Education

How to pass your maths GCSE

The government has recently announced their plans to restrict university student loans to those who achieve a grade C or higher in their GCSE Maths & English exams. This means that anyone with a grade D or lower would not be eligible to apply for student finance.

According to research by Oxford Royale Academy, GCSE maths-related searches on Google went through the roof after the government announced their proposed plans. There was an enormous 2,930% spike for “how to pass GCSE maths” and a staggering 4,802% rise for “help with maths”.

This clearly shows a growing concern amongst pupils about passing their exams. There’s much more added pressure, with their results potentially affecting their ability to access further education.

In this article, we will discuss our top ten tips so that you can pass your GCSE maths exam with the highest grade possible.

10 top tips to pass your maths GCSE

With these 10 top tips, we will cover all bases for you to pass GCSE maths, with recommendations on the best methods and techniques to revise – like Spaced repetition, Active Recall, and emulating exam conditions – as well as tips to maximise your exam score on exam day such as Hedging your bets.

Many of the tips in this list will compound on top of each other, giving you a 1+1=3 effect on your revision, allowing you to revise effectively and efficiently. And make sure you stick around until the end for a bonus tip!

Start early

Every student knows this, yet every year, there are countless students who leave their revision until the last minute. It’s true that some people seem to thrive on cramming under extremely high pressure, but they are definitely in the minority. Various studies have shown that revision over a few months, as opposed to the last few weeks, can store knowledge in your long-term memory instead of short-term memory. Plus, you’ll be much less stressed and anxious knowing that you have plenty of time to revise for your maths exam, allowing you to take it slow and steady.

To help you manage your time:

  1. Set up a revision schedule.
  2. Write down all your syllabus topics, how many days you have until your GCSE maths exams, and how many topics you’ll have to cover each day to meet your target.
  3. Organise your revision accordingly.

There will be some topics you grasp quicker than others, so be sure to factor that in and be somewhat flexible.

Practice on past papers

Ensuring you have adequate exam prep might be the single most important tip we can give you. Past papers will familiarise you with exam questions and solutions, provide insight into how examiners will ask questions and how they want you to showcase your answers. It doesn’t matter how well you know the information if you cannot show the examiner what they want to see.

Additionally, by looking at past GCSE maths exams, you may notice specific trends which can inform you on what topics and questions to expect. This can give you an advantage by allowing you to prioritise your maths revision. For instance, you may see that past papers tend to have many more questions on geometry, such as Pythagoras’ Theorem and trigonometric equations, and far less on probability. Examiners tend to have go-to’s and don’t usually stray too far from them. And past papers will also identify your knowledge gaps; topics you may need to revise more.

It should be noted that trends from past exam papers do not mean these topics are guaranteed to show up in your exam. The exam board could decide to throw students a curveball by completely switching it up to confuse them. Therefore, it’s vital you don’t shortcut your revision and that you are well prepared for all subject areas.

Emulate exam conditions

Whether just revising or completing practice questions, attempt to emulate your exam conditions. Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury of taking your time during your exams, so one way to practice this is to time yourself when completing past papers. You want to accurately gauge that you are getting answers correct and within the allotted time frame, especially since you’ll also want to have time at the end to check over your answers. Try to replicate the time pressure in your revision as well.

Another condition you want to mimic is silence. Often students revise and exam prep whilst listening to music or binaural beats. Although these can help you focus and concentrate, they won’t be available to you during your maths exam. You don’t need to revise in silence for your whole revision timeline, but make sure you’re at least comfortable with working in silence.

Find a tutor

Hiring tutors can provide game-changing results if you want to pass GCSE maths. Whether it’s in a group or with focused one-to-one attention, the extra time spent honing your maths GCSE knowledge will be well worth it. If you lack confidence in a specific area, feel like your maths teacher at school doesn’t give you enough attention, or need someone to keep you accountable, tutors can make a huge impact on your exam results. Good tutors know when to push you and when to slow down. With more time dedicated to you specifically, they can give you their undivided attention and pass on the skills and knowledge you need to pass GCSE maths with a top grade.

