GCSE revision: 'Don't rule out chocolate bribery'

This teacher discovered how to put bums on seats in GCSE revision classes – but the power of chocolate only goes so far

If you're struggling to get GCSE students to attend revision sessions, you could always try bribing them with chocolate

When supermarkets start stockpiling disposable barbecues, I know that I’ll soon be expected to run after-school revision. But, having struggled through a number of painful experiences in the past (when basically we all stayed in school for an extra hour just to do an extra lesson, only worse than usual), I’m determined that this year will be different. I’ve bribed them with Celebrations. They’ll arrive hungry, if not for a Bounty then for learning. They will diligently self-test, ace a practice paper, even remember more…

By 3pm only Lydia has turned up. Lydia is the kind of student who owns her own highlighters. In fact, if owning multi-coloured stationery and relentlessly highlighting stuff was all it took to revise, she’d be beyond full marks by now. 

"What are we doing today?" she asks, unpacking her revision guides, highlighter pens, lined paper, Post-it notes, ring binders and multi-coloured cue cards. 


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It was going to be mixed-ability group work, but, as there are no actual groups yet, I offer her a Celebration (which she declines) and suggest she does some independent revision while we wait for the others. 

"What have you revised so far?" I say, after she’s been writing silently for 20 minutes.

The joy of GCSE revision classes

"Just this," she replies, tossing a dry highlighter into the bin, and showing me several pages of beautifully handwritten notes: plot summaries, character profiles, key quotations. Every single line is highlighted in lurid pink, green or yellow. She’s even numbered her pages.

"This is great, Lydia," I say.

"Now I just need to go over it."

"Go over it?"

"Yeah, well, that’s all the pages from the revision book so I just need to…y’know…revise it."

"So… you’ve just copied out word for word the pages from the revision book?"

"And highlighted key stuff." She gestures towards some fluorescent orange. 

"You’ve highlighted quite a lot of it."

"Yeah, it helps me remember better," she says vaguely. 

"OK," I manage, flipping a page over. "So, what can you remember about the context of Macbeth?"

"Written in the Victorian era," she says confidently. "Anyway, I haven’t gone over that one yet. I’ve got two more books to do before I start revising."

I’m halfway through explaining the finer points of how to actually do revision when about 12 more students turn up. I can’t be annoyed that they’re late because this afternoon is optional, so I do a mixture of my "well done, you’re here" with my "if only you’d been here half an hour ago" face. 

"You got indigestion, sir?" one of them asks.

It seems that most of them have been "down shop" before gracing me with their presence, so the quiz on the plot of Macbeth is punctuated by the rustling of giant packets of Maryland cookies and belches that smell like energy drink. Lydia tells everyone about how Queen Victoria sponsored Shakespeare’s acting company. 

It’s then that I decide, optimistically, to embark on a "walking-talking mock" (they do a practice paper while I tell them what to write). 

"Wait, we’ve gotta do writing?" asks Harry, suddenly affronted.

"Yes."

"What, now?" pleads Nicole. "But we can do that at home."

"Innit," adds Harry, spraying crumbs on Nicole’s face. "I thought we were here for revision."

"But this is revision," I say. "We’re revising how to sit the exam."

"Nah, but actual revision, like what Lydia’s done."

"OhMyGod, look how much revision she’s done."

"Will you lend me your revision?"

"Can you do my revision for me?"

"Sir, how come you’re not buying us Domino’s?" interjects Harry, suddenly.

"What?" I ask, disarmed.

"Miss Thompson’s buying her class Domino’s."

"No, she isn’t." She isn’t. Is she? God, I hope not. 

"Lucky."

"Wish we were in her class."

"Yeah, and we only get Celebrations."

"Yeah, where’s the Celebrations, sir?"

We struggle on in this vein for some time before we do a quick session on advanced highlighting and they go home by 4pm. 

At least they turned up, I think, eating a leftover Bounty. And anyway, next week is bound to be different. 

The writer is an English teacher in Cornwall

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