“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out” – Robert Collier
Your lesson begins. You present your students with a quick recap quiz to assess their readiness for their GCSE exam (which has somehow crept up on all of us). Answers are given and students score themselves out of 10. Scores range from 2 to 10. The panic and anxiety begins to set in for all students gaining lower scores – they have not been revising. Those gaining perfect scores? Fatigue and exhaustion are obvious – they’ve been doing too much revision!
As teachers, it can be difficult to see what impact we can have on the amount of revision a student completes (and to make sure this impact isn’t negative). Below are some hints and tips about how revision can become engaging and help to make sure students revise in the right way.
1. Location, location, location
As Kirsty and Phil will tell you, location is everything. This is especially true when revising for GCSE exams. The where can be just as important as the what. Revision should ideally be done in a quiet area which isn’t likely to have much “family traffic” – younger siblings and pets are unlikely to help with focus. Students should ensure their revision space is comfortable and free of any other potential distractions. That means turn off the laptop, mobile phone, PlayStation, TV and tablet (N.B. Facing the screen down is not the same as turning it off).
Ideally, GCSE revision should happen in a school or college, bedroom, or library. Advise your students to be wary of revising in public places which are overly busy, as this can bring other distractions. Another good tip for your students is to make sure their revision area is clean and tidy, as clutter can be just as distracting as family members!
2. It’s all in the timing
For the most effective GCSE revision, students should timetable revision slots into their day. As well as being timetabled, advise them to ensure they aren’t revising for longer than 20-30 minutes without a 5 minute break. It’s important to emphasise that this 5-minute break does not mean a social media check-in or quick selfie – instead, encourage your students to channel their inner Joe Wicks and go for a short walk, grab some fresh air, or have a glass of water (not an energy drink) or a healthy snack. Good timing also means revising at a suitable time of day: not at 11 o’clock at night, or 5am if it means they’re exhausted. Make sure your students understand the importance of a good night’s sleep, and that revising when they’re fresh will be so much more productive!
3. Teamwork makes the dream work
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Ken Blanchard
Students don’t always realise this, but they have an enormously supportive and diverse team around them that they aren’t fully using: friends, family and teachers can all be used for revision. Encourage your students to arrange times to revise with friends, and make revision more interactive and engaging by setting short quizzes to aid memory and check progress. Family members can also help – ask students to give family members potential questions to quiz them over breakfast or later in the day.
Students can also chat with friends about their strengths and weaknesses and tutor each other. Again, this doesn’t have to be a mammoth revision session – just 20-30 minutes. It could be done through WhatsApp, or any other social media apps students are using day to day, to enable them to easily support each other. Which leads us onto…
4. Tech back control
With an overreliance on smartphones, tablets, laptops and the internet, students can often become distracted during revision – and we can’t always win that battle or the war.
Well, if you can’t beat them, join them.
A quick way to boost student engagement is to use the technology they are already using. From websites such as BBC Bitesize and SparkNotes, to YouTube channels such as Mr Bruff and Hegarty Maths, there are a wealth of options for GCSE revision support.
And this is all without taking into account the power of social media. On Twitter and Facebook alone there are hundreds of groups to aid with GCSE revision. Why not ask your students to video themselves giving information on topics, and watch it back later? Why not set up a departmental Twitter account or Facebook Group and add revision materials and useful videos for students to revise with? This instantly removes a range of student excuses because they now have portable revision tools to revise on the go.
5. Variety is the spice of life
YouTube videos, websites and group chats can all be positive methods of GCSE revision, but too much screen time can be damaging. With this in mind, remind students that there are lots of ways to revise:
- Create flashcards with key words and important information to trigger knowledge
- Create mind maps for topics and exam question tips
- Use post-it notes and coloured paper to help organise topics (research shows colour is better than black and white)
- Set short quizzes
- Complete practice questions / papers
- Use school revision materials
- Write summary notes on important topics or events
- Use diagrams and tables
… and then return to the smartphone / tablet / laptop / Xbox!
Completing GCSE revision alone, with a friend, in small groups, or with family members will also add to the variety.
6. The constant reviser
‘I would ask for consistency first of all’ – Sylvia Plath
The most important element of revision is consistency. Make sure (as best you can) that students complete at least 20-30 minutes of GCSE revision every day, and regularly monitor their own progress through short quizzes or completing exam questions / papers and checking past scores. If students miss revision over an extended period, it is harder and harder for them to return to it – support them to be consistent in their GCSE revision and they will reap the rewards.
Chances are that if students do miss revision, they will begin to feel deflated, so remember…
7. It’ll be alright on the night
Whatever GCSE revision your students complete, always be positive and praise their effort. Well-being and mental health are constantly under threat during exam season, and even one positive comment outside of lessons can be the difference between high-quality revision (and happiness) and aimless re-reading (coupled with feelings of failure).
Consistency in GCSE revision is a two-way street, and we must always make sure that students feel supported in completing their exam revision and extra work. This can extend to rewards for students who consistently complete revision (stationary or a quick note home will do) or reminding students that they can reward themselves – for example, why not go to the cinema if they have regularly revised?
Be consistent, keep GCSE revision easy to access and simple to complete, and not only will those quiz scores start to rise, but students will become more confident in their knowledge and more engaged in (and out) of lessons. Even Phil and Kirsty would approve of that.
Jonny Kay is Head of English and Maths at Hartlepool College of Further Education. He has previously worked as an English Teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk