How to build students’ momentum for GCSE revision from January onwards

Photo of students in class

In the cold and dark days of December and January the warmth of the summer months can seem a very long way away. As teachers, we know that the exam period comes around much sooner then we’d like. However, most of our students, who are entering their first official exam period, still think they have plenty of time left. Encouraging students to start revising is always a challenge, and while the mocks will invigorate some, a significant number will not yet have begun.

With a three-year Key Stage 4 becoming increasingly common, some of the topics that feature prominently in the exam will have first been covered a very long time ago for some students. As such, working with our students to build momentum in their revision as early as possible is important. Looking at the number of weeks we have left until Easter 2019, we have just enough time to alternate weeks of revision with weeks of homework for the new content still being covered.

This revision doesn’t need to be in the same style every time, it doesn’t have to be labour intensive for teachers to set or mark, and it doesn’t need to involve a lot of photocopying. There is a wide range of resources we can use to help our students revise; in addition to using past-paper questions and workbooks, we can use videos, multiple-choice questions, or online flashcards.

With exam board specifications putting an emphasis on practicals (a minimum of 15% of the marks) setting a homework task requiring students to watch a video of a particular practical can be a useful reminder of what they have done in class; combining this with practice questions covering the relevant practical skills ensures they pay attention to the video.

Creating online quizzes and multiple-choice questions that students can use repeatedly for revision, which can be set for multiple classes at once and also have the benefit of marking themselves, is now relatively easy for teachers. This can often be achieved through your school’s virtual learning environment (VLE) or by other online services that students can use to revise on their phones while on the bus to school.

Starters are a great way to incorporate revision into every lesson. Nearly all my starters follow the same format: five short questions consisting of one or two from last lesson, one or two from the last topic, and the rest from older topics. This encourages students to look at the notes in their book to help recall the answers and to be continuously going over older topics.

We know that students’ ability to recall the facts and skills taught in previous lessons drops off with time. Teachers need to encourage the habit of revising little and often to help students retain what they have been taught and show examiners how well they can do in exams.

Photo of Primrose KittenPrimrose Kitten is an experienced science teacher with a passion for helping students to achieve their best. As well as teaching science at both GCSE and A Level, she produces online resources and videos to support students with revision and exam preparation and is the author of the Oxford AQA GCSE Science Required Practicals Exam Practice Workbooks.