How to take the misery out of revision

Need some extra help to get through exams? Book a course – and gain in confidence.
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For most school pupils, the Easter holidays are not relaxing. Whether it's GCSEs, Highers or A-levels that lie in wait in the summer, the springtime break can be the moment when early confidence gives way, and careful preparation is replaced with blind panic. One way to get through this alarming period is by enrolling on an Easter revision course; for many, it's by far the best way to get to grips with that troublesome physics paper or confusing English text.

In our exam-driven education system, such courses are still very popular. Most of the teaching goes on in specialist tutorial colleges , which offer students week-long courses. Class sizes are very small, allowing each person some individual attention.

"People come to us for different reasons," says Catriona Elder, academic advisor at Basil Paterson College in Edinburgh, which offers revision courses in Standard Grades and Highers as well as GCSEs and A-levels. "Some are already A-grade students who want to be sure of getting good results, others are borderline passes. It gives them extra confidence to go into an exam and perform well. Our teachers know the areas that people have most difficulty with, so they can concentrate on them."

Jessica Barrie, 17, decided to take last year's Easter revision course at Mander Portman Woodward, an independent sixth-form tutorial college with bases in London, Birmingham and Cambridge, after she began having trouble with her maths and science GCSEs. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to stay on to take her A-levels.

"I was struggling with some subjects," she says. "I was having difficulty revising at home, and I needed a confidence boost. The course showed me different ways of revising and how to keep the information in my head for the exam. It helped a lot: everyone was friendly and much more open-minded than at my old school."

Many students find that such short, intensive revision courses are a grown-up educational experience, more like university seminars than classrooms. "It's a very different learning environment," says Jonathan Andrews, director of Easter revision at London-based Davies Laing and Dick (DLD), the oldest tutorial college in Britain.

"There are no uniforms, and the tutors are on first-name terms with the students. Being with different people and the lack of formality make a difference. The students have new teachers for five days, who give them support and extra encouragement."

Perhaps the only drawback is the price. This kind of specialised tutoring doesn't come cheap, and parents should expect to have to dig deep, especially if they live in London. MPW charges £490 for its five-day GCSE and A-level courses – that's £23.50 an hour – while DLD offers 17.5 hours of tuition over five half-days for £360. As usual, prices tend to fall outside the capital: Harrogate Tutorial College in Yorkshire, which has been running Easter revision courses since 1982, charges £360 for 24 teaching hours. So how do they justify charging such premium rates?

"It's worth the money for the fine-tuning it gives you, and the way it prepares you for the exam," says Sarah Alakija, vice-principal at MPW. "I think it gives the students a confidence boost to come in and be working during the holidays, and to regularly practise past papers is vital, which we do a great deal of. Parents also feel more confident because they know that the holidays aren't being wasted – sometimes they ring us up and say that they just don't trust their children to work on their own."

Jonathan Andrews agrees: "I'd suggest that the courses are actually very good value. If you went for private tuition instead, you'd be charged £40 an hour in London. Not only is a revision course less expensive, you have the added bonus of being with other students; you can bounce ideas off each other and interact, which is really important."