How to get an A in maths GCSE

By Hannah McDowell Monday, September 1, 2014

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An A grade in maths GCSE can be a highly useful resource from which you can access higher education and lucrative job opportunities. However, many students are often daunted by the prospect of maths revision and simply do not know where to start. Dara O’Brien, comedian and presenter of School of Hard Sums says; “Language can be obscure. Maths cuts through that.” Maths revision is a process through which you can broaden your knowledge of these mathematical principles and begin"tapping into this simplicity". By following the helpful hints within this guide, you can transform your mathematical awareness and subsequently achieve the GCSE grade you deserve.

You can memorise as many formulae as you wish but if you do not know how to apply this knowledge when solving mathematical problems, then you will not be able to achieve an A grade. In the exam you won't be asked to regurgitate formulae, instead you'll be required to use what you know to solve maths problems. As such, the best way you can hone your mathematical skills is to attempt as many past papers as possible and cover all areas of the syllabus extensively. By doing so, you will develop confidence solving maths questions in exam conditions, as well as identifying similar patterns and questions. This means that, when you come to sitting your real maths exam, you will already feel at ease solving these problems.

This relaxed attitude and confidence in your own abilities will exponentially improve your chances of achieving an A grade. As well as attempting past GCSE papers, it is highly beneficial to compare your answers with the model answers. There are a wealth of free online resources which provide model answers for all the past paper questions you have attempted, thereby enabling you to identify the correct way of solving equations as well as efficient methods of displaying your working. Furthermore, at Maths Doctor we have developed a series of in-depth GCSE revision videos, which offers exclusive tips and guidance on exam technique to suit the individual academic capabilities of any student.

Always display your working out

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Even if your final answer to a question is incorrect, you can still receive marks for attempting the correct working out. If you read the questions carefully, make sure you know what you are being asked to do and then display your working out in detail, then you will be able to achieve the highest possible marks for your mathematical methods. This process is vital, particularly when you sit your calculator paper; as many students simply write down the answer they have worked out and if it this answer is wrong then they receive no marks. Often, this incorrect answer is due to mistyping the wrong button on the calculator. If you write down every step you took, including which calculator keys you pressed, then the marker will be able to see that you understood the correct process and grant you marks accordingly.

These small yet significant steps can mean the difference between a B and an A grade! Furthermore, remember to write down units on your answers. This attention to detail demonstrates to the marker that you competently understand each mathematical principle and in turn they will be more confident in your ability and grant you marks accordingly.

Isolate your weaknesses and turn them into your strengths

The best way you can overcome an obstacle is to confront it! If there are areas of the syllabus which you find difficult, then you should spend more time revising them rather than skipping them in favour of easier topics. If you find a question easy to solve this means that you have effectively revised and understood the mathematical principles behind that topic. Well done! However, this means that it is now time to move onto a new topic, as opposed to simply repeating the same questions over and over again. Repeating easy questions will make your grade stay consistent but not improve it. Moreover, you will feel a great sense of pride when you overcome a tricky topic which you previously found difficult.

In order to achieve these objectives, the best thing you can do at the beginning of your revision is to scrutinise the syllabus, create a maths GCSE revision checklist and isolate your own 'strong' and 'weak' topics; 'strong' meaning those in which you are confident, and 'weak' meaning those at which you currently struggle. This process enables you to allocate your revision time efficiently, thus transforming all of your 'weak' topics into 'strong' topics! As mentioned earlier, practice makes perfect, and if you continue attempting these 'weak' problems and reading through model answers, you will cultivate a greater understanding of the mathematical principles behind these topics. Subsequently you will be able to answer them correctly and greatly improve your chances of achieving an A grade.

Discover your individual learning style

Discovering, and working according to, your individual learning style will enable you to effectively utilise your maths revision sessions and improve your grade prospects. Research has shown that students can perform better in exams if they change their study habits to fit their own personal learning styles. There are seven different learning styles, which are listed below: - Visual (spatial): using pictures or images to understand and memorise topics - Aural (auditory-musical): associating different topics and mathematical principles with various sounds and music - Verbal (linguistic): using words, both in speech and writing, to understand mathematical principles and memorise formulae - Physical (kinaesthetic): using physical actions to memorise topics. For example; associating mathematical principles or formulae with different body or hand gestures - Logical (mathematical): using logic, reasoning and systems to understand and recall mathematical principles - Social (interpersonal): working best in groups or with other people - Solitary (intrapersonal): preferring to work alone and exercise self-study

At the beginning of your revision process, test out a variety of different revision methods in order to discover which of these learning styles is most applicable to you. For example; methods such as mind mapping, flash cards, making notes and drawing flow charts and diagrams are popular revision methods. Experimenting with a broad range of revision methods will improve your understanding of different mathematical principles and formulae, because they will be explained via a method which is accessible to you.

