Learning from the wrong answers


Last year when I asked my National 5 students if and how they had revised for their prelim English exam, there was a resounding, and familiar, chorus of ‘But you can’t revise for English!’ and ‘I didn’t know where to look.’ And so I had to point them in the direction of their greatest revision tool: their exercise book.

This book, massively underrated by the students, has a wealth of useful revision material: notes on exam skills; formulas for answering questions; copies of mark-schemes; past exam questions; and most importantly all of their assessed work for the past term. These exam answers by students and the feedback that I have given them, is their greatest asset when revising for the exam.

Using past exam answers are so powerful because they provide immediately differentiated and personalised material for students to work with.

Two approaches that I use are to:

  1. Get students to read my feedback then act on it. Having an opportunity to respond to feedback and make improvements to work can have a massive impact on their progress. The feedback that we all spend ages writing is also all tailored to individual students, which is therefore personalised and differentiated to individual students’ needs. I think that we miss a trick when we allow students to ignore this. My students are always asked to spend time making corrections, re-writing paragraphs and writing new sections, as a result of my feedback, and this is a great starting point for their revision. It instantly highlights for them their priorities for revision.
  2. Use past essays to structure revision notes. This is something that formed the foundation of all my own revision, when at school and university and that I encourage all my students to do. Students need to read back through their essays, highlight the key points and key quotations, then use these to create a new revision sheet or poster. By refining their essays in this way, it forces them to engage with the strength of their points about a text or topic, then by re-writing and re-cycling them, it will help them to remember them.


I would be interested to hear any other ideas you have for using old work as revision materials. Students, through their lack of confidence, often rely upon other people’s ideas when revising. However, the best place for them to start is with their own work. This is where they learn to evaluate what their strengths and weaknesses are, and this is surely what we want, if students are going to be able to independently respond to whatever the exam papers are going to throw at them.

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