Summer revision courses: graduates reverently cite them as excuses for mini-holidays, and all your friends are gratuitously taking them, but are they worth their weight in advertising? Here’s my advice on their effectiveness after attending the OSC revision courses for Economics HL, Biology HL and Chemistry SL (totalling $2550 AUD including accommodation).

How prepared are you currently?

Don’t be fooled by shrewd advertising that preys on your insecurities: not everyone needs a revision course. I was convinced that I had to invest in a revision course to solidify my knowledge before finals, and that I could cram revision for my entire course there and be done with it. Boy, was I wrong.

Revision courses are not a substitute for your own revision.

You will still have to revise before and after it!

Comb through the syllabus and determine your current degree of preparation. Generally, level 6 and 7 students are already quite prepared by the time of the year that revision courses come around. Small gaps in knowledge should be fixed by yourself using spot-treatment, rather than doing a comprehensive revision course that painfully slowly covers knowledge you already know in excruciating depth. If you’re already familiar with the course material but just haven’t had the time to properly revise everything yet, don’t splash out on a revision course that can cost up to $640 AUD per subject (OSC 2016 revision course pricing).

However, you should take a revision course if:

  • You’re struggling with material because your teachers don’t explain it properly
  • You haven’t had experience with true IB-level marking
  • You’re not passing a subject

How to best prepare for IB revision courses

If you’ve read this far and have still decided that taking a revision course is the best decision for your finals preparation, here are some hindsight-informed tips on how to get the most out of them.

  1. Review material beforehand
  2. Use and abuse your lecturers
  3. Take organised notes
  4. Stay focused and do yo’ homework

1. Review material beforehand

Seems counter-productive, doesn’t it? If you’re imagining hours of in-depth review in preparation for a second round of in-depth review during the revision course, banish the thought. A pre-course review means a quick skim of the syllabus to firstly identify your level of preparation (as mentioned above), and to secondly identify your priority areas for revision.

You must pinpoint all unsure topics which you would like to revise in special depth before attending the course.

Some revision courses help you do this by sending out a survey a few weeks before, but most people have the tendency to identify parts they feel are difficult. Be more careful than these people. It’s important to distinguish between difficult, complex concepts that you actually don’t understand, and simple concepts that you aren’t confident in purely because you haven’t revisited them in a while (you tend to find these critters in the introductory sub-topics at the start of syllabi). Identifying the wrong hotspots wastes course time on material that can be easily re-understood by a quick self-review. From these hotspots, create specific questions about ideas you don’t understand rather than asking the lecturer to “just go through all of Topic 6”.

Secondly, revision courses don’t always give an in-depth review of your whole course, nor cover all of the coursework. Furthermore, don’t forget that some subjects require exercises apart from pure content revision. For instance, Biology is content-oriented, while Economics and other Group 3 subjects require practice essays. If you don’t identify your specific weaknesses beforehand (whether they be in content-heavy short response questions, or essay-style long response questions), there’s even more chance of the lecturers not covering them in enough depth – or completely skipping them. Now that’s counter-productive.

2. Use and abuse your lecturers

The main predictor of the effectiveness of your course is your lecturer. The quality of lecturers varies widely between subjects and courses, so if possible, get a review of your lecturer from graduates or teachers at your school who know them. In the revision course I took, students were only told their lecturers upon their arrival at the course. If this is the case, milk your friends (ones who did the subject before you in a different session) for info.

If you feel your lecturer is ineffective, some courses allow you to change sessions (and thus change lecturers). Exploit this ruthlessly. OSC lecturers are usually IB markers but the lecturer varies by revision course providers. If your subject requires essay writing, ask your examiner exactly what they’re looking for to score in the higher bands – ask for information that is more specific than what the criteria already tells you. Make a list of the essential points to hit (then quickly hide it in a safe, safe place). As an example, I discovered that Economics HL examiners want real-life examples that are interwoven throughout the essay rather than isolated in a paragraph.

Most lecturers will give you resources (such as questions, textbooks and summary notes) – these were the most useful by-products of the course, and the parts which I mainly returned to in my later revision. But hey, why not just scam them off a friend who did go to the revision course and save yourself the moolah?

Lastly, get the most out of your lecturers by staying back after classes if you have unanswered questions. Most don’t mind spending the extra time and some will also give you their email addresses to contact after the course for more questions.

3. Take organised notes

Organise a note-taking system beforehand for later review after the course. You can probably tell by now that revision courses do not cover all material and are of varying quality, so later review is a necessity.

You can maximise the ease of this review by taking clear, organised notes.

DO NOT take notes organised by the day of the course rather than the topic (like me), or write everything down without clear identification of weak spots (like me). After the course, I only reviewed the clear, finished sections and then wasted the rest of my notes (partly another reason why I found the lecturer’s resources the most useful).

TIP: Colour-code topic headings. This seems obvious but its usefulness will become apparent at the end of a long session spent puzzling through pages of monochromatic chicken scratch. Good lecturers will go through material so quickly that they slide between topics to give you a more holistic understanding of the course (this is the way that you will be examined).

4. Stay focused and do homework

This one always seems easier than it is. In reality, you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair in an uncomfortably-temperature-controlled room (or worse – exposed to the elements via uncomfortably-open windows) for hours at a time. On the practical side, it helps to take some snacks into the room to keep yourself awake. Every time my attention wandered, I took out a trusty box of almonds and determinedly ate another.

Your plight worsens if you’ve travelled to another city to take your course. DO NOT get carried away by the socialisation opportunity. Graduates will tempt you with stories of not doing homework and getting lost in the city, but don’t do either of them. Good lecturers go through content so fast that if you’ve switched off because you’re planning your late-night re-enaction of Maze Runner in the CBD, you will miss content.

Rather than waste time after classes, use your downtime to write practice essays or complete your assigned homework (this will usually be past papers anyway). Feedback from IB examiners is priceless in your quest to perfect your work. Note carefully how they award marks according to the markscheme, and return to this feedback in your later revision. Marked papers were the second-most useful resource from the course. Even for Group 4 subjects, doing past papers is helpful in the presence of teachers because you can ask them if your answer qualifies under “OWTTE” (Or Words To That Effect). You may be (pleasantly?) surprised to see what the IB are willing to accept.

TLDR;

Overall, the effectiveness of the revision course depends on:

  • Your lecturer
  • Your note-taking strategies and commitment
  • Your subject

I wish you luck in your struggle vanquishing the IB. If you’d like any specific details about the OSC revision courses or have any other general questions, comment below!