Anxiety over examinations is an extremely profitable seam for software publishers to tap into. Roger Frost takes a look at some of the leading contenders on the market for revision CD-Roms
Such is the buying power of a good exam grade that if you can nudge a D-grade pupil up to a C, there's a very rich future ahead. Software publishers know this. They have passed their maths with an equation whereby computers plus exams is the answer to a prayer. They have further multiplied it with claims to "dramatically improve grades" and to "help children excel".
You might well think it is time for schools to hype their marketing too. DK's Acacia Revise long ago settled on the strategy to offer lots of exam practice with multiple-choice questions. Worked through studiously (pupils make best guesses and assimilate the right answers), it helps brush up knowledge. With about 1,000 questions per subject, it can even offer a session on just one theme or level. This has led some schools to run revision sessions as class exercises or "homework" every half-term in the exam years.
The software works if you can handle the idea that "revision" does not teach anything new. You can easily test this: work on a subject you know nothing about and then see how much you learn. Work on one that you do, and facts start to ease their way out of your filing system. This has led others to offer tutorial support. For example, Granada Learning's Exam Tutor offers on-screen help "cards" to swot from.
One of the best features of Granada's series is that the questions break out of the "ABCDE" mould and offer all sorts of matching and gap-filling exercises. This is not only good technique, it also makes for a less tiresome session than with the Acacia range. As a bonus, Granada's titles come with a generous licence where you can buy inexpensive extra discs for school while students can have copies for pound;19.99.
Anglia's Essential Companions for English and Maths are pretty special too. Although sold as home titles, they offer text tutorials explaining the key areas, a scheduler to plan for the big day and a significant timed exam section with hundreds of questions.
As the list below shows, the choice is daunting. Most seem to work on the idea that doing something about the exams is better than nothing. In the weeks ahead some pupils will realise how much they do not know but some will see where they are headed and work harder. Using software might just tip the scales.
Home titles cost pound;15 to pound;20 per subject from mail order or retail outlets. School editions cost pound;20 to pound;50 and usually more for site licences. There are differences between home and school products, so do use education suppliers. AVP's online catalogue at www.avp.co.uk should help or tel: 01291 625439.
DK Acacia home packages are for GCSE maths, chemistry, biology, physics and geography cost pound;12.99 until April 30, and will then be priced at pound;19.99. Education packs come as science, maths and geography. A Test for Success series covers maths, geography and science at age 14 cost pound;19.99. Tel: 0171 836 5411 or order online www.dk.co.uk Exam Tutor is available for biology, chemistry and physics. Also available is Practice science for national tests at age 11 with a sister maths title for age seven. All are priced at pound;45 (exc VAT) for five-user licence from Granada Learning, tel: 0161 827 2927.
Anglia's Essential Companion series includes home titles for maths and English, priced pound;45 (exc VAT). From Anglia Multimedia, tel: 01268 755811 or order online email@example.com The Inside Track to GCSE Success has school and home editions from Logotron. Subjects include English, maths, science and geography. The home range has similar content to GSP's Revise for... series and WH Smith's own branded revision titles. Logotron also has a new literature series for GCSE and SATs, tel: 01223 425558.
Europress offers home study GCSE titles for maths, physics, English, SATs titles for science, maths and mental arithmetic; Language Labs for numerous tongues and many titles for younger pupils, tel: 01625 855000.
Aircom also has its own range for GCSE with each subject covered over several discs, tel: 01737 224434.