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Essentials Online

  1. Published by Letts and Lonsdale

  2. Science

  3. KS 4 (Years 10 & 11)

KS4 Content Evaluation by Tom Sparrowhawk

Essentials is an online revision tool for pupils studying GCSE AQA or OCR Gateway science. The software is designed to be downloaded and run on a VLE or School Intranet. If you do not have a VLE or Intranet the software can be downloaded and run on standalone machines. Each test section comes with instant feedback and revision material covering every topic on the specifications.

Students can use Essentials Online to set up personalised revision or test sessions deciding what subject, unit and level they want to revise. Motivational avatars guide them through their revision sessions and question help material is available if required. A timer is also available and the question help can be switched off if they want to test themselves under exam conditions. Instant marks, detailed feedback and recommended revision topics and material are provided at the end of every session.

The title supplies: concise coverage of every topic of the specifications, variation in question types mirrors those found in the exams, question randomisation ensures a mix of questions for each unit, every time, motivational avatars guide and support students throughout their revision session, a choice of settings enables students to revise for distinct exams separately, a timer is available so that students can test their knowledge under exam-style conditions, question help with relevant revision material is available to assist students as they answer each question, periodic table and glossary are available, instant marks and feedback can be requested as you progress through the tests, end of session summaries with detailed marks and feedback, recommended revision topics and revision material, session history can be accessed to review progress over time, different screen settings are available for accessibility.
Purpose of the Program
Essentials is an online revision tool for pupils studying GCSE AQA or OCR Gateway science. It can be used to setup personalised revision tests and students can decide what subject, unit and level they want to revise.

The tests are always different and questions are either multiple choice or short answer. Pupils can request assistance from a range of avatars which supply short snippets of revision material aimed at guiding them through the test. Initial marks and feedback can be requested at anytime. At the end of the test a test summary is produced with detailed marks, feedback on all questions and lists of recommended revision topics.

Students can request a history of the sessions they have covered and this can be used to check progress over time.

The title can obviously a general or specific (subject and examination specific) revision guide. It might also be useful for starters and plenaries by selecting a subject area to refresh to check understanding (although you cannot pick specific questions which might be more useful for this purpose).

Teacher Controls
The title does not come with any teacher controls. But the user (teacher or student) can select their specific area of revision they wish to cover depending on the examination or subject area they wish to cover.

The user can also select a wide range of other controls including:

  1. the "motivational avatar" they wish to use to guide and support them throughout their revision session.

  2. a range of settings to revise for distinct exams

  3. a timer to mimic exam conditions. This might also be useful to restrict the session time spent on revision,

  4. question help which supplies relevant revision material as you progress through the test,

  5. a Periodic Table or Glossary to look up specific terms or help with chemistry questions,

  6. instant marks and feedback can be requested as you progress through the tests,

  7. end of session summaries which give detailed marks and feedback

  8. a list of recommended revision topics and revision material which are based on the way you answered specific questions

  9. a review of your session's history so that you can review progress overtime

  10. different screen settings to improve accessibility

Curriculum Coverage

Essentials online supplies a full range of multiple choice and short answer questions that fully cover the AQA and OCR GCSE Gateway Science syllabuses. The material is targeted to cover the full range of units for GCSE science, additional science, physics, biology and chemistry syllabuses.

The avatars supply short "snippets" (three to four paragraphs) of information including images, tables of information and diagrams. The title is not designed to replace all teaching material such as text books, revision books, teacher produced materials or online systems but to add to these as a source of knowledge and revision material.

Analysis of Contents

  1. Content appropriate for target age group

  2. Activities pitched at the right level

  3. Suitable vocabulary

  4. Activities relevant and easy access

I was very impressed with the content which is well designed and highly appropriate for the target group. The questions are well presented with clear tables, diagrams and images. The questions and revision material is pitched at the right level and cover the full range of questions covered in the normal examination process. The system is very easy to navigate and use and the feedback supplied is very good. The vocabulary uses suitable terminology and clear and easy to understand language targeted at the subject area and age group.

The feedback is generally supplied in short answer format and the revision material uses high quality images, diagrams, tables and text, which are easy to read and follow. The system does not use videos or animated feedback or revision material, which some pupils prefer to text based systems. This could be something that the designers consider, although as a teacher I often prefer clear tables and diagrams to using video or animated footage where additional hardware is required e.g. headphones or speakers.

