HE Exams Wiki

Gillian sent this email to the HE Exams Yahoogroup, and has given permission for it to be reproduced here:

Our eldest got her final 2 results last week – A*s in Eng. Lang and chemistry -  and secured a place in sixth form at the local grammar school. She has never been to school. We are all thrilled. A huge thank you to everyone on this group who has responded to our queries over the last few years and to those who contribute to the brilliant wiki that gave us all the ‘how to’ info we needed to get us started.

In response to the recent request for people’s HE experience leading up to and through the exam years , for anyone who might find it of interest/useful here’s our HE experience:

Original plan – HE until she is 5y, she was unhappy at nursery and we had our doubts about full time school for 4 year olds – still do.

Followed advice from an HE contact to reassess the situation yearly. Muddled through the primary years with her and her younger brother, flip flopping between less formal ways – letting them develop cognitive skills, language skills and imagination through play (which, being a Speech and Language Therapist, is something I think is vital), talking with them and answering their endless questions (again vital from my professional viewpoint) reading them lots of stories, gardening and baking together – and (largely as a result of my HE anxiety and comparison with school) taking a more formal approach to teaching them to read and following some workbooks like ‘Story of the World’ in the hope they would gain knowledge of history in which I am sadly deficient. Despite diligently working through the SofW series my son likes to say that everything he knows comes from Horrible Histories and not from my efforts!  Also lots of kitchen table science which was fun but random based on their questions or library books we stumbled on. Spent a lot of time visiting the local library and interesting places in the primary years.

My ‘line in the sand’ was secondary but by then the eldest was a committed Home Ed’er with a network of groups and social activities and no desire to go. Encouraged partly by an inspiring article in The Mother magazine about the benefits of starting secondary when you are a bit older and more mature I moved my line in the sand to 14. When she was approaching 14 I wrote to local secondary schools inviting them to meet with us and chat about whether they could offer a place, a flexi place, exams access for external candidates etc. 2 schools invited us to meet the Head and offered full time places, (flexi not an option), and access to exams. She wanted to do exams from home, still not keen to go to school, and we could see all the advantages of a childhood largely devoid of peer pressure and social media influences and with plenty of time still to read and play and lots of lovely mixed age socialisation so I relented and moved my line yet again. Terrified, and quite reluctant to face HE at this level, I joined the yahoo group, encouraged her to read the info on the wiki with me so that together we worked out the practicalities of doing exams and I left her to look through the subjects and choose which to do. She did GCSEs/IGCSEs as an external candidate at a local secondary school, 5 mins from home which was perfect, and they were near faultless in being supportive . Consequently over 3 years she achieved:

First year: Human biology A

2nd year: maths A, biology A, psychology B

this year: English language A*, chemistry A*

She did all subjects from home without external tutors despite neither of us having any teaching experience. Biol and Human Biol largely on her own from the text book. We chatted through the end of section questions to help her check her comprehension (a reluctant writer she saw no joy/point in writing out lengthy answers). Dad relearnt the maths from the textbook and taught her step by step – she hates maths. They worked through the Chem textbook together. Psychology – I read the text book with her so we could do all the ‘read and discuss’ bits together. We both enjoyed it. Weirdly she got her best grades in the two subjects she left until last because she didn’t really want to do them. English - I decided as she was a bookworm and had no literacy challenges to overcome that we’d manage with past papers and the Kat Patrick revision guide. Part way through we decided we should have bought the course book too. We left ourselves maybe 4 months at most to go through the course book, as we left that decision a bit late, so we had to look at the contents page and prioritise which bits she could work through in the time she had left.

Things that worked for me/us:

  • the yahoo group and the wiki – could not have done it without that info and support
  • Doing each subject over 1 year. Look at the contents page and see how many sections/topics there are, work out how many weeks there are until 6-8wks prior to the exam, then work out how many weeks you can allow for working through each section. Then work through the book for however many hours per week you think you need. In the last 6-8 wks do loads of past papers. Mark them using the mark schemes on the exam board website. I always marked harshly/cautiously as I had no idea how generous an examiner would be when faced with a vague/illegible/ambiguous answer. I banged on about the importance of neat handwriting a lot too, scared that her small rather scrawly writing would lose precious marks! In those last 6 wks her marks went up rapidly. She got less than 40% on her first math past paper which her dad found very discouraging after all those hours teaching but she improved with lots of repetition and past paper practise, revising any bits she had struggled on, and got an A in a subject she hated.
  • developing a good relationship with local secondary schools by meeting the Heads and discussing options (one helped with access to exams , the other became her preferred choice and is where she will go for sixth form). We went to all the sixth form open evenings last year and asked questions and in the end she decided to do another year of GCSEs and start sixth form a yr late. We went to all the open evenings again this year to show our faces, meet staff and check what had changed.
  • Doing exams over 3 years – spreading them out helped with the workload and enabled her to keep up all her local and HE sports and social activities and do some LAMDA exams too
  • as a summer baby she would have started 6th form at 16 but someone on this group advised you can do A levels from 17-19 so she did an extra year at home which meant she could do maths and English in different years with more time for subjects she liked. It also negated all the potential disadvantages of being youngest in the year and means she will now be one of the oldest
  • Both of us working part time – so Dad could help with maths, chem, physics, computing, electronics, finance with both kids while I prefer English, biology, psychology, EM and continuing stuff like craft , cooking, gardening with them
  • For me – having a partner who was always more confident than I was that we could pull this off! Having good HE friends to chew things over with and share anxieties re HE/exams etc

The youngest is now 14 and starting GCSE courses but dyslexia lead to him being a v late reader, competent now, but real struggles with writing/spelling to overcome – so a new ball game but having successfully got one child through to where they wanted to go gives me a lot of confidence.

Best wishes to all who have read this far and have the exam stage looming ahead of them. It can feel very daunting. Keep revisiting the wiki and then ask Qs when you are still stuck!

Gillian x