# Walking-Talking Mock Exams: 5 ways to make them effective

### A common practice in many schools could be a wasted opportunity if we are not careful

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A common thing I see in schools in the build-up to high-stakes exams, such as GCSEs, is the **Walking-Talking Mock**. Here is how it often plays out:

*Students - sometimes a whole year group - are assembled in the hall. They sit at individual desks as they would in an exam. Each student has a blank copy of an exam paper in front of them. A teacher stands at the front, talking students through how to answer each question, with their solutions projected for all to see. Students dutifully copy down said solutions on their copy of the exam paper. Other teachers patrol the room to keep an eye on behaviour and help students out if needed. The same thing happens on a smaller scale in individual classrooms.*

The main idea behind Walking-Talking Mocks is sound: students hear an expert talking them through their thinking. However, there are five problems with those Walking-Talking Mocks that play out in the way I have described above:

**Students may not be cognitively active.**As I have written about before, copying things down can be a passive experience for students. They replicate what they see on the board without thinking hard about what they write down.**The teacher has no sense of what students need help with, leading to an inefficient use of time.**As the teacher doesn't get any data from the students, they don’t know whether everyone knows how to answer a given question or if nobody has a clue. So, each question is given equal priority.**Everyone gets fooled that learning is taking place.**This is a big one. The teacher has no idea if their explanations are making sense. As I have written about before, a roomful of silent, nodding students is a poor proxy for understanding. Just because nobody asks any questions doesn’t mean anybody understands. And students may be tricked into thinking they understand as they happily copy down the teacher’s work -*ah yes, that’s what I would have written!***Students who know how to do a question don’t get much value from the experience.**Sure, it is always helpful to hear someone else talk through a question you can already do, just in case they have a different approach or include more steps in their work than you would have done. But if this happens often, you can safely argue it is not the best use of that student’s time.**Students have nothing to take away that will help with their revision.**Yes, they have an exam paper, often filled beautifully with notes. But how do they revise from that? We know from research that re-reading is an inferior learning strategy to practice-testing, but the problem with notes in an exam paper is that it makes it very hard to do anything but re-read.

*What do you think of these problems?**What do you agree with, and what have I got wrong?*

### Five ways to make Walking-Talking Mocks effective

Let’s make some tweaks to address each of these problems so our students get the very most out of Walking-Talking Mocks:

**1. Problem: Students are not cognitively active**

**Solution: Get students to try the question first, and use confidence scores **

Students have to be given lots of opportunities to think. The best way to do this is to ask students to try each question in the Walking-Talking Mock first, instead of waiting for the teacher to do their thinking for them. I’d advise asking students to work on one question at a time before going through it in the way we discuss below, giving them a little less time than they would get for a given question in the final exam. This keeps the pace high, ensures everyone tries each question, and stops students from switching off.

This can be further improved by asking students to indicate their confidence in each of their answers - I use a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 indicates the student knows their answer is wrong, and 10 indicates they are sure they have nailed it. Asking students to indicate their confidence level next to their answer before they find out if they are correct serves three purposes:

Confidence scores give students' answers extra meaning. Students tend to be more attentive to the teacher model when they have explicitly stated their confidence level, as they have some skin in the game.

We can tap into the power of the Hypercorrection Effect. When we are both wrong and confident about something, and then get corrected through feedback, we are more likely to remember the correct information.

As we will see below, these confidence scores give students a priority order for creating their review cards.

**2. Problem: The teacher has no sense of what students need help with, leading to an inefficient use of time.**

#### Solution: Gather data on their understanding using mini-whiteboards

Before we launch into an explanation, we need to know what our students know. If our students’ knowledge is secure, we can move on quickly. If it is not, we need to spend more time on that question. This information is difficult to ascertain if their work is trapped inside their exam papers. As regular readers will have predicted, the solution is to use a mini-whiteboard.

When it is time to go through the question, we can ask students to write their final answer on their mini-whiteboards, and hold them up in 3, 2, 1… If other colleagues are in the room, they can be designated an area to focus on to ensure that all students’ responses are seen.

If the question is multi-step and it is not easy to diagnose where some students have gone wrong based on their final answer, we can ask them to show only their first line of working out. If we see a lot of blank mini-whiteboards, we can ask students to write down what area of maths this question is from. The key is to gather data to inform our next move.

**3. Problem: Everyone gets fooled that learning is taking place.**

#### Solution: If understanding is not secure, ask a follow-up question

If the mini-whiteboard check reveals understanding is not as secure as we would like - everyone will have their benchmark for this, but 80% correct is a good target to aim for - then we can ask students to lower their boards, empty their hands, and listen as we carefully talk through the solution, sharing our thinking for each step of working.