Ease of Use

  1. Easy to navigate

  2. Supporting documentation

  3. Logical progression of content

  4. Suitable for whiteboard use

  5. Suitable for lesson starters

  6. Suitable for whole class teaching

  7. Suitable for individual use

For evaluation purposes I installed the system onto my standalone laptop and not onto the schools intranet or VLE. The system is intentionally designed to run from either a VLE or web server and is fully SCORM 1.2 compliant according to the designers (I have not been able to test this). Instructions for installing the title onto a web server or VLE were a little vague and the publishers would recommend that this was carried out by the network administrator.

I found the installation of the software onto my laptop very easy, but did have difficulties initially running and loading the title. This related to the use of flash animation which is restricted on my laptop for security reasons. A read me file can easily be accesses that clearly explains how to overcome this problem. This basically involves going to the Global Security Settings panel on the Macromedia website and changing the settings. On the downside I have found that I have to do this every time I run the software. This should not be the case if the software is loaded as recommended onto a web server or VLE.

The title is very easy to navigate and you naturally flow from one activity to the next with very little effort. The system is setup so that you naturally progress in a logical manner from questions to revision material to marking to feedback.

The supporting documents are limited with regards to using and installing the software. This is probably because the publishers recommend that the title is installed by a professional (e.g. network manager) and reading in-between the lines they would happily support any installation. The title does come with a flash animation video of how to use the system. I found that this ran a little to fast as i could not read all the details as fast as they appeared on the screen, but generally the system is very easy to use and I managed to find all the main controls first time round.

The title is really designed for single use but there is no reason why small groups of pupils should not work together. It has also been specifically designed as a revision and exam practice tool, yet I could see it being using on an interactive whiteboard for plenary or even starter sessions.


  1. Good quality images, video and sound

  2. British English spellings

  3. Activities easy to access

  4. Activities become more difficult

  5. Records work completed

The questions, feedback and revision material is presented to a high quality. All images, tables and diagrams are clear and easy to understand. British spelling and grammar is used throughout. All the activities are very easy to access and I had no problems getting feedback on my answers, accessing revision notes via the avatar or reviewing my scores and practice history.

The system records all marks and feedback for any sessions I complete in one visit which is very useful. Students can also look up scores from a previous session. These are stored in MyEssentials section and offer information on past units taken, scores received and date and time of session. This allows teachers to actively work with students to monitor and assist in their progress. The title is a very useful revision tool.

Questions are not necessarily set to become more difficult as you progress, but the user can select from foundation or higher examination questions which is obviously very useful.


  1. Includes materials for lower achievers

  2. Includes materials for gifted and talented

  3. Ideas represent good practice

The system includes materials for lower and more gifted achievers in as much as the user can select from higher or foundation questions. The system does support good practice by allowing the student to choose if they would like feedback or assistance or practice the questions in exam "conditions". The system also follows good practice by supplying formative feedback that the student can use to improve their knowledge or cover any gaps in their knowledge.

The system is not designed to support inclusion or typically special needs, but it does allow the user to differentiate between foundation and higher questions and also supplies tools to change and edit text size and backgrounds which could be useful for pupils with slight visual impairments.


Essentials Online is a well designed easy to use revision tool that covers all the units for students studying GCSE AQA or OCR Gateway science. Students can use Essentials Online to set up personalised revision or test sessions deciding what subject, unit and level they want to revise. It supplies an endless range of questions which are automatically marked. Clear easy to understand feedback is supplied with each question and students can look back over the sessions they have completed to check progress. The title is also lists clear areas for revision based on the student’s scores.

Regarding installation the publishers recommend that the system in installed by professionals (network managers) and is run either on a web server or VLE, although it can be installed on a standalone system as long as any flash animation security issues are rectified.

I found the system very easy and enjoyable to use.

Although I would recommend the use of the title for revision purposes I can also see it being useful as a plenary tool (although I would like to be able to select the questions the pupils will attempt, which is not possible using the present system).

Regarding possible improvements (although the system is still very useful) I would like to see:

  1. Ability for student to record data on past sessions not just ones completed during one "login".

  2. Ability for teachers to record student’s progress, marks and suggestions for revision, so that the teacher can monitor and check progress and help in the revision process.

  3. Ability (teacher) to select suitable starter or plenary questions from a databank of questions. The title could then be a very useful starter or plenary tool to check knowledge and understanding and could also be used as a whole class teaching tool.

  4. Possibly supplying feedback or support material using video clips or short animations. This may attract more pupils to use it?

Despite this list of recommendations, the title supplies high quality revision material which is easy to access and use, which will definitely save teachers hours of time in copying old papers, marking them, giving feedback and then suggesting suitable revision to cover any gaps in knowledge.

