Last few weeks of revision

You have taught your classes the full exam board specification over the past couple of years and they have completed their 20 hours of the programming project. Now you have just a few short weeks left to consolidate it all and make sure your students retain as much as feasibly possible before the exams start. How can you use these last few crucial lessons to the best effect?

Student GCSE computer science revision

Running revision lessons

In these last few weeks you must plan what you would like to cover, much as you would with normal teaching and have a clear focus for each lesson, rather than let your students drift aimlessly about.

Start the session by giving each student a copy of the exam specification for that focused area, so they know what they are expected to be familiar with. You can also provide your class with a knowledge organiser about your selected topic or point them towards the correct section in their text books or the location of other resources such as your past PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos etc.

Revision can be a highly personalised process, so encourage your pupils to pick a method that works for them. It’s worth introducing your class to a few different methods as they may find a technique they had not tried before, but if some prefer to highlight text and others want to draw spider diagrams, that’s fine. Some pupils may like to stick to the same technique for every revision session and others may want to mix and match depending on how they are feeling or what they are studying. Give them a set amount of lesson time in which they can revise the topic giving them the freedom to do this in anyway that works for them.

Here are a few revision techniques that work well in a classroom.

Spider diagrams

Have plenty of colourful pencils on hand and some large A3 sheets of paper. Start with a main concept in the centre of the page and make this bright, graphical and colourful. Next, divide the overall subject into sub-headings and spread these around the central point, linking with lines. Next divide each of those branches into twigs. It doesn’t matter how many sub-divisions of twigs your students get as long as the diagram includes labels that make sense and they draw graphics where possible to help boost memory retention.

Highlight and annotate text

computer science GCSE knowledge organiser

This can be useful and is generally quite popular so make sure you have a stock of highlighter pens at the ready and some photocopied pages of a textbook or knowledge organisers that you don’t mind them scribbling on (i.e. not your valuable copies of class text books). If your class has their own text books or AQA or OCR workbooks, encourage them to highlight and annotate in those allowing them to keep all their notes together. Many students find that marking text with highlighter pens or writing in the margins helps them to concentrate, but it can cause problems when pupils don’t know how to highlight effectively.

They should aim to highlight the following:

  • specialised terms

  • a sentence or word that sums up an important idea or an advantage or disadvantage of the technology

  • short examples of how technology is used.

Delete irrelevant text

This can be useful for pupils who are too quick to highlight all the text. Instead of highlighting text they want to keep, ask them to cross out text they think is irrelevant, leaving only the relevant, most important points visible. This can be harder to do as the action of crossing it out makes them really think about if it is necessary as it cannot be undone.

Re-write text

Re-writing text has been shown to help improve memory retention and understanding over passively reading text*. Your pupils should write down the main points, leaving a gap between each of the headings, then they go back and fill in the gaps, summarising the main points in their own words. The exercise is not an attempt to write everything down, just reflect the main themes. Once this has been completed, pupils should try to write a bullet point list from memory, going back and filling in points they may have missed afterwards.

Know it – list it – test it

As an alternative to the re-write text technique above, this technique involves pupils writing down what they already know about a subject first BEFORE reading any of the text. Then, as they read the text, they make a list of any NEW information they are learning. They should then cover that text and try to re-write the original text and new information from memory.

Post-it notes and index cards

You will need a ready supply of post-it notes and index cards for your pupils to use. They can use them to write definitions of key phrases, important points to remember or write short examples. They can be used for look, cover, say, write exercises, to create a spider-diagram or to arranged them into a sequence or groups. Post-it notes also allow pupils to write possible exam questions and stick them in the relevant page of their text books. They can create a set of index cards which include a question on one side and the answer on the back. These can be used to allow family and friends to test them when they are away from the classroom.

Use classroom quiz shows

After the pupils have had a chance to revise the topic you can recap what they have learnt by using a team quiz. These allow students to build on prior knowledge and reinforce concepts which may have been unclear to them, especially if they need to work together to build a complex answer. Familiar TV style quiz formats are popular and can help motivate students to participate.

