and that is what we have started. Eldest has also started with writing a few sparse notes on the key points as we go. I am sure there will be follow-up posts on the subject as we work it out, but for now I am feeling much less daunted by the task ahead, and having leafed through the course books I am reassured that it's nothing we can't handle together. You could almost say it's exciting! Or if that's overstating it, at least it's not as terrifying as I thought when I had no clue what was involved. Either way, I'm kind of looking forward to the process now!