Computers can't guarantee exam success but if resources are chosen to suit a teenager's learning style they can add an extra dimension to support the revision, writes Jacquie Disney
Dorling Kindersley GCSE and A-level packages are well-structured and allow students to rehearse knowledge through multiple-choice questions; if students don't know an answer it can be explained. The software can be tailored to suit a revision schedule, with students able to choose exam board, topic, sub-topic and number of questions per test. The multiple-choice format lets students run through topic content as many times as needed and results can be given in a breakdown, which is great for those who like to know exactly how well they are doing. The content and approach suit average-to-lower ability students since repeated use boosts accuracy and confidence.
Best described as a multimedia course accompaniment, Aircom's GCSE and A-level software provides an impressive depth and breadth of coverage (far greater than any other GCSE range), making it suitable for use throughout a course rather than last-minute revision. However, the information sections of the A-level titles only cover a summary of the core material. Students are encouraged to work through each section and worked solutions are available when needed. Students can also set themselves mock exams, which are followed up with model answers. These are sound, well-structured resources best suited to students studying at the higher levels.
BBC Multimedia GCSE Bitesize tackles maths and science in bitesize chunks. Coverage is comprehensive although cannot be tailored to exam boards. The packages have a host of features: for example, interactive exercises, tips on what examiners expect, a heap of revision strategies, summaries of key facts, a progress tracker and Test Yourself section. A link to the Bitesize website lets students ask teachers questions and gain more support. Such sophisitication means time is needed to get to grips with the software but these are supportive revision tools with a feeling of real quality and depth.
Revision planning, exam preparation and technique are the focuses of Longman Logotron's Inside Track to GCSE Success. A Liverpool lad offers spoken tutorials about revision timetables, how subjects are marked and coping with the big day. Tests are set at the level students predict for themselves and print-out question sheets are answered then answers checked on the computer. The graphics are clear (though not lively) but the programs are enjoyable and suit teenagers who want to beat examiners at their own game and have the discipline to work through written papers.
Oxford Revision Guides use an offline Internet browser to present their content. Some subjects are accessible via the browser so a multi-subject, personal studyplan can be made. Content is based on printed Oxford Revision Guides, has lots of supporting diagrams and can be set according to exam board and level. Each section has a test which can be done in two ways: practice mode gives instant feedback and sample answers; the timed test provides a score which is saved and added to a progress record. This series has clear content and is customisable but feedback mechanisms are more limited than those of other programs.
The Letts GCSE series transfers a Letts Study Guide to CD and offers a full revision course - if you have the time to spare. Students are advised to spend at least 30 minutes on each chapter and end each with a self-check test, building up a score record which indicates strengths and weaknesses. The series would appeal to someone who loves to be organised, who starts revising at Easter and is happy to read large swathes of text.
The content of Europress GCSE titles varies but all have appealing talking tutors in the Ultimate Staffroom, where characters talk students through key facts. After a presentation, a couple of questions test understanding and the Test mode has questions, many of which involve filling in the blanks in sentences or itemising steps in a sequence. The software tries to help with method as well as answers by giving explanations if a mistake is made. The structure includes pop-up cross-referencing to other related areas, which is useful, and the range of content is generally good. The learning style is interactive and easy to use.
New entrant Cramyourexam GCSE offers a different approach, with a free CD providing access to 370 sample pages of content and structure into which nine GCSE study aids can be added; a pound;9.99 fee gives a release code for each full subject on the CD (there are nine). The content, from three ex-teachers, provides comprehensive course notes and a short test. Also included are teachers' tips, coursework notes and test questions. An interesting approach which gives fairly quick access to a mass of content.
Revision websites vary hugely in style, approach and quality; even within each site, the quality of advice and support can vary. It is advisable to try several sites for each subject to identify the right level and approach.
S-cool! (www.s-cool.co.uk) covers seven GCSEs and 13 AAS-levels subjects. It offers a sensible four-stage approach to revision help: an overview of topic principles; tutorials with revision exercises; test questions with a marking guide; and key revision points. The quality of the content and advice is good and the site is easy to navigate.
SAM Learning (www.samlearning.co.uk) covers the main subject areas across SATs, GCSE and A-level with short structured exercises and sample questions. Its greatest value is sample test papers or questions, which can be printed out. The site is a subscription service (minimum subscription 12 months, pound;4.99 per month) but has some free samples.
