A Beginner’s Guide to GCSE Maths Revision26/09/2023 / Maths Tutoring
Revision looks so easy in the movies. Just a quick musical montage and some shots of a student at their desk, and voila – it’s done!
In real life, of course, revision is a bit more complicated. In fact, revising for GCSE maths can seem very complex. We’ve all heard the advice about doing past papers, but how exactly should you approach them? And what else can you do?
Don’t worry. We’re here with a maths revision guide covering all you’ll need to know when your maths GCSE is coming up ahead.
How to start GCSE maths revision
The first step in revising for GCSE maths is knowing exactly what you’ll be facing on your GCSE exam.
To do that, you need to know what your GCSE maths tier and exam board will be.
We’ve covered GCSE maths tiers in a previous blog post. But in short, the foundation tier covers the basics, and the higher tier is more challenging. Foundation and higher tier papers cover content differently, with the higher tier including more complex things that the other tier doesn’t. (In Wales, there is also an intermediate tier between the other two.) You have to know what tier paper you’re taking in order to prepare correctly.
You should also know what exam board will be creating your exam paper so that you can revise the right material. The boards regulated by the English regulator are AQA, Edexcel (Pearson), Eduqas and OCR. WJEC follows the Welsh regulator’s rules, and CCEA follows the regulations in Northern Ireland. For more details, see our blog post about the GCSE maths exam.
Know the topics you have to revise
Once you know your exam board and tier, you need to look at what topics your exam board will be testing you on. This is your starting point for revision because it’s basically your maths revision guide – a checklist outlining what you need to revise and know.
Our guide to the GCSE maths syllabus lays out the topics in detail. Most main topics also include sub-topics, as the syllabus explains.
You can read the full exam specification for your board to get the maximum level of detail about what you’ll be tested on, but these can be very complex. It may be easier to start with the study guides from BBC Bitesize, which simply list the topics and sub-topics, together with revision materials for each.
If you do want to look at your full exam specification, here’s a list:
A note on weightings
The exams regulated in England – AQA, Edexcel, Eduqas and OCR – are created according to the English regulator’s topic weightings that place more emphasis on some topics than on others. For example, for higher tier, 30% of the exam score is based on algebra questions while only 15% is based on probability and statistics.
So, if one of these exam boards is yours, take a look at the topic weightings for your tier and plan your revision accordingly – you’ll probably want to spend more time on topics weighted more heavily. (We’ve linked AQA’s site, but all four of these boards use the same weightings.)
Now that you have all of this information, you’re ready to start revising.
A note on memorisation and formula sheets
Traditionally, memorising formulae has been an important part of GCSE maths revision. GCSE exams in 2022 and 2023, however, provided students with formula sheets. This was meant to make up for difficulties in learning because of the pandemic.
Will the government say that exam-takers in 2024 can have formula sheets too? At the moment, it seems unlikely because the government is keen to return to pre-pandemic routines.
The bottom line – you need to memorise formulae. Even if the government did decide to announce in autumn 2023 that formula sheets would be provided, it’s still better to know your formulae by heart. Why? Because it’s much faster to do your work on the exam without searching through a reference sheet.
That’s exactly why you want to have instant recall of formulae. Every second spent trying to remember a formula is time that could be better spent somewhere else.
How to memorise
There are lots of different ways to memorise things – it really just depends on what works best for you. The only thing we’ll advise you not to do is to leave your revision to the very last minute. It’s far better to do a little bit of memorisation every day.
One revision strategy that many people like is to use Quizlet to make virtual flashcards. In fact, Quizlet actually has a GCSE maths revision page with materials already created – although some exam boards have more materials here than others. The Quizlet phone app is pretty highly rated, so it’s a great tool for quickly sneaking in some revision while you’re in a queue or waiting at a bus stop.
It’s also true that writing things down by hand often helps you to memorise them before you’ve even started using your revision tools. Actual paper flashcards are an option here.
