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How can maths teachers prepare students for their GSCEs?

26/04/2018 Anthony

GSCE season is upon us, with the new 9-1 grading system being applied to a further 20 subjects. While some expert recommendations have seen students cramming for as many as seven hours a day over the Easter break, most teachers will be advising a steadier, less intense build up to exam season. But just how can you prepare your students to perform at their best in their maths GSCEs?

Teach knowledge recall and application

As has always been the case with mathematics, it’s crucial that students know not only the answers to problems, but how to apply the relevant formulae to calculate their own solutions. True to form, the new GCSE syllabus puts more emphasis on applying and using knowledge, with a significant proportion of marks awarded to students who can showcase an application of knowledge in unfamiliar contexts. Think creatively on how your coursework can inspire learning and ensure students fully understand the methodology and working behind problems.

Arithmetic fluency is vital for students, so drill it into your class that they need to clearly show their working in their answers, paying close attention to misapplied methods or mistakes as they do so. Students should structure answers clearly and provide explanations where necessary – this will not only help examiners to understand the thinking behind how they tackle the question, but also help students to see what they are doing at every step of the problem. Work with your students on choosing the right methods for problem solving, whether that’s mental processes, efficient calculator use or written approaches.

Understand the new exams

If you didn’t experience the new GCSE system during last year’s exams, there are a few key differences from the old papers that you’ll need to get your head around. The new numbering system sets 9 as the highest grade, while 1 is the lowest – however fewer level-9 grades will be awarded than A* grades have been in the past, in order to provide more differentiation across the top end of the scale. Grades 7, 8 and 9 correspond to the old grades of A* and A, while a grade 6 is slightly higher than what was a B grade. There’s also the introduction of a ‘standard pass’ – a 4 – and a ‘strong pass’, which is a grade 5.

These new maths GSCEs are more challenging than their older counterparts, with questions set out in different ways. The grade that your students will ultimately get is now dependent solely on marks from their final exams, rather than coursework and modules, which will likely be more demanding for many. As their teacher, it’s essential you understand the structure of the new GCSEs and which tier your students should be entered into.

We know the new GSCE is testing students’ abilities in mathematical thinking. Students need to be able to interpret, evaluate and criticise methods of applying formulae, as well as understand ratio, rates in change and proportional reasoning. These all feature strongly in the updated GCSEs, so focus your revision sessions around these.

Practice calm

While some students may need extra encouragement and incentive to revise for their GCSEs, many of your pupils will be well aware of the importance of these exams, and will have their own high personal expectations to meet. Unfortunately, GCSE students with higher levels of test stress and anxiety get lower grades than their less anxious peers. A certain level of anxiety during GCSEs is natural – and can indeed be helpful when harnessed in the right way – but you should encourage your students to remain calm and in control as much as possible. Familiarise your class with the exam environment, running practice tests and mock exams in timed settings to help them feel comfortable with both the content and the concept of exams. Previous papers can help with this – get pupils to fill in all sections (including the personal information) as frequently as possible so it becomes habitual and therefore less stressful. Make sure students know the exam process inside out, including where and when they are to arrive, where they might be sitting and what happens after they’ve completed the paper.

Encouragement and motivation are your best teaching tools to ensure students feel compelled to work hard and achieve their best results. Fear shouldn’t be used to motivate – practice calm in your classroom as well as the curriculum and your students will feel more comfortable and confident ahead of the big day.

Your next teaching opportunity

Are you ready to put your maths teaching experience to the test? At Teaching Personnel, we have a wide range of vacancies for maths teachers at all levels. Take a look at our latest vacancies to get started.

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