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Two ideas for improving GCSE revision

Craig Barton


I hope you are all well. 

The countdown to this year’s GCSE Maths exams is well and truly on. So, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing two ideas for effective revision lessons that I have picked up during my recent visits to schools.

Idea 1: Name the topic

A sensible approach is to identify a topic where students have struggled and base a revision lesson around it. For example, students have struggled with Pythagoras’ theorem in a recent assessment, so you decide to compile a selection of questions on Pythagoras for them to work through with your support. Something like this:

This is all good. But the problem students often face in exams is identifying exactly what topic a given question relates to. Announcing this is a Pythagoras lesson, or labelling the booklet of questions or worksheet as such, robs students of an important opportunity to practise such identification, and can lead to an illusion of mastery where we assume that if they can successfully complete the questions in the lesson then the topic is no longer an issue.

A simple tweak can help. Present students with the same set of questions at the start of the lesson, but with no hints or cues, and challenge them to identify the topic. You could say something along the lines of:

Today we are going to go over a topic I know we have found difficult in the past. But before we start I wonder if you can work out the topic from these first four questions. Once you have figured it out, try to put into words how you know.

Students could then share their thoughts with their partners, and then you choose a few students to share their thoughts. This can spice up the start of the lesson and help students get better at determining what exam questions are really asking.

Idea 2: Walking-Talking Mocks

Walking-Talking Mocks are very popular these days. These often take place in a hall, with students sitting at desks and a teacher at the front working their way through a paper whilst students copy the work down. At their best, students have an opportunity to try each question first before the teacher goes through it, and the teacher doesn’t just go through the working out but also narrates their thought processes.

However, even with these two features present, there is a danger that Walking-Talking Mocks can be a passive experience for students - a glorified exercise in copying down, with the added twist that students suspect they have learned something when they look at their beautiful completed exam paper at the end of it.

Again, two tweaks can improve the learning experience.

The first is mini-whiteboards. Equip each student with a mini-whiteboard and regularly call upon students to write down and show you:

  • what topic the question concerns
  • the meaning of a word
  • the next line of working out
  • their final answer

As I always say, mini-whiteboards serve as both a check for understanding and a check for effort. They keep students engaged, keep them thinking, give you valuable data to respond to in the moment, and generally improve the impact of the Walking-Talking Mock.

The second tweak requires a bit more work, but is worthwhile. Once you have gone through a question, how do you know if students understand it? Sure, they can nod and smile convincingly, or respond with silence when you ask: “anybody got any questions?”. But a much better way is to have a follow-up check for understanding. In other words, you want a question for them to try that is related to the one you have just gone through. This could be presented as a shadow paper that students dip into after each question has been modelled.

Mini-whiteboards help again here - students could answer the question on paper, copy their final answer onto their mini-whiteboards, and then show you all at once. Then you have the check for effort and understanding needed to see if anything you are doing is having an impact. 

Hopefully, these two ideas will help your students get the most out of these crucial few weeks. 

Just as a reminder, you can access our brand new GCSE revision collections by logging into your Eedi account. And if you are looking for a collection of all the best GCSE Maths revision resources, check out Colleen Young’s excellent blog post.

I have another GCSE revision idea up my sleeve, so if you found this email useful, let me know and I will share it in the near future. 

Thanks so much for reading, and take care


Written by
Craig Barton
Head of Education

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