The Mindset for Academic Success Post-Lockdown

Big challenges for students in years 10, 11, 12 and 13.

The coronavirus lockdown and school closures have created big challenges for students in years 10, 11, 12 and 13. Even if they’ve been working diligently at home they will feel there has been a big gap in their learning because of the time they have spent away from their teachers. The exam grading fiasco hasn’t inspired confidence in the education system. And, with continued uncertainty about a second wave of the virus, whether it might result in further school closures and how it might impact this year’s exams there is a great deal of uncertainty for our young people to deal with.
In this article, I will set out how to inspire a positive mindset for academic success against this difficult backdrop.

What are the challenges faced by students in each year group?

Before we look at the mindset for success, it’s important to know the challenges that students in each exam year should expect to encounter this year. Knowing what’s coming enables us to plan for it and overcome it.

Year 10

In normal years I see year 10s storing up problems for the future. This is because, firstly, their exams still seem a long way off to them (two years is a long time when you’re 14, not too much when you’re 47) and this means they don’t feel any urgency to take it all seriously. Secondly, most students this age have never been taught any study skills or how to revise which makes it challenging for them to show their ability in their end of year exams.

These two factors often result in poor year 10 exam results, and panicking parents as their children start year 11.
Layered on top of these typical problems, this year students in year 10 are having to:

  • Make up for lost learning time in school at the end of year 10 which may have consequences on their GCSE studies
  • Cope with anxiety about returning to school and uncertainty because of the virus
  • Deal with the fact that teachers may be more focused on year 11s and 13s who are having to prepare for exams this year

Year 11

Every year I see year 11s who haven’t done enough work in year 10 and weren’t sure how to revise for year 10 exams and are worried, particularly, about their exam technique. This means, even in a year without coronavirus school closures, students feel like there’s a lot to catch-up on and they don’t have the skills they need to reach their potential in their GCSE exams.

For this year’s year 11 students these issues have been compounded because they:

  • Haven’t had ‘proper’ end of year 10 exams so they haven’t even had a chance to practice their revision and exam skills
  • Will be making up for lost teaching time in year 10 – and I’ve already heard that schools are transferring a lot of the stress they are feeling onto their students
  • Anxiety about whether and how the exams will go ahead this year and whether there will be further disruption to their learning.

Year 12

As students start year 12, I usually see a big sigh of relief as they leave the stress of their GCSEs behind and embrace the greater freedoms of the sixth form. However, this is a sure sign that students, and often their parents, are underestimating the step-up in the quantity and difficulty of work at A-Level. This leads to many students struggling at some point in year 12 in quite a profound way. If these struggles aren’t rectified quickly they can have a big knock-on effect in year 13.

This year, year 12 students are facing further challenges because:

  • They haven’t studied properly for six months, many schools having set them adrift when exams were cancelled
  • They haven’t done GCSE exams so they don’t know what works and how they perform under pressure
  • Teacher attention may be more focused on catching years 11 and 13 up on what they’ve missed because they have exams this year

Year 13

Year 13 is the hardest year of your school life, particularly the autumn term. This is because there is another significant step up in the quantity and difficulty of the work, they are making decisions about their future, applying for university and maybe taking time out of their A-Level studies for university admissions tests and interviews and then in the spring term there is often a crunch point with coursework deadlines and mock exams at around the same time. Students who don’t have strong study skills find it very difficult to cope with these over-lapping challenges.

This academic year, students in their final year of A-Levels will also have to contend with:

  • Making up for lost time because of the pandemic
  • Possible UCAS exams in September, because their end of year 12 exams couldn’t go ahead
  • Anxiety about how Covid will impact their studies this year and beyond – particularly competing for university places.

This isn’t a very hopeful picture – but it’s realistic and it’s important to be realistic so that you know what you’re dealing with. But, how do you deal with this in a positive way?

The mindset for academic success in 2020-1

1. Learn the study skills to cope
As an academic coach I have many students come to me every year floundering because they don’t have the time management skills, revision techniques or organisation to cope with what is being asked of them. As more is being asked of our young people than ever before this year, it is essential that students learn these skills. I teach them through the study skills programme inside my online programme for families in the exam years, The Extraordinaries Club.

2. Focus on what you can control
There’s a lot about the situation we’re in that we can’t control, and that’s inherently stressful. However, if you focus on taking responsibility for the things you can control you will know that you’re doing your best to take control of your own destiny.

What can students and families control?

  • Their independent work schedule – and making sure they’re doing enough at home. I suggest students doing ten GCSEs should be doing fifteen hours of independent study each week, and sixth formers should be doing 15- 21 hours of independent study each week. Find out more here.
  • Working on their weaknesses. The best students always focus their attention on the parts of their courses that they find most difficult – as you’re only as good as your weakest topic when you walk into an exam.
  • Blocking out unhelpful messages. I had a distressing email from a parent this weekend saying that her son’s school was sending out such stressful messages that he had been plummeted into a state of extreme anxiety. If your child isn’t hearing helpful things, tell them to disregard it and create your own more positive script
  • Believing that effort applied in the right way will get results

Lucy Parsons is an academic coach who helps GCSE and A Level students to achieve their full potential through 1:1 coaching, her online hub for families, The Extraordinaries Club, and her book The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take. Join her online Personal Statement Masterclass here to get all the help you need with personal statements, and get that thing ticked off your list.