GCSE Maths Exam Tips

5 ways to improve your maths exam grades:

1 Read the instructions carefully

Some of the instructions could be:

  • Answer ALL the questions.
    • This means answer as many as you can. Only by getting all of them right will you obtain full marks.
  • Write your answers in the spaces provided on the question paper.
  • You are not allowed to use any other paper.
  • In the exam you should check that you have been given the correct paper, that you know how many questions you have to answer on that paper and how long you have to do it. Try to spread your time equally between the questions. If you do this it will avoid the desire to rush the paper or spend too much time on some questions and not finish the paper.
  • Many mathematics papers start with fairly straightforward questions which may be shorter than those that follow. If this is the case work through them in order to build up your confidence. Do not overlook any part of a question and double check that you have seen everything on each paper, look especially at the back page in case there is a question there!
  • Take time to read through all the questions carefully and then start with the question(s) that you think you can do best.
  • When there are about 15 minutes remaining in the examination then quickly check if you are running out of time. If you think that you will run out of time then try to score as many marks as possible by concentrating on the easier parts, the first parts, of any questions that you have not yet attempted.

2 Read the question carefully

  • Make sure you understand what the question is asking. Some questions are structured and some are unstructured – called ‘multi-step’ questions – and for these you will have to decide how to tackle the question and it would be worthwhile spending a few seconds thinking the question through.
  • Make sure you understand key words. The following glossary may help you in answering questions:
    • Write down, state – no explanation is needed for an answer
    • Calculate, find, show, solve – include enough working to make your method clear
    • Draw – plot accurately using the graph paper provided and selecting a suitable scale if one is not given. Such an instruction is usually followed by asking you to read one or more values from your graph.
  • The number of marks is given in brackets [ ] at the end of each question or part question. This gives some indication of how many steps will be required to answer the question and therefore of what proportion of your time, you should spend on each part of the question.

3 Show your working and check your answers

  • State units if required and give your final answer to an appropriate degree of accuracy.
  • Write down the figures on your calculator and then make a suitable rounding. Don’t round the numbers during the calculation. This will often result in an incorrect answer.
  • Don’t forget to check your answers, especially to see that they are reasonable. The mean height of a group of men will not be 187 metres!
  • Lay out your working carefully and concisely. Write down the calculations you are going to make. You usually get marks for showing a correct method. (If you are untidy and disorganised, you might misread some of your own work and/or lose marks because the examiner cannot read your work or follow your method.)
  • Remember that if all that is written down is an answer and that answer is wrong you gain no marks. Once you have finished the paper if you have any time left check the work you have done. The best way to do this is to work through the questions again.
  • Remember that marks are given for the following:
    • using an appropriate method to answer a question
    • for facts found as you work through a question
    • for the final answer.

4 What examiners look for

The examiners look for the following:

  • Work which is legible, clearly set out and easy to follow and understand. Use a pen, not pencil, except in drawings, and use the appropriate equipment.
  • That drawings and graphs are neat, and graphs are labelled.
  • That you always indicate how you obtain your answers.
  • The right answer!
  • You can check past paper exam marking schemes for advice here

5 Practice makes perfect

  • Practise all aspects of manipulative algebra, solving equations, rearranging formulas, expanding brackets, factorising, etc.
  • Practise answering questions that ask for an explanation. Your answers should be concise and use mathematical terms where appropriate.
  • Practise answering questions with more than one step to the answer, e.g. finding the radius of a sphere with the same volume as a given cone.
  • Make sure you can use your calculator efficiently.
  • To practice before the exam use past GCSE papers here
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