GCSE Practicals

You’ll already know that the assessment of practical work is changing. (I recommend this article by Alistair Moore and this at the RSC from @MaryUYSEG for useful perspectives.) At A-level it’s changed already, as part of many other alterations. The ISAs are gone for post-16, and it’s fair to say that most teachers aren’t going to miss them. At GCSE these changes will be part of the new specification which officially starts in September 2016, and which many schools have already started to use for their Year 9 students. Which is brave, when they’ve not been approved yet! If you’re teaching A-level Physics I’d recommend the resource created by one of my day-job colleagues at the SPN and available to all.
Different exam boards are taking different approaches, but there’s a big overlap. Each has a list of practicals which are required/recommended/suggested, and students will need to have a signed form of some kind which says they’ve done them. This means they’ll have had the opportunity to gain all the relevant skills (according to OfQual) which will be a pass/fail ‘extra’ to the grade. I predict, somewhat cynically, that the vast majority of students will have gained these skills on paper no matter how much their lab work resembles that of Beaker from the Muppets. 15% of the final exam marks will be awarded for students demonstrating in a written exam that they can think like a scientist, probably in a similar way to the ISA papers.
The list of practicals is a minimum expectation – a lower limit rather than an upper one. Most are ones we have always done, in one form or another. Students don’t have to work independently on all of them, or in exam conditions. They need not (and in my opinion should not) do them as a separate unit or topic but as part of their normal experience of science, alongside science content and social context. There is no specific way they are expected to write them up or record their results.
My plan is to create a resource list for each of the GCSE Physics practicals, drawn from AQA, Edexcel and OCR. These are my interpretation and, certainly at the moment, I’m doing them in my own time for no charge. (If anyone would like them sooner and/or to sell, contact me with a price in mind.)

Physics Equations flashcards

So the new AQA Physics specification – currently still a draft – is interesting. Much of this also applies, of course, to other exam boards. Some of the changes I like, some I’m not so sure about. Of course a lot of these requirements were set by Ofqual and we could spend days arguing about how much of this is based on political, rather than pedagogical reasons.

But anyway.

Some schools are, of course, starting to teach this to their Year 9 pupils because they treat Science GCSE as a three year course. Even if not, those of us who teach KS3 will be looking at the specifications making sure we are setting the scene helpfully. Others have commented in far more detail than I, but I wanted to raise a few issues that have come up already during my day job.

  1. The language used to describe energy is changing, like it or not. Instead of types, the movement is towards stores (and pathways/processes) which may feel like a huge change. If you don’t know about it, please drop me a line via email or twitter, or contact us at the IOP through TalkPhysics. I blogged (personally) with some links a while back.
  2. There are required practicals instead of ISAs. (Cheering throughout the land…) Each exam board has their own list, but they’re pretty reasonable. Requirements about recording vary but it seems to me an ideal opportunity to build in regular discussion/analysis of practical tasks. SMT may need to be reminded that the list is a minimum expectation and lots more practical work still needs to be budgeted for.
  3. In AQA, at least, students will be expected to recall many more equations than previously. I’m personally dubious about memory as a proxy for leaning, but I’m not in charge. Not yet, anyway. So we will need, as early as possible, to get kids into good habits with fluent recall of these equations and their meanings, units and so on.

This last point is what I’m focused on, after a discussion with one of my mentees (the IOP runs a scheme to mentor early-career teachers of physics) over video chat at the weekend. We talked about using ideas from languages and primary spelling/times tables, where small regular testing improves familiarity. I spoke about Plickers and QuickKey as two ways to quickly collect scores for multiple choice questions. But, I reasoned, what about the students learning independently?

So today I’ve created a set of equation flashcards for the AQA (draft) specification on StudyBlue. Students could download these to their own devices for free (Android and Apple apps are available) then test themselves. Hopefully they’d customize them over time.

Set of flashcards on StudyBlue

If these seem useful, please let me know. I’m thinking about putting together sets for other aspects of the course – units and symbols are an obvious next step. So if you send me feedback, there will be more free stuff for you to use in class and save yourself time. A good deal?

AQA 4/6mark Qs

The shortest post ever (to make up for the 1500word epic of the weekend): I’ve organised AQA questions from past papers with markschemes and examiners’ report comments. The 16 pages of this .pdf have the 4 and 6 mark questions at the front, followed by the relevant marking guidelines and what the examiners had to say afterwards. Last minute but possibly useful today?

