Exam Literacy? Learning the Vocabulary of Exams

Being able to understand the requirements of the question is of crucial importance to our students as they prepare themselves for their VCE Examinations in Year 12. What follows is not an original ideas, but one shared with me by Fern.

I’ve read through all of the 2010, and most of the 2011, VCE Examination Papers for all areas of the curriculum that we cover in our school and the following twelve high frequency ‘calls to action’ emerged:

discuss
describe
define
analyse
explain
compare
examine
evaluate
identify
interpret
outline
propose

Students in years 10 and 11 have an incomplete idea of what these words ask them to do. In addition, the ‘call to action’ that these words deliver is different depending upon the subject being examined. We need to address this if students are to have the best possible chance of success.

One of the ways in which we are going to raise student outcomes is by:

1. Developing a shared definition of the examination keywords (a definition agreed by staff and students)
2. Explicitly teaching this vocabulary in our classes and using it in our assessment tasks across all year levels.
3. In faculty groups of 3-4, write an agreed definition of the 12 words. We’ll collate responses and email around a final version for the agreement of all staff and students.
4. I’ll take the final agreed definitions and make them into signs and posters that we can put in classrooms and general study areas. We can start to use this language in our classrooms.
5. At the same time, we can collect any favourite techniques for learning vocabulary in our classes. It’ll be a great opportunity to share and may give us an opportunity to try out something new, something outside our comfort zone for the benefit of our students.

6. The next stage? Identifying subject specific vocabulary at each year level and working with students in order that they may actively learn them.

Anyone have any great ideas for teaching vocabulary, including the language of exams, at their school?

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