Article May 17, 2023
Preparing students for exam success through ‘cycle testing’
Cycle testing – a series of informal tests that take place throughout the year – has been invaluable in supporting King’s InterHigh students to prepare for their GCSE, A Level and IBDP exams. Our Head of Senior School, Catriona Olsen, sheds light on what cycle testing is and the benefits we’ve seen for our Secondary students.
It’s no secret that exam season can be an overwhelming time for young people. Too often, students get to exam day lacking the skills required to deal with the pace and emotional demands of formal tests. At King’s InterHigh, our priority is to make sure our students are not only prepared academically, but are able to regulate their emotions and feel confident in their ability to tackle any exam question when the time comes.
We know from educational research that regular practice tests can provide a number of benefits for students in the lead up to exams; boosting confidence, reducing test anxiety, and increasing performance are just a few examples. That’s why, as part of an Inspired-wide strategy, we introduced cycle testing at King’s InterHigh in September 2022.
“[Cycle tests] have allowed me to focus on each subject independently being able to study more efficiently. The process of taking constant assessments have helped with my confidence in exams.”
What exactly is cycle testing?
Cycle testing is a set schedule of summative assessments – meaning they’re used to evaluate students’ learning – designed to help students develop good study habits through the practise of a range of techniques. Unlike formal exams, they are low stakes and don’t contribute to any final grades. Rather, their aim is to help build students’ confidence and knowledge in the lead up to exams, as well as to provide revision support.
At King’s InterHigh, the cycle test schedule is set and shared with students at the beginning of the academic year, and take place at regular intervals throughout the term. A separate lesson is allocated on each KS4 and KS5 students’ timetable dedicated to these tests, so their cycle testing schedule does not take away from their regular lessons.
The benefits of cycle testing
There are a number of incredibly impactful ways that cycle testing helps students prepare for and perform their best in exams. Below are some of the key advantages we’ve observed since implementing cycle testing for our students at King’s InterHigh:
Enhances learning consolidation
Regular assessments help students to better understand the material they are studying by frequently testing their knowledge and skills. Consistently reinforcing the material in this way helps cement students’ learning in their long-term memory.
Helps identify and address knowledge gaps
Through our cycle testing programme, we focus on feedback and individual marks to better understand gaps in knowledge rather than overall grades, which can often be a distraction. In doing so we’re able to identify areas where students need additional support and reinforcement. This then allows students to streamline their individual revision strategy, focusing their time and efforts on the areas that require the most attention.
Promotes independence and time-management skills
Cycle tests provide students with regular feedback on their progress and performance, which helps them identify and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. They also improve students’ time management skills by providing a clear understanding of what is expected in the actual exam.
Builds emotional resilience and preparedness
We have a number of students who enrol with us due to anxiety and this can understandably be heightened when faced with assessments. Cycle testing helps students build the routines and resilience that allows them to regulate their emotions around exams. By exposing them to a range of challenges through regular testing, we can help them manage their emotions in a healthy way.
Through the process of frequent exam practice, students become well-versed in the exam process and are therefore more aware of and comfortable with what to expect on exam day.
Ensuring cycle testing success at King’s InterHigh
In order to help students prepare for cycle testing, we built a program we called Mastering Learning. This includes teaching our students about metacognition, revision techniques, as well as strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety around tests. The aim is to help each individual student understand how they learn, how they master their subjects and that their feelings towards assessments are normal and can be regulated.
A key part of our assessment strategy is to interleave topics into our assessments. Interleaving throughout the course plays a crucial role in helping students master the content and commit it to long-term memory. This strategy requires students to recall information from different topics and integrate it in a meaningful way, leading to deeper understanding and better long-term retention of the material.
Advantages of cycle testing for teachers
We’ve found that a robust cycle testing schedule provides valuable information for teachers, too. Namely, teachers can use the information gathered from the outcomes of the assessments for adaptive teaching. This helps develop teachers’ ability to design and use assessment for formative purposes and develop a bank of revision resources for students to use independently. In addition, as the schedule is set out for the year, there are no surprises for students and there are no pinch points where students are over-assessed at a certain time of the year e.g., at the end of a term. We have also ensured that cycle testing doesn’t take away from vital lesson time by scheduling it as a separate timetabled lesson each week.
What our students think
An anonymous survey we conducted with Year 10 students at King’s InterHigh found that 72% of students would like to continue with cycle testing next academic year.
Below is just some of the feedback we received from the survey, where students were asked how they have benefitted from cycle testing:
“I am getting to know how the exam questions could be like. I also get practice to deal with my exam anxiety. I am still nervous before taking a cycle test, but it has gotten a lot better. I have also developed strategies on what I do before and during to calm myself. It also allowed me to develop methods to revise that actually work.”
“It has helped me develop how to revise properly, that is a process that is really tricky for me and as the cycle tests go on I am learning what isn't working and how I need to improve. Also, seeing exam style questions in exams that have less riding on them allows you to get really used to them. It does make you feel anxious but it would be awful not to feel that feeling before and during an exam until the final IGCSES.”
“I get good as well as negative feedback which helps me to improve at the areas I’m struggling on!”
“It has given me an idea on how future exams will go but also helped with me pacing myself in an exam situation”
“They have allowed me to focus on each subject independently being able to study more efficiently. The process of taking constant assessments have helped with my confidence in exams.”
Since implementing cycle testing in September last year, we now know of the important impact it has in supporting students’ exam preparation. By providing an effective means of testing students’ knowledge, building resilience, and regulating emotions, these strategies can help students perform their very best in exams and fulfil the academic ambitions they work so hard to achieve.