Part-time jobs eat into A-level revision time

Prime study is being lost according to new research.
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The Independent Online
A SURVEY of students' preparations for the 1999 A-level examinations has revealed a mixed and troubling picture, with some sixth-formers struggling to cope with revision programmes while doing part-time jobs, and others unsure about how and what to revise. Other problems include late notification to students of final examination dates, an over-emphasis on subject preparations rather than overall revision, and difficulties with adjusting successfully from GCSE to A-level.

Robert Peers, an advisory teacher for Northumberland County Council, commissioned me to undertake a revision project" centred on Year 13 students (the A-level students) in three county secondary schools and aimed at tracking their revision progress from January 1999 to the end of the examination period. A detailed questionnaire with a return of 249 students (124 girls and 122 boys) has been completed. Thirty-six teachers have been interviewed, alongside 120 students .

Nine points have already clearly emerged. Many students, including the majority of those interviewed, are doing part-time jobs, some for as many as 15 to 20 hours per week. Work is mostly at weekends, meaning that prime revision time is being lost. Students' opinions vary on whether or not to keep working over the exam period. While most intend to cut the work down or out, some insist there are questions of economic necessity.

"If I do go to university, I don't think it's right to assume that my parents will pay for everything," one girl said.There were a few cases of unsympathetic employers."The computer prints out your shifts, and you just have to get on with it," said a boy who was working for a well-known fast- food chain.

Some students' planning was hampered by late notification of examination dates, with final timetables not available in one school until late March.

A minority of students are still "not sure how to go about organising a revision programme". Before the mocks, 19 per cent felt this and 18 per cent continued to do so in their planning for the final exams. Nine per cent of students "revised only during the mocks,usually the night before each exam", and 15 per cent intend to "start not more than two to three weeks before" the final examinations.

In interviews, recurrent themes included an inability to keep to revision programmes and the struggle to find appropriate methods for different subjects. Boys and girls have different approaches to both planning and methods. Of the 15 per cent quoted above who intended to start revising within three weeks of the final exams, 13 per cent were boys. To take two examples from tables of the comparative frequency with which 31 revision methods were used, written and verbal self-testing was placed fourth on the girls' list and 11th on the boys'."Testing by friends and family" was 12th on the girls' list and 21st on the boys'. Boys generally relied on fewer methods and were more likely to stick to those which involved working alone and at home.

Although there is still a recognisable set of final examinations, many students are now taking subjects which include modular exams during Years 12 and 13. Revision patterns also include schools' internal exams at the end of Year 12 and mocks after the first term of Year 13. Some students had completed mocks in December 1998, followed immediately by modular examinations in January 1999. Revision is no longer just an "end game"; it is a continuous process throughout the two sixth-form years.

Teachers take enormous amounts of time and care over helping students with revision in separate subject areas, often using very detailed and thorough methods. However, those with pastoral responsibilities as sixth- form tutors often felt uncertain at having to move outside their specialist areas to help students with overall revision problems. Advanced GNVQ, with integral revision work and reliance on "end tests" after each unit, is also contributing to changing traditional revision patterns.

A substantial minority of students believe they should be left to sort out their own revision problems. However, they are outnumbered by those who feel that at least some written advice is essential, even in Year 13.

An "induction" period to cover the substantial gap between GCSE and A-level was seen as helpful by most students and many teachers. Further tips for successful revision will become clear after the exam results.