With some subjects, reading your notes and making mind maps and more notes about the content works well.
Maths isn’t like that.
Read on for some tips on effective ways to revise GCSE Maths.
Tip 1: The best way to revise GCSE Maths is to DO lots of Maths
To get good at Maths, you need to do LOTS of practice. You may need to do a bit of reading or watching videos to get started, but spend as much time as you can actually attempting questions. Don’t leave it until the exams are in sight; little and often, throughout the year, is the way to go!
If you want to make sure that you have all the basic topics covered for a Grade 4 then take a look at my Grade 4 Essentials for GCSE Maths series of courses at mathscourses.co.uk. Not free (although you do get a free preview of a full hour’s worth of video lessons), but very inexpensive – and a heck of a lot cheaper than private tuition! Each of the 4 modules consists of several hours of interactive videos with lots of practice opportunities built in, and quizzes for you to check your knowledge and understanding. If you sign up to my mailing list (form at bottom of each page) then you can get the whole of Module 1 for free!
Tip 2: Revise lots of different topics in rotation
Try to revise GCSE Maths for a short time every day so that you keep a variety of topics fresh in your mind. Corbettmaths 5-a-day is perfect for this, with sets of questions at several levels ranging from basic numeracy to the top GCSE grades, covering every day for an entire year. The online version is free, and you can buy it in workbook form now too! (I don’t have a vested interest, I just think it’s a brilliant resource.)
Tip 3: Try some exam questions, fill in the gaps, then go back and try again
As soon as you feel reasonably confident with a topic area, start working on exam (or exam-style) questions. Great resources for this are the exam question collections by topic on Maths4Everyone and JustMaths. Solutions are provided on both sites.
When you’ve attempted a few questions, compare your answers with the solutions or mark schemes and try to work out what mistakes you made. (But bear in mind that the solutions provided are not necessarily the only correct approach; there may be five or six possible ways of answering a question. Also, there are occasional errors in the JustMaths solutions, as they were compiled very quickly when the new GCSE spec was launched.)
If you can’t work it out on your own then ask someone for help. You’re welcome to join my Facebook group for this!
Then put the exam questions aside and go away and work on any bits you need to – for this I suggest using my Grade 4 Essentials courses, or the “Videos and Worksheets” page on Corbettmaths, though those are by no means the only options. This blog post provides suggestions of other places to look for help.
When you’re feeling a bit more confident, come back and have another go at some exam questions.
Tip 4: Understand the mark scheme
Learn to interpret the mark schemes published by the exam boards. That way you’ll develop a better understanding of which marks you would and wouldn’t have got, and you’ll be able to improve your presentation to maximise your marks.
Tip 5: Gradually reduce reliance on notes and formula sheets
When you first start to revise GCSE Maths, it’s fine to keep your notes and formula sheets handy and refer to them if you need to, but bear in mind that you’re going to have to work up to managing without them. Set yourself a target of not looking at your notes until you’ve done as much as you can of the current set of questions without them. Then you can allow yourself a peek, then put the notes away and see if you can get any further on your own.
If you’re struggling to remember some of the rules and formulae then make yourself some flashcards – making your own is more effective than buying someone else’s – and use those to help you learn them.
Tip 6: Explain what you’re doing
Students often seem to think that they should stick to just calculations in their exam answers, but in fact it’s GOOD to use words and phrases to explain what you’re doing; you want to make it easy for the examiner to follow your reasoning and give you marks! Imagine that you’re explaining to another student how to do the question, rather than just trying to find an answer. The more clearly you can do that, the more likely you are to get all the marks. This principle applies especially in the case of proof questions.
Tip 7: Don’t throw away easy marks
On the difficult questions at the end, it’s often quite easy to get the first mark, so try to write down something relevant even if you have no idea where to take it after that! Just ask yourself, “What CAN I do with this information?” Often there’s a mark available for simply taking a step in the right general direction.
And on questions that use any of the words “prove”, “show” or “verify”, remember to always finish off with a statement echoing what the question said, or you might miss out on the last mark.
The AQA papers include some multiple choice questions. If you don’t know how to answer one of those then don’t leave it blank; just circle/tick whichever answer you think looks like the best bet. At least that way you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting the mark!
And it’s likely that there will be one question (though perhaps not on every paper) where there’s a mark just for putting the right units in the answer space, even if you don’t do the rest of the question!
For more GCSE Maths exam tips, take a look at my short “Maximise your marks” course.
Tip 8: Build up to exam conditions
By about 6 months before the GCSE exam you should be starting to work through complete papers. Use your notes if you need to, but gradually try to reduce your reliance on them as far as possible. Again, after you’ve marked your work, go away and work on any areas that you feel you could improve on, then come back and have another go, or try another paper.
Gradually work up to doing the papers under exam conditions: no notes or formula sheets, and observing the time limits.
Tip 9: Keep an eye on the clock
With AQA and Edexcel there are 80 marks on a 90-minute paper. That’s just over a minute per mark, on average (assuming that you’re aiming to complete the whole paper). Don’t worry about it when you’re just starting to look at exam papers, but by the time you get into the last few weeks you need to bear in mind how long you can afford to spend on each question.
Don’t spend 10 minutes wrestling with a 3-mark question; leave it and just come back to it at the end if you have time. And don’t be discouraged if there are bits you can’t do; remember that roughly half the marks on a Higher paper are aimed at Grades 7 and above. You’re only expected to be able to do everything if you’re aiming for the top end of your Tier.
Of course, it’s still worth going back afterwards and finishing off the questions that you didn’t manage in the allotted time, even if you need to use your notes for that.
Tip 10: You don’t have to do the questions in order
When you’re working through a whole paper, start off with the questions that you like the look of! If you can get the first few marks under your belt without too much difficulty then it will help your confidence with the rest. It will also help to prevent you from wasting time getting bogged down on a difficult question early on.
Tip 11: Look beyond your exam board
Rather than repeating papers, you can revise GCSE Maths using papers from other exam boards; there’s very little difference between them at GCSE, especially if you’re doing Foundation. (Probably the biggest difference is that OCR doesn’t include f(x) notation in their interpretation of the spec prescribed by Ofqual, so if you’re doing OCR Higher then that’s an aspect of AQA and Edexcel questions that might throw you.)
Tip 12: Don’t overdo it!
Finally, don’t spend 12 hours a day cramming! Ideally you should take around 10 minutes of break per hour of study (though of course you’ll have to stretch that when you’re working to exam conditions) and a longer break after 2-3 hours. Try to do some physical activity whenever you have a break, and don’t forget to eat well and drink plenty of water.
By all means revise GCSE Maths for a couple of hours each day as the exams approach, but that will usually be plenty; after all, you probably have other subjects to do as well! Most people struggle to maintain concentration for more than about two hours, so the effectiveness of your study will be reduced if you keep going for too long.
So there you are – 12 tips to help you revise GCSE Maths effectively (with a bit of exam technique thrown in too). Do you have any more tips to add? Please comment below if you can think of anything I’ve missed.
As well as the Grade 4 Essentials for GCSE Maths courses I mentioned earlier for those aiming for Grades 4/5, and the Maximise your Marks short course on exam skills, I have a Flying Start to A-level Maths course that you’ll find useful if you want to hit a high grade and go on to do Maths at A-level. You can get discounts on these – as well as access to a selection of useful downloads – by subscribing to my monthly newsletter using the signup form at the bottom of this page.