How to pass your GCSE Maths exam

Five things we’ve learned about successfully studying to pass GCSE Maths

I’ve been teaching Maths and Science for many decades. Since 2001, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have visited our site and have gone on to get good GCSE or International GCSE grades.

So we thought it would be a good idea to share our five top tips for how to pass GCSE Maths Higher or Foundation. In so doing, we hope to help you or your children pass GCSE or IGCSE Maths when exam time comes around.

Tip 1 – Practice, practice and practice doing maths problems

example1Don’t passively read through your maths textbook from start to finish as if it were a novel. It should be used like a reference book that you to dip into to clarify something, to refresh your memory or to make notes from. Reading your textbook from cover to cover is a waste of precious time.

In the exam you won’t be asked what you know about maths – you’ll be required to use what you know to solve maths problems. So a better way to study is to open your text book and randomly pick problems to solve. Better still, practice answering questions from past GCSE papers.

In the exam you’ll be facing 20 to 30 problems on a wide range of maths topics to solve. The sooner you get used to solving maths problems, the more relaxed and confident you’ll be during the exam itself.

And when you’ve had a go at solving problems yourself, compare your answers with the right answers. Over the years, we’ve produced model answers for all the past paper questions you’ll find on our site.

Tip 2 – In the exam, show as much working out as you can

Why? Because you get marks for the correct working out.

lm7In the calculator exam many students just pump numbers into their calculators, then write in their answer without writing anything down that shows the exam marker that they know what they’re doing.

If a question is worth 4 marks, and at the very end you make a mistake but all the working out is shown and is correct, you will probably be awarded 3 out of the 4 marks. But if you don’t show any working out – so that the only thing you do write down is the wrong answer – you will lose all 4 marks, even if you really understood the question.

This is one of the reasons with our model answers, that we also show all the working out. We want to get you into the habit!

Tip 3 – Do not shy away from practising difficult questions

Some students quickly scan a question, see some awful algebra, say “Oh no!” … and move on looking for a question they regard as ‘easy’.

‘Easy’ questions are exactly that – ‘easy’. You feel good because you get the correct answer and they can help to reinforce your understanding, but generally easy questions will teach you nothing new.

The reason you find some questions difficult is because they’re asking about knowledge you don’t yet have. So, if you can tackle a hard question – even if it takes you days to do! – you will have moved your understanding forward.

If, for example, you have mastered Pythagoras’s theorem in 2 dimensions, don’t keep on and on doing Pythagoras in 2-dimensions. Try some 3-dimensional problems involving Pythagoras.

You’ll find that we offer Foundation, Higher and (the more demanding) International GCSE past papers on our site, so there’s plenty of opportunity to practice difficult questions.

And when you’ve had a go at solving problems yourself, compare your answers with the right answers. We’ve produced model answers for all the past paper questions you’ll find on our site.

Plus – we don’t just provide the answers. In a clear and simple way, we also show all the working out as well so that you really understand the topic that is being tested in the question.

Tip 4 – Your particular ‘learning style’ may be the single most important key to improving your Maths grades

There are many ways that we take in new information. We all learn by seeing, hearing and experiencing things first hand. But for most students, one of these methods stands out.

Why is this important? Research has shown that students can perform better in exams if they change their study habits to fit their own personal learning styles.

video-icon-standardA simple explanation of learning styles is this:

  • visual learners are better at remembering materials they’ve seen;
  • auditory learners are better at remembering materials they’ve heard; and
  • kinesthetic learners are better at remembering things they’ve experienced.

This is one of the reasons why we have started to produce our past papers and model answers in video format.

Visual and auditory learners have told us that they have found our videos to be very useful.

  • If you are a visual or auditory learner we have video versions of our past papers and model answers that you can download.

Tip 5 – Make sure you know what your weak areas are

cm3The following topics appear regularly in Maths exams:

  • Algebra
  • Area and Perimeter
  • Circles
  • Cosine and Sine Rules
  • Cumulative Frequency
  • Dimensions of Expressions
  • Fractions and Ratios
  • Histograms
  • nth Term
  • Formula Percentages
  • Primes and Factors
  • Probability
  • Pythagoras
  • Quadratics
  • Scatter graphs
  • Similar shapes
  • Simultaneous equations
  • Solving equations
  • Standard form
  • Straight line graphs
  • Tessellations
  • Transformations
  • Trial and Improvement
  • Trigonometry
  • Upper and lower bounds
  • Vectors
  • Volume

Go through this and make two lists – one headed ‘Strong’ and the other titled ‘Weak’. Then concentrate your revision on the topics you place in the ‘Weak’ column. Do problems and more problems until you start to get them right – it’s the only way.

  • We have organised our model answers by Syllabus Topics – so if you are weak in some areas you can practice those topics.