We know that GCSE Maths is important. But we also know that it can be daunting when you’re desperate to get the grade you want. But don’t fear – Tavistock Tutors are here.
As the old saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’ and that’s certainly true in the case of Maths GCSE. In this article, we have compiled some tips and tricks for completing past papers. This advice will be applicable to all exam boards: AQA, CCEA, Edexcel, Eduqas, OCR and more, as well as to both foundation and higher papers.
Past papers are an amazing way of trying out your skills before the exam, to make sure that you feel prepared and that you know what to expect before the exam day arrives.
It’s likely that your teacher will make you do mock exams at some point during the academic year. They
may replicate the exam conditions such as sitting in an exam hall under timed conditions. But this is
just a useful way to help get you prepared for the real thing.
But past papers aren’t only something to be feared – you can also use them within your own revision to help improve your understanding of the syllabus.
Past papers allow you to see real examples questions which have come up in previous years, so they will not be too dissimilar to the ones that are likely to appear in your own exam.
Sometimes in Maths GCSE, the hardest part of the question can be trying to decipher what the question is actually asking. Examiners often provide lots of context around the question which may seem useless but are actually very important in helping to put maths into real-life application.
Though this may be useful for students to visualise the problem, many students can find these questions to be confusing and overwhelming. But completing plenty of past papers will ensure that you become familiar with the format of your exam, so that you’re not unpleasantly surprised on the day.
After going through a few past papers, you will begin to recognise the format of different questions, which means you can unpick the real important parts more quickly.
Since the GCSE specifications changed in 2015, new papers for the Maths GCSE have been released.
What does this mean?
This means that papers from 2015 with a new specification will be a different format to examinations before 2015. This will vary among exam boards, but it means that the new GCSE maths specification from 2015 will include more questions which may have appeared in the initial parts of maths A-level.
But don’t let this scare you off. Though the questions may be asked in a different way, there is still plenty of opportunities to practice.
Previously, there were Maths GCSE papers online from as far back as 2000! But the exams have changed vastly since then, so try and use the most recent papers. It’s no use going through past papers from 20 years ago – you want to look at exams which are most similar to your own so that you can be fully prepared for the real thing.
We recognise that there are not many papers currently available as the GCSE specifications are still relatively new. Older papers before 2015 with older specifications may still be available online. But try and avoid using these papers unless your teacher has specifically told you that they will be helpful.
This is because their questions may be marked out of a different score, or the format could be slightly different. Try and ask your teacher before practicing older papers, as they will be able to inform you as to how useful they will be, as the syllabus is likely to be different.
As well as examination papers from past years, you will also be able to find example examinations online called Specimen papers.
These papers have never been formally used in an examination but are examples which have been released by the exam board to be used as a practice paper.
Specimen papers are very useful, as they are often used to produce exemplar answers which can often be found on the website. This means you can see what is expected from your written examination response and see other candidates’ examples which are graded accordingly.
Your teacher may have a resource bank at your schooland may be able to provide you with past papers in either a digital or physical format.
If you’re ahead of the curve, or want to do some extra revision, please find some links below for past papers for each individual exam board:
If the link for your exam board is not listed here – then go to the website for your exam board and find the Maths GCSE tab, there should be plenty of past papers provided!
Should I only do past papers from my own exam board?
Past papers vary by each individual exam board. It will be most useful to use the past papers from the exam board which you will be sitting. This is because the syllabus and format will change with each exam board.
If you have completed all past papers from your own exam papers – well done! But before embarking on papers from other exam boards, it might be worth asking your teachers as they may confuse you slightly with different types of questions or different requirements.
Sometimes they can be more of a hindrance than a help. If you are going to consult past papers from another exam board, use them only as practice for different examples of questions if you have already exhausted all available textbook questions or worksheets. textual analysis or writing. Don’t worry about calculating marks, because their mark scheme may be slightly different from yours.
You can go through past papers in whatever way suits you best.
You may want to practice one particular question from every year, so you could go through each of the surds part of each exam for example. This is a more useful method when you are trying to revise a specific element of the exam, but if you’re struggling with a particular topic, it might be a better idea to consult worksheets before going onto past papers, so that you’re confident in your ability to effectively answer the questions.
You may also decide that you’d rather go through an entire paper, so that it’s more similar to how you will sit the exam on the day.
If you feel confident having gone through individual parts of the exam in worksheets or other revision techniques, then you may be ready to go through the whole exam chronologically.
When you first do some past papers, don’t feel like you need to jump straight into the deep end.