6 mark Qs blog as .pdf

Waves Revision (AQA P1)

Another quick one, but hopefully useful for those helping students prepare for GCSE Physics; our specification is AQA and the exam is P1, but I hope it will be more generally helpful than that.

waves bestof3

Download waves bestof3 as .ppt

Starter: Choose three words to define

You could have students write down their ideas, include some hints or simply Think/Pair/Share. I like to have one student share their idea, then have another try to improve it, or say what’s good about it. The words are in alphabetical order but you could easily differentiate this activity explicitly if preferred.

Main1: Best of 3

Each slide shows three possible statements or answers to a question. I give students a minute to choose a particularly good or bad answer by discussion. They must be able to improve it and I then ask for suggestions before moving on to the solution slide.  They do not all have one good, one indifferent and one bad answer. There are obvious links to grade progression here and you could use mini whiteboards to ensure all are involved.

Main2: Drawing diagrams

By now students should be seeing these points as a reminder, hopefully ideas they’re familiar with from thorough and careful revision cough cough. Based on their answers and difficulties I would then split them into groups to practise individual elements, from rehearsing fundamentals to more challenging diagrams. I’ve credited the sources of the diagrams, all CC-licensed I think.

Plenary: umm…

I’ve not included one on the powerpoint but returning to key definitions would seem a good plan; ask students to state something they understand better now than they did at the start perhaps? Alternatively finish with a past paper question so they can demonstrate what they are now capable of.


Before You Go…

As usual, if you find this resource useful, or adapt the idea to your own teaching, I’d really appreciate you taking a moment to add to my portfolio. Simply follow this link and tick a few boxes, no names necessary. Many thanks.

Current Electricity and Revision Thoughts

It’s that time of year, but I’ve not been able to post much about revision lessons and activities because I’ve been too busy doing them. And because of other projects, too. So my apologies for the long absence.

P2 electricity quick ref (as pdf)

This grew out of activities trying to help students make clear links between past questions and revision content. It was intended to be a fast way for them to check details (using the QR codes, which link to websites including BBC Bitesize and My GCSE Science) without getting bogged down in minutae. Time is short with Year 11 and this kind of approach should work well with revision classes, allowing self-directed study which you can then explain when they visit for extra sessions – I combined it with some relevant questions, broken down by topic.

Having students creating something like this would also work well. I’m going to try giving them an electronic blank with four spaces to write their own questions, but insist they add links to different resources which contain the answers to each of the four.

When revising, as usual I’m asking students to focus on active rather than passive techniques. A recent activity challenged them to suggest ways of turning common but less engaged methods into more dynamic ones.

Not Just Reading

It’s very telling when a student is asked how they revise, and respond with ‘looking at the revision guide’. Simply reading is too passive, but the use of looking suggests even less engagement. We came up with:

  • Pause to write summary sentences or bullet points
  • Highlight/underline key words, practise definitions
  • Cover/copy/check
  • Convert format to revision cards (paper or electronic), mindmaps or similar
  • Write questions (split between recall, explanation and mathematical) linked to content


Practice questions are of course a very useful way to prepare for exams, even if the focus inevitably turns to exam technique rather than understanding. I’ve blogged before about useful variations but most recently have been relying on:

  • BUS structure (from Twitter, can’t recall source) where students box command word, underline key points in question and scribble additional vocab to include
  • Write three hint words and pass to a classmate who has to use those words
  • Write an alternative question (convert maths Qs to words and versa vice) testing similar content
  • Produce a deliberately mid-level answer and add commentary for how to improve


The links in the worksheet include one to the video archive, Khan Academy style, of My GCSE Science. Some of these have built-in pauses but even if not, I’m encouraging my students to use a very specific format which also works for audio, such as the Naked Scientists podcasts hosted at the BBC.

  1. Write title and spend a couple of minutes bullet pointing what you think will be in it.
  2. Watch/listen to first few minutes, then pause.
  3. Tick what you were right about, adding details/examples where needed, and add main points you’d not remembered.
  4. Bullet point what you think will be coming next.
  5. Next few minutes, then pause and repeat.
  6. Once finished, attempt a question relating to the content, referring back to notes if needed.

