Give your exam chances a boost with a revision course

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The Independent Online

If there's one thing you need for exams, it is confidence. Perhaps you've just sat your AS mocks and didn't get the grade you expected. Perhaps you don't feel you know how to write a GCSE essay at all. If this is the case – and money is no object – how about an Easter revision course?

"I was having difficulties with organizing essays for my English literature GCSE," says Megan Leppard, 17. "I wasn't sure what to put in the introduction and how to conclude it. I was also having problems with algebra and I just wasn't getting the individual attention I needed."

So Megan decided to sign up for a course at Davies Laing & Dick (DLD), the independent sixth form college, where she was given tips on essay writing in exams. She could take things at her own pace, and found it easier revising in a small group than alone. That was two years ago: Leppard passed her GCSEs, and now she's joined the college full time.

If you're hoping for good results this summer, then revision over Easter is vital, according to the Conference of Independent Further Education (Cife), an organization of 14 independent sixth form colleges. Most Cife colleges offer short intensive revision courses at GCSE, AS and A2. Some offer one subject a week, others run two or three. And they promise that a lot of exam practice will build confidence.

"Easter revision is a general way to consolidate learning," says Fiona Pocock, Cife chair. She's also principal of Oxford Tutorial College, which runs day and residential Easter revision courses. This year is especially important because the old A-level syllabus ends in June, she says, which means it's the last chance to sit AS units.

The main aim of Easter revision is for students to become secure in their subject knowledge and confident at taking exams, says Dave Dineen, course director for Easter revision at DLD. Some students don't know how to support their ideas with sufficient evidence, have poor timing, or don't understand how their scripts will be marked.

Dineen, an exam marker, believes exam practice is vital. He knows that a student might know their stuff but lose marks because of the way they answer the question. Another benefit to a revision course is a change of teacher. This may mean a student feels more comfortable asking a question they have asked before. In a new setting, with new colleagues and teacher, they won't be embarrassed to ask it again.

Pocock agrees that having a new teacher is part of the appeal. It can help a piece of information to finally click into place, while some students haven't had a good relationship with their regular teacher and no longer ask for help.

But none of this comes cheap. At Oxford Tutorial College, an A-level residential week costs £830, and a non-residential four half days of English or maths at GCSE is £235.

At DLD, students pay £350 for 17-and-a-half hours' tuition over five days. Dineen says they have reduced the fees because of the credit crunch and it works out well compared to the cost of hiring a private tutor, which in London, can be £50 an hour.

Despite the recession, many families still see Easter revision as a "must-have" rather than "nice-to-have", according to Nigel Stout, managing director of Mander Portman Woodward (MPW), an independent sixth form college with bases in London, Birmingham and Cambridge. So far bookings are level with last year.

What's changed is that fewer parents see an Easter course as a dumping ground for their child for the holidays. Instead parents are becoming more discerning and picking key subjects – such as GCSE combined science.

The cost per week is £350 to £520, depending on the subject and the centre. Stout says it is best to target just two or three subjects at GCSE, or one or two at A-level. Choose subjects where your children are moaning about a key area of examination technique – like how to write an essay.

Finally, because Easter revision is all about exam technique, don't ring up a college asking if they can help with your child's coursework – because the answer will be no, that's not allowed.