Helpful solo tests

10th January 1997 at 00:00
REVISE SERIES: BIOLOGY, CHEMISTRY, PHYSICS Dual-format CD-Roms for Multimedia PC and Apple Macintosh, Pounds 19.99 each, or Pounds 50 for the series

Acacia Interactive, 18 Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hampshire GU32 3EW 01730 268463

Pass your GCSE or get your money back, says the blurb on the latest revision software from Acacia Interactive. A generous offer you might think, until you read the small print, which defines a pass as being any grade between A and G. On these terms, I suspect that Acacia will need to make few refunds.

Gimmicks aside, this is a revised (no pun intended) version of an earlier package, Revise 967, which had more than 3,000 multiple choice questions. The latest packages are aimed at the home market and so are cheaper (Pounds 20 compared with Pounds 50 for Revise 967), contain fewer questions (around 1,000) and have less in the way of multimedia features such as video and animation.

I quite liked Revise 967, but it was let down by a slow loading time, messy screen design and an over-enthusiastic use of multimedia effects. I particularly disliked the sound effects you got whenever you answered a question (the computer would say "groovy" or applaud if you were right, and boo if you were wrong).

Acacia says it has listened to all the comments it received about Revise 967, and incorporated many of them into the design of the latest titles.

And all credit to Acacia, because these titles look and feel a whole lot better than the previous one. The program responds quickly to your commands, the screen design is much cleaner and clearer, and the boos and applause have been replaced by discrete tones. I looked at the chemistry disc, but all the programs in the series follow a basic design.

The main menu screen lets you select a test or go to the preferences menu, which lets you configure the program to your individual need. You can select the accreditation (single or double science), exam board (the main English boards such as MEG and NEAB, plus Scotland and Eire), and the type of syllabus (modular, combined and so on).

Once you've done this, it's back to the main menu screen to set up your test. First, you choose a main section (such as chemical changes, materials or properties), each of which contains a bank of around 200 to 500 questions. This takes you into a sub-menu of topics, such as equations or chemical reactions. You then use a small slider icon to select the number of questions and off you go.

A typical screen consists of a question at the top, a list of five possible answers (listed A to E), and a still picture. You answer a question by clicking on one of the letters. If you get it right, a text explanation appears at the bottom of the screen. At the end of a test, you check how well you did, either by mark or percentage. You can also combine the marks of previous tests to get a running total. Incidentally, your score record remains stored when the computer is switched off.

All in all, this is a good program, and one which many students would find useful. It's easy to use (although there is a good help system should you get stuck), offers instant feedback, and many questions require an understanding of the concepts and ideas, and not simply the facts.

What criticisms I have are small - some of the English is a little sloppy in places, such as "A magnesium atom has less protons than a sodium atom". But that said, the Revise series is one of the better examples of revision software available today.

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