BTEC qualifications offer you a great opportunity to showcase your academic abilities away from the high-pressured environment of the exam room. But have you ever tried googling or looking in forums for advice on ‘How can I get a Distinction in my BTEC National Diploma?' or ‘best BTEC studying tips’? There's not a lot of help online! But don’t worry, we’re here to help with some top tips from our students!
1. Start as soon as possible
First things first, start! Leaving it all to the last minute and trying to catch up at the end doesn’t really work with BTECs. Begin working on your portfolio as soon as you’re given it. This not only means you have more time to work on it, but it also means that the information you’ve been given is fresh in your mind, so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re doing. Try starting easy and sketch out some kind of plan for what you’re going to do, and then you’ve got a framework to start from, rather than starting weeks later and having no idea what to do!
A plan is the best way of starting. Take into consideration the amount of time you have and think of a way of fitting all the assignment and portfolio tasks in that time.
Student tip: Andreea Dalia Blaga
2. Make your portfolio as manageable as possible
Stay organised by making an assignment timetable – this will keep you motivated and assure you know what work is coming up. Your portfolio should feature examples of research and the development of your ideas and projects – this should be highly presentable and well organised. Make sure you continually add work to your portfolio and don’t leave it until the last minute. It may be useful to arrange your work into themes, styles or chronological order. It’s important to meet the deadlines so that you can get feedback from your teacher(s) and understand how to reach the higher grades. Prioritise and plan - you’ll thank yourself later!
If you are doing BTECs, try to get all your coursework done throughout the year so towards the end of the year you are organised and less stressed.
Student tip Sarah Shah
3. Always stay on the ball
As there are generally no exams for BTEC qualifications and each unit is entirely coursework, you aren’t relying on last minute exam cramming like some A Level students and that’s a massive advantage for you! However, this does mean that you do need to focus all year round so it’s essential that you work to the best of your ability in every lesson to avoid falling behind with your work. Organise yourself - look after important documents and keep on top of assignments and homework. If you’re aiming for top marks you’ll need to do some more complex tasks involving independent research - this is where you will need the most focus and determination.
If you do several BTECs then make sure you keep on top of them all and not leave one or two until the very last minute as it may compromise your grade.
Student tip: Tina Kodra
4. Don’t be a copy cat
Plagiarism is a sure fire way to fail, no matter how hard you’ve worked! In order to achieve a BTEC qualification, you must produce your own work. You will not be allowed to copy any words from textbooks, the Internet or other students (past and present) without referencing the source (as a minimum and no, Grandma Pat is unfortunately not a credible source). So much information is readily available online these days it’s easy to fall into a trap of taking what’s written as literal – so make sure you use legitimate academic references. Remember Wikipedia isn’t a credible source! Make sure everything is in your own words; as you’ll need to sign a declaration stating that it’s your own original work.
And last but definitely not least….
5. Pace and reward yourself
All work and no play makes a very unhappy student! Studying needn’t be joyless. After you’ve finished a piece of work, or met one of your goals for that week, reward yourself in some way. It can be something small like getting a coffee with a friend or buying something you really wanted - did someone say new shoes? Alternatively, if you’ve finished a big goal, like your portfolio, you can go out and treat yourself to something much bigger, like a festival ticket! Did you know Eminem is headlining Leeds and Reading this year? If that isn’t a motivation for you, we don’t know what else is!
Now I'm no expert in the field of assessment and marking that's for sure, but I have done enough of it as a teacher to know a thing or two about doing it well. But I was not always a great marker. As a PGCE student I struggled with the best of them. It was like raw hell to me, I just could not understand how anyone could possibly do this marking malarkey on a regular basis.
As I began my NQT year I began to keep up with the marking load, just about. I was happy with my progress, until one day I was dealt a foul blow. Half-termly book monitoring had just taken place and I had been very good, got all the right books in to the right teacher at the right time. Then my head of department came around with a photocopied booklet and handed it to me. As I looked through the booklet of top tips and things to avoid I began to see that all the things to avoid actually applied to me. I felt so embarrassed and a little ashamed that I was getting it so wrong when I thought it was so right.