If you’re finding that certain formulae just aren’t sticking with you, it might be time to get creative. Find a way to put these formulae in places where you’ll see them every day. For example, do you often spend a few minutes by the kettle waiting for it to boil? Write that tricky formula down and stick it behind the kettle. AQA, Edexcel, and OCR even provide quick references and posters of all required formulae that you can print out and put on your wall or keep in your bag for a quick review any time.
When it comes to memorisation, just experiment, and see what helps formulae to stick in your mind.
The counterpart to memorisation is, of course, skills. The main way to improve your skills is simply to practise.
If you play computer games, how do you gain levels? By earning XP, or experience points. You can only level up by doing things.
In the same way, if you want to level up your maths skills, you need to do maths.
How do you do that? We’ll dive into some approaches.
You’ve likely heard that doing past papers is important in maths revision. GCSE papers are, after all, the thing you’re going to be facing on exam day.
But how you approach these past papers matters. What you don’t want to do is simply to finish the questions and then put the paper aside.
What you should do instead is use the papers in three different ways.
The first way of using an exam paper is to get used to exam conditions. You’ll do the paper as though you were in the exam, giving yourself only the time you’d get on the exam and the tools you’ll have in the exam.
This approach is largely about exam techniques – learning to pace yourself, getting used to the stress of working against the clock. It shouldn’t be your main approach to papers for revision.
Assessing your strengths and weaknesses
When you’ve taken a paper under exam conditions, you should go back and analyse what you did. Remember that exam specification, the list of topics you made earlier? Now look at it and think about what topics you were strong in and where you need to revise more.
Note all the places where you made mistakes so that you can learn from them and not make the same mistake again. Then make your own maths revision guide based on what you personally need to brush up on.
Getting used to the types of questions
Another way of using an exam paper is simply as practice. In this approach, you won’t time yourself. You’re simply getting used to the types of questions you’ll see on exams and giving your brain some exercise so that you can improve your skills.
In this case, too, you need to go back and be thoughtful about your previous work. As before, look at your paper and get to know your own strengths and weaknesses.
Other ways of practicing skills
You probably don’t want to spend all of your revision time doing past papers. Other, more lightweight kinds of revision are needed too. If you can spend ten or fifteen minutes a day over your two-year GCSE course doing a little bit of maths revision, GCSE exam day will be so much easier.
BBC Bitesize offers a maths revision guide including tons of revision materials that you can read over, plus quick quizzes that test you on that material. This is easy to do during a little break or in a few free moments. Just Maths also has lots of materials that are a little lighter and more fun. Alternatively, Corbett Maths offers “5-a-day” questions that are just what they sound like – a set of 5 maths questions for every single day of the year. Really, there’s a wealth of good GCSE revision materials online, including YouTube videos too.
Be proactive and get help when you need it
As you can see, one of the most important things about GCSE maths revision is that you need to be self-reflective. At every point, you should make your own decisions about how to spend your time based on which skills and concepts you’ve been succeeding in and which ones you’ve been struggling with.
Then what should you do when you’re really encountering a sticking point and more revision doesn’t seem to make things clearer?
Ask for help! Your teacher is there to help you. Teachers are generally impressed if students can show that they’ve been working hard and have concluded independently that they need help with a topic. That shows a lot of maturity.
If you need a bit more one-on-one time with an expert in maths, it can also be really helpful to get a mathematics tutor. Having the chance to talk things over with a qualified teacher can really help to boost your skills and, for some students, reduce anxiety about exams. According to a recent report, a poll of parents and teachers found that both groups felt tutoring had a positive impact on students’ mental health.
Get help from a qualified teacher with Principal Tutors
When you’re getting a tutor, you want someone who knows the curriculum inside and out.
At Principal Tutors, every GCSE maths tutor we hire is a qualified teacher with experience in the UK curriculum. We focus on making just the right match between tutor and student, ensuring that each tutor is a great fit in terms of learning style, experience and more.
How can our tutors help with GCSE maths revision and put students on the path to success? Give us a ring on 0800 772 0974 to talk about what tutoring can do or use our online form to get started with tutoring now.
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