Easter revision courses: A good investment?

It doesn't come cheap, but getting help with revising could prove worthwhile, says Alex McRae
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The Independent Online

Easter revision - two words guaranteed to send an icy shiver down your spine. Faced with the prospect of spending three weeks holed up behind a stack of files and long-forgotten cups of tea, feverishly poring over last year's notes, it's easy to feel panicked. So, it makes sense that an increasing number of students and parents are signing up for one of the many Easter revision courses run by colleges and schools across the country.

These courses usually run for one to two weeks over the Easter holidays, and aim to prepare students for their GCSEs and A-levels. Students are usually taught in small groups, focusing on particular subject areas. Many courses also teach students new study skills and exam techniques. But are they worth the investment?

"Grades-wise, the course made a big difference," says Ben Stevenson, 20. Now in his second year studying geography and international relations at Oxford Brookes University, he went on a week-long Easter revision course to brush up his grade in AS-level business studies, at D'Overbroeck's College in Oxford, where a six- day non-residential course covering two subjects costs £655. This year, his younger brother is going on the course. "I needed to retake some modules. I was E- grade level, but after the course I boosted that up to a C, a pretty big jump."

Ben adds that his grade improved because on the revision course he felt free to ask as many questions as he wanted. "All you had to do was stick up your hand, and the teachers would give you individual attention. They simplified everything. Sometimes, at school, you don't feel you can take up the teacher's time to ask a question. But on the course, nobody felt embarrassed to say 'I don't understand,' so you could go back over stuff. It meant that I felt confident going into the exam."

"A lot of it is down to confidence," agrees Victoria Alexander, senior vice-principal of Surrey College, an independent fifth- and sixth- form college in Guildford that runs week-long revision courses costing £495 a week. "Students can confirm what they know on a course, rather than worrying about what they don't."

Most revision courses get students to practice answering exam questions in their subject, and provide them with feedback, so that they feel undaunted when they finally face the real paper. And many places teach exam techniques such as time management, on top of the classes spent polishing up students' knowledge of their subject. Alexander advises parents choosing a revision course to check which subjects are covered, because some institutions can fit in with individual students' needs. It's also worth comparing timetables, to see how the course is structured, and how much time students spend with a teacher each day.

But aren't such revision courses just for less-able students? Not at all, says Harry Ogden, business director of Harrow School Enterprises, the commercial arm of the public school, where six half-days of A-level revision classes cost £415. "In the dark old days, students who were struggling took them. Now, many students do them as an insurance policy, to ensure that they get a good grade." Ben Stevenson agrees. "It's not embarrassing. Anyone can do a revision course and get better marks."

What if you're bored with your subject, and the thought of spending a whole week immersed in it sounds lethally dull? You might be surprised, says Alexander. "It's useful to have a new perspective from another teacher. All of a sudden, you can get a completely different idea of what your subject is about, and find everything falls into place."

Bridget Norton, registrar of D'Overbroeck's, agrees that a change of scene can be invigorating. "You can get a huge boost to morale from working alongside new students and teachers. Especially at A-level, a revision course can give a fresh slant to a subject and renew your enthusiasm."

Also, because revision courses are organised and fairly intensive, students can be sure that they are making good use of their time. So there's none of the guilt about frittering time away. "It really helped that the revision is structured, so you're booked up during the day," says Kreena Patel, 17, who did a Harrow revision course before GCSEs, and who is returning this Easter to prepare for A-levels. "And when you return home, it's easier to study. I'd definitely recommend it."