Developing a coordinated approach to revision for GCSE Science

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Reading time: 9 minutes

Objective: To develop and implement a coordinated faculty approach to exam preparation for GCSE Additional Science and students retaking GCSE Science.


Our school is a relative small secondary comprehensive school in the south of Bristol, with approximately 150 students per year group. Of these approximately 30 students will take separate GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics exams with the remainder taking GCSE Science and GCSE Additional Science.  Of these, most students will take GCSE Science in year 10, with the opportunity to retake in year 11 if necessary, and GCSE Additional Science in year 11.

In August 2016, we received the GCSE Science results for the 92 students we had entered in year 10. The results were disappointing.  Of these students fewer than 50% had achieved a grade of C or above and fewer than 40% had made expected progress. Although there is evidence nationally that students do less well in year ten, and there is an argument that students are not ready to achieve the grades of which they are capable in year 10, we had not previously found this to be the case. In fact, in previous year’s students had often achieved better grades in year 10 than they had in their GCSE Additional grades in year 11. Clearly there was an issue with the way in which this cohort of students had been prepared for these exams. As a faculty we needed to take a long hard look at ourselves and consider both the reasons for this underachievement and strategies we could implement to ensure that these students not only achieved more positive grades in their Additional Science exams, but also that those retaking achieved higher grades in GCSE Science.


At the start of term one we met as a faculty and had a frank discussion about the year 10 results and what we felt might be some of the barriers for our students. We also discussed the potential issues with some of our students.  Having done so, the consensus was that the issues for many students in year 11 fell into two broad categories, problems with retaining knowledge and difficulties with exam technique and applying their knowledge in exam conditions. It was clear that we needed a more systematic, faculty-wide approach to addressing these concerns. We strongly felt that we needed to develop a suite of resources which students and teachers could use both in class and at home, which would help to develop these skills. We also felt that it was important to ensure that these were consistently used across the faculty so that all students accessed the support in the same way.

We had many potentially useful revision resources at our disposal already and had been using these for a number of years to support student revision, but most had been used in a fairly ad hoc way. Part of the task would be to collate and format these in a way which would be accessible to students and to make them available in a consistent manner. I was also aware, through my links with other local Heads of Science, that other schools were in the process of developing similar resources. We were happy to share the resources that we were developing and were hopeful that other school would feel the same.

As part of the Action Research process in our school each member of staff was allocated Inset time, which they could use to visit other institutions.  As such, I used this time to visit another local school who I was aware, had successfully implemented a revision programme which had helped to raise the achievement of their pupils in science in the previous year. Having spoken to the member of staff responsible it was clear that they had used a programme of independent revision activities to help support their students’ revision and that this had had a really positive effect. I was keen that we adopt a similar system, but also that we had a consistent approach to in-class revision.


As a Faculty, our actions fell in to three categories.

  • Interventions to support students retaking GCSE Science.

We decided as a faculty that it would be necessary to support students retaking GCSE Science or taking it for the first time, by using some of our curriculum time. As such I devised a schedule of intervention lessons for these students which I would run. To support this I wrote a revision booklet for each of their assessed units (Biology, Chemistry and Physics). This booklet consisted of a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), with links to the relevant pages in the revision guide, some brief revision notes, a mind map to support their revision and an exam question. Over the course of the year student received twelve one hour long revision sessions, and were set work from the booklets to complete for homework.

  • A consistent approach to supporting students in their revision at home.

As mentioned previously, it had become apparent that many students found it challenging to retain information and to recall and apply this when answering exam questions. We decided that we needed a consistent, faculty wide approach to addressing this. Key to this would be supporting students in their revision at home in a consistent was across the Faculty.

As such we decided that during terms 3 and 4, all students would receive weekly revision homework activities, one for Biology, one for Chemistry and one for Physics. These would be set centrally by me using Show My Homework and checked weekly by class teachers. An example of such an activity is shown below. When these were set, students were also made aware of the pages in the revision guides where they could find the relevant content.

TN - revision hw

Figure 1: Example of a science revision homework task

To help incentivise student take up, we ran a reward system where every time a student completed a revision activity, their class teacher would issue them with a raffle ticket. At the end of the process a draw took place and the winner received a free Prom ticket.

  • A consistent approach to revision in class.