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Furthermore, once you have discovered your individual learning style and attempted various topics, it is vital you test your knowledge in order to see whether your particular learning style has worked. As well as past papers, there are a myriad of online revision tools and resources with which you can test your newly acquired knowledge. There are even past papers and model answers in video format which will cater to a broad spectrum of different learning styles, in particular visual and auditory learners. By identifying and working according to your specific learning style, you can reap you substantial academic dividends in your exams. Working according to your specific learning style will equip you with the techniques and processes you need in order to achieve that all important A grade!

Be resourceful

As well as past papers and model answers, there is a wealth of different resources available in order to help you improve your maths grade. Listed below are some of the most common examples, all of which can either be found within your school or online:

Your course textbook: This is the Holy Grail of your revision sessions! It contains all of the mathematical facts and formulae which you need to know in order to achieve an A grade. Moreover, your course textbook will display this information in more extensive detail than most store-bought revision guides. Course textbooks include worked examples for each topic, as well as plenty of practice questions and exam-style problems, the answers to which will be included at the back of the book.

The course specification from your exam board: If you find out which exam board you are registered with (mostly likely this will be either Edexcel, OCR or AQA), you can visit their website and read your course specification and syllabus. This will tell you everything you need to study before your exam, and provides a valuable checklist for your revision timetable.

Video Resources: At Maths Doctor, we provide GCSE students with over 250 interactive QR Worksheets, all of which are accompanied by extensive online video tutorials. These video resources are completely free and can be accessed at any time via phone or computer, in order to suit your individual revision schedule. By regularly accessing video resources such as these, you can cultivate a comprehensive understanding of fundamental mathematical principles, thereby increasing your chances of acquiring an A grade.

BBC Bitesize: For many years, BBC Bitesize has been one of the most useful online resources for GCSE students. You can find revision notes, videos, exercises, checklists, and even mock exams, all of which are specifically tailored to your exam board specifications, in order to extensively practice your entire syllabus.

On the day itself

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Many students dedicate an enormous amount of time to revision, but end up making rudimentary organisational mistakes on the day of their exam which undermine all of their previous efforts. Seemingly minor aspects such as remembering to bring the correct equipment, writing in the correct ink, or even turning up on time can knock your confidence on the day and place you under unnecessary pressure. Similarly to revision, if you plan your exam day protocol in advance, you will increase your confidence upon entering examination conditions, and in turn improve your chances of acquiring an A grade.

Subsequently, listed below are a few areas to which you should pay particular attention;

  • Equipment: when attending your maths exam, make sure you are sufficiently equipped with; pens, pencils, ruler, rubber, pencil sharpener, highlighters and spares, all of which must be visible within a clear pencil case or bag. For the calculator paper, it is worthwhile checking your calculator works in advance. Moreover, make sure your calculator has new batteries before entering the exam as it is not guaranteed that spares will be provided,
  • Examination timetables: make sure you have multiple copies of your examination timetable. This document will tell you your specific seat number and will also act as a form of identification when you enter each of your exams,
  • Ink colour: it is highly advisable you write clearly in black ink during all of your exams. This is because your exam scripts will be scanned and marked online, and black ink is more visible than other inks or pale coloured gel pens. The last thing you want is to lose marks due to illegible handwriting or ink discrepancies!
  • Sleep: getting a good night's sleep before your exam has been scientifically linked to improved grade scores. Dr. Philip Alapat, the medical director of Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center and assistant professor at the Baylor College of Medicine Memory, states that "memory recall and ability to maintain concentration are much improved when an individual is rested...By preparing early and being able to better recall what you have studied, your ability to perform well on exams is increased...Any prolonged sleep deprivation will affect your mood, energy level and ability to focus, concentrate and learn, which directly affects your academic performance". Last minute cramming the night before is unlikely to improve your grades, all it will do is increase your nerves!
  • Nutrition: in the same way that a car needs petrol to run effectively, your brain needs food to fuel your cognitive functions. Research tells us that young people who don’t eat breakfast demonstrate a 20% – 40% reduction in thinking skills (e.g. concentration, alertness and memory). Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, “ensure you eat a nutritious breakfast such as porridge or wholemeal toast with eggs, which will sustain your energy levels and give you the fuel you need to succeed”.

Ultimately, if you follow all of the processes mentioned throughout this guide, you will significantly improve your chances of achieving grade A in your maths GCSE examinations. Maths does not need to be difficult. It is a highly logical process, and with sufficient revision, you can improve your understanding of mathematical principles, as well as boosting your confidence in your own academic abilities. By doing so, you equip yourself with the necessary tools to succeed in not just your GCSE maths exams, but in all areas of study. Good luck!

Categories: General | GCSE | Education | Revision