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How to Pass GCSE Maths

31/08/2023 / Maths Tutoring

If you’re aiming for a 4 or 5 on GCSE mathematics, you might have started looking for advice about how to pass GCSE maths. If so, congratulations! You’re already on the right course. 

That’s because a major part of passing GCSE maths is taking charge of your own learning. You may have seen advice about doing past papers, and that’s absolutely a necessary ingredient for success. But completing past papers isn’t the end of the story. It’s just one part of the thoughtful, measured approach that’s needed. 

Read on to learn how to pass GCSE maths with careful steps taken throughout your two-year GCSE course. 

During your studies 

When should you start revising for GCSE maths?  

Actually, the revision process begins as soon as your GCSE course begins. That’s because one key to GCSE maths success is practice and familiarity with problems. When you start your exam, most of the problems should feel recognisable: “Oh, I remember this kind of question.” 

However, over two years’ time, your teacher won’t be able to return repeatedly to every old topic. You’ll need to take good notes so that you can look back at them when needed. Then, periodically, take action to keep old material fresh in your mind – try doing a few old homework questions or working through revision materials.  

Know your syllabus and weighting of topics 

Start by knowing the topics you’ll cover and what you’ll need to know within each topic of your GCSE maths syllabus.  

These topic areas are weighted differently in the Foundation and Higher tier papers, so it’s important to know which tier you’re going for and therefore what topics will be a larger part of your grade. Here’s a reference on topic weighting for all Ofqual GCSE maths exams. For example, Algebra is worth 30% of the Higher tier paper, the highest proportion of any topic on that tier. But Algebra makes up only 20% of the Foundation tier paper grade. 

In contrast, Probability and Statistics are only 15% of both tiers’ papers. So, if you’re taking a Higher tier paper and you struggle equally on Algebra and Probability and Statistics, it’s probably worth spending more time on Algebra since it’s worth twice as much. 

Make good notes and keep them organised 

Be kind to your future self. When you’re revising a topic later, you won’t want to look through lots of loose papers and unclear notes. 

Instead, whenever your class moves onto a different topic, make yourself a simple reference sheet with all the main formulae and tips you want your future self to know.  

This isn’t just helpful to yourself in future, though. The act of thinking back through the topic and picking out the important ideas will help to make the concepts clearer in your mind. You’re essentially already revising. 

Know your own progress and seek help when needed 

Another piece of advice you’ll often see about how to pass GCSE maths is to ask for help when you need it. And that’s absolutely correct! 

Actually, every time you finish your homework or a lesson, you should get in the habit of asking yourself whether there are any unclear points that are still bothering you. If you have questions, jot them down and ask your teacher at the next opportunity. Being proactive in this way will help you in any subject and will do you good in future at university or work as well. There’s nothing worse than trying to start homework or a project at home and realising that you need to clarify a key point first, but your teacher isn’t available anymore. 

Keep track of whether minor misunderstandings are building up into a bigger struggle with a topic. If you feel like you’re really getting stuck, you could talk to your teacher or try some online resources. BBC Bitesize has mountains of great maths resources tailored to individual topics. Just Maths also offers lots and lots of free resources, and YouTube has helpful videos like those from Khan Academy

You can also look into hiring a qualified GCSE maths tutor. Sometimes what you need is individual time with a teacher who can talk things over with you or explain subjects in a different way. Studying with a tutor can also help to ease maths-related anxiety that can make it hard to get through maths work. In fact, a recent report on the future of tutoring found that both parents and teachers of tutored students felt that the tutoring helped their students’ mental health and reduced anxiety. 

Hire a private online mathematics tutor > 

Working through past papers 

As we’ve said, doing past papers is a big part of how to pass GCSE maths. But how exactly should you do them for maximum benefits? 

Firstly, you can do past papers under exam conditions. This helps you get used to the time pressure of exams. It should also help to reduce anxiety a bit because the exam format should feel familiar and routine. Even if you feel nervous on exam day – which everyone does – lots of practice on past papers should help the exam routine feel like a habit that you don’t have to consciously think about. 

However, preparing for exam conditions isn’t the only reason to use past papers. They’re also crucial in helping you to get used to exam question formats and the type of questions you’ll see.  

Doing exam questions over and over is just good practice as well. Think of your maths skills as muscles that need a consistent workout to get strong and stay strong. 

Building on past papers 

Once you’ve finished taking a past paper and seen what you got right and wrong, there’s a lot more you should still do with it. This paper now has crucial information about your own learning that you can use. 

Look at which types of questions and topic areas you struggled with and which you were strong in.  

Can you notice any patterns in mistakes that you made? Did you misread questions, answer in the wrong units, misuse a formula? Every mistake is now helpful to you because it’s a mistake you can work to avoid on the real exam. 

What to do on exam day 

Let’s start with what not to do – don’t stay up all night revising the night before. Get a good rest. It might help to take some exercise the afternoon or evening before the exam to make sure you’re tired enough to sleep rather than tossing and turning. 

Well ahead of the exam – ideally more than a day before – you should have all of your materials ready, including writing utensils and a calculator you’re familiar with. Don’t leave anything to the last minute, as this will just add stress. On the morning of the exam, you want to be able to just pick up what you need and go. 

On the morning of the exam, make sure you have a good breakfast. Don’t exhaust yourself with lots more revising. If it helps, you can look at a single notecard with a few key points that you want to keep fresh in your mind. You won’t be able to revise more than that. 

Exam-taking tips 

During the exam, it’s important to stay calm and pace yourself correctly. A good rule of thumb is to spend one minute per mark on a question. If you find yourself stuck on a question, don’t spend more time on it and don’t get flustered. Practice shrugging it off and moving on. By moving on, you’re actually helping yourself get the best grade possible, so let yourself feel good about that rather than worrying about a hard question. 

Make sure to answer the question asked – and answer all parts of it. Get in the habit of underlining key words in a question that tell you what it’s asking for, such as “probability” or “volume.” Make sure to give the answer in the format asked for – this means in the correct units and to the correct number of decimal places. 

Watch out for tricks in the questions too. If the question describes someone’s chance of drawing a blue sweet from a mixed bag of sweets, you could get a trick question like, “What is my chance of not drawing a blue sweet?”  

Remember that you can’t lose points for an answer, so try to give some sort of answer for every question, even ones you really aren’t sure about. In a written answer, jot down something relevant even if it’s just a formula or a few words. You could earn a mark that way. 

Be kind to your examiners, too. Although it’s difficult under pressure, try to write clearly and structure your answers clearly so that they can see your thinking and read your handwriting. And always show your work, of course! 

Lastly, make sure that your answer makes sense. Is the circumference of the circle shorter than its radius? That doesn’t seem right. 

Get guidance on how to pass GCSE maths from Principal Tutors 

While there’s no single secret to passing GCSE maths, there are plenty of steps you can take throughout your GCSE course to get you where you want to be. Taking ownership of your own learning through good notes, revision and reflection is a big contributor. And working on past papers and exam technique is a great help too. 

Working with a qualified private maths tutor is another step that can be very helpful for students who need some personalised time with a teacher. At Principal Tutors, all of our GCSE maths tutors are qualified teachers who know the GCSE curriculum well. We focus on making the perfect match between student and tutor, so that each student gets help from someone whose expertise and teaching style are exactly what they need.  

To learn more about how Principal Tutors can help you to achieve your GCSE maths goals, reach out to us via phone on 0800 772 0974. Alternatively, you can get in touch through our online form


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