BBC Revision (www.bbc.co.ukeducationschoolsrevisionindex.shtml) is extensive and aimed at key stages 2 and 3, GCSE, Scottish Standard Grade, Welsh TGAU and AS level. Key stage 3 and GCSE sections have: revision tutorials; tests with guidance on answers and marking; message boards; ask-a-teacher and Web links. AS-level (four subjects) is in the AS-guru section, which includes study skills and moderated message boards. Revision content is good but this is confusing to use.
GSCE Answers (www.gcse.com) covers maths, English, physics and French. The depth of coverage varies, but there are tutorials, tests and explanations of answers. Hundreds of GCSE text notes and study aids are listed with a link to an online bookshop plus a large links list. Attractive but a bit confusing to navigate.
Homeworkhigh (www.homeworkhigh.com) is a Channel 4 website for students up to 16 covering maths, science, English, geography, French and history. There is an email ask-a-teacher service, a database of past questions and answers plus live chatrooms. Friendly, attractive and easy to use.
Project GCSE and Project A-level (www.projectgcse.co.uk) cover 11 subjects at GCSE and six at A-level. There are brief revision notes on a limited range of topics and some subjects have examples of past questions. This is a useful site to visit if a student just needs to brush up on some key points.
Oxford School of Learning (www.osl-ltd.co.uknethome.htm) offers free online tuition for A-level business studies and economics students. It has a wealth of good, well-presented material, including information on study skills, discussion groups, revision notes and essay plans, questions, case studies, model answers and Net-based assignments. Focused, user-friendly and useful.
Revise.it (www.revise.itreviseit) has revision guides and online tests for GCSEs and A-levels. The EssayLab has essays at GCSE and A-level and, although the quality is variable, there are some useful follow-up comments from teachers and students. There are lots of gaps in coverage across the subjects and what appears to be a huge site is rather disappointing in range and depth.
Schoolsnet (www.schoolsnet.com) has a section for GCSE revision which cover topics in 10 subjects. There is a wide variation in range of content for each. Lessons are attractive, with interactive questions, revision tips and glossaries.
Jacquie Disney is director of Parents Information Network (PIN), an independent service evaluating educational software and websites suitable for home use. www.pin.org.uk
Dorling Kindersley A-level biology, chemistry, physics and maths Dorling Kindersley GCSE English, chemistry, physics, maths, geography, biology, design and technology
Tel: 01480 496666
Aircom A-level business studies, chemistry, geography, maths, physics, statistics and biology.
Aircom Education GCSE chemistry, biology, electronics, English, geography, history, maths, physics and music
Price: A-level pound;14.99
Price: GCSE pound;9.99
Tel: 01302 310800
BBC Multimedia Bitesize GCSE maths, science
Tel: 020 8576 3592 www.bbbcmultimedia.co.uk
Longman Logotron Inside Track to GCSE Success available in English, maths, science
Tel: 01223 425558
Oxford Revision Guides A-level biology, chemistry, physics, maths, economics, geography
Oxford Revision Guides GCSE biology, chemistry, physics, maths, business studies, geography, science, English
Tel: 01293 651300
Letts Education GCSE geography, chemistry, English, French, German, Spanish, maths, biology, science, physics
Tel: 01480 496666
Europress A-level biology, chemistry, geography, maths, physics Europress GCSE maths, biology, chemistry, physics, English, French, German, Spanish, poetry
Tel: 01625 855000
Cramyourexam GCSE biology, chemistry, physics, business studies, English, geography, history, maths and religious studies.
Price: Free sample CD then pound;9.99 per subject
Tel: 01636 613100
BEFORE YOU BUY
Whatever software you're looking at bear in mind:
* The practical, investigative element of a syllabus is not properly covered by any revision software;
* A growing number of CD-Roms and sites, as well as including tests, also contain a tutorial element to support subject knowledge and understanding;
* Some resources are much more text-heavy than others;
* Check that the resource is for the current year and, where appropriate, covers the right exam board and syllabus;
* An introductory section about how to get the most from revision software is worth looking out for;
* Few resources provide a quick fix - they need to be built into a programme of revision if they are to be of any real value.