Today, 8 March, is results day for all those pupils who took A-level exams in January. Traditionally this was known as retake results day, as most of the candidates in this mid-winter session were resitting their papers from the previous summer to improve their grades or even achieve at least some pass grades. Nowadays, the clientele for this set of exams has changed enormously, as have their academic ambitions. Many January candidates have been taking early AS and A2 modules for the first time, in each of the sixth form years. Whether their results are good or bad, quite a few then take decisive action before the main June sessions and sign up for one of the many organised revision courses that are run by schools, colleges and tutoring agencies during the Easter holidays.
Paul Templeton, course director of Easter revision at Lansdowne College, London, which has been running Easter revision courses for 25 years, reckons two-thirds of all the enrolments for these intensive one-week courses take place after the results come out in March. He says: "If a student receives good results, this is a spur to continue striving for excellence. If the results received are disappointing, this gives the student the impetus to improve. Easter revision courses can cater for both types."
It's similar for Chris Kraft, principal of Duff Miller College, London. "We'll typically enrol about 75 per cent of our total Easter revision students after today's results, many of them in a state of shock after a disappointing first attempt at some modules in January."
Properly structured and targeted Easter revision courses can be an effective way to kick-start the process of revising, although even the best courses cannot convert five terms of neglect into an A grade. However, they are able to make a major difference. Intensive work in a small group, focusing squarely on exams and led by an enthusiastic and experienced teacher, can fill important gaps, develop exam awareness and offer plenty of practice and feedback on what examiners want. Above all, a course gets the revision process firmly under way and establishes a feeling of momentum and confidence.
There has been a massive growth over recent years in students enrolling for revision of AS modules. Kraft explains: "As well as Lower Sixth pupils preparing for their June AS papers, we see a great number of Upper Sixth students who will be taking AS as well as A2 exams next term. They tell us that their schools are concentrating on the A2 modules but they feel they need more support revising the AS material." However, James Barton, course director of Easter revision courses at MPW College, London, sees a different picture: "For us, A2 courses remain in highest demand. This is because a lot of parents prefer to invest at A2 level rather than AS, to secure the necessary grades once the university offers have been received."
It is clear that these exam-targeted, technique-driven courses have become a key part of the A-level experience for many students, who realise they need their revision organised and structured for them. Courses are reasonably affordable, generally costing in the region of £400 for 15 hours of A-level tuition and £300 for GCSE. Interestingly, quite a few students regard them as such good value that they sign up for a second one-week course in a different subject, undeterred by double fees. One surprising indication of the modern student's ambition to succeed or desperation not to fail, according to Kraft, is that every year around 20 of his Easter revision students, with their parents' agreement but probably unknown to their school, deliberately miss the first week of their summer term to attend a revision course.
You can find out more from the adverts in the national press or the Council for Independent Education (CIFE) website (www.cife.org.uk), which lists its member colleges offering Easter courses. The website also gives some useful advice about planning your own revision.
Day and residential courses are also run at some of the major public schools, such as Harrow School, Wellington College in Berkshire, Clifton College in Bristol and Magdalen College School in Oxford. With the earliest courses beginning on 26 March, many are already filling up fast both for A-level and GCSE in the most popular subjects, which include mathematics, the sciences and economics.