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The top 10 most-revised GCSE topics

As exam season gets underway, Tes asks: which are the topics that GCSE students need the most help with?

GCSE bitesize

As exam season gets underway, Tes asks: which are the topics that GCSE students need the most help with?

In recent years, online revision websites have become a staple of individual study. And as exam season begins, GCSE students across the country will be logging on in their droves for some last-minute practice.

But which revision topics are the most popular? And what does that tell us about revision teaching?

According to BBC Bitesize, a revision website that has been operating for 20 years, the top 10 most accessed pages for the first 12 weeks of this year (between 1 January and 25 March 2018) were:

  1. Speed, velocity and acceleration (physics)
  2. Classification (biology)
  3. Digestive system (biology)
  4. Reactivity series (chemistry)
  5. The nervous system (biology)
  6. Solids, liquids and gases (chemistry)
  7. Homeostasis (biology)
  8. Respiratory system (biology)
  9. Atomic number, mass number and isotopes (chemistry)
  10. Literacy techniques (English language)  
     

Clearly, science dominates here. But if you exclude science, the list looks like this:

  1. Literacy techniques (English language)  
  2. Exposure by Wilfred Owen (English literature)
  3. Circle theorems (Higher AQA) (maths)
  4. CPU and memory (computing)
  5. Standard form (AQA) (maths)
  6. Whole numbers (AQA) (maths)
  7. Network hardware (computing)
  8. Remains by Simon Armitage (English literature)
  9. Operating systems (computing)
  10. CPU and memory (computing)
     

So, what do teachers think of the list? For English teacher Grainne Hallahan, the fact that science dominates proves the belief that "you can’t revise English" is alive and well.

Why don't students revise English? 

“English does not even feature in the top five, despite it [often] being the grade that will decide whether or not students can enrol on to an A-level course. It’s probably because many teachers persevere with the nonsense that English is a skills-based subject," says Hallahan.

“It’s particularly shocking that pupils aren’t revising the content of the texts, given that it is all closed-book exams," she adds. "This explains the dreadful responses I have to read in the summer when I mark the GCSE paper.” 

However, maths teacher, Katy Pembroke isn’t surprised by the list. 

“Students typically struggle to memorise circle theorems and then apply them in a way that gains full marks. For example, knowing whether they need to be quoted exactly or whether they can be paraphrased is a dilemma for some,” she says.

“Students typically ask to revise standard forms, but it’s the sort of topic that takes a quick refresher with the response usually being, 'Oh yes, I remember now.' So an online guide works well in that respect."

And science teacher Rosie Boparai says the reason why speed, velocity and acceleration appears at the top of the list is simply because it comes up in more than one course.

“It's part of the maths GCSE as well as physics and maths A level and is also present in all the various different pathways (triple and double science), so more students will be studying it. It could also be that it's tricky but I wouldn't use this list to infer that."

Ultimately, we need to be cautious about any broader conclusions we infer from a simple list of topics, but knowing the areas that students are seeking help for online is a good place to start for teachers planning those last-minute revision sessions.

For more revision resources, visit our ultimate GCSE revision collection on Tes Resources.

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