So began my mission to be a 'super marker.' I took every bit of advice that was given to me and made it my new marking Bible. So below are the top five marking techniques:
Marking and reflection
I can remember the lesson that I realised that full-on marking is simply not necessary all of the time. I had been up late once again marking a heap of year 9 books. I had marked those books to within an inch of their lives, nearly killing myself in the process. The lesson began. I handed the books back to the pupils and allowed them time to mull over the mountain of comments filling every possible space. A silence fell over the room. I stood at the front of the class smiling and nodding to myself about what a wonderful job I had done. Then one kid raised his hand: "Miss, I'm not being funny but is my work shit coz you have bloody ripped it to shreds here! I can't see much I have done right. You have written more than me, miss." I was gutted to say the least. But he was right. I had done too much. Where on earth should they start with a book marked like that?
There is a place for in-depth, all inclusive marking perhaps once a term, no more. However, most of the time I stick to focused marking because I find it is much easier for the students to digest. I find it is much better that teachers find a key focus, something that will really make the difference and move them on and focus on that. Share the focus with the students before they complete the task and break it down, then off they go. They will know what you have marked for and be able to connect with is straight away. Manageable for us and them alike, everyone is happy.
When I began teaching I was so concerned with making them stay in their seats and finish the task that I very rarely thought about rewards. The reward is the acquisition of knowledge and the sense of achievement students gain from getting a concept, right? Well, yes of course, that is true, but we all need motivators. I remember the first sheet of stickers that were given to me, with the hushed words: "I'm not supposed to give these to PGCE students so don't tell anyone."
I don't care what anyone says, everyone loves a sticker. I now use stickers every time I mark work be it year 7 or year 13. I will only reward someone with a sticker if I feel they have really progressed in their work, I let them know this and they always love it. A little sparkle in their eye appears even if they then pretend not to have noticed. I'm sure there is room for some sort of teacher sticker scheme, I know it would motivate me.
I honestly do not think I did effective student-centred marking until I was a good few years into teaching. I remember being observed in a lesson where I used peer marking as part of it. My observer asked why I did the peer marking section of the lesson and what I wanted to achieve. I suddenly realised I had missed the point of peer marking.
Now I use peer marking frequently with all key stages. I will share with them the marking criteria I must use when mark their work, get them to reword it or highlight most important things that are being assessed prior to the task. I do this as standard at all ages with all ability groups. We discuss the skills and levels as a class or in groups. I allow them to choose the levels they are aiming for and connect with that level in some manner. Once the task is complete we will revisit the mark schemes they have deconstructed, clarify any issues with it now the task has been completed. Then peer marking will take place with their study buddies. I always model the task and the marking, talking them through the thinking process. I focus them on how I mark their books for guidance. We use green pen for peer/self-marking and a different consistent colour for my marking. Works like a dream if you keep practising it.
Another favourite tool is my verbal feedback stamper. I carry this around with me to all my lessons. I generally use it as I walk around when pupils are working in groups or individually, I discuss an element of whatever they are doing in depth, stamp their books and ask them to note bullet points down.
Individual marking meetings
A few years ago I was teaching a very challenging year 11 class. We were studying Macbeth and working on a question about how a key character was presented. The students could gather points about the character and collect quotes but when it came to finding their own ideas to explain these points and quotes they were completely stuck. I began to meet each student individually to discuss their draft essay feedback and see if I could get them thinking on their own. One-by-one they began to gain confidence.
I love these sessions. Once each half-term I hold individual marking meetings with all my classes. I set the class up to do some silent work or reading, often with some classical music in the background and set about meeting each student one by one to quietly discuss their work and progress. I time this so that it falls just before to reports going home so that they can fully understand where they are before a barrage of levels come at them in their report card. It is really special, you get to see them in a completely different light and is really effective for making all your students feel valued.
Sarah Findlater can be found on Twitter @MsFindlater. She has worked in London schools since she began teaching. She has been KS3 coordinator for English, head of languages and communications faculty (English, media and MFL) and is now an assistant headteacher.