With exams prevalent in everyone’s mind right now I thought I’d ask a home educating parent how they tackled doing GCSEs at home.

Not every home schooling family opts to do GCSEs. Some feel they do not need to be part of their education at all and those who want to go onto Uni do so via Access courses very successfully. Some study for other qualifications. Others go straight into work.

But other families study for them at home and sit the final exam as independent candidates.

I had an interesting conversation with a parent recently who’d done just that. She said that the hardest part was making decisions; the kinds of decisions normally taken out of a pupil’s hands by school. But as independent candidates you need to consider which exam board to use, which offered the subjects the child wanted, which modules you could do, where the candidate would be able to sit them.

Although this seemed initially hard, one advantage is that you realise there are a variety of modules you can study for a subject. History is a good example – each section of the exam usually has several topics and the learner needs to study one or two from a choice of, say, ten. At school the teacher would make the choice for the whole class. At home, the learner can choose their own topics.

There is also the option of doing any exam at any age, spreading them over a greater period of time, disregarding normal age restrictions set in schools.  Home educated students don’t have to finish by 16. Sitting GCSEs at 17 or 18 is no barrier to further education at college or uni. Being able to spread exams out like this means there is much less stress and more time to continue with other interests such as sport or arts, and so on – all of which make for the rounded person a university is keen to have.

This flexibility also has a positive impact on motivation.

They opted to do the International GCSEs (IGCSEs – equivalent qualifications to GCSEs) because these qualifications were judged on the exam only, rather than including coursework as with GCSEs, as there was often difficulty in finding accreditation for doing coursework as a home learner. There are costs involved in taking exams, varying between centres, and this made a difference to decisions.

Although there is no support from the Local Education authority, they found an immensely helpful community online, via Yahoo groups in particular, where parents shared experience, resources and tips about exams, centres and costs.

With their first attempt they decided to use a pre-designed course, linked with the exam board, with tutor support, but as this was so expensive they went on to take further IGCSEs without. Most exam boards have a recommended study book and suggested reading and using these they found they could flesh out the material online and through group support.

They would then look at when they wanted to sit exams, how much they had to cover and devise a timetable to achieve it. They did practise papers, also available to download and a timed exam practise in a formal setting; they chose a library.

Examining past papers available online, and working through them with discussion of the answers and examiners comments, helped them to improve test passing sills which were quite different from learning the content of a subject. Sometimes the parents would sit with their learner but mostly, once the decisions and a rough schedule were devised, the youngster just got on with the study themselves.

In a home educating climate the decisions to do the exams are usually shared and the learner has some influence over them. This makes them far more motivated to do the necessary study and practice. The home learners also tend to just take the exams needed for a specific purpose, (college or Uni entrance perhaps) rather than sitting endless exams just for the sake of it.

With their learning being in their own hands the whole experience of taking exams becomes a far more relevant and purposeful experience.




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