Helping students with resits

Student in library.

“It is hard to ask a lecturer: I failed your course can you show me how to do this.”

There are two revealing things in this student’s comment. Firstly, it can be difficult for students to admit to failure, and secondly, sometimes students need advice on how to do something. As study advisors we find some students carry on using study strategies despite knowing they are no longer effective. We also know that students with resits rarely approach us for help.

In 2014 the Senate Curriculum and Student Progression Committee working group on resits said it wanted students to be provided with opportunities to address failure and asked Schools to provide students with additional guidance (‘Resits and Supplementary Assessment’ August 1st 2014). At the Institute for Academic Development we felt we could provide some support too.

We knew of successful campus-based resit programmes elsewhere but, as the majority of our students are likely to be away from Edinburgh during the summer, a residential course in July didn’t seem to be the answer. In any case, resits can take place outside of the August exam diet. The best-fit solution appeared to be an online resource for students and thus Resit Bootcamp was born and launched in semester two 2015.

Resit Bootcamp is a set of resources to help students make changes in the way they prepare for and perform in resit exams. It is available to staff and students online from the Learn VLE in the self-enrol section and can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere.

The thinking behind Resit Bootcamp has been influenced by a body of literature on learning relevant for effective exam revision which emphasises what works and what doesn’t (Dunlosky et. al. 2013a, 2013b; Brown et. al. 2014; Oakley 2014). These authors emphasise the importance of self-testing to learning, the need to practice retrieval in various forms and the importance of spacing out learning to allow for diffuse thinking and a little forgetting.

The resources in Resit Bootcamp are designed to show students how to prepare and plan study periods, to focus, restructure and self-test. We’ve included ways to practise recall, make the most of the time in the exam and strategies for common types of papers. We’ve sought to shift students away from things that do not work and which many students do, such as passive underlining and highlighting, simply rereading notes and last-minute cramming.

A total of 197 students had enrolled on Resit Bootcamp by the end of the August resit exam diet in 2015. User activity was highest in June. One student user stated the most useful thing about it was “the active ways of studying”. She said she now felt more involved in her revision and didn’t just sit and read, so it is less boring. Before using the online resources, “I carried on doing what I did at school”. In the longer term, another student said she had found changing her study habits useful and she had improved her time management and note making as a result of using the Resit Bootcamp materials.

Take a look at the Resit Bootcamp resources and tell your students about it. If there are things you can use or adapt in your teaching please do repurpose them.


Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, Mass. USA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013a). What works, what doesn’t. Scientific American Mind (September/October), 47-53.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013b). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Directions form cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

Oakley, B. (2014). A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). Los Angeles: Jeremy P Tarcher (Penguin).

Kay Williams

Dr Kay Williams is a Study development advisor at the Institute for Academic Development.

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