During my career as a teacher, I have spoken to students about preparing for exams many times. I have talked about preparation, timetables, and the absolute necessity for exam practice. To my surprise, students often told me that you can't revise for maths, or sadly they would say,

“There is no point because they were rubbish at maths, and they would probably do badly anyway.”

I have always been puzzled by the attitude which seems to be prevalent in the UK that, “Its ok not to be good at maths.” Even more striking during parents' evenings as a tutor, I have been told by parents on more than one occasion, that “it's ok that their child is not great at maths”.

I quite clearly remember a parent of a yr10 student explaining in detail how they found maths far too difficult at school themselves, and because they did not do well it was fine for their own child to fail or just get a low grade. The parent then turned to the child and said, “Don't worry about maths, you don't need it anyway!”

Needless to say, I was quite deflated at the time as I believe students should try and do their best for every exam, whatever the subject. Education is never wasted, and I have always believed a parent should at least try to encourage their own children to try and do their best in everything they do, particularly at school.

** How to revise for a GCSE maths exam?**

I work at the University of Bath, here in the UK, so I asked a student who was studying for a degree in mathematics how he revised for maths. I asked him in particular to think about how he prepared for his GCSE and A-Level maths exams. It should be noted that Matthew is a first-year student at university, so he had recently finished his A Levels, and GCSE's which were therefore only a couple of years ago, so his experiences were still fresh in his mind, and he commented he used the same principles today at university.

Please see below the questionnaire Matthew kindly filled out for me.

**Questionnaire.**

**When did you start your revision for maths in general for your GCSEs and A-Levels? (3 months before exams, a year, night before!)**

I started revising around a year before exams, varying the intensity from casual revision at the start to past exam papers in exam conditions close to the actual exams.

**Did you create a specific timetable for maths revision?**

I created a list of topics, and noted if I was confident or not for each topic, and assigned a time frame showing when each was to be completed.

**If you had a timetable for maths revision, please describe its design, including time slots, frequency for different maths topics, and rest periods.**

I designed my own timetable. It was an excel spreadsheet with colours that moved closer from green to red as my ‘deadline' approached, for motivation. I split topics as follows, 50% core, 25% stats 25% mechanics. A rest period of roughly one weekend for every 3 rested and revised 4 out of 5 School days.

**What different activities did you use for revising maths (e.g., practice problems, watching tutorial videos, attending extra classes)?**

I used practice questions and practice papers primarily, first to identify my strengths and weakness then targeting my areas of weakness with more practice questions and referring to the mark schemes.

**Did your maths revision techniques change as the exams got closer? For instance, did you use more flashcards or quick recall techniques?**

As I got closer to the deadline, I did shorter questions and more recall-based questions.

**How often did you use past paper questions for maths revision?**

This was my primary source of revision consisting of roughly 80% of my revision.

**Were there enough past paper questions available for each maths topics you needed to revise?**

I was on OCR MEI for my exams which had questions going back to the late 90s so there was plenty of questions to choose from.

**Do you find past paper style questions useful for revising maths? Why or why not?**

I find it the most effective way to revise for me. It taught me technique and time management skills in exam conditions.

**Did you concentrate on any specific areas of maths during your revision? If so, which areas and why?**

I focused on core as much as possible as it made up roughly 70% of my exams so it was worth most of my efforts.

**Were there any particular areas of maths that were more difficult to revise? If so, which areas and why?**

I found it difficult to revise statistics as it didn't come naturally to me. There was a lot of explanation-based content which I struggled with so finding words that were apt to hit the mark scheme was a struggle.

**Did you attend any maths revision classes or sessions provided by your school? If so, can you describe how these were structured (e.g., focus on past questions, re-teaching topics)?**

I attended revision classes throughout the period leading up to and during exams. As my school was a maths school, it involved 20 people hot housing topics question by question explaining how to break down the question and how to get around the mark scheme.

**Do you think rewriting maths notes repeatedly is helpful, or is it better to focus on practice questions and old exam papers? Please explain.**

I Do not think it is helpful as reading and knowing the notes isn't the same as understanding the topics enough to be able to tackle questions where you are not familiar with the structure.

**Is there any specific advice you can give to students preparing and revising for their maths GCSE/A-Level exams?**

Get a good knowledge of basic techniques like fractions, percentages, algebra, simple definitions like what is a Factor or different types of triangles, and for A level, determinants, cross products, standard deviation, SUVAT etc. so when more complex questions appear you don't run out of time thinking about the basics.

**Did you time yourself while solving maths questions to simulate exam conditions?**

Yes, towards the end of revision.

**Did you decide to avoid any specific maths topics? If so, which ones and why?**

I didn't avoid any as I felt that I needed a rounded knowledge of experience, however I did have areas I did not prefer to study such as sampling techniques at A level and graphs at GCSE.

Here are my thoughts on Matthew's maths revision planning and techniques:

Matthew drew up a timetable specifically for his maths revision which covered all the topics. I should have asked him if he grouped the topics by exam paper, as this is a useful way for preparing for a particular paper.

I liked the way he used the colour change function on his timetable as a motivation device.

Matthew focussed upon past papers and exam style questions for his revision, but he did use shorter questions and techniques closer to the exam. I think using past papers and exam style questions are great, but even better when you have the solutions and workings. This is the model I used for Prichard guides, for the individual science guides and the maths guide. Having the solution written in an easy to follow, step by step manner really helps the student learn how to solve the question, but also similar ones along with avoiding the common pitfalls and mistakes.

Matthew talked about using mark schemes, this is a really good tip as you will get an idea of how and what the examiners are looking for. Unfortunately mark schemes don't usually give you the way to solve a question, which is what I focussed upon in my guides.

Matthew talked about listing topics in terms of difficulty, this is also a very good tip as students often avoid problem areas.

Matthew's school provided exam revision sessions, I strongly advise students attend them if possible as they will definitely help giving you extra practice and advice, in preparation for the exams ahead.

Lastly, I am pleased that Matthew thought rewriting notes is not helpful, and practicing exam style questions is a much better and useful way of preparing for an exam, no matter what the subject. I have spent many years dissuading students from doing this. All this does is help with recall, low skill responses. Students must practice responding to more searching and complex questions, along with finding one value to help solve a much larger problem, particularly in maths and physics.

In conclusion, I think there is some very good advice in Matthew's responses, I would urge you to think about what he said. Afterall, Matthew passed his exams and is now studying mathematics at university! I will be doing a follow up post looking at maths and science revision in general, if you are interested, please look out for it and leave a comment.

Many thanks, Tim.