Using exam questions.

I often hear students saying that they understand the work that we have done in class but complain that they don’t know what the exam question is asking them to do. When I was at school my geography teacher presented all of our lessons in the style of the exam paper. His belief was that we would be so used to seeing exam-style questions that when we sat the real thing we would be so used to the format that we wouldn’t panic. I wanted my students to be familiar with exam questions and have lots of practise answering them. Sometimes they don’t realise that the questions that they are answering are from exam papers as they have been presented in a different way. Here are some of the ways that I have used exam questions in my lessons, many of these ideas have been taken from twitter.

Annotating exam questions.

This idea was shared by @AlicaRushforth and @martin_clee. A very simple technique but very effective. I told the students that I didn’t want them to answer the questions, I wanted them to look at what the question was asking them to do. They identified command words, looked at how many marks were available, identified scientific keywords and looked to see if there were tables/graphs that they should use. To help students with the command words they were given a literacy word wheel based on the idea by @ASTsupportAAli. I modified the words to match the definitions given by our exam board. Telling students that I didn’t want an answer helped them to focus on what the questions was asking them rather than asking them to recall or apply knowledge – this was especially helpful to students who usually say ‘I don’t know’ when presented with a question. This is the first thing that I do with all of my classes now before we start revision. I have noticed that many of my students highlight command words in end of unit tests and mock exams so I think that they have found this to be useful. 


Using end of unit tests/previous answers.

When we have practised answering 6 mark questions I have sometimes used the example answers from the SOW that show what a level 1, 2 or 3 answer may look like. However, these are not always helpful as the ‘good’ answer is obvious as it has lots of keywords in and the ‘poor’ answer is often brief and full of SPAG errors. I wanted something that was more like the answers that my students gave. I wanted to show them that sometimes you could write a long answer that was packed full of science vocabulary that scored low marks – because the science was not relevant to the question. I started recycling the answers that my students gave as they often highlighted misconceptions. I gave students a copy of the question, a copy of the marking criteria and a selection of responses. I then asked the students to mark them and to comment on why they had given each answer that mark. They also used the literacy wheel to check on the meaning of command words. This was effective as students were able to see that you could get full marks even with a relatively short answer – if it was clear, addressed all aspects of the questions and contained relevant science.

end of unit test

My favourite piece of advice that was left on one of the pieces of work!

life lesson

Exit tickets.

I have been using exit tickets for about a year after seeing the idea shared by @hrogerson. I use them across KS3 and KS4. The questions usually come from exam papers. I have used short answer questions and 6 mark questions. At KS3 I have tried to introduce opportunities for them to practice extended writing – sometimes I give them the keywords that I want them to use as I have found that this helps to encourage them to include scientific vocabulary in their answers. I love exit tickets – they are easy to mark and give me a good overview of the class. I can quickly see who got it and who didn’t and I can provide guidance about what they should do next. Sometimes students are given a question to answer in the feedback, I have also used codes for feedback where the students write the feedback themselves in during DIRT time from a set of statements that I put on the board. Exit tickets have been very popular with my students – especially if they get a say in the colour of the ticket (fluorescent colours are popular this term). Some of my students have said that they find them helpful as they can look over them for revision and they asked me to prepare tickets for whole topics.

exit ticketexit magent

exit 6 mark  exit volcano

Rotation squares

These are based on an idea by @tombrush1982 and allow students to build up to answering a 6 mark question. They start from 1 mark and gradually build up to 6 marks. By the time they get to the 6 mark question they have all of the information that they need to answer it. This approach also helps them to see how changing the command word can change the level of demand of the question. Some of my KS4 students have protested about these as they make them think too much. Personally I think that’s a good thing!


Tube maps.

These are based on the fantastic ideas and resources shared by @DaK_74 and have proved popular with students. They liked the tube map as it helped them to see how different parts of the topic were linked and they could also immediately see a set of keywords that they could use to answer a particular question.



These were shared by @HThompson1982 and I used these with my year 11 class when we were revising  at the end of last year. Students had a place card and a literacy wheel. Students found them helpful as they had suggested keywords and they were able to check their answers afterwards. For some of the placecards I provided them with some answers that they could mark (see previous answers above). We use CUSTARD as the strategy for answering 6 mark questions and so I did modify these to include that.


5 a day revision

After seeing all the 5 a day maths resources that had been shared by @corbettmaths I wondered if this could be applied to science. I decided to use this mainly for my triple scientists as a way of quickly recapping year 10 work so that these concepts are revisited often. I have used these as starters and also as homework tasks. @rondelle10_b has shared some chemistry versions. I have tried to include the main ideas of a topic and a range of questions – some simple recall and others that require application of knowledge.


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