In early 2015, when Maryam was nearly 10, we started to sense that Maryam’s reading, writing and reasoning were at the point she could kind of get things. So we thought it might be a good time for her to start preparing for a few of her GCSE exams.
GCSE’s are taken by all 16 year olds in the UK, who typically take between 5 and 10 subjects, with the exams taken in the space of two or three months.
I felt that by Maryam doing only 3 GCSE’s in one year it would give her an advantage compared to other kids who would be taking 9 or 10. She could spend around 3 times as much time per GCSE.
So, we decided she’d do the following GCSE’s:
i) Maths – she was already around 4 years ahead through doing 1 hour’s Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) every weekday, so a GCSE seemed achievable.
ii) French – she was conversant as Isabelle made her speak French to her if Maryam wanted her dessert in the evening.
iii) Biology – seemed to be a subject that was standalone and involved a lot of memorisation, which Maryam was good at. Maryam also had an interest in it over chemistry, the other memorisation subject.
Notice how individual this was. No school in the UK allows students to decide which subjects to do when. I had to do 9 GCSE’s all in the same year. Why? If I was strong at maths and physics shouldn’t I have done them earlier, and my weaker subjects later? Even if to stagger things so to avoid exam cram. Shouldn’t kids being doing the exams when it’s right for them, not right for the school? It’s not possible at school because there needs to be set classes that all do the work at the same pace. The idea of doing GCSE’s based on my kids’ personal circumstances was liberating.
Now the GCSE’s are a two year course. But given the focus and one to one teaching we thought we’d hopefully need 18 months to get these 3 GCSE’s done.
Isabelle took charged of French and biology – she works from home which made that possible. I took charge of maths – 1 hour in the morning before I rush off to work. Just like in my businesses, responsibilities were clearly defined as were timelines and targets – 18 months to get the top grade (A*’s) in each subject (around 7% of GCSE’s taken are awarded A*’s).
Biology: I was surprised by Isabelle’s decision to teach biology herself given that she’d only studied biology to around GCSE level around two decades ago and following the French syllabus. But she said she’d learn it with Maryam. Bear in mind that Maryam had never studied biology before, unlike most school kids. Isabelle used textbooks, workbooks, and past papers. I should point out that Isabelle is one of the most intelligent people I know so this isn’t for everyone.
French: French was easy for Isabelle to teach, as she’s French. I think Isabelle used an exercise book, vocab lists and past papers.
Maths: For maths we just did past papers, that’s it. No textbook, no exercise book, no notes. That’s my way. So while Khan Academy had taught them around 60% of what they needed to know, the remainder 40% they’d learn through doing questions, and me helping or teaching when she got stuck. I tried to get Maryam to Google things so she’d learn the art of teaching herself, but that didn’t work. She gave up too easily. I’ll leave that for later. When we started going for the GCSE Danyal was almost at Maryam’s level in maths, despite him being 2 years younger, so I decided to teach them maths together. You see that flexibility of home school again?
So during the next year Maryam spent around 4 hours a week on biology, 2 hours a week on French, and 5 hours a week on maths (where Danyal joined in). 2 to 3 months prior to the exams that doubled, and 2 weeks prior almost trebled.
So that brings me to today, 18 months from when they started. A few weeks ago they finished their respective GCSE exams. They actually did international GCSE’s, not GCSE’s but they’re basically the same thing.
We don’t know the result of their GCSE’s yet as they haven’t been released, but Maryam was getting high A*’s in all 3 of her subjects in most past papers before the exams. And Danyal was getting high A*’s in most of his maths papers.
The entire experience was learning for us too, and by going through the process we decided to make some changes for future years and for our littlest one, Sabeen. But that will be in another post…