Senior Tutor, Matthew Uffindell, shares his experience running the original Easter courses and shares his top tips on how to choose the best course for your own examination revision.
Students looking for a revision course know they want help, but are often unclear as to the form it should take. ‘Easter revision’ means different things to different people: extra lessons at school during the holidays; a course of individual tutorials with a tutor; a 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. week of lessons in small groups. All may be ‘Easter courses’ in the sense of structured, intense revision.
For several years I worked as course director and tutor for the college that claimed to have originated Easter courses in Oxford in 1977. The course ran for a full seven days (9.00 a.m. – 6.30 p.m.) with eight students in a group. It was hard work for everyone; most found it exhilarating and inspiring – even if driven to exhaustion by the end of the week. For students it was also exciting because it was very different from school (which was part of its attraction), and we always had a stream of thanks, saying what a difference it had made.
Since then I have taught on many Easter ‘courses’, some shorter, or less intensive, some effective, some less so. Competition is now fierce; hardly have the Christmas decorations disappeared, when Easter course advertisements present students with some difficult choices.
There really is no blueprint for a ‘successful’ course. Much will depend on how realistic students and tutors are as to what can be achieved in the time. A course is not the solution for months of neglect; it is the time to ‘re-vise’, to re-look. Probing questions from a teacher unfamiliar with your strengths or weaknesses can provide fresh insights and new confidence.
Most of us would probably agree on the main objectives of a worthwhile course; to:
– Revise and consolidate work already covered;
– Learn study and examination techniques;
– Gain skills and inspiration for further independent study;
– Acquire greater confidence.
Beware courses that do not ask you detailed questions about syllabus or specification. In some science subjects the precise syllabus may not always matter; in many Arts subjects it is usually vital to be in a group studying the same topics or set texts. Some courses circumvent these organisational inconveniences by holding general seminars. However, while they appear to accommodate students studying different English or History specifications, they prove to be of little value for the examination itself. Accepting students without ensuring a particular syllabus can be adequately covered is surprisingly common – and irresponsible.
If you are wondering about how to choose a course, here are some of the questions you might ask:
– Does the college use its own tutors, or has it hired them for the occasion? The issue here is quality control, knowledge of syllabi and experience.
– Is the course an extension of what the college usually does throughout the year or does it only run courses at Easter?
– Is the teaching in very small groups, or even individual? You want to be sure tutors are addressing your particular weaknesses.
– Are there daily reports on progress? An end-of-course report might help, but they often arrive too late for anything to be done.
– How many actual teaching hours are there? ‘Study periods’, ‘mock examinations’ or ‘tests’ are all vital, but extended ‘non-teaching’ time is not what most students are paying for.
What you will never objectively know, whatever you feel the benefits to be, is how much your grades will improve because of the course. However, the key aim of such courses is to improve a student’s prospect for the summer examinations. If a course provides rigorous, examination-orientated revision when students need to be as focussed and motivated as possible then it has met its objectives.