Hanh ups

As every school child knows, success in public examinations is largely a matter of good luck. Indeed, teachers with an entrepreneurial bent would find a ready market for lucky charms and rabbits' feet.

It's true that there are some candidates who do well in exams without having to resort to magic. They, however, tend to be preternaturally - and infuriatingly - bright. They don't do a stroke, slouch into the examination room late and without a pen, yawn their way through the questions - and end up with a fistful of starred As.

Lesser mortals know that, if they are to have any hope of passing, they must buckle down to the ghastly business of revision. They either guiltily shirk the challenge or stoically accept it as another of life's cruel chores. But, in fact, it doesn't have to be like that, according to Winning the Brain Game (Pounds 24.99), a new CD-Rom that promises nothing less than "the exam success you've always deserved". It sets out to prove a proposition that is every bit as unlikely as anything Euclid ever dreamed up: that preparing for and sitting exams, if tackled in the right way, can be an enjoyable experience. In a course that takes about four or five hours to complete, students are encouraged to re-assess their whole approach to learning. They will be persuaded that they can reach the academic heights - but only if they give their brains an even break.

Without going into the neurological niceties, the program reveals that not all grey matter is the same. Indeed, the gunge on the left-hand side comes in for particular flack. This is the stuff that Star Trek's Mr Spock has in abundance: it is logical, systematic, thorough and boring. Left-handed thinking, for example, leads to such cock-eyed conclusions that the mysteriously complex process of schooling can be reduced to national curriculum statements, tick boxes and sterile records of achievement. The left-hand side is handy if you want to play chess, write a computer program or be an Ofsted inspector, but the fun things in life are found on the right. Here the synapses delight in colour, music, surprise, creativity and humour.

If these jolly elements can be involved in the learning process, swotting for exams can be a cinch. To prove the point, the program itself relies heavily on these very ingredients. It makes relentless use of humour (of the Douglas Adams kind). It uses silly cartoons, marvellously inane games, music and the voice of Hugh Dennis (of the popular comic duo, Punt and Dennis) to hammer home its message.

Students are introduced to gormless Terry who already has four GCSEs but doesn't have a clue about revision techniques. In helping him, students will learn how to organise their time - in a right-handed way; what they have to do to make their revision notes more attractive and thus more memorable; how to spot questions; and why they should develop a positive and self-confident attitude. They will also be taught those tricks of the trade that appeal to examiners - who, incidentally, are presented as a crotchety bunch of time-servers.

None of the advice will be new to most of the teaching profession, but today's youngsters are more likely to take it to heart if they hear it from a spanking new PC rather than a boring old pedagogue. So every school should have a copy readily available and encourage students to seek inspiration from it. Although, to be on the safe side, it might also be wise to equip them with ample supplies of lucky charms and rabbits' feet.

Further details: 0171 417 4427arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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