"Can you do practice papers?"

I am not looking for advice per se, just wanted to scour opinion.

How do you fellow tutors feel when a parent of a student messages saying “please can you spend the next x weeks doing practice papers with them”?

Generally I acquiesce to their desires but I always find it a shame when parents request this, because to me it feels like they’re asking me to tutor a child to pass a test as opposed to learn concepts and apply those within the prism of a test. Anyone else feel like that or is that just me?

And more generally, how do people feel about spending many weeks only going over past papers? All opinions welcome :slight_smile:


I just accept it as a sad reality of our education system. I have quite a few students who go through practise tests most sessions. We go slowly and look at the mark scheme and the skills, and if I find a skill in the test that they need to work more deeply on, we deviate and focus using different resources, but a lot of students are good with the ideas but need help on how to tick the boxes in the exam.
I don’t mind teaching it, because it often builds the student’s confidence and makes a big difference to them. It’s a shame, and not the most fun lessons, but I’ve found it helps the students who are approaching exams a lot more than I expected it to, generally.

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For Science and Maths it is indeed a sad reflection of the exam system. Because the style and difficulty of the questions is similar year upon year concentrating on past papers is the time effective route to high marks and high grades.

I’m with Heather’s suggestion of deviate to teach the missing skills.

Additionally I suggest that you frequently take the red pen & make a minimalistic change to the past paper question and ask " what is the answer now? " & don’t be afraid to turn it into a harder and more taxing question.

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If asked, I do use exam question but only as an additional aid. For example, if by going through the paper, I see they are struggling on like simultaneous eqn, I would go through many variations of questions on that topic and set exam questions on this for homework.

I do use them but later on in the learning process as a formative assessment of topics learned. It is useful for teaching exam technique which is often missed.

Previous to mocks I often spend lessons going through past papers. In A level topics like Psychology this really help students understand what the examiners are asking for in terms of longer questions i.e. 16 markers. They need help with the actual structure as opposed to the content itself and it helps build their confidence when they sit the actual exams. It does also help with areas that they are struggling with to know what to focus on after Xmas, for example.

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Yes I do practise papers regularly with students but I always clarify that I am not doing materials that count towards any form of continuous assessment. I am a History teacher - students joining me are often seeking exam technique guidance but I always make it clear that you need secure subject knowledge as a prerequisite. Technique will be of little use without command of the topic. Lastly I stick very firmly to the rules regarding NEA coursework and have posted on this topic before as students often approach asking for help to improve final drafts. This is a definitive no.

I do loads after I have taught the syllabus. I think you need to for exams of any kind it’s part of revision.

Maybe I’m unusual but I love doing practice papers and in general focusing on exam skills like how to efficiently divide up the syllabus content.


It does happen sometimes but I always feel a little bit uncomfortable if I consider that I have taught a student how to pass the exam while neglecting to teach the subject itself as thoroughly.

One option here is to introduce past paper questions from another exam board. Questions that test the same knowledge but with a different style of question.

One resource that I am starting to use more frequently is the WJEC exam board. Their web site allows you to compile a mock exam paper from hundreds of past paper questions after filtering by key words.
There is a clear Welsh bias in name of places and people- but who really needs to be able to pronounce Llanfair&c&c&c&c ?

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Done this, it has its place but rarely the whole place in tutoring.

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Agree with Joel. I have students who don’t like maths and just want their grade 4 pass to get a job. Of course I’ll encourage them to understand and build their skill and even get to like the subject. But I do past papers every week with all students. Helps them understand the way questions are worded. Helps their exam technique. And we use exam questions as hooks to talk more broadly on that topic and hopefully enrich their understanding. BTW it’s not random. I know enough about the past papets of AQA and Edexel for instance to ensure we’re covering all areas of syllabus and we still do a dive into problem areas when needed.