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Revision guides for "high stakes" summative tests are notoriously dry and prosaic, and this series of new practice books is no different. Aimed at borderline pupils, each title contains the bits and pieces necessary to enable students to hike up to a grade C or higher. The guides mean well. There's a friendly note from the author at the beginning of each book giving students some reassuring words about not being able to get everything right straight away. The books are structured into sections offering "what you need to know" basics, succinct revision facts and clumps of questions. They are peppered with useful examples, but more variations would be helpful, and the answers are included as a pull-out, some of which delve into the all-important nitty-gritty of explaining the maths involved.
These inexpensive guides admirably aim to take the agony out of revision and help students get to grips with the mountain of concepts they need to know and understand. The books aren't gathered together in one big tome, which is a good thing as learners can select the area of the maths curriculum they feel less secure in.
It's what the books don't do that stands out. There is no attempt to reconcile formative assessment strategies with the traditional bleakness of standard questions. In an era of creativity it seems as if revision guides have missed the boat. Whether a student is borderline or not, learners need to engage with maths so that thinking, learning and assessment are welded together in creative and exciting ways. Revision needs to be set inside positive, interesting and meaningful contexts with collaboration, discussion and debate as the driving forces of learning and progress. Isn't this how we address misconceptions and build understanding? Revision should be a shared experience based on interactive assessment.
The Pass Your Maths GCSE series will help students collect together what they need to know to progress, but it is how they are used that remains the key. If they are used as solitary workbooks then they will reinforce the process of revision as a stale and oppressive treadmill of going through the motions. However, if they can be used formatively by teachers with insight and inventiveness then they will make a positive difference to students and give them real vision into the concepts being addressed. Maybe then revision can take place with genuine comprehension and considerably less anxiety.