Choosing the right textbook.

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GCSE Science By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Science » GCSE Science
Last updated: 16/06/2017
Tags: gcse chemistry, gcse revision, gcse science, textbook, textbooks

Textbooks are vital tools in tutoring as well as classroom learning. If your children do not own textbooks on the subjects that they are struggling with, they are going to find improvement VERY difficult. This article will look at a) what we want from a textbook, b) where to find good text books and c) how much to spend - which, you'll be glad to hear is often not as much as you would think!

Textbooks are key tools in teaching, but unfortunately there are a lot out there that I believe are failing students. These textbooks are rarely failing in terms of their content. Many are published in association with exam boards and the content they contain is very relevant to the exams that people will be sitting, but even these often fail in their task.


What makes a good textbook? Granted it is not a novel. Not something to be taken to bed with cocoa or horlicks. Equally it should not be a challenge to read. For my profession I read many high-level academic papers, often dealing with hard-to-understand concepts that their authors wish to explain. Like textbooks, these can succeed or fail based on the DENSITY of their writing.

As a physical concept density refers to the amount of matter (stuff, or mass) contained in a given space (or volume) and this works well when talking about textbooks too. Many textbooks contain densely packed bundles of text, that even I, the tutor sometimes have to spend longer dissecting than I would like. If I find this material (about subjects I am familiar with) offputting then the students often fail to engage with it at all.This could lead to a long discourse on TV, ADHD, 'when I was at school we read a million pages a day and I found it uplifting...' today's children are different. No less clever, they learn in new ways - many of which are based on effective use of media, television, computing. Unfortunately, thick blocks of technical text often turn them right off.

Not ALL textbooks are densely written though. Some modern textbooks are a joy to work with. I do not wish to push any one brand or the other - but CGP do a great range of books which are DENSELY ILLUSTRATED. Illustrations bring the subject to life, and more importantly they are effectively illustrated too, with ample diagrams, and even witty captions in places. I have found that students really take to the CGP books that I use over and above those that may have been supplied at school.

Should I get the one with the answers?

Yes. When purchasing books for home study, they should contain the answers. This is for two reasons. Firstly self-study should build confidence, and confidence can only build if a student can see that they are mastering skills by answering questions correctly. Answering a question and being 'pretty sure' it's right with no recourse to a given set of solutions can leave students doubtful - and may over time increase their anxiety about a subject.

Secondly, it saves on tutoring time as students can 'confide' in a tutor (in a way they may not a teacher) as to what they found difficult, and the tutor can then use the questions/solutions as worked example opportunities. The objection risen by some teachers is that providing answers enables cheating, which it does. However - a child with a good tutor will not be able to cheat. A good tutor will not simply tick off a list of correct answers before moving on, rather they will test that with the ticks came the understanding before moving on!


Here's the good news. Amazon or ebay. If you can't afford it then don't buy new. Nearly new/good as new/good condition textbooks will do the task. 'Nearly new'/'very good' is best to aim for as these will not be pencil marked or highlighted. For science GCSE's there will mainly only be new textbooks - reflecting the new 9-1 syllabus which started in the 2016-17 school year.

What about recent syllabus changes?

If buying for science GCSEs then go for ones labelled 'for the new 9-1 syllabus' or 'New 2015/New 2016', while for science A-Level really you do need to look to the 2015 as a fair amount of content has since the new syllabus came in. Your tutor will be familiar with this and can help the student get the most out of their book.


There are good GCSE revision books going for less that £10 (including postage)! Check amazon, for A-level, you can check Ebay.


Textbooks for personal use are essential. They should be VERY well illustrated and interesting to look at, even for parents/carers/purchasers of textbooks! Second hand is fine, if you can get a couple of second hand GCSE revision books for the price of one new one - get the second hand ones! Do check out the CGP titles and see what you think. Don't break the bank, there's plenty of good deals out there on internet sites like ebay and amazon.

Happy learning!



Thomas Wigley GCSE Chemistry Tutor (North London)

About The Author

I am a 38 year old Earth Sciences lecturer and PhD student with many years teaching and tutoring experience at both secondary school and uni level. I have more than 8 years of experience tutoring the sciences at KS3, GCSE and A-level.

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