Preparing for GCSEs: how to ace your maths exam
There is a drive sweeping across schools in England that is aimed at helping children – starting as young as primary school – acquire a deeper conceptual understanding of maths so they become skilful independent mathematicians. The buzz phrase is ‘maths mastery’ and with the right tools and techniques, all students including those at GCSE and A level can achieve mastery in maths.
Understanding What Maths is All About
For Judith, a chartered mathematician and one of Fleet Tutors’ experts at tutoring GCSE and A level maths, maths is something else above just dealing with numbers. This doesn’t mean that numbers are not important. In fact, the ability to manipulate them easily and quickly is what frees children up to start thinking about more substantive maths. She puts it this way;
‘Some people tend to think that maths is all about numbers and I think that is wrong. It is about spotting patterns and not necessarily being brilliant at arithmetic. Even now, if I’m adding up marks on an exam sheet for instance, I can feel that I really have to concentrate and push my mind to add up this list’.
Confidence and a readiness to try things out without fear of failure – currently characterised as a growth mindset – are vital. As exam season approaches, Judith understands the importance of achieving a good GCSE grade and offers these useful tips to help students including those sitting A levels, ace their maths exams;
Tips to Ace Your Maths Exam
Judith on method:
‘I try hard to lead the student on rather than directly instructing. It’s about hinting at what the student should be doing, so they develop their own capability. I also say to the student; “faced with something, you should ask yourself questions about it”. For instance: why have I been given that particular piece of information?’
Judith’s top tips for helping students master maths:
- Practice multiplication tables, even as part of GCSE revision.
Some teenagers don’t have instant recall. They learn tables earlier in their school career and think “right I’ve done that” and they lose the facility of them. Some of the less able children then waste a lot of time working out the arithmetic. Keeping tables current is important.
- Be fluent with ‘addition tables’ also referred to as number bonding.
This is about knowing automatically which pairs of numbers add up to 10 or 20, for instance.
- Be comfortable with calculator use.
Research quoted in a recent study by the Education Endowment Foundation suggests that pupils who use calculators systematically have a greater understanding of and fluency with arithmetic. However, it recommends that calculators be used regularly but not every day.
Judith concurs, warning against a dependence on calculators, not only because there is one non-calculator GCSE paper, but because students need to know if the answer they calculate is reasonable.
At GCSE level, the way to success is doing lots and lots of practice, such as past papers, to get students used to the way problems are brought up in questions and the sometimes random nature of how things are put together.
Granted, such methods might not work for everybody but a one-to-one tutoring scenario allows the time and space to explore what might be useful.
‘The benefit of tutoring is that sometimes we can find that chink that lets the information in,’ argues Judith. It might be explaining something that they’ve heard in class but putting it in a slightly different way, and that can make all the difference.’