A Short(ish) Guide to Year 11s

To all parents of Year 11s, especially those going through it for the first time,

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy few months.

It’s that time of year again, the run up to the most fraught time of the year for parents pupils and teachers –

Exam season.

So I thought I’d write a short(ish) guide to Year 11s from the perspective of a teacher.

In my Rossall days, the Easter holidays were a time for relaxation, a short trip and then intense preparation for the exam period ahead.

My preparation involved working out a plan of attack for each individual year 11 with one aim and one aim only,

How can I get the very best out of them?

Or, more accurately, how can I best contribute to their success in German?

(Please note: the following is based on my experience of my own subject, this may not be the same for all subjects, plus see my disclaimer)

Each pupil had a unique set of requirements and it was up to me to structure the next term to meet as many of them as possible.

I have to point out that I had it easy, I was in a private school and therefore had the benefit of not being tied to the ridiculous demands of Ofstead and I had small class sizes (although they were getting bigger and had I stayed, I would have had to adapt).

The Easter holidays were also the time I mentally prepared myself for the annual destruction and devastation of the German Language, also known as ‘German Orals’.

I was always guaranteed a couple of outstanding performances, a couple of delightful A grade performances, a couple of quirky or left field performances and a few solid Cs, but mostly it was an audio horror show, the like of which…

oh God, please don’t make me relive it…

I’d tended towards a way of teaching that took them as far as possible away from memorising. I wanted them to work with the language, not simply regurgitate it.

And the Speaking exam was the one I, as a teacher, had the least control over.  

I could give the vocab, I could correct the grammar, force them to practice in class as much as possible, but they have to actually learn it, they have to put the time in.

How well they do, depends ENTIRELY on how much time they put into it.

The main problem was that the German Orals always happened early in May and the ‘EXAM SURVIVAL REVISION INSTINCT’ hadn’t properly kicked in yet.

At the end of the speaking exam, I could tell you exactly who could be bothered and who couldn’t. I knew exactly where they were at and usually I had an accurate target grade in mind for each of them. I could clearly identify who would achieve their target and who likely wouldn’t, without a serious kick up the backside!

A Short(ish) Guide to Year 11s

Year 11s come in many types. I’ve come up with a few pairings.

Each pair illustrates the ends or extremes on the scale.

Like a bell-curve, (which, dear DfE/Ofstead, is how everything, except State School levels/targets, works)


Most can move up or down the scale during Year 11 depending on a variety of outside sources/pressures (i.e. parents, teachers, friends, emotions).

The types outlined here are the extremes, I believe there are always advantages and disadvantages of the extremes and the more successful option is to be in the middle. The further you get to either end, the higher the disadvantages.

NOTE: Their position on the scale can differ depending on the subject/teacher. There were Year 11s who were realist slackers in German, but highly ambitious, over-achievers in other subjects and vice versa.

As a little educational exercise, those of you with Year 11s in the house, see if you can pinpoint where your one is on each scale, ask your Year 11 where they think they are on the scale, have that discussion rather than the “How’s your revision coming along” discussion.

The High/Over-Achiever vs The Realist

This scale relates to their self-belief or ambition.

The High/Over-Achiever values themselves highly and has high self-belief (they know they can achieve the high grades) and show high levels of successful habits. (see here for explanation of what these are)

They know what they want to achieve and by Jingo, they’re going to achieve it.

The Realist believes that they are what they are and there’s nothing they can do to change things. Full stop, end of story. They have goals and ambitions, but firmly believe they are out of reach and therefore do not even dare to dream.

In my experience most Year 11s lean closer to the Realist end of the scale, unfortunately.

The Slogger vs The Optimist

This scale relates to their attitude to revision

The Slogger will have a strict revision schedule and adhere to it religiously. They have fixed goals and usually have something to prove, to themselves or others. They tend to over-revise and become a little bit obsessed with being in their revision space at exactly 12.20pm because they only have a half hour window to learn the irregular verbs

The Optimist will have their own system which involves turning up to the exam and the information will just appear in their minds at the right time. They are often prone to over-confidence, have a history of success, but never seem to be doing much work at all. They are masters of the ‘Look Busy’ attitude to work.

