Unlocking the Exam Code!

Unlocking the Exam Code!

This year I have had a real focus on developing literacy within my GCSE computer science lessons. Although I have tried a range of different strategies in the past, I had not found anything that had really stuck until this year when I attempted something different; I went back to books! And guess what? My students love it! So, I thought I’d share what I’ve done…

This year I have given each of my computing students a copy of my computer science vocabulary book:


AQA GCSE Computer Science Vocabulary Booklet


I created this vocabulary booklet to cover concept definitions and explanations for all topic areas within the AQA specification as shown in the images below: 


Alongside this booklet, I have given each student a small exercise book and split it down the middle using a paper guillotine:


The idea is that students populate the exercise book with written keywords and definitions / explanations from the vocabulary booklet, therefore reinforcing both understanding and use of keywords within lessons. 


Within a typical 3 lesson week, I use the vocabulary books within starter activities as follows:

Lesson 1: 5 minutes to add keywords and definitions from our current topic of study into the exercise books.

Lesson 2: Revision of keywords written by students.

Lesson 3: Keyword recall activities. 

Here’s how each part works in more detail:

Lesson 1 - Adding keywords: I started by saying all students needed to write 4 keywords within this starter activity, however I found that lower ability students found this too difficult. Although I still insist the aim is to write 4 keywords, I think providing a timeframe rather than a numerical target has worked better for my classes.

Lesson 2 - Revision of keywords: This is an independent activity, which applies the concept of progression. Every week, students have more and more keywords to revise. In the first week, most students only had to revise 4 keywords, the next week, if they hit their 4 keyword target, they should have 8 keywords to revise. Every week the bank of keywords students are revising increases. This constant recall and review helps reinforce their understanding and my students’ ability to remember the keywords. 

Lesson 3 – Recall activities:The recall activities session is my favourite! Students love it too. The concept is simple; students test themselves against each other to accurately recall and explain keywords. Within all the following activities, the quiz master always uses the book or books of the students being quizzed, therefore ensuring that students are recalling information specific to what they have learned.

Here’s some of my favourite activities:

1v1: Simple but effective. Students get into pairs. One students quizzes the other for a minute before they swap roles. 

2v1: One quiz master, two contestants! First to answer get the point. The winner becomes the quiz master next round.

3v1: same as above but with 3 contestants! 

Promotion / relegation: Using any of the strategies above, add an element of competition by promoting or relegating students depending on their success. Physically sitting students in a league ladder helps.

Carousel: Students form two lines face to face. Students on one side quiz the students on the other. After a minute, students move up a position clockwise/anticlockwise and will either quiz or be quizzed depending on which line they are in.

Alongside the basic format of the quiz master asking for a definition of a keyword, I have also found these recall methods really effective:

Reverse it: quiz master reads out a definition; students need to state which keyword the quiz master is explaining.

A, B or C: give the students three definition or keyword answer options.

Deliberately incorrect: The quizzer puts an intentional mistake into an explanation of a definition. Students must identify the mistake. One for the high ability students.

Charades: Quiz master presents a keyword through actions, not speech. I’m always impressed on the creativity of my students when doing this!

TRUE or FALSE:Very applicable to Computer Science! Students ask the quiz master questions of which they can only answer true or false!

As students have got used to these activities, I have encouraged the quiz masters to be tougher on the students being quizzed, for example, not accepting ‘near’ answers, only accurate ones or if a student doesn’t know the answer, don’t just move onto the next keyword, give them a clue and make them struggle a bit more!

Why I think these starter activities have been successful: 

  • Consistent structure for starter activities.

  • Regular recall and reinforcement of keywords, therefore aids knowledge retention.

  • Recall activities force students to remember keywords within pressure situations – they don’t just go ‘through the motions’.

  • Student led – students take ownership of the activity, policing keywords and other students misconceptions, therefore leading to a better understanding themselves.

  • More regular use of keywords has resulted in more accurate use within lessons.

I think the vocabulary booklet, combined with the student’s own keyword book are the most important documents my students have in their possession. Not only can students use these booklets as revision aids to reinforce the concepts taught within lessons, they provide a key to understanding and unlocking the exam code; the language used within exams which, once understood, will help my students achieve greater success. Well, that’s the hope!

If you wish to download a copy of my vocabulary book, here is the link below:


Computational Thinking in Humanities

Computational Thinking in Humanities

How Does Rob-Bot! Help Develop Computational Thinking Skills?

How Does Rob-Bot! Help Develop Computational Thinking Skills?