Cram your way to success

It will soon be revision time - and knuckling down to serious work can be tough. Diana Hinds looks at the schools and colleges that are laying on special courses to help students make a start
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The Independent Online

William Wynter Bee, 17, from Wellington College, speaks for many teenagers when he admits to finding revising on his own a bit tiresome. "It's not great," he says. "I'm not as efficient as I might be, and sometimes I just sit there and drift off a bit."

William Wynter Bee, 17, from Wellington College, speaks for many teenagers when he admits to finding revising on his own a bit tiresome. "It's not great," he says. "I'm not as efficient as I might be, and sometimes I just sit there and drift off a bit."

Successful revision depends on a number of factors. It demands a calm, comfortable learning environment, allied to a structured daily programme, with proper breaks - but not too many - for rest and play. The revising student must be disciplined as well as motivated, and must be equipped with all the necessary notes, texts and past papers, and be supported by family, friends and, where appropriate, teachers.

There's no getting away from the fact that all students, whether preparing for GCSEs, AS-levels or A2s, will at some point have to knuckle down to the business of revising on their own. But most students will benefit from some guidance, and there are a number of ways this can be provided.

Most schools do all they can to help students to organise and set about their revision. At Seven Kings School in Essex (a large comprehensive where 84 per cent of GCSE pupils gain five A*-Cs), Sir Alan Steer, the head, has advanced the revision process by doing away with the traditional period of so-called study leave. Instead of spending four to six weeks at home, Seven Kings students come into school for a highly-structured revision programme.

Easter revision courses are another possibility. Some schools lay on their own, and some families choose to spend £600 or more a week to send their children on revision courses organised by independent schools or tutorial colleges.

Wellington College, Berkshire, has been running Easter revision courses (residential and non-residential) for the past 20 years. It was one of the first independent schools to do so. About 400 students now enrol, from state and independent schools. One girl, according to the course director Dr Mark Farrington, came from as far afield as Newport in Wales, having saved up her earnings from a Saturday job.

A residential week at Wellington College costs about £650. Work assignments continue until 9pm, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of the school's sporting and recreational facilities for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

William Wynter Bee went on GCSE and AS Easter courses at Wellington, and this year has signed up for A2 maths. "It's quite a good way to start your revision, because it shows you everything you've got to revise, and it's helpful to get another teacher's angle on a topic," he says. "It's also quite fun. You meet a lot of people, and you get more freedom than you do at school; you talk to the teachers more as friends."

No amount of Easter revision courses, however, can work magic for students who fail to make the necessary commitment to their subjects in the months leading up to exams. Mario Di Clemente, vice-principal of Mander Portman Woodward in London, is firm on this point: "We tell parents that how much we can help depends on how much students do between now and Easter to get their revision started."

The college offers 20-hour courses on individual subjects (£416), and the majority are tailored to the specific requirements of different exam boards. Small classes - a maximum of nine at GCSE, eight at A-level - mean that students have a greater chance of "being heard and being helped," says Di Clemente. "Our courses are about fine-tuning what the students know. We can build on progress, polish up examination requirements, and send students away feeling more confident."

Christine Mycock, vice-principal of Abbey College, Manchester, reports that the number of GCSE students on revision courses (£300 for five days, 9am-2.30pm, English, maths and science) is increasing. A common problem in exams, she says, is that students tend to write down everything that they know, and course tutors - some of whom are examiners - can help them to tackle exam questions more discriminatingly. "We hope that these courses will spur the students into action so that they know, between Easter and the exams, which bits to do more work on," Mycock says.

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