Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The IGCSE Rollercoaster

I don't feel like the best ambassador for taking exams as HEors - I think my open acknowledgement of how hard we are finding it is putting people off, but it seemed so much easier when it was other people doing them! ;)  However, I want to remain honest about it, in the hope that writing down the lessons I am learning the hard way will help me next year, and maybe others who come to take exams as HEors too...

So we are now two months away from exam season, and I have finally concluded that I have gone about it entirely the wrong way.  Poor old Eldest has coped amazingly well with it all. He went from a largely unstructured style of ultra-flexible Home Ed led by interests and enjoyment, to a very structured style of HE where the study program is dictated by what someone else thinks you should know, and then expressing it in an way acceptable to someone else. He has had to do this under the supervision of a Mum who may have 100% dedication but has 0% experience of teaching GCSE material.  And bless him for his good attitude, I have made some awful rookie mistakes. Thanks to those, I now know what I would do differently next time...

1/ I didnt really understand what a big shift it would be, so failed to prepare him (or myself) for that.  With the next child I will take time to enjoy our last season of 'fun HE', and I will explain the difference of what is coming.  It is vital to discuss up front and have an end-goal to refer to - ie why are we putting ourselves through this? (Because the qualifications are needed for the next step in achieving their life goals...)

2/ I had no idea how to study the required elements.  We took two terms to read the entire Geography book, making notes as we went and referring to all the revision aids.  Only after we had done all of this did I realise that we only need to answer questions on five out of nine topics.  Talk about facepalm!  That was a silly mistake that wasted a lot of time and effort.  Next time I will read as much as I can on the exam specifications up front (I thought I had, but clearly it didn't all go in) - we may still read through the whole book to establish which bits to choose, but we'll allow one term only, then another term to re-read, making notes and revision aids once we have chosen our topics. The final term will still be for revision, past papers etc.

3/ We changed to a new subject - Maths - with only two terms to go, which isn't a mistake in itself, but it has been a pressure to make sure all the topics are covered in time.  Next time I will just start with Maths as it really is the easiest in terms of monitoring progress and understanding what the questions are asking.

4/  I took it all on myself thinking that hard work and a positive attitude were all that was needed. In a way that was right, but with that hindsight gained, next time I will have some names of tutors or knowledgeable friends up my sleeve and a plan to work with them, even if just for an hour a week.  It would have helped a lot to have someone with experience who could visit/ talk to us regularly just to keep us on track and answer questions as I feel I have wasted a lot of time simply by having to work things out for myself.  That said, I have a lot more experience myself now, so may not need that help next time.

It does all feel like a big (expensive) experiment.  The learning curve has been more of a roller coaster than a curve, with definite ups and downs, twists and turns, and moments of sheer panic. But as Hubby and I have said to Eldest: there is no pressure.  I don't want him to feel that he is carrying any expectation to perform to any level.  Of course he needs to try his best, and I am confident that he does and will, but whatever the results in August he and I have both learned LOTS - and pass or fail, it is all part of life.  I think he will do very well, but if he doesn't it won't be for lack of effort from him; it will be because it's all been so unknown, so we'll just try again with our new-found understanding. I am enormously proud of how well he has approached it all and how much he has achieved.  I feel sad that my inexperience has probably made it harder than necessary for him, but then I remind myself that it could be worse; he could be in school (which he would hate), having to get up far earlier than he does (likewise), surrounded by peer pressure, loaded with homework and having to study for ten exams instead of two - which is a ridiculous and unnecessary burden that we place on our teens and then wonder why the mental health of our youth is so fragile.

So I am going to stop beating myself up, take a deep breath and learn from the experience.  After all, isn't that what Home Ed is about?

PS We have found a lovely resource that is helping with learning vocabulary - it's an app that allows you to make your own set of virtual flash cards (or use someone else's) and has different methods of testing you on them.  It's called Quizlet - and if you are revising for exams or just wanting to learn vocabulary at any level, my lover-of-all-things-techy and I really rate it!