Variation on a theme;Reviews;Revision Guides;Secondary

27th February 1998 at 00:00
OXFORD REVISION GUIDES THROUGH DIAGRAMS. Oxford University Press pound;7-pound;9.99 each.

TEACH YOURSELF REVISION GUIDES. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;8.99-pound;12.99 each.

It's a familiar scene: anxious parents at the Year 11consultation evening trying to find out how their child can improve on a disappointing mock grade. "What revision book would you recommend?" they ask. "Should we buy a CD-Rom?" The market in revision aids, fuelled by a combination of parental guilt and student panic, has grown rapidly. It might seem that there is nothing new they can offer, but Oxford University Press and Hodderamp; Stoughton's Teach Yourself series have come up with some interesting variations on the theme.

Oxford's "through diagrams" approach has been interpreted in different ways by the authors. In GCSE Mathematics, the diagrams are simply those you would expect in a textbook, illustrating the questions. The book attempts to cover both Intermediate and Higher syllabuses in one volume, and has very few questions.

In Business Studies, thediagrams helpfully illuminate the concepts. Short questions at the end of each topic would have been helpful in the GCSE ver-sion, as would model answers to the case-study questions. The A-level version could be used profitably by some GCSE students because of the greater level of detail on some of the topics.

GCSE Physics has a particularly useful diagram showing "revision pathways" through the material. The layout in all the science books is clear, but the typeface is small and could be off-putting for the less able.

Students of all abilities at Woodcote High School in Coulsdon, Surrey, felt that the GCSE books were, with their black and white formats, less attractive than others on the market. Again, the lack of worked examples and questions after each topic, and the absence of answers to the test paper, make these guides less effective than others.

The Geography books suffer from trying to cram in too much information in a vain attempt to cover the great variety of syllabuses, especially at GCSE level. Those taking the NEAB syllabus B, for example, would have to work fairly hard to find helpful material.

Hodder's Teach Yourself books contain a section onrevision techniques by Tony Buzan, who is well known for his mind maps and advocacy of speed reading. This section is very good, but I feel that students would gain even more if they were introduced to some of the ideas earlier in their studies. The layout of all the books is clear and uncluttered, with an attractive two-colour format (or more in the Science books).

Symbols are used extensively to highlight tips, interesting facts, cross-references and so on. A useful feature is the pre-test at the start of each section to help students decide what they need to revise, and the round-up at the end to reinforce and check what has been learned. Answers to tests are given in the Science and Mathematics books but not in the others.

The Mathematics books have an unfortunately patronising approach. In the Higher version, a Wild West theme runs through the book, while the Intermediate book has a circus theme. My 16-year-old students were distinctly unimpressed with this, as well as with the appalling puns ("Madam Attix").

On the other hand, the French and Spanish cassettes add a great deal of value to their respective books, which make excellent use of the mind maps technique. IT and History are similarly impressive, with good mind maps.

Teach Yourself books have come up with a new approach to revision which, with a few exceptions, has proved worth using.

Ian Wilson is head of Woodcote High School, Coulsdon, Surrey See 'GCSE bitesize revision', Web sites, page 26

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