• Dushan Attanayake

Exam Preparation for GCSE Maths

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

There are 53 past papers available for GCSE Maths since November 2009. There are some other practice papers such as CGP exam practice workbooks out there. So, altogether at least there are 55 complete GCSE Maths papers you need to do before you sit your GCSE examination if you want to achieve a good grade. In my personