New to PG?
Start here

Just what difference can a good revision guide make?

Friday, November 13, 2020

In June 1993, I sat down to take my GCSE Science examinations. I enjoyed all three sciences and was awarded in August of that year, a double A grade. Great. But then 28 years passed, and I have forgotten everything. Most of it, probably by the day after the exam.

Now, I look at the GCSE science specifications and wonder if I ever studied any of it. It must all be new? But I doubt much has changed in the world of science at this level of understanding. Atoms are atoms, right?

The challenge

On my desk last week, sat a manuscript for a new revision guide for GCSE chemistry. Before passing it on to a subject specialist to review and edit, I looked at it, baffled by the content even on page 1. I was certainly not the right person to edit this one and was unable to make a clear judgement on its quality. So I decided to work through it all from start to finish. Just as a student or a non-specialist might, I was going to try and learn, or re-learn, Chemistry.

After four full days, I had read every page and answered every exam question. Literally hundreds of them. I printed out each of the end of section exam practice pages too and careful ‘sat’ these under my own exam conditions. Only colleagues for invigilators. I marked them myself based on the exam-style mark schemes provided by the author too. Using my experience as a former teacher and examiner, I diligently and strictly marked my own written responses. I calculated my grade for each section and averaged them over the whole book.

The results

I have always worked hard for the best results in whatever I am doing. I have high expectations and always instilled a sense in my old students that effort pays off. I got 61% in Chemistry this time. At first, I was disappointed. Perhaps I should have tried harder. I let myself down maybe. But then I reflected that I’d only spent four days learning a two-year GCSE. Fair enough, I have 28 years more life experience and according to my GCSE certificate, I had done chemistry before. But I don’t feel that I have picked up much chemistry in everyday life and this book is for revision, rather than just 'vision'. Unlike Physics perhaps, Chemistry seems very abstract. Comparing my mark with last year’s grade boundaries, however, I got a 7. Overall, I am very happy with that.


The conclusion

I have worked through all of the revision guides that we have published this year. After each one, I have felt confident in sitting an exam, and doing well. This time was different, so I employed a little more effort as it was a subject I had evidently forgotten. Having done so, I have every confidence in this manuscript and in this Chemistry guide. It is now going to a subject specialist; a former Principal Examiner and experienced technical proofreader. After that, to more specialists for tweaking, tightening and to make sure that it is just right. But my confidence in the book as it stands is at an all time high. If someone can follow a lightweight revision guide (albeit with the diligence of a more mature student) and achieve a level 7, I think that’s a triumph. Imagine what could happen if I put in a bit more time.

Required Practical Activity

Perhaps I could. Perhaps I will sit an exam too, just because. It is a great result so far and I am delighted.

Rob Heathcote. Age 43½.

The AQA Chemistry GCSE revision guide will be published in Spring 2021 and will be available on our website as well as the PG Online schools’ site.