If you’re not fully comfortable, just try and go through the paper at your own pace. Don’t worry about time restrictions, as the more papers you do, the more confident you should feel.
If you find yourself struggling on a question, have a look at the mark scheme and try to see where you’re going wrong. It might be a case that you made a small calculation error. But if you really don’t understand how to achieve the real answer, then it may be useful to revise the topic again or ask a teacher for some help before continuing with your past paper.
When you feel ready to go through the paper under exam-like conditions, you can make it as strict as you want to be!
Try and find a quiet place where you can focus, and there you can set a timer to go through the past paper on your own. This will help you get familiar with the time restraints for the exam, make sure that you stick to the recommended timings your teacher has given you.
If you finish the exam early, be sure to write how long it took you on the front of your practice paper. But finishing too early is not to be advised! In order to get the best marks, you need to make use of your time effectively.
If you find that you have finished with plenty of time to spare, you may have rushed your exam and lost some marks! Make sure that you try to maximise your time by planning, which will help give your written responses a more coherent and logical structure.
Be sure to also leave a small amount of time before the end of the exam to read through your answer. This will allow you to correct any mistakes or improve your spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Marking the paperyourself
After going through your practice paper, you could go through and compare with the mark scheme in another colour. For example, you could add to your answer in a red pen all of the things you have missed from the mark scheme. If you managed to get half way through your working out but struggled to reach the answer, try and look through the method part of a mark scheme and compare it to your own workings out to see where you went wrong.
This will be helpful for you to see which parts you are repeatedly missing out – this will help you to recognise your weaknesses which is helpful for revision. Make sure you always revise your weakest areas first!
When marking a maths paper, it should be easy to determine how many marks you have gained as it is more straightforward than marking an essay – the answer is either right or wrong!
If you are trying to work out your marks, try and write down how many marks you achieved for each individual question, and how many marks you achieved on each page. This will make it clear to add them up at the end.
It might be tempting to give yourself more marks than you actually deserve – but you are only cheating yourself! Try not to be disheartened if you aren’t achieving your desired grade on your first attempt, remember that each paper is different, and the more practice you do the more you will improve.
REMEMBER – if you write down all of your working out in your answer booklet and follow all of the proper techniques but do not reach the correct answer by making a small numerical mistake, you will still get method marks if you write down how you worked out the question. Make sure your workings are written in a logical and clear manner so that it is easy for the examiner to follow and understand.
Getting someone else to mark it for you
Try and get a teacher or a parent/guardian to look through your practice responses. If it is a teacher looking through them, you could ask if they would be able to give you an approximate score and numerical grade so that you can track your progress. Make sure you write these scores down so that you can see how you did in each individual paper!
But don’t worry if you don’t have someone who can give you a numerical grade for your practice papers, with maths, you might have to mark it yourself, but it is easier to see whether or not you have achieved the correct answer than more subjective subjects such as English or History. The activity of just going through the past papersis helpful in itself!
There is no perfect answer to this question – it varies by student.
But the general rule is that the more papers that you do, the more familiar you will be with the layout and format of the exam and individual questions.
Here at Tavistock Tutors we know that Maths is an important GCSE, but it is also important to remember that you need to spend time on revising for your other subjects too, so make sure that you are dividing your time between subjects!
If you find yourself rushing or furiously writing towards the end of the exam, this may demonstrate that you have not used your time well, or that you have gone over your time in other areas.
Self-control is important for timed exams, as you need to make sure that you are staying strictly within the time limit so that you don’t miss anything out!
But how can I improve?
If you’re rushing because you have used your time poorly, make sure that you know how much time you have before to plan, write and review your work. Follow the plan that your teacher has provided for how to most effectively use your time for each question.
Often in a maths exam, the number of marks awarded in each question should correspond to how many minutes you are expected to spend on it. But this may vary from each exam board.
Every examination room legally has to contain a clock so that you’re aware of the time during your exam. But it’s also a good idea to make sure that you have your own watch!
If you have your own watch, you can have it on your wrist or put it in front of you on your desk
during the exam, so that it is right in front of you rather than trying to check the time from a
If you know that you struggle to tell the time on an analogue clock, it might also be useful to get yourself a watch which tells the time digitally, or maybe even ask your school if they can provide a digital clock!
By constantly having the time in front of you, you can be strict with your timings. The time when the exam will end should be displayed at the front of the exam room. But it might be useful to write it on your paper to consistently remind yourself. Better safe than sorry!