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Which of the following is the quickest, easiest and most effective way to revise and understand GCSE maths?

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GCSE/IGCSE maths exam tips for use during your exam brought to you by an experienced examiner

Believe it or not examiners are on your side, they want you to do well... read on to find out how to maximise your chances of them helping you. 

1. Make sure you use a sharp pencil If the question asks you to draw anything, for example a graph. The reason for this is that a sharp pencil allows you to really draw it how you mean it whereas a blunt pencil could lead to you losing marks for inaccuracy. This has happened in the past. A good example of a question where many students lost marks unnecessarily because of using a blunt pencil was one where they were asked to plot points on a graph. The examiners found it very difficult to know if the students who used a blunt pencil plotted the correct points because the grid was not very large. Therefore, always make sure you have a sharp pencil with you in your GCSE maths exams!


2. One term square rooted does not mean the entire equation is square rooted.


GCSE_maths_root_x_1 does not mean the same thing as GCSE_maths_root_x_1_all_squared 


If a question such as the following appeared in your GCSE/IGCSE maths exam, be careful on what you square root:


Use your calculator to work out:  GCSE_maths_square_root_top_fraction_without_answer     


Correct Answer                                            Possible wrong answer


GCSE_maths_square_root_top_fraction                                                   GCSE_maths_square_root_all_fraction


This is why it is important to ensure you square root the correct terms!


3. With questions which involve time in decimal form don't confuse the decimal as being the number of minutes. For example 1.5 hours is NOT equivalent to 1 hour 5 minutes-what it actually is equivalent to is 1 hour 30 minutes because 0.5 of an hour is half an hour. As 1 hour equals 60 minutes, half an hour is equal to 30 minutes. Also be alert to having to write time in this form when given time with hours and minutes. For example: 3 hours 18 minutes is NOT equal to 3.18 hours. To find 3 hours 18 minutes in decimal form calculate 18÷60=0.3 (divide by 60 because there are 60 minutes in 1 hour) so 3 hours 18 minutes equals 3.3 hours.


4. Never assume anything, in particular the value of angles in a triangle unless the exam question states otherwise. From experience, GCSE maths exam questions always tell you if a triangle, for example, is an equilateral, isoceles or right angled triangle. You will not need to guess or assume anything in order to answer the question. The only questions where you may find that you need to assume values are the trial and error questions.


5. Always write ALL working out Every year, students lose the majority of marks on a question by not showing their working out. It is frustrating for the examiners who are marking a GCSE/IGCSE maths exam question where the student has only written down the final answer especially if that final answer is incorrect. Remember, the examiners want to help you get the best mark possible. Without showing ALL your working out they cannot see where you went wrong and therefore can't award you any marks. Over the years it has been interesting to note that even when a question asks students to 'show ALL working out' many do not!. If a question is worth 5 marks and no working out is shown and the final answer is incorrect you can expect 0 marks for that particular question. However, if ALL working out is shown but the final answer is incorrect you could expect up to 4 out of the 5 marks available for the question.  


6. Do not fall into the 'I can work this out without writing anything' trap Less working out is shown on the GCSE/IGCSE maths calculator papers compared to the non calculator papers every year simply because students press numbers into their calculator without writing anything down, apart from the final answer that is copied directly from the calculator display. We hope the message is clear- show ALL your working out!  


7. If you see a diagram with the words 'NOT TO SCALE' or 'DIAGRAM NOT ACCURATELY DRAWN' nearby do not measure it with a ruler or protractor! The reason is that the words 'not to scale' or 'diagram NOT drawn accurately' are warning you that if you attempt to measure any part of the diagram with a ruler or protractor you will not get an accurate answer. This happens every year. I did exam invigilation this year and was assigned the role of reading the questions to a student who had reading difficulites. A similar question to the one shown below came up in the 2011 EdExcel GCSE calculator exam:


GCSE_maths_2011_Work_out_the_value_of_x Diagram NOT accurately drawn


(i) Work out the value of x.                          x= ...................


(ii) Give a reason for your answer.





Although I read to this particular student that the 'diagram was NOT drawn accurately' as it stated on the GCSE maths question paper he decided to use his protractor to measure the angle x° - WRONG! I wish that I could have explained this to him at the time but this was his actual GCSE maths calculator exam and I was not allowed to give any guidance apart from reading the questions. I hope that YOU reading this will learn from this common mistake and NOT do the same!


To solve this particular question you must know that the angles on a straight line add up to 180°, this is the reason and so x°=180°−42°=138°


8. Never erase the ARC lines on construction questions to make your diagram look 'tidy'. Contruction lines that you used to create your diagram are equivalent to showing your working out. As an examiner, it is easier for me to see how you have drawn the diagram and to then award you the marks you rightfully deserve. By erasing the construction lines you are erasing your working out which means you lose marks! Don't do it.


9. Put your index numbers/powers in the correct place. For example, a question such as the following always confuses students:


Simplify       y × y × y × y                               .


The answer is not 4y as many students mistake it to be. This would only be the answer if it were 4 y's being added together, but they are being multiplied. The answer is y4. Note how the index number or power is located at the top right of the 'y'. This is where powers/index numbers are always located.       


For tips on revision techniques and effective GCSE and IGCSE maths exam preparation click HERE





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*All questions on this site are based on the following exam boards:   AQA , OCR  and EDEXCEL