High five Teacher

Quizzes and gameshows can help reduce test anxiety and have the added advantage of giving you instant feedback about your class’s understanding and gaps in their knowledge. Prizes and celebrations should be used to make the process more enjoyable for the class but be careful to also celebrate the teams which don’t win and help them see their participation was still valued.

Use past papers

Using past papers is crucial and should not be ignored. They give valuable practice on exam technique and familiarity with the kinds of questions that come up in exams, but some lower ability pupils can find it deeply stressful to be constantly reminded of their failings. There are a couple of things you can do to overcome this, and these techniques can be used in class time or when they are working on the past papers at home:

Answer yourself

Give your pupils a question and a possible answer that you have written yourself, including errors or missing information. Ask them to mark it using the marking scheme and ask them to explain to you how your answer could have been improved. Pupils are always happy to critique your work and it helps show them how to avoid making the same error in their own answers.

Answer with notes

Give them a single past paper question to answer. Encourage them to attempt to answer the question on their own first without help from their notes. Then instruct them to go through their revision notes, past lessons, text books etc and revise that topic before attempting the same question again. They should then check their final answer in the mark scheme.

It is also important that all pupils practise past papers using a timer and without the help of their notes to fully prepare them for their exams. If you are using the techniques mentioned above it is important you make it very clear when you expect them to work through a timed paper without help so you can get an accurate assessment of their current abilities.

Combat exam anxiety

We know a bit of stress is normal and indeed helpful but too much has been proved to lower performance at GCSE**. There are several things you can do to help reduce a pupil’s exam anxiety:

Keep calm

Pupils pick up on your body language. If you are panicking about the imminent exams, it is imperative to try and hide it from your classes. Keep smiling and encouraging them and save your own melt-down for the weekends or evenings.

Teacher stress

Share the experience

Revision can be very isolating. Pupils are stuck in a room on their own, possibly for hours at a time, and it can make pupils feel they are the only ones going through it. It can be helpful to take a moment using tutor or class time to talk about how they are feeling as a group. Make sure it doesn’t disintegrate into a moaning session but use it to tell the class that their feelings are understandable, and they can get through it. You could even go through some deep breathing and mindfulness exercises to help them control their anxiety.

Even if some would prefer not to talk, they will still take some consolation that others are in the same boat and their feelings are normal. You could share your own memories of revision (so long as they are not too horrific) and remind your students it is important to take time to spend with their friends or family to balance their revision time. Encourage them to eat their meals with their family and talk to other students during break and lunch times, rather than locking themselves away in the library. Also, remind them of the importance of getting enough sleep and now is not the time to be staying up late on computer games or watching YouTube videos of people hurting themselves in elaborate ways.

After-school study sessions

Not only can you use these to focus their revision and answering questions they may have, but these sessions allow you to monitor your pupils’ levels of anxiety.

One-to-one sessions

For pupils who are struggling to manage their anxiety it can help to talk to a school counsellor. They probably won’t ask for the help themselves as they may not know that they are not coping so, as the adult, it is down to you to take the initiative if you spot a pupil who is overly stressed or anxious. Don’t leave it to others to step in, do it yourself and get the pupils the help they need.

It is a stressful time of year for both students and teachers so make sure you take time to relax and switch off for a couple of hours. Go out for a walk to the pub on a Sunday afternoon, watch a film without your computer nearby, taunting you, or spend time with your family or friends and promise not to talk about school. If you want to help your pupils, make sure you also look after yourself.

* Jeremy J. S. B. Hall (2002) created the “Learning Pyramid” which showed passive reading retained 10% of the information but participatory learning allowed retention rates of between 50% - 90%.

** Robert Yerkes and John Dodson created the “Inverted-U” Graph (1908) show low performance levels and negative feelings due to overwhelming stress. Nixon, P (1979) created the “Stress Response Curve” showing the drop off in retention and performance as stress overload occurs.

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