Death by Past Paper Question and the Birth of Past Paper Poker!

This guest post was kindly written by Paul Taylor @ticktock80.

For as long as I can remember, Summer term or more specifically April – June, has meant two things for students embarking on their GCSE or A-level exams, copious amounts of revision and infinite boredom!  While I would like to tell you that this doesn’t happen in my lessons, I can’t.  In fact the monotony of the last 9 years has finally broken me!  How is it that I spend all year planning and delivering lessons to engage and enthuse my students to be passionate about my subject, making their learning experiences fun yet efficient, only to get to the final hurdle, where they experience a slow and painful death by past paper questions! (PPQs). The time where their enthusiasm should be at its peak has become the time where they find themselves on the slippery slope to disengagement – Nightmare!  Surely this is the educational equivalent to ‘pi$$ing into the wind’?

This year that had to change, if not for the potential that continual focus and engagement has to offer in the lead up to an exam, but for my own sanity! I sought out support from the PE department at Penistone Grammar School, (PGS) specifically Ben Dowle (@dowley8) and Kate Bancroft (@klbancroft88) to help ensure that this year the ‘silly season’ of revision and exam preparation didn’t follow the familiar and universal default setting of:


Now at this point, I’m sure some are thinking that there isn’t a great deal wrong with that model and I absolutely agree.  However, the first phase of the chain is where you win or lose, where you engage or disengage, where you become efficient or inefficient in their revision.  The rest of the chain is spot on and if you throw in a few prizes/sweets (‘spice’ if you’re from Barnsley) then not only are you laughing, so are the students #engagement!


The ‘spice’ became the focal point of creating something engaging and in this moment Past Paper Poker was born!  The ‘spice’ were to be the poker chips and now all I needed was someone who actually knew how to play poker! Cue @dowley8!  Ben was more than happy to educate me and the students how to gamble!!!  I jest, however, without this understanding it would have undoubtedly not been as effective.

The game is very simple and the ability to adapt it for a variety of different class sizes (@haleytaylor82 with 50+ GCSE PE students, @PCrookPGSALC with 30 GCSE PE students) makes it all the more appealing.

Ben and I put students into teams of 4, presented each group with a dry wipe board, dry wipe marker and a sealed envelope with their chips/spice in, we then played a YouTube clip of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. This went down like a ‘sack of spuds’ but we enjoyed the subtle link!  “What we doing today sir?” was asked as they looked at the sealed embossed (sticky label really) envelope full of spice!  At this point, offering our best ‘poker faces’ we set out explaining the rules of Past Paper Poker! The presentation below can be used to help explain the game. The slides can be downloaded from here.

Now if you cast your mind back to earlier in this blog where I made reference to a process of PPQ revision, you remember, the part where I made excellent use of Microsoft’s ‘Smart Art’, the point I made was about getting the first bit of the chain right and being creative about how the questions are asked.  If you get the format right, the engagement will follow.  Past Paper Poker certainly addresses the first link of the chain and consequently engages students.  Recently my # PETaL_TM buddy Ben Horbury (@TheBenHorbury) gave Past Paper Poker a whirl and was impressed with how students became ‘unconsciously engaged in revision’.


While I genuinely believe that students must access revision that directly links to the examination, and use material that the examination board produce, the manner and variety in which we give it to them should be broader to prevent students decelerating going into their exams and ensure they are ‘peaking’ at the right point.

photo (1)

The idea of avoiding the ‘infinite boredom’ when accessing PPQs has sparked a whole new approach to past paper revision at PGS with other games such as ‘Past Paper Pass the Parcel’ (we love alliteration at PGS), ‘Past Paper Hide and Seek’ and ‘Past Paper Spending Spree’.  More to follow on these!


To wrap up, I am not saying that these will work for you, I’m not saying they will result in better grades for your students, but what I am saying is they will be more engaged, and enthused at a time of the year where engagement is vital if we are to heighten the chances of them fulfilling their potential.


Try it, you might like it! (If you don’t at least you’ll know you don’t!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *