Friday, 1 November 2013

New CGP Revision Guides

About a month ago, I was approached by the lovely people at CGP and asked if I would like some copies of their latest revision guides for Mathematics to try out with my students. Having used the books myself when I was revising for my GCSEs, and having seen students use them over the past few years of my teaching career, I jumped at the chance to see the latest revision guides on offer.

I was very kindly sent out a copy of their Higher Edexcel (other exam boards are available) revision guide for Mathematics GCSE, together with the accompanying exam practice workbook. In addition, I was sent 15 copies of the foundation tier revision guides to give to my year 10 students (and 1 of the accompanying exam practice workbooks too). This, I was very excited about, and I tried to think of how best to introduce the revision guides to the students and get their feedback on them, whilst ensuring they knew how best to use the guides.
In my experience so far, revision guides are offered to students by schools (for a small fee), but the students are not actually told how they should be using them to revise; they're merely handed out and assumed they know how to get on and use them.

So, I decided to create a short questionnaire to give to the students to fill in as they were given their revision guide; they filled in the questionnaire as they were familiarising themselves. The aim of the questionnaire is not only to get their feedback on the revision guides but also to allow them to see all the different aspects of the book, to get them to notice certain parts of the guides and suggest ways in which they could use them.

Here's the questionnaire I gave my students...

The questionnaire targeted certain aspects of the book, asked for their first impressions and gave them an opportunity to mention anything else they thought of when looking through the guides.

Before I gave the questionnaires and the revision guides out to my students I was completely honest with them as to why they were being given the revision guides and the fact they didn't have to pay for them. I explained about my Mathematics blog and that's why I was offered the books. This also covered the fact that other students may question why my students were being given them and they weren't (I also passed them by my HoD). Having spoken to my HoD she said that if my students took to them that they were something we could order in for other students if they wanted one too.

On handing out the books there was an air of excitement about the students (it's always nice to be given something for nothing). As I was removing the packaging from the books and handing them out to the students it was like Christmas had come early. The comments about the look and feel of the new books flew around the classroom and they were soon imprinting their names on the inside front covers to take ownership of their new revision guides. As they filled in their questionnaires my TA and I went around the room directing them to certain parts of the guides as per the questions given to them.

As I was creating the questionnaires I looked through the guides myself, picking out the key aspects of the books that students needed to be aware of in order to benefit as much as they could from them. I like the fact that next to each sub-heading/topic there is a GCSE grade so that the students know what grade they are working at. Each page in the revision guide has worked examples with short, precise steps to solving certain problems. The examples are clear and in a language that students can understand; there is no unnecessary jargon. At the bottom of each page there are exam style questions for the students to attempt, with a guide as to how many marks they would get for that question and again, a grade attached to the question. At the end of each 'chapter' there is a review section that allows students to answer brief questions on each topic covered in that chapter, and a useful 'tick box' for them to tick if they are happy they have covered the topic. At the front of the guides the contents have been upgraded to include (for the modular specification [going out]) what 'unit' the topic is covered on. The index does exactly what it should do. When speaking to my HoD, when I showed her the revision guides and spoke about what I had planned with the questionnaire, she commented on the fact that students don't necessarily know the difference between the contents and the index section and that it was a good idea to highlight both and how they could be used.
One key change from the guides I used when I was a teenager is the online version of the revision guides that you get free having purchased the physical form. On the inside front page (where the students were putting their names) there is a unique online code to use with the CGP online library (more about this later).

Back to my students...

Their 1st impressions were really positive, comments such as 'smells nice', 'its very professional', 'very smart, well laid out and easy to use' and 'very helpful' were amongst those given. When it came to the next 3 questions, asking them to find a page in the book using the contents page, asking if they liked the grades next to each question and whether the examples were clear (when asked to look at a specific one on a given page) all of my students responded 'yes' to each question. When it came to looking at the revision pages (see below for an example) the students commented on the fact that they were 'helpful to see if you get questions right', 'good because you can test yourself' and 'nicely laid out...and easily readable'. They found that the exam-style questions were good because they could see the grade for the question.
In terms of the exam-style questions the answers to these are in the backs of the revision guides, however for full solutions to these questions, with additional workings and guidance you have to register online and use the online version to see these, although once registered and having input your unique code, you can download (and therefore print out) a copy of these fully worked solutions.
Finally, when asked if there was anything else they wanted to say about the books, unusually the 1 key thing they thought should be improved was the fact that the page numbers should be at the bottom of the page and not the top! So, if that's the only improvement they think the revision guides need then CGP have done a very good job with their latest revision guides indeed.

Here are some examples of the inside pages from the revision guides (taken from the CGP website)...

On this example page (on circles) you can see the sub-headings are clear and have the grade next to them. The examples and key facts are highlighted in the usual CGP style. At the bottom of the page you see the 'exam-style questions' with grade and marks.
On the revision pages you see each topic in that 'chapter'/section tested, with a 'tick box' for students to use when they feel they have mastered the topic.

The online library...

Using the unique code on the inside cover of the revision guides allows you access to the revision guide content online. You have to register an account with the CGP online website, but this takes literally a few minutes and as of yet I haven't received any spam from having signed up to this. With each different revision guide/exam practice workbook comes a different set of online resources.

If you entered the code from one of the revision guides you get:

  • an online version of your revision guide
  • the exam-style questions full worked solutions - this is a pdf document that you can either view online or download, save and print etc

If you entered the code from one of the exam practice workbooks you get:

  • an online version of the exam practice workbook
  • practice paper video solutions - a set of online videos that take you through the past paper questions in the workbook
  • worked solutions to the questions in the workbook, rather than just the 'answers' that appear at the back of the book - similar to the above you can download these, save and print them.

In addition, when you open an account you get an online pdf that gives you examples/ideas of HOW to revise and go about your revision for your GCSEs. Useful for students. This is a pdf that you can download too.


What's happened since I gave out the revision guides?

Some of my students have taken their revision guides home and keep them there. However, the majority of the class either, just like they do with their exercise book, bring their revision guide to each of our lessons or they keep the revision guide at school on my bookshelf where I keep my classes' exercise books. I like the fact that they have the choice here and I was impressed by how many of them keep bringing the revision guides in each lesson without me saying so. I now see students looking up certain topics we are doing in class. For example, when the class enters and are getting their equipment out I usually have the title on the board. I have seen students flicking through their revision guides to look up the title (topic) so it's then there, ready, in front of them for the lesson, should they need a bit of extra support/guidance.

The cost?

The revision guides and exam practice workbooks are only £2 each when bought through the school. I've already spoken to my HoD and school shop assistant (who orders in the revision guides/workbooks for our students) and it is something that we may look to do when the 'exam season' looms closer.

My students certainly are impressed by their new revision guides, the fact that they are appearing in our lessons still, a month after they were handed out, suggests they are working and the students are using them proactively. Also, I have 5 students (in my top set Year 11 class) that are sitting their GCSE examinations in November and they are using the higher tier revision guide in class to assist with their revision for their examinations - they're all aiming to get their A*s in November!

I'm very grateful to the people at CGP for offering me these books. I didn't have to write this blog post about them, but feel that as the books were kindly offered, and my students were as grateful for them as I was, that it was only right I said thank you and spread the word as to the usefulness of the books.

So...CGP, thank you on behalf of my Year 10 students and, of course, me too!

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