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Computer cramming;Reviews;Revision Guides

Roger Frost looks at some of the many high-tech packs for GCSE

You know you have a great idea when everyone else copies it - just take a look at the shelves of revision software.

They can drill you tirelessly and track your progress. Such is the confidence of some publishers, you will find money-back guarantees if you fail.

A good place to start is Letts, whose revision business has grown from the crib sheet to the CD-Rom. Their science title offers a well-rounded approach with a revision planner that advises what topics to study, when and for how long, after you tell it the exam date.

After reading the course facts on screen, you take a 10-question test. If you get any wrong it points to a tutorial, though it is sparing on explaining just what is wrong.

Certainly there are bells on this one. They have thought through how the pupil at home can benefit from a daily drip feed of information and testing. If it offered better help and more practice questions, those bells would sound sweeter.

In contrast, DK Acacia Revise uses the simple, single strategy of providing lots of exam practice. It does this with a huge bank of multiple choice questions selected by entering the syllabus details and your exam tier. Pupils then choose their topics, say how many questions they want and wade in. They have to choose the correct answer before moving on.

What is good is that the computer sets work at the right level and it explains each answer. Several schools report that a half-hour session on this was productive. Others add that those who had all but given up were motivated to work.

Acacia comes in school, home and network editions and now offer a whole new set for key stage 3. The network version lets you set tests and monitor progress, but it can be a lot of work to set up.

The Inside Track to GCSE Success, from Insider Knowledge software, eschews the multiple choice test for structured exam questions that pupils do on paper and then mark on screen. The computer tracks what has been done and shows the grade they are working at. While it offers revision facts and practises real exam questions, the value of using a computer for this is a touch trivial.

A teacher's management programme, more tolerable than Acacia's, allows you to glance over the class scores and print the tests. Those who find pressure on the computer room timetable, might like to set exams on paper using another package called Exampro. This database from past papers lets you set questions at the right level and for your syllabus too.

Both Logotron and GSP sell Inside Track in budget-priced home editions. And it is at home that you are more likely to find a computer where you can surf the Internet to BT's HomeCampus, a service allied to CampusWorld but for families.

HomeCampus also features Inside Track - it may even be the best place for it as you can pick the exam questions you need, print them and return later. When you add in the rest of the material, the service starts to look like better value.

There is free stuff too - BBC Education offer GCSE Bitesize revision with tips, tutorials and test-yourself quizzes for several subjects. Another service, GCSE Answers, offers many pages of tutorials on English and maths.

But is it a good idea? Iwould say yes, with the warning that computers make good testers but poor teachers. This is the clue to choosing the better ones that practise, test and offer help, instead of trying to teach.

Letts GCSE Revision Tel: 0181 740 2266 Web DK Acacia ReviseTel: 0171 836 5411 Web site: exam practice questions can be found in Crammer's Corner, part of AOL's online service at

The Inside Track to GCSE Success Tel: 01223 425558

Exampro exam creation softwareTel: 01384 898969

GSP Revise for GCSETel: 01480 496575

YITM available soonWeb site:

Europress GSCE revisionTel: 01625 855000 web site:

BT HomeCampusPreview at:

BBC Bitesize (most subjects) at: GCSE

answers (maths and English) Biology revision

Roger Frost works on 'BBC GCSEBitesize Science'

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