Monday, February 16, 2015

Advice for Passing O Levels Exams Privately

Quite a few of Karachi homeschoolers have reached the age of their O Levels exams. Zainab has passed a few already (very successfully!) and kindly agreed to share her preparation process with other homeschooling families. Jazak Allah Khair, Zainab! 
My parents have been homeschooling me for the past 4 years and I have given 4 CIE O level exams Alhamdulilah. I sat the English and Biology exams at the end of the year 2013 and sat Physics and Chemistry exams at the end of 2014.

 My parents, both of whom are doctors, taught me the science subjects. I went through the books with them once and they helped me understand the difficult concepts (with the help of scientific animations on Youtube). My mother, who taught me chemistry, calls herself a facilitator, not a teacher. That’s because she does not remember a lot of O level Chemistry. But having her around for support, having her there to help me find the answers to my questions on the internet, having her read the book with me once, was very helpful Alhamdulilah. For practicals, I either did them imaginarily with my father, or took the help of Youtube. However, I don’t think this method will be useful in A levels, we will probably need access to a lab then.

As for English, I just read a lot of English books, and did a bunch of its past papers.

2 months before the exams of the science subjects, I started taking notes from the books. By taking notes, I mean rewriting the whole book concisely in my own words. The purpose of the notes was not just to help me with last minute revision but to help me memorize the contents of the book. This process of note-making may take long and may be difficult for school goers as they have assignments, projects, and tests every other day (an advantage of being a homeschooler is, I don’t have to hand in assignments and projects, and give tests every other day J) Anyhow, after taking these notes, I attempted a few past papers, and got an A in all of them Alhamdulilah. The reason I did not get A*s in these early past papers was because I was unfamiliar with the pattern of the papers.
If one is aiming for an A*, they must also do past papers. Not the just read past papers and their mark schemes. The actual, complete past papers are available on Don’t use the redspot past papers, because they are meant to be read only, not done. And in my case, unless I don’t write down answers and correct my mistakes later on, I forget the answers. When doing past papers, always use mark schemes. Sometimes we assume our answers are correct by checking from our textbooks. Little do we know they we lost a mark in the exam because we wrote “Potassium Manganate” instead of “Acidified Potassium Manganate” or because we underlined an answer when we were clearly instructed to circle the answer.  One can prevent such mistakes if they have experience of doing past papers and checking answers from mark schemes.

 I must also emphasize that students should study their textbooks that are endorsed by Cambridge and not teachers’ notes or anything of the sort. Teachers’ notes will make no sense unless one has read the books thoroughly.

 Students should also be mentally prepared about the timespan in which they have to complete a certain chapter, finish a certain book and sit a certain exam.

 Constantly nagging children and giving them a few guilt trips is necessary in order to make them self sufficient so that they can study on their own, without friends:)

 Also, I did not require any tuitions Alhamdulillah. All I needed was help from my parents and the internet.

 I will inshAllah be giving my remaining O level exams (Islamiyat, Urdu, Pak Studies, and Maths) this summer inshAllah. Please pray that Allah grants me success in these exams too.

 Lastly, I thank Allah and my parents for their tireless efforts while teaching me.

 Zainab Moazzam (Zainab Binte Arifa)