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How to Get a 9 in GCSE Maths

01/06/2023 / Maths Tutoring

Maths is undoubtedly one of the most important subjects at GCSE level – and in life more broadly. So, it goes without saying that ambitious students will want to get a 9 in GCSE Maths. This is the top grade awarded for mathematics at GCSE level and a solid foundation for further studies and a wide range of careers.

So, how do you achieve it? In this post, we’ll discuss how to get 9 in GCSE Maths, from the way grades are calculated to studying the syllabus and getting the most out of past papers.

How GCSE Maths is graded

Let’s start by covering the basics. GCSE Maths is assessed wholly by exams at the end of year 11. This is known as linear assessment, with examination at the end of the course. Unlike modular assessment, there’s no coursework contributing to the final grade.

In terms of grade thresholds, it’s not a case of getting a certain mark on your exam papers. Grades are awarded using a formula to distribute them proportionately. From all 7+ grades, the top 20% or so will receive a grade 9. This is the same system now used for all GCSE subjects.

Using this system means that a similar proportion of students will get a 9 in Maths each year. In short, that mitigates issues with exam papers being slightly harder or easier from one year to the next.

How many students get a 9 in Maths?

To put all of this into context, it’s worth looking at the number of students that got 9 for GCSE Maths in recent years. In 2022, 31,855 students got a grade 9, which equates to 4.4% of the total grades. Those figures were similar in previous years:

  • 2021 – 35,585 students (4.8% of grades)
  • 2020 – 31,535 (4.2% of grades)

This means that a grade 9 is harder to achieve than an A* in the previous grading system. Despite the misconception that a 9 is “equivalent to an A*”, the former top grade for GCSEs was achieved by around 16% of students annually – four times the proportion getting a grade 9!

Tips to get a 9 in GCSE Maths

Let us start by saying that GCSE Maths is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a two-year course for secondary-school students, meaning that hard work is required throughout those two years. While revision time will naturally increase as you get closer to your exam, all of the tips we provide below should be considered from the start of year 10.

Get familiar with the syllabus

The first thing to understand is what’s being assessed. The entire syllabus will undoubtedly be covered by teachers across year 10 and 11. However, with the fast pace and busy environment of the classroom, it can be hard for students to distinguish between different topics and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

As an example, AQA lists the following six subjects as part of the GCSE Maths syllabus:

  • Number
  • Algebra
  • Ratio, proportion and rates of change
  • Geometry and measures
  • Probability
  • Statistics

Being clear on these six areas puts students at an advantage from the get-go. You can read into the different topics to expect, so you know what you’re dealing with when it comes up. For example, some of the areas above can be broken down into:


  • Structure and calculation
  • Fractions, decimals and percentages
  • Measures and accuracy


  • Notation, vocabulary and manipulation
  • Graphs
  • Solving equations and inequalities
  • Sequences

Geometry and measures

  • Properties and constructions
  • Mensuration and calculation
  • Vectors

While teachers work through these areas of the curriculum with the entire class, you can then note down subjects you still find challenging, or any specific areas of concern. As mentioned earlier, you don’t have to leave these until it’s time for revision – work on your weak points as you go.

Use your teacher

That brings us to our next tip – never be afraid to ask for help. In a classroom environment, it’s easy to be swept away by the natural progression of a lesson and let things slide, thinking, “I’m sure it will click eventually.”

But what if it doesn’t? The smallest misunderstanding can snowball into lots of confusion – and a big gap in your Maths knowledge. If you get left behind trying to understand basic algebraic equations, for example, you’ll have several lessons where you’re struggling to simplify and manipulate them – never mind when surds come into play.

Remember, qualified teachers aren’t something you have around the clock, so make the most of them while they’re there. Your teacher isn’t just there to guide the lesson and set tasks. It’s their job to support classes and keep everyone up to speed. At the very least, that could involve some extra learning materials to work through at home.

Hire a local private maths tutor >

Master your terminology

Maths isn’t just about getting the answer and “showing your work”. Students need to read and understand every question before they can even think about formulae and calculations. Not to mention, there are also written questions in Maths GCSE exams – and you’ll need to ace these to get a 9.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to create a glossary of maths terminology as you work through the course. For example, in statistics, AQA specifies that “students should know and understand the terms: positive correlation, negative correlation, no correlation, weak correlation and strong correlation.”

There are lists of terms like this for each part of the maths curriculum, from the different types of triangles in geometry to cubic, quadratic and exponential functions in algebra. As well as making sure that you understand the terms, a glossary can keep different parts of the syllabus fresh in your mind throughout the course.

Know the exams

It’s one thing knowing the curriculum, but are you fully familiar with the exams you’ll be taking? It takes more than just one GCSE Maths exam to get a 9. It’s split into three separate sittings, which will all be from the Higher tier that covers grades 4-9.

Paper 1 – non-calculator

Paper 2 – calculator

Paper 3 – calculator

All three papers are marked out of 80, contribute a third to the overall GCSE Maths grade and last for 90 minutes. You can expect a mixture of short questions for a single mark and longer problems with a few steps for multiple marks.

Other than the use of a calculator on papers 2 and 3, there are no set differences for which topics are covered on each paper. Papers 1, 2 and 3 will comprise questions based on the main six subject areas from the curriculum (numbers; algebra; ratio, proportion and rates of change; geometry and measures; probability; and statistics).

So, why three papers? It has been argued that these are used to cover all the different topics without making the exams too long. As such, some people suggest that paper 3 will generally focus on topics which weren’t covered in the two prior exams. However, you can never rule out a topic reappearing on paper 2 or 3, for instance, just because it was covered in paper 1.

Make the most of past papers

If you’re searching “how to get a 9 in GCSE Maths”, past papers are going to come up time and again. For good reason too. Practice makes perfect, after all – and past papers feature the same exams you’ll be doing, but from previous years. To get the most out of past papers, here are a few tips…

Don’t just ‘do’ them

First and foremost, don’t just work through past papers as a formality to track your progress. Go through your work, cross-reference with the mark scheme, and take note of any missed marks and areas for improvement. This will help shape your revision in the months leading up to your exam – and could be the difference between a grade 8 and 9.

Mix things up

It sounds obvious, but don’t repeat the same papers. Keep a log of which past papers you’ve completed, so you don’t accidentally do the same ones again. Unconscious memory is a powerful thing. It can create a false sense of security if you score highly without realising that you’ve already seen the paper and mark scheme.

Given there’s a finite number of past papers available, it’s probably worth saving these until you are in the final stages of revision – no earlier than six months before your exams.

Practise the exam environment

Finally, don’t just practise the papers themselves. You’ll get much more from them by recreating the exam environment, including:

  • Sitting at a desk
  • Ensuring there are no distractions
  • Definitely no cheating!
  • Timing and completing the paper in one session

Get additional help

Last but certainly not least is getting additional help with GCSE Maths. If you want to get a grade 9, private tuition can be invaluable. It’s a simple fact that teachers don’t have enough time to truly support every member of the class with their individual needs.

By working in small groups or one-to-one sessions, private Maths tutors can go through the curriculum in more detail, strengthen your specific weak points, and help you prepare for exams with additional resources.

Work towards a 9 with GCSE Maths tuition

If you want to help your child get a 9 in GCSE Maths, contact the team at Principal Tutors. We’ve built a network of qualified teachers (not students or trainees), who know the UK curriculum like the back of their hand. You’ll get a GCSE Maths tutor matched to your child’s requirements, and access to a dedicated online tutoring platform.

Want to find out more? Call us on 0800 772 0974 or request a tutor online.


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