Friday, 16 December 2016

A New Series About Exam Tips -- At What Age Should You Take English iGCSE?

This may be one of the most frequently asked questions for people who are preparing to navigate the whole season of their children's lives where exams loom large.

Quite frequently, parents will reason that English would be a good exam to do first. After all, it's the student's first language and they've been doing reading and writing for many years.

However, most experienced home-educators and examiners advise that you hold off taking English. Why is that?


A child who loves reading is
preparing for exams, but not ready to take them.

First of all, there are other exams with cut and dried answers, like maths, where you either know it or you don't, and these are easier to tackle in the earlier part of one's exam career. English, on the other hand, is essay-based, and this means that a student needs to be able to write fluently and with maturity, skills that are often "uncooked" in teens toward the thirteen-year-old end.

Make no mistake: an examiner can often tell a younger child's script from an older one. I once marked a whole centre in the US who signed up their 13-year-olds for the exam (it was a middle school, so you could tell the rough ages of the candidates they'd entered). The gap between their writing style and that of older students -- even students at a British school in special measures -- was glaringly wide: their answers were so babyish.

"But my child is a beautiful writer," parents will say to me sometimes. That may be, but beautiful writing is only one of the skills that is assessed in the 0500 iGCSE exam.

Being able to read between the lines and understand nuance is something that most younger teens struggle with. Furthermore, it's not unusual for the exam to cover topics that just need more living of life to be able to respond with any kind of confidence or clarity.

Life experience helps with English iGCSE

To reiterate, taking the English exam when you're 12 or 13 is generally a bad decision: younger children tend to not write as maturely, they don't infer as well, they don't have the life experience to even comprehend what the exam is talking about.

However, there are those who persist in early entry for the 0500 iGCSE. To them, I say this: do so at your own risk.

Even if your child's script doesn't stand out like a sore thumb amongst the hundreds of exams written by 16-year-olds, you should still play the long game with English Language. Your child will get no less mature, his or her writing will get no less fluent and fluid, vocabulary will only expand, and life experiences will widen, so why push it too early and risk a bad grade when waiting would almost 100% guarantee a better showing later?

When it comes to exams,
English Language is better as a long game.

Hopefully, I've convinced you to wait with English Language exams until your teen is more toward 16 than 12. If I have done so, I've probably managed to generate hundreds of more questions for you, such as what do you do in the meantime with English at home?

That will be for a later blog post, but suffice to say, it's unlikely to include KS3 workbooks with their short answer, fill-in-the-blank approach. Not when you need to generate fluency, teach inference, and expand life experiences.


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