One Hour to Success

It’s amazing, as usual, how many seem to think that putting their phone to one side is unreasonable while revising. I suggested to several parents recently that phones should be given to them during an active revision session in exchange for tea and biscuits

  • 0-15 min: active revision using methods above
  • 15-20 min: break, with cuppa, parents looking at written work while student texts their mates, then returns phone
  • 20-35 min: attempt and mark a past paper question on revised content
  • 35-40 min: second break, student loads dishwasher (including used mug) while parent looks at the exam answer
  • 40-55 min: worked examples and further practice of weak areas as identified, or simply learning vocab that’s relevant.
  • 55-60 min: write title of next revision priority on a new sheet of paper, ready for next time, placed in revision guide at relevant page.

I wonder how many will stick to it…


I’m trying to track my impact (eg you using this resource or basing your own on my ideas). You don’t have to leave your name, just a few words about how what I did made a difference. If you’ve blogged about it, I’d love for you to include a link. Tweets are transient, comments on the posts are hard to collect together, but this would really help.

Blog Feedback via Google Form


GCSE Science Revision

The second half of this post will be mostly relevant to AQA Science A and Additional, because that’s mostly what I teach. The rest will be my own opinions on revision. I say opinions, but I try to make sure these are evidence-based, because that’s what we try to do, right? Let’s start off with active revision, what it is and isn’t, and how to convince kids to do it. You could argue this puts the responsibility back on the students rather than us doing it, which strikes me as both moral and effective. It’s incredibly depressing when kids turn up at a scheduled ‘revision class’ expecting to listen to a teacher read through the syllabus. Pointless, frustrating and demoralising for everyone concerned; surely there’s something more constructive they could be doing?

Most of the hyperlinks are to my own posts, because I could find them quickly. I’d love for comments to be added with more/better stuff, so please do!

Active Revision inc MORSE

I like the acronym MORSE, standing for

  • Mnemonics (Yes, I know, relatively small benefit, but can’t miss it out)
  • Organisation (links between concepts, not remembering your calculator)
  • Rehearsal/Repetition (ideally using the ideas behind ‘spaced revision’)
  • Simplification/Summarising (key words, lists, page to paragraph to sentence)
  • Extension (applying facts to new situations)

I presented on this ages ago at a TeachMeet, but it’s continued to be useful when working with my students. It’s a straightforward checklist to make sure that whatever they’re doing, it’s active rather than passive. As I explain to my classes, although there are some surprises, most revision advice is simple. Like healthy eating, it’s not about mysterious secrets, but about willpower.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan, 2007

Active revision isn’t a complicated idea. It’s about doing something. Writing, not reading. Describing or thinking or explaining, not just watching or listening. It’s quite telling that when I asked a student how they had revised for a recent test, they told me they’d “looked at the revision guide.” Not even read the revision guide, you notice. Have you seen that students seem to treat revision guides like gym memberships? Owning them is enough to ensure the result you wanted, apparently…

Anyway. I like to get students:

  • using past papers in loads of ways
  • writing revision notes as summaries from a range of sources
  • producing mindmaps/revision cards then using them
  • asking and answering questions with peers
  • rote learning definitions using cover/write/check
  • linking concepts with examples and consequences for the 6 mark questions.
  • advantages/disadvantages, comparisons with linked ideas/examples (eg the Five Cs format)
  • practising mathematical situations, both clear and challenging

..and of course much more. I’m constantly behind in updates to my student-focused site, studenttoolkit.co.uk, which has a revision category. New ideas, contributions, referrals all welcome of course!

AQA-Specific Links

Booklets for students to complete, with checklists. These are all in .pdf format.

Nothing for Chemistry, on account of me being a Physicist who can also teach the squishy stuff, but is more likely to blow himself up accidentally rather than on purpose. 🙂

Hope some of the above is useful – please met me know what you think, whether positive or negative.

B2 Revision Activity

Another short and sweet post, aimed mainly at teachers of AQA Additional Science or Biology. I put together a (mostly blank) summary booklet for my students, and perhaps yours might find it useful too. I see it mainly as a starting point, and emphasize that this should then lead to more detailed, interactive resources for them. A good way to use it might be to split students into six groups and then have them produce two or three resources per table; a mindmap, a set of questions and answers, a 2minute presentation and so on. If they produce things electronically, they could then share them all and everyone gets the benefit.

B2 summary activity as .pdf

Anyway, you could simply hand it out and ask them to start by filling it in. Let me know how it works out and if you want an editable version (in .docx format) you’ll have to leave a comment. I’ll aim to email it out by… say Wednesday 24th? Seems fair.