Revision strategies for failing Computer Science students

A couple of years ago I had three Computer Science students who were looking like dead certs for failing the subject. All the resources in the world weren’t going to fix this. Although I wasn’t getting pressure from anyone above, this was going to be more failing students in one class than I’d had in the previous 5 years combined. My Computer Science GCSE predictions at the end of the Spring term were: D, D, E, and leaving them to magically do revision was unlikely to work. Below is how I solved the problem (in an overwhelming way) with just 1 hour of work.

The typical failing student

  • Achieving D/E
  • Borderline C/D on Controlled Assessment
  • Demotivated
  • Not confident they will get a C
  • Not enjoying Computer Science
  • Getting 20-40% on any tests I was giving (60% would likely secure a C)
  • Deep down, they wanted a C (but wouldn’t admit it if it meant they might fail trying)

Strategies tried

And it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying. I had already put the following strategies into place.

  • Extra catch-up sessions for CS Controlled Assessment
  • Lunch time small sessions, to help teach programming
  • Reporting the concerns at department and school level for the previous 9 months
  • Numerous contact with parents etc

I had almost resigned myself to the low grades, but I really didn’t want to give up, and I had seen a glimmer of hope when the students had the relief of me telling them that they had completed their Controlled Assessment.

At this point, I realised that it was time to make a real effort with getting them on board with Easter revision. This wasn’t going to be easy as they had been reluctant to even do homework.

Meeting strategy

So, I decided to meet them one lunch-time in early March. This was my overall strategy.

  • Tell them exactly what they needed to do to pass
  • Show them that I had absolute confidence they would pass if they did it
  • Get them on board with doing revision in the Easter holiday
  • Get their parents on board with supporting them.

It’s worth noting at this point, that I didn’t have absolute confidence that they would pass, in fact, I had every confidence they would fail. But I knew that if I gave a hint of this to them, they would go back to their negative mindset and then not do any extra work, just like the previous two years.


This is how I started my conversation with them:Getting CS students to revise

  • First I established whether they wanted to pass or not (if it was possible) – They agreed they did (I’ve had one student once who didn’t want to pass)
  • I let them know that for 60% of the course, they had enough marks to pass, and therefore it was only what they did at Easter which would determine whether they passed or failed
  • Now I told them that I had 100% confidence that if they committed to doing the procedure I said, they would pass

At this point, I had something crucial. Their attention without the negative mindset.

Revision schedule

I now sat down with them and showed them how to revise.

  • First, I gave them a copy of the Computing DVD I made in 2012 which covers the whole specification for the GCSE
  • Then, I explained to them that there were 11 hours of content split into about 5-10 mins each
  • The Easter holiday was 16 days (including weekends)
  • Therefore, they needed to get through 40 minutes a day
  • AND allow 60 minutes a day to do this
  • As they watched each video, they could pause if they didn’t understand
  • They had to make notes as they watched the video
  • If they hadn’t got the video within 20 minutes they should move onto the next one

I explained that they would only achieve a pass if they did this amount of work, but if they did I was 100% sure they would pass.

They agreed, and one of the best comments I heard as they left was one student say to the other “I’m going to do it and pass, but I know you won’t”. This was great, as the other one replied “I bet I do more than you!”.

Parent support

A crucial component to this was that I followed this meeting up with a phone call to each of the parents. I got them on board to agree to make sure that there was an hour free every day. I also worked with them around holidays etc. In one case, a parent insisted that their son would be doing the work on an iPad on the plane. In another case, I agreed that not doing four days whilst they were visiting a relative and didn’t have a computer would be fine as they could do four hours before the holidays started.

The best part was at the end of the Easter holidays. Although none of them had done all 16 hours of revision, they had done more than 50% and were now motivated and pleased to tell me. This massively boosted their confidence when they were able to interact in the lesson and answer questions (often to the surprise of others who couldn’t answer them).

This turned a negative spiral of failure (from me and them) into a positive one of success.

Computer Science Results

To cut a very long story short. Here are the targets I submitted and wrote on reports:

D, D, E

And here are the actual results:

B, C, C

I felt compelled to write this down, as I felt more emotion and achievement from those results than any other students I taught, including those with A*s at GCSE and A-level. The reason was, that I knew how pleased they would be, and how it had proved that as a teacher, I could really make a difference.


This is the last year 11 to sit OCR Computing GCSE.OCR GCSE Computer Science Videos for revision

We have already reduced the price of our Computing DVD from £199 to £99.

But if you use coupon code IMPROVE2017  then you can get a further 10% off that figure. That’s just £89.10+VAT for videos of all the theory for the exam. This includes postage and packaging.

Order before 17th March to guarantee delivery before the end of term. Please be aware, at the rate these are going, we expect to be sold out before 31st March 2017.

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