(NOTE: For some people this style is so successful at school, it persists into adulthood and explains many useless politicians, overpaid executives and CEOs who fail spectacularly, destroying entire companies in the process.)

The Ambitious Year 11  vs The Slacker Year 11

This refers to their work ethic.

Some pupils start working hard in September of Year 11

The Ambitious Year 11, however, will start working hard on day one of Year 10. They make copious, neatly-organised notes, they re-write essays after marking so that they have the original and marked version in their files. Homework is done on time or early. They attend all extra sessions, they stop doing hobbies because ‘exams are coming up I have to revise’.

Come Easter time, they start to forget to do things, such as eat, sleep and, occasionally, breathe.

The Slacker Year 11 group can also be split into the workshy (or lazy) and the resigned (I’m rubbish at this, so what’s the point). The Slacker Year 11 usually only starts working during the Easter holidays, traditionally the time when parents realise that exams are coming up and they’ve never seen their Year 11 even crack open a book. This prompts ‘the exam revision discussion’. This leads to ‘parental-observed’ revision, which is essentially

when a Year 11 ensures that they are studiously revising whenever observed, or when there is a possibility that they are being observed, by their parents.

Although essentially for show, it has the unexpected benefit of them actually looking at the book and therefore actually revising, even if subconsciously.

It is not unusual for a Slacker Year 11 to immediately transform into an Ambitious Year 11 after a shock. This is almost always around the time that they are getting the results of their mock exams in December/January.

I tried not to be alarmed when a pupil, who I thought hated German, suddenly started handing in homework on time or asking for more work. I simply suppressed the urge to be sarcastic and went along with it.

It is also not unusual for an Ambitious Year 11 to transform into a Slacker Year 11. This is usually due to stress or burn out. The solution is reminding them that there is a world outside of the revision bubble and it can be fun.

Whenever I saw my class lose the joy of German, I used to let them watch a German film, one with a frisson of fun/excitement, you’d be astonished what Germans consider appropriate for a 12 certificate!

No, seriously, you’d be astonished…

The key for me was working out where on each of the scales, each pupil is and giving them the tools to reach their potential.

As an overview here’s some strategies I used.

The High/Over-Achiever needs to chill the F out and relax. I would remind them that life needs balance, warn them of burn out and I force them to relax as far as possible, usually by suggesting they (re)start a hobby that has nothing to do with school.

The Realist needs constant positive reassurance and I would work with them through a task they don’t believe they can complete successfully, showing them that they can. This usually involved breaking each task down into smaller achievable tasks.


After a couple of years, I accepted that Year 11s on the far extremes sometimes can’t be helped. Their beliefs are too fixed and certain. These pupils tended to underperform because they put too much or too little pressure on themselves.

The Slogger usually needs to learn to revise smarter. I used to explain how you can use past paper work to focus revision on weaker topics, thus they can be more effective, in less time.

The Optimist needs to be shown that they can’t just walk into an exam and what I usually did was give them a pre-mock surprise test and then I would shave around 10-20% (sometimes up to 30%) off their marks. There’s nothing more guaranteed to shake up an optimist, who generally gets around 80% without even trying, than a mark of around 65%. Sometimes this happens naturally, but sometimes a little bit of harsh marking is necessary to achieve the desired %. Either way, it shakes them up a bit.

As for work ethic and the The Ambitious Year 11  vs The Slacker Year 11

This is the only pairing where my approach was the same.

The entire class would receive my

“Get Your Head In The Game”


Some of my former pupils are very familiar with this speech, as it was often given many times in the Summer Term.

Essentially it involved reminding them that this is their first opportunity to take control of their lives, this is the first time when the amount of effort they put in, shows directly in the results they receive in August.

I told them that they can make the choice what they want to do, but be aware that there is nothing worse than seeing that look on results day. That I-Wish-I-Could-Go-Back-In-Time look. That look when they see a grade and they know they could have got a better one, had they just done a tiny bit more.

Please let me know in comments if you think it’d be good to post, in another article, a more in depth look at strategies I tried and what results I got.

All I can say is that the results were, like the Year 11s themselves, always varied, often unexpected and occasionally surprising.


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