KS4 Classroom Evaluation by Stuart Pattison

Classroom Experience

How I Used This Product in my Classroom

Essentials Online is a revision product from Letts and Lonsdale, well known specialists in this field. The product consists of a download from a dedicated website. This then works through a school's VLE to provide revision questions for students.

The program is opened through a web browser. I used it with a group preparing for their Science GCSE Exam. The program contains questions at foundation and higher levels which was useful to differentiate with the group. Also contained within the disc were questions for Biology, Chemistry and Physics as well as additional science. The version I had covered the AQA specifications but there is also an edition available for the OCR qualifications.

There is quite a lot of customisation available where the teacher or students can select how long they want the session for as well as levels of feedback. Students can also select an avatar to represent them. The session then launches. The students were then given a series of questions usually four to five on a page. They have to expand these but it makes the page less cluttered and I found that the students were able to concentrate better with only one question visible at once. Once they have completed the questions on the page they then submit the answers before moving onto the next page. This gave them instant feedback explaining what the correct answer was and more usefully giving information about the correct answer.

Once the students had worked for an entire session they were then given feedback as to how they had done. This information can then be accessed by the teacher. The students quickly found how to use the software and were happy and confident to use it for their revision.

Ease of Use - Design & Navigation

  1. easy to use independently

  2. logical progression of content

  3. users place can be recorded to enable restart where they left off.

Initially the program was difficult to install. There was a wait for the download and then it was a zip file with different pages. It did require quite a lot of reading of the help notes to work out how to get it running. This eventually involved accessing Adobe's website to change some settings. Having said that Letts and Lonsdale have worked very hard to produce a product that is compatible with a wide range of virtual learning environments and as such have had to face a great deal of complexity in producing an installation package.

Once opened the product is very attractive with effective colour schemes. It has clearly been designed for young adults with appropriate design. It has a simple design without falling into the trap of trying too hard. The questions are shown in a clear and concise manner with appropriate language. Once a student has got a question wrong the support the program gives is effective in developing the student's knowledge. The avatars are a well thought out touch they also provide the function of giving student's background reading when confronted with a question.

The students found the design and navigation to be effective with one commenting that it made them aware of what they were doing more effectively than other revision programs we had used.

Context of Use
The program serves only one purpose and that is as a revision tool for GCSE Science. However, this actually is a strength of the product as the publishers have been able to channel their expertise into making a highly effective revision guide. The product is designed for use with a Virtual Learning Environment and as such is a very good example of 24/7 learning as students are able to develop their own revision patterns. It would also work well in lessons to support students who need additional support in the lead up to an exam. It is very much a self learning tool and is written in a way that the student will not need extra input from the teacher in order to get the best from it.

Monitoring & Assessment
Without a shadow of a doubt, monitoring and assessment of progress is where Essentials Online excels as a product. The feedback that the students get from each question that they have answered incorrectly is excellent in helping them to work out the correct answer when faced with the question again.

The summary at the end of the session is a wonderful tool for measuring how the individual student has progressed. They are able to look back over the session and review the questions that they got wrong. It also provides them with details of the areas that they need to revise. This feature alone makes the product well worth buying as it helps focus the students on areas they need to develop and enables the teacher to look at anything that they needed to cover again. The students are then able to restart the program and it will automatically concentrate on the areas that the student needs to develop.

The level of monitoring and feedback available to students and teachers will undoubtedly help improve standards..

Feedback from Pupils and Other Staff
Feedback from staff and students was positive. Staff found the product to be effective and a particularly good way of making sure that the students were focussed on the task. The feedback from the summary was probably the most commented on feature of the product and it was universally praised by staff as an effective teaching tool.

Students too were warm in their praise of the product finding it to be useful at focussing on what they had to learn. There was also praise for the design of the product with one girl commenting, "It is nice that they are not treating us like 9 year olds". One comment that the students did make that they would have liked the questions to be laid out more like the ones in the exam paper. There was agreement on this from some staff. However, others felt that the layout of the questions helped focus the students more on individual aspects of the questions.

Essentials Online does not set out to do anything other than help students revise and pass their GCSE exams and this is its great strength. It is quite simply very, very good at what it does. It gives effective questioning in an attractive design that helps to develop all students’ skills and knowledge.

The installation of the product is awkward and lets the product down somewhat. However, an effective ICT Technician would have it quickly running and it should not detract from the sheer quality of the product.

Essentials Online feels like the start of a new direction for revision guides and as such it has raised the bar for those who follow considerably. It is attractive in design and it provides such accurate and effective guidance that it cannot fail to raise standards. Making Essentials Online worth its weight in gold (or A*s!)