Secondary;Tips by people who know;Reviews;Revision Guides

17th April 1998 at 01:00
The A* Guide to GCSE physics Minute Hand Publications pound;6.95 Exams - easy when you know how and impossible when you don't. Revision guides are one way of helping you prepare for those fretful few hours which can make or break your future.

But how many of them are written by people with recent experience of the exam, who have sat, sweaty palmed and apprehensive, at their desks, waiting for the invigilator's words: "You may turn over your papers now"?

The authors of this guide - all sixth formers at Manchester Grammar school - have been there, done that, and got A*s to show for it. Like United down the road, Manchester Grammar has consistently topped the league tables in recent years. But this guide is a lot easier to get into than Old Trafford.

The style is straightforward, with matter-of-fact explanations and worked questions at the end of each chapter. Its 100 pages deliberately avoid the densely packed text of some other guides and need-to-know formulae are highlighted in bright blue.

Arunabha Ghosh, administrative director of Minute Hand publications - a subsidiary of the school's Young Enterprise company set up to produce the guides - and writer of much of the text, says they deliberately set out to make it user friendly: "I found other guides difficult to understand and difficult to follow and the text was a bit cluttered. We have tried to make revision a bit easier than it was for us."

The book is divided into 10 sections - mechanics, waves, optics, electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic induction, electronics, nuclear physics, thermal physics, and the earth and beyond - and the theory is made more entertaining by the inclusion of irreverent asides and everyday examples. Film fans may even notice a deliberate homage to The Italian Job in the trailer full of gold teetering on the edge of a cliff in the chapter on mechanics.

Nick Rose, Minute Hand's sales director, says the fact the guide was written by school pupils has definite appeal for their peers and the school's own bookshop reports a brisk trade. Its commercial equivalents (Waterstone's and Dillons are also stocking the guide) have been similarly impressed. "When I phoned the bookstores and explained who we are they hadn't expected something of this quality. But when they received it they were impressed and ordered more copies."

Apart from the information needed to get through the exam, the guide tries to pass on a few tips in exam technique. Key phrases that can earn candidates vital points are emphasised throughout and a final appendix lists general exam hints. Alongside the more obvious suggestions - write legibly, be concise, pace yourself and so on - there are some original and unusual recommendations.

"If you are really stuck," it suggests, "picture your teacher in your mind and ask himher for the solution."

The group chose physics for their first guide because of the relative simplicity of its laws and diagrams and the objectivity of the facts. But more ambitious guides on chemistry and biology are in the pipeline.

Even though the contents have been checked by teachers at the school, the authors are modest enough to admit that the occasional mistake may have crept in. There is a helpline at the school for feedback and comments (0161 256 0875), all of which so far have been entirely favourable.

"There is," the authors point out, "no substitute for achieving success than getting practice in answering questions". Indeed, no revision guide could ever guarantee GCSE success nor take the hard work out of exam preparation.

The A* Guide cannot promise similar results to those of its authors, but it is a helpful,accessible, reasonably priced and even entertaining addition to the genre.

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