But then we cannot rely on a poor proxy for understanding like a room full of silent students. To have reliable evidence that our explanation has made sense we must recheck their understanding with a follow-up question. This should test the same context, and be of the same difficulty, but also require some thinking - students should not be able to simply swap a number around and have the answer.

Creating these follow-up questions requires some effort on behalf of the teacher, but many exam papers have *shadow versions* available which are perfect for this purpose.

We can check students’ responses to this follow-up question on mini-whiteboards. If students are still struggling, we may choose to move on in the moment but make a note to come back to this topic in class when we can give it the time and treatment it needs.

**4. Problem: Students who know how to do a question don’t get much value from the experience.**

#### Solution: Ask What-if questions

If the mini-whiteboards reveal that understanding is secure for a given question, we may confirm the answer, quickly model the solution, and then move on. This is often a wise move, as we don’t know what our students’ understanding will be like for questions further into the paper, and it makes sense to dedicate more time to questions where students are struggling than those they understand.

However, we may also use this as an opportunity to stretch students. My favourite way to do this is by asking a *What if* question:

*What if we change the 5 to a 7?**What if we change the 5 to a 5x?**What if the question asked for perimeter instead of area?**What if the question asked us to round to 2 significant figures instead of 2 decimal places?**What if the question asked for the answer as a fraction instead of a decimal?**What if someone wrote their answer as this… Would they still get all the marks?*

These questions challenge students who have successfully answered the original question and broaden the scope of the concept tested beyond the boundaries of that question. Of course, mini-whiteboards are our best friend for assessing students’ answers.

If time permits, we can ask *What if* questions after our follow-up question. This gives rise to my favourite scenario: a student who has struggled with the original question, listens hard to our explanation, successfully answers the follow-up question, and then nails questions harder than the one they originally struggled with. This is so empowering for that student.

**5. Problem: Students have nothing to take away that will help with their revision.**

#### Solution: Ask students to create review cards

The inherent problem with corrections is that they are unquizzable. It is challenging for students to revise from their corrections to a Walking-Talking mock effectively. This is where Review Cards come into play.

At the end of the Walking-Talking mock, tell your students to find their *highest confidence error* - in other words, the question they got wrong that they were most confident about when we asked them to write their confidence scores after taking on each original question.

When they find that question, ask them to create a Review Card. These work best on blank A5 sheets of paper or cards.

On the front, students:

Copy the question

Write the topic (label each question with a topic when going through the answers to help them with this)

Write the reference of where students can go to get more help or practice on this topic (a page number from their revision guide, a video number, a code for their homework platform, etc. Again, you can provide this when modelling the solution).

On the back, students:

Describe the mistake they made

Copy the corrected example from their exam paper

Annotate this example with notes that will help their forgetful future selves remember it

A completed card might look like this:

In 10 minutes, students should be able to complete three of these cards, beginning with their highest confidence error and working their way down.

They now have their own, quizzable, revision system which grows each time they do this. At any point - perhaps in class, or in tutor time - they can pick a card from the top of the pile, try the question on the front, and check their answer on the back. They can put the question to the bottom of the pile if they get the question correct. If they get the question wrong, they can study the worked example, visit the referenced support material, and put the card halfway down the deck so it bubbles up again soon.

### Final thoughts

To repeat what I said initially, the idea behind a Walking-Talking mock exam is good. It is helpful for students to hear an expert discuss how they solve problems. But time is precious. So, if we dedicate time - potentially several hours - to such Walking-Talking mocks, we must ensure that time is used as efficiently as possible. Hopefully, the suggestions above help with that.

Finally, my usual disclaimer: I can only talk about the world of maths. I have little experience with Walking-Talking mocks in other subjects or if any of my suggestions are helpful. I would love it if you could tell me either way in the comments below.

What has been your experience of Walking-Talking Mocks?

What do you agree with, and what have I got wrong?

Let me know in the comments below!

**🏃🏻♂️ Before you go, have you…🏃🏻♂️**

… checked out our incredible, brand-new, free resources from Eedi?

… read my latest Tips for Teachers newsletter about going through the answers?

… listened to my most recent podcast with Josh Goodrich about coaching responsively?

… considered booking some CPD, coaching, or maths departmental support?

… read my Tips for Teachers book?

Thanks so much for reading and have a great week!

Craig

I have run multiple walking-talking mocks, but without the use of some of these ideas. These would undoubtedly have led to more impactful sessions. I will try them, especially, solutions 2 and 3. Thank you for sharing.