How to Survive the Final Year of GCSE Mathematics
Be organised and stay on top of all your work as much as possible throughout the 6 important stages during the last year of your GCSE course. If you do fall behind, then you will need to find a fast revision method to ensure that you maximise your remaining revision time.
In the final busy year of secondary school, you do not have a whole academic year to get ready for the GCSE exams – you only actually have 2 terms! Students are regularly caught out by this, and how quickly things happen to them. Because it is the first time they have done exams, students tend to react to things as and when they happen. Instead, it is far better to look ahead and to be prepared for what will happen - students and parents can benefit from knowing in advance the 6 important different stages that will happen during the year, so that they can be ready at these important times.
(1) Mock Exams – Difficult to Revise for, but a Useful Opportunity
The Mock (or practice) exams always occur at the wrong time !Mock exams are held either at the end of the long Autumn term just before Christmas, or they take place immediately after the Christmas holiday - not ideal timing !! The mock exams also usually occur before students have actually finished studying their subjects and it is frequently an opportunity missed !
Mock exams are a very useful opportunity to find out where a student has got up to when faced with a past exam paper, with a few months to go before the exam. (Some schools make this fairer by adjusting the mock paper to only include topics the students have covered). However it is frequently an opportunity missed though, as pupils tend not to revise for it !
If students do take the opportunity to revise thoroughly for their mock exams then they will benefit greatly ! They will have started the revision process and started to put some information into their long term memory, which will then make it easier to revise again in the summer.
Mock exams are a good opportunity to practice and develop revision skills – it’s an opportunity to try things out in the mocks and to see which different methods of revising are useful.
Unfortunately students often don't do this, so the usual outcome is for the mock results to 'shock' them into working – such a wasted opportunity, and a lot of time spent to get such a negative result.
OUR ADVICE: Find out when the mock exams are, then plan revision and start to revise 8 weeks before the mocks.
(2) Completing Coursework
There are 2 coursework tasks, each worth 10% of the final mark in GCSE Maths. The problem with coursework (in all GCSE subjects) is that students tend to focus too much on each subject's coursework task, as they know that these tasks are more important than their usual homework. Coursework tasks are also much more time consuming than a usual homework, so frequently other subjects' homework is not done.
Because there is so much coursework, it is very easy for a student to fall behind during this coursework period. This prioritising of coursework (to the detriment of other subjects) can continue for 2 or 3 months.
OUR ADVICE: Keep ALL subjects’ homework going when coursework starts.
(3) Finishing the syllabus
This tends to be out of the student's control - the earlier the syllabus is finished then the earlier students can start to revise and practice in school lesson time. It is usually a good thing to finish early, but it has been known that by finishing too early some students relax too much and concentrate on their other subjects that they haven't yet finished! More of a problem is when the syllabus is finished too late – so not enough school time is available for revision.
OUR ADVICE: Students should ask their teacher politely when the syllabus will be finished - students can then plan revision time accordingly and see which subjects will need more revision work at home.
(4) Practising with past exam papers
This is a very important stage - students can see what they will be up against, and the standard that will be needed in the exam. Also it helps to practice getting up to the speed needed in the exam.
Past papers are a useful tool but students still need to be careful - just from doing a FEW past papers it is not possible to see what the most important exam topics actually are.
Typically students will do between 3 and 6 past papers. This is good, but it does not always reveal all the important exam topics to the students. Of equal importance are the different types of question that could be asked. This will not be revealed from just doing a few past papers.
OUR ADVICE: Use past papers, but also get a good overview of what all the important exam topics and what the different types of exam question actually are.
(5) Revising for the GCSE Maths Exam
Revising for the GCSE Maths exam typically starts for many students during the Easter holiday. This therefore tests a student’s personal motivation and dedication. Many students find it difficult to revise and don’t have the self-discipline or some of the study skills needed to revise efficiently.
Revision time can also be cut down for many other reasons. Illness, teenage relationships and time consuming hobbies can all stop a student from putting in the revision time needed. Often it is the less organised students who are the most affected by this, and who will be the ones finishing off coursework late or realising too late that they need to start revising !
The ideal approach is to start early and to be very organised - if however this hasn't happened then you need to find a method to help you revise quickly for the GCSE Maths exam.
OUR ADVICE: If you can start revising early then you will find it a lot easier. If you have left it too late, then investigate how you can revise as quickly as possible – don’t give up !
(6) Taking the GCSE Maths exam
The point of revision is to prepare for the actual exam. The exam is worth 80% of the marks. There is a calculator and a non-calculator paper and exam technique plays an important part in the exam. Basically the exam is an opportunity to 'show off' everything you have learned over your GCSE Maths course. You will not be asked any ‘trick’ questions, but you will need to think carefully.
The most common mistake is to lose marks carelessly. Too many students make mistakes when they do actually know what to do – precision is everything, making sure you show all your steps. The next most common mistake is not knowing the most common different types of question that could be asked.
OUR ADVICE: Find out the most common topics that are examined and then all the different types of exam question that could be asked.
Our advice is to try and stay on top of the work as much as possible throughout the ‘year’. Try to be as organised as possible. It is a marathon rather than a sprint, but if you do fall behind do try and find a fast revision method so that you can maximise whatever revision time you have left.
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