GCSE revision

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
The Alternative GCSE Guides. English Language. English Literature. French. Maths. Scholastic pound;4.99 each.

When I took my exams, revision guides were vaguely sordid things. You felt a bit ashamed to be found flicking through one and, if anyone caught your eye, you'd drop it with a dismissive snort.

Now revision is big business and, in an increasingly competitive market, publishers have to make grand promises to student users and find new selling points to win their market share.

What is alternative about this new series from Scholastic is the jaunty tone and wacky format. The books look much more like novels than standard revision guides and purport to reveal the "secret thoughts" of the examiners. They are full of the kind of language that would make my students' toes curl if I used it in class, unless I worked at Grange Hill. For example, the "What sort of Reader Are You?" quiz in the English Literature guide uses such expressions as "your fave magazine", "hanging out" and "theatre trips are cool". Priding myself on a keen awareness of teenage culture, I found this patronising. For confirmation, I gave the books to some of my Year 10 students. They thought they were "fantastic", "brilliant" and "amazing". <> The editorial style of the series mixes teenage magazines, advertising copy and practical hints. Polly Dunbar's designs, with cartoons and diagrams on nearly every page, create a tremendous lightness of touch. And, at 200 pages or so each, I imagine students will find themselves whizzing through, with a real sense of progress.

In fact, the more you look at these books, the better they seem. They would be an asset for school libraries and individual students. The information is sound - the kind of stuff I wish someone had taught me - and the lively style certainly makes its point with admirable clarity. For example, the punctuation advice in the English Language guide - usually marred by cack-handedness - is a model of clear guidance, as are the tips on using quotations.

These books are a real alternative to traditional revision guides. They represent learning packaged for a soundbite age, the audience and tone cleverly judged, the jokes often genuinely funny and - best of all - examples of books that students will really enjoy reading. At less than a fiver that seems like a bargain.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton teaches English at Thurston community college, Suffolk. He also writes textbooks

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