Education Quandary

'My daughter is doing all her GCSE revision on the computer, but I think that she's avoiding getting down to real swotting. Am I old-fashioned?'
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Hilary's Advice

Hilary's Advice

It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. The effectiveness of any kind of revision depends entirely on the focus and motivation of the student doing it, and it is as easy to daydream over a book as it is to wander off down seductive byways on the internet. So, yes, you are being old-fashioned. There is nothing magical about printed words on a page, and forcing your daughter to do it that way won't be productive.

But you're right about the computer being addictive, so find out what she's up to when she's on it, and monitor the amount of time she spends staring at it. As with all revision, frequent breaks, glasses of water and leg stretches need to be part of the schedule.

However, good computer-based revision seems to work. A recent survey of more than 30,000 students showed that those who did 10 hours or more of it (and 10 hours isn't much for big exams like these) did significantly better in their GCSEs than they had been predicted to do - and the effect was particularly marked among lower-attaining students.

How do you find good computer revision? Look for high quality, up-to-date programmes that offer students the chance to practise answering GCSE questions, give them feedback on how well they are doing, and help them improve. If in doubt, go for big names such as the BBC's GCSE Bitesize, Channel 4's Homework High, or SAM Learning - a system now used in a third of all secondary schools. But there are plenty of other good resources. Browse through S-cool! and Schoolsnet, or look at some subject-specific sites such as frenchrevision, schoolhistory and mathsisfun.

But your daughter also needs to build a variety of ways of working into her revision timetable. Make sure she also uses course books, her own lesson notes and essays, and any hand-outs from school.

And if she isn't prepared to talk to you about any of this, or to show you what she's up to on the computer, be suspicious. It probably means that "history revision" is just a cover for hanging out on MSN, downloading music, or entering competitions to meet her favourite band.

Readers' Advice

I revised a great deal on the computer before my GCSEs. I would have my e-mails, MSN and my favourite ER website open at the same time, and flick over to them every time I felt I needed a break (about every 30 seconds). However, information on even the best of the revision websites was often incomplete and ambiguous, and rarely syllabus-specific.

These sites are not tailored to an individual's level of achievement and the practise papers they offer barely resemble an actual GCSE paper, so offer no help with exam technique. The greatest use of the internet is to download and print off syllabuses (available from the exam board websites) to use as checklists for going through written course notes and then as a research tool to fill in any holes that may arise. Inevitably, this is a much less enjoyable method.

Kate Stark, Manchester

Depends what your daughter is doing on line. Do you know? Computer activities for most teenage kids are no more or less addictive than TV, mobile phones, magazines or clubbing - and, like them, they can be positive or counterproductive. You need to try to find out what she's getting up to (if you can do it without getting a mouthful of abuse). The internet can be a useful resource, but is certainly not the only one, or even the best.

Chris Bissell, Bedford

I work in computers, so I know the pitfalls. Make sure she has a specific task in mind, give her a time limit and don't let her surf aimlessly about from one website to another, otherwise she will think she is working when all she is doing is clicking a mouse.

Mike Lightfoot, Reigate

Next quandary

Many children now arrive in my city reception class with poor speech and non-existent attention skills. They need to develop their speaking and listening skills within structured play, but the local education authority and their parents want me to rush them into formal reading and writing. Why don't they realise that pushing them into things they're not ready for will only harm their chances?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 26 April, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser