Hodder History Expert Blog

Revision lessons - the key to student success
By Richard Kennett
12 Jan
With the recent GCSE exams many teachers have rightly been concerned about getting through the content. My concern with this is that many of us have left revision as an afterthought when designing our GCSE curriculum offer. But revision shouldn’t be an afterthought. Decent revision (in my humble opinion) is the fundamental key to exam success for your students.

At my school we have seen revision as the unwritten sixth element to our OCR SHP GCSE curriculum and as such we have left oodles of time at the end in which to bring it together. This is crucial when we have a more rigorous, content heavy GCSE to deal with. With three exams and five topics it is unsurprising that our students are muddled sometimes when it comes to relevant content and appropriate exam technique. They get confused about what they need to do for a 9 mark narrative question or a 15 mark source and interpretation question. They mix up the Anglo Saxons and the Normans or get in a pickle about the fate of different Nazi leaders.

A well planned series of revision lessons can help them tackle this and see the wood for the trees. Here are my tips for revision lessons.

1. Divide your time to focus on the bits they don’t understand

With five topics to revise (or four if you do other boards) it seems natural to split your revision time equally between them but this isn’t probably the best idea. Instead think about which units you think they really understood and spend less time on them (this is probably the Year 11 content). This then gives you more time for the units they didn’t understand (highly likely to be the Year 10 content). For my class this means I will do two lessons on the Nazis but probably do five or six on the Normans.

2. Whizz through the content

It is tempting to spend hours in revision lessons poring over content. But remember this is revision. They’ve done it already. Instead think about each lesson being 50% content, 50% exam technique.

If you only have 30 minutes to cover a mass of content what is the best technique?

I love a mindmap. I give the kids the structure with all the branches and it is their job to complete it. This is where I heavily use revision guides (such as this one that I helped write!) Each table will have two or three and using them the kids have to complete the mindmap. A grid works equally well. Basically any vehicle that allows them to quickly make decent notes.

And remember less is more! They won’t remember everything so limit their notes by limiting them to only two or three examples per branch. The additional bonus of this is that you are modelling how they should be revising in their own time too.

3. Test, test, test

Once you’ve gone through the knowledge you need to check it's taken. Quizzes are fab for this. There has been a lot of discussion online about the benefits of multiple choice questions for this and I completely agree. They take time to produce but once you’ve done it one year they can be re-used over and over again.

In revision lessons I start every lesson with a quiz, mostly on the content from the last lesson but also with a few random questions covering the whole course. This quickly enables me to see if they got it so we can move on.

NB there are some free quizzes to go with the new OCR B revision guide here.

4. Hammer exam technique

I appreciate that one of the joys of the new GCSE is that most exam boards have moved away from a prescribed exam technique per question. I entirely agree with this. But when it comes to revision I still make sure I give my class a suggested technique to use for each of the questions. I encourage them to go off piste but I want them to walk into the exam with a scaffold they could use.

To do this properly I leave 50% of each lesson to look at exam questions on the content we covered in the first half. Then we either discuss how we would answer them (in revision lessons I rarely get them to actually write full answers as I don’t have time). We produce detailed plans or we look through model answers.

I think the latter is crucial as kids often need to explicitly see what a great answer is in order to produce their own. This is also where a good revision guide can come in handy as they have these exemplars ready to use.

5. More of you

Lastly I think it is crucial that during revision lessons that learning is completely orchestrated by you.

In my normal history lessons I think it is important to give students the time and space to work things out for themselves and think independently. In revision lessons I don’t. This is the one time in the year where I lead most of my lessons from the front. Teacher control is crucial to avoid misconceptions and move learning along with pace.

Richard Kennett 

As you can see from his Twitter handle, Richard Kennett aka @KenRadical is a Head of Humanities, an SHP fellow, a textbook author, a history nerd, and a cat and Bristol lover.

He is co-author of our revision guide for the OCR GCSE History B specification: My Revision Notes: OCR GCSE (9–1) History B: Schools History Project – available to order here from January 2018. My Revision Notes is supported by free online revision quizzes that are available here.

There are also numerous revision strategies included in the Dynamic Learning Teaching & Learning Resources for OCR GCSE History B. You can find out more and sign up for free, no obligation 30-day trials here.
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