How to Revise GCSE Science

“OK, we’ve finished the course; time for some revision!”

But how best to lead revision with a whole class?

We always hope to have a bit of time at the end of Year 11 to review the whole course and do some practice papers. And yet if we do have time for revision it can be deadly: going over all the same old material again with students who are way less motivated than we think they should be. We start nagging: “if you fail to prepare – you’d better prepare to fail!” Who is groaning more: the students or the teacher?

So, is there a way of making revision more engaging, more meaningful and less of a chore?

My message? Make it innovative, interactive and practical.

Students can do past papers in their own time. You can create topic-based revision quizzes using tools like ExamPro and students can mark them independently using online mark schemes. Reserve valuable lesson time to help embed key concepts, some of which they may not have met since Year 9 or even earlier.

So in this blog I’ve taken my examples from physics, since that’s my specialism – and happens to be the least likely specialism amongst science teachers! I hope there are some useful tips; do get in touch if you have any feedback.

Practical: Revising concepts through hands-on practicals is often overlooked as a revision tool.

Most of us probably think of revision as rather theoretical and book-based: reviewing the theory and practicing exam questions. Yes, exam practice is vital – all those tips about circling command questions, reading the question carefully and underlining key words, planning those 6-mark answers.

But it’s worth realizing that the last time the students got their hands on a rheostat or light gates was maybe two or three years ago. Or they were absent for that lesson! Some students have only just – at the end of year 11 – reached the intellectual maturity to grasp certain concepts. So let’s give them another opportunity to ‘feel’ the physical relationship under their fingers, a chance to discuss with peers what’s going on, and some space to let the ideas embed properly, now that they have the imminent exams to motivate them. A kinaesthetic way to revise.

Some ideas for quick concept-centred practicals:

  • balancing rulers to revise moments
  • measuring the resistance of prepared wires of different lengths and thicknesses – quickly, with an ohmmeter
  • looping wire round C-cores to make a DIY transformer and watching the voltage step up or down
  • get the Slinky out to demonstrate transverse and longitudinal waves
  • look at reflection, refraction and diffraction on a ripple tank
  • practice setting up Ohm’s Law circuits – where do the voltmeter and ammeter go?
  • F=ma with trolleys and data-loggers: as you add more mass, does the acceleration decrease?
  • conservation of momentum – try collisions between objects of different mass
  • lenses – measuring focal length, and combining them
  • rayboxes and prisms to revise dispersion, refraction and a bit of electromagnetic spectrum at the same time
  • use simulations like PhET to revise tricky practicals like nuclear physics and radioactivity. This one is great for revising alpha scattering:

I know that technicians look forward to the summer term because there is usually less practical work going on so they can turn their attention to stock checks and PAT testing.  So you don’t want to over-complicate these experiments.  There’s no need to take detailed measurements or even write very much down; it’s just a chance to get a feel for the variables concerned. Sometimes, tinkering with simple experiments like these, can lead to lightbulb moments, just in time for the GCSEs.

How to organize revision practicals?

You could demonstrate one of these experiments and then let students come and try it out for themselves in pairs, while the rest of the class get on with some silent (!) revision? The experience could allow you to buddy up students – let them discuss the physics behind the experiment, as well as the results they are getting.

Another suggestion I’ve made to teachers is that they curate a mini-carousel of key experiments and leave them set up for students to have a go at over a couple of lessons. You can match each experiment with practice questions – perhaps starting with some short-answer recall, leading up to a 6-mark killer.

Many schools are encouraged to run revision sessions at lunchtime or after school – perhaps experiments are a better use of students’ time at such sessions than working through papers which they can do at home?

Christina Astin 3 Feb 17

Christina Astin taught physics for 22 years and is now a trainer with Physics Partners ( and the Institute of Physics of which she is a Fellow.  She is busy as a writer, presenter, adviser and coach, and has a particular interest in school partnerships, working mainly with schools in Kent.