Get plenty of sleep

Scientific research has shown that adequate sleep in adolescence and adults can drastically improve your declarative memory. Declarative memory, also known as explicit memory, is a part of your long-term memory and refers to the ability of a person to recall facts, dates, events, etc. In terms of the functionality of declarative memory, it is beneficial in learning and fast-processing.

Getting a good night’s sleep improved declarative memory by a massive 20.6%. Having such a significant boost in your capacity to remember what you’ve learned and the speed at which you can recall facts can hugely impact your performance on your GCSE maths exams. Maths is a subject with definitive answers, and the time pressure of an exam can be unnerving. Being able to recall more of what you’ve learned faster can make the difference between failing or passing your exam.

Spaced Repetition & Active Recall

Spaced repetition, as the name suggests, involves spacing your revision out in specific periods. We tend to forget things we have learnt after a few days. We can ensure we keep ‘topping up’ our knowledge before it’s forgotten by spacing our revision.

To take full advantage of spaced repetition, you’ll want to combine it with active recall. Active recall is trying to retrieve information from your brain without any cues or help. Exams and quizzes are forms of active recall. It requires effort and is a mentally taxing process. But the harder your brain has to work to recover information, the more likely the information will stick. Even if you don’t get everything right the first time, it’s still helping to cement the knowledge in your long-term memory.

This revision method is scientifically proven to cut down the time required to remember with more detail, but it works best with our earlier tip of starting the revision process early, so make sure you don’t leave it too late.

Attend a summer programme

This tip often gets overlooked, but it can be an enormous advantage in passing your GCSE maths exams. It’s to get a head start by attending a summer school. Suppose you know that you need a good grade in maths to proceed to your A-levels or be eligible for the government loan. In that case, summer schools will help you reach the level you need and beyond.

Taught by excellent, qualified teachers, a summer school will give you a head start on your education so that when it comes to studying GCSE maths at school, you’re already familiar with the concepts and can focus on practising instead of learning them from scratch. And referring back to spaced repetition, starting the revision process early will give you ample time to revise and fine-tune your exam prep, ensuring you’re fully prepared when it comes time to pass your maths exam.

Can you explain it to a 12-year-old?

One of the best ways to test your knowledge is to try and explain something to someone else. This could be either a concept or explaining your approach in answering a question; if you can break down the logic you used to someone in a clear and concise manner, it shows you have a deep understanding of that topic.

This learning method is known as the ‘Feynman Technique’, popularised by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. He was never satisfied with his understanding of a concept until he was able to explain it in basic language to a 12-year-old. Although you don’t have to explain it to a child every time, this method will still allow you to reap the benefits of grasping any topic on a fundamental level.

Hedge your bets if you’re unsure of an answer

If you have a question that you’ve tried two different methods and come up with two different solutions but aren’t certain which one’s correct, don’t commit to one. If you put an answer on the answer line, the examiner will only mark the working out for that specific answer.

If you leave the line blank, the examiner will be forced to mark both methods and give you the marks for whichever one is lower. So don’t commit to an answer unless you’re absolutely sure.

If you get stuck, move on

This tends to be more common at the start of an exam, where students are still nervous and eager to get the first question answered. But if you get stuck, move on. There’s no rule that states you have to complete the exam in the order it’s laid out for you. Some people prefer to flip through, finding topics they are most comfortable with and completing them first, building up their confidence, then moving on to the other questions.

Do whatever works for you, but don’t waste your time on questions you cannot answer; complete the ones you can first and come back to the ones you can’t later.

Bonus: cross out with a single line

Not only does it keep your exam paper from looking like a doodle page, if you cross out a correct answer without replacing it with a wrong answer, your examiner may still give you marks for it. Therefore, if you do decide to cross something out, use a single line so the examiner can still read it.

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