At this time of year, I am often asked where to find decent revision materials. My response is always the same: your child’s rucksack. Parents look at me confused: do I really think that their child has matured enough in the run-up to exams to have finally started making colourful, concise and comprehensive notes? Of course I don’t. Most of them have lost their folders or thrown them into bogs. But, chances are, their rucksack is where they’re keeping their mobile phones whilst they’re at school and it is these little 4G winners (more specifically the online resources they can access) that will light up their cramming worlds.
Below is a discussion of a handful of online resources that I have found to be useful and/or successful over the years. No doubt there are plenty more; these are just the few that I go back to time and time again. They are broken down into the following subjects:
MathsBot | http://mathsbot.com
A worksheet-generator with a sense of mischief
The documents this website creates are very plain and are designed to be printed, completed and marked (answer sheets can be included). It is a no-frills approach that allows users to tick boxes across a range of core topics (averages, fractions, standard form, quadratics, percentages, ratio, etc.), making combined mini-tests with difficulty levels set according to need (Easy, Medium, Hard and Extreme! - not my exclamation mark). On average, one in ten questions will include a ‘thinker’, requiring faith in mathematical process over mere number-crunching.
StudyMaths | http://studymaths.co.uk
Interactive worksheets testing at a higher level
A sister-site to MathsBot, StudyMaths focuses more on complexity. There are geometry, statistics, algebra and functional (real-world) exercises to complete, again with immediate marking available. A ‘star’ system is used to denote difficulty and the site tells you where you can and can’t use a calculator. There are also step-by-step guides for those still battling topics as long-winded and frustrating as simultaneous equations.
Mangahigh | https://www.mangahigh.com/
More often used in schools, Mangahigh is a gaming cousin to the straight-laced MyMaths and broader Kumon that can be used individually by parents and children at home. With Teacher and Student accounts, the Teacher can set timed exercises for the Student to be completed by a certain deadline, mini-tests coming in batches of ten and rooted mostly in multiple-choice. A reward system using medals ensures some feeling of progress and there are also a number of more gamey games to play outside of the Teacher’s set work. The curriculum runs from Key Stage 1 through to Key Stage 4 and shows great variety when repeating or re-trying already-completed topics. A strong alternative to past papers.
First News | http://www.firstnews.co.uk
‘The weekly newspaper for young people’
Despite its branding giving the impression that First News is in desperate want of the student vote come the Newspaper General Election on 7th May, there is substance here. Though maybe more appropriate for a slightly younger audience, the online condensing of the print material is rich in breadth and doesn’t shy away from thornier issues.
Bitesize | http://www.bbc.co.uk/education
The original online study support
Bitesize seems to have been around for years (it has - it was launched in 1998, before the internet was invented). If it were a human, it would be sitting its A-levels next year, which means the site has first-hand experience of almost all the exams that its users are likely to be sitting this summer. As a result, the content is spot-on and is pitched at just the right level for its chosen audiences (KS1-3 to GCSE for England and Northern Ireland; Early & 1st Level to Higher in Scotland; KS1 to TGAU in Wales), delving where delving is necessary and skimming just the same. The recent re-boot has seen a much-needed injection of self-awareness across the site (not the A.I. kind, more the Brian-Cox-doing-videos-for-the-Physics kind) and revision tests are quick and tricky, hence Bitesize, not Morethanyoucanchewsize. Also, the guides for the GCSE Language papers are excellent.
MyGCSEScience.com | http://www.my-gcsescience.com
Video instruction across all three Sciences
The previously-free (and slightly amateurish) video service has upgraded to a beefier paid version and covers an awful lot of material. Though designed to be used with the AQA curriculum, there is considerable cross-over with other boards and lower levels, KS3 in particular. It is still free to to access the Core Science videos (C1, P1 & B1), but the Additional and Separate videos (C2, C3, P2, P3, B2, B3) are priced at around £15 each. Importantly, subscriptions expire at the end of the exam period on 29th June 2015.
GAPMINDER | http://www.gapminder.org
‘A fact-based worldview’
The tagline says it all: Gapminder presents data in graph form and allows users to plot information as diverse as ‘% of Roads Paved’ against broader numbers, like ‘Life Expectancy’ (turns out Switzerland is a great place to live and drive, unlike Australia, where you’re probably going to be needing a decent four-by-four ute to get around). Though a great tool for wasting time (it’s taken me forty minutes to write this paragraph), it can also pique a little interest in younger minds and is perhaps most relevant in revision of Geography. There are also some great worksheets and posters free to download, as well as a wide selection of videos on all sorts of related topics, my favourite being ‘Population growth explained with Ikea boxes’.
Lumosity | http://www.lumosity.com
Workouts for the brain
Puzzles and challenges designed to get your brain firing on more than its usual two-stroke lawnmower cylinders. Some tasks are timed and sharpen reflexes and others afford enough thinking time to allow dangerous levels of self-doubt to creep into the decision-making process. The site feels strangely vindictive at times, but really does wake you up, ideal, maybe, for a post-breakfast pre-study cold shower of the mind.
As mentioned earlier, these are only a few of the many many many resources available online, but they are what I use throughout the year and are especially helpful now the busy exam period is upon us. It is worth mentioning, of course, that online work should form only a part of students’ overall revision schedules and that textbooks and teacher handouts are always going to be more directly related to programmes of study than are the varying curricula used in the resources above. Also, sitting in front of screens all day isn’t great, either.
So, when used alongside materials from school (at least those that haven’t been lost to the swirling black hole that is the School Desk/Locker/P.E. Bag/Homework Pile/Three-Headed Dog), these websites really can be a great help. And they might go some way to helping with the creation of those Grail-like colourful, concise and comprehensive revision notes.