As a Faculty we also felt that it was important to have a co-ordinated and consistent approach to in-class revision. We wanted to ensure that students had had the opportunity to cover all the course content, practice exam questions and to have the security of doing this in a consistent way across the Faculty.  As such, I wrote a programme of five Biology, five Chemistry, and five Physics revision lessons. These were delivered to all year 11 Additional Science students during term 5. These lessons all followed a similar format.

Firstly, students completed a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), to remind themselves of the subject content and to highlight the priority areas for revision. An example of this is shown below. Note that the PLC contains revision guide page references to help students access the correct information for their revision at home.

“Use the PLC below to help you to identify the content that you already understand and do not understand in this revision lesson. You will come back to this at the end.  At the end of the lesson the areas still highlighted amber or red need to be your priorities for revision at home.”


Figure 2: Example of Personalised Learning Checklist used during revision lessons

Having completed the PLC, the class teacher would then use a Power-point presentation, to talk through and summarise the content covered by the PLC. An example slide is shown below.

TN - powerpoint slide

Figure 3: Example of a slide used to summarise learning in a typical revision lesson

The third activity in the lesson would then consist of students using the revision guides and the information they had just been given by their teachers to complete summary, knowledge based questions relating to the subject content. An example of these is shown below.

 Use your revision guide (F- p3-6, H- p3-7), your learning from the teacher’s presentation and your revision guide to help you to answer the questions below.

  1. Label these diagrams of cells: (plant cell/animal cell)
  2. Complete this table to give the function of the following organelles:
Organelle Function
Cell Membrane
Cell Wall

Figure 4: Example of a revision activity linked to a revision guide

Finally, students were asked to apply the subject content they had reviewed in the lesson and to answer an exam question.

Each student received a paper booklet for each lesson, which they collected in a folder. At the end of the term they took these home to assist with their final at-home revision.  All resources and activities were shared with students and parents on Show My Homework. Resources were shared between staff in our Faculty on our internal shared network.


The table below summarises the overall outcomes in GCSE and Additional Science for the cohort of students involved in this project.

Subject %C+ Nat. % C+ %A/A* Nat. %A/A* Average  grade Target Average grade
Additional Science 57 58 4 9 C- C
Science 54 48 2 4.5 D+ C

Figure 5: table of GCSE results for cohort involved in this project

Pupils had achieved threshold outcomes (C+), which were above or extremely close to national averages. Although the overall average target grades were below the internally school set targets (based on FFTD), they are likely to represent progress which is at average or above national expectations. The percentage of students achieving A/A* was below national expectations, however we only have a small number of students targeted A or A* taking GCSE and GCSE Additional Science as most of these students were taking the Separate Sciences. It is interesting to note that Additional Science results were better than GCSE Science. These results are for almost exactly the same students, all took both GCSE and Additional Science. Although there are clearly many variables in play, not least the year in which the exams were taken for the majority of students, this does suggest that the Additional Science homework and in class revision programme did have some positive impact.

Twelve students, who were retaking GCSE Science in year eleven, out of a total of 45 (27%), achieved an improved grade in year eleven. This suggests that the revision programme for these students had some impact, although it did not lead to an improvement in grades for the majority of students.

Anecdotally, the vast majority of students questioned said that they valued the revision programme and found it useful; many were extremely enthusiastic about it. It was also interesting to note that those students who were most enthusiastic and who bought into the programme most fully, also seemed to achieve the best results. Obviously it is impossible to infer cause and effect here. However, detailed analysis of the results indicated that many of our targeted borderline students (especially on the D to C borderline), who had made their target grade had also engaged fully with the revision programme. It was also noticeable that these students were disproportionally female. Our results were significantly better for girls than boys, especially for middle ability students. It did appear that a gender difference in buy-in to our revision programme might at least partially account for this.


  • Our revision programme ensured that all students had access to the same high quality revision resources and interventions.
  • This was well received and appreciated by the vast majority of students and parents.
  • There is some evidence that the programme lead to improved outcomes in Additional Science.
  • There is some, limited, evidence that the retake revision programme lead to improved outcomes for those students retaking GCSE Science.
  • Broadly, our revision programme seemed to benefit girls more than boys leading to on average better outcomes for female than male students. This seemed to be the case especially for middle ability students.

Next steps:

  • Update and revise the revision programme for the current year 11, for the new 1-9 GCSE.
  • Investigate the apparent gender difference in impact. How can we adapt the programme so that it is more impactful for male students?


Feature image: ‘Chemistry, Erlenmeyer Flask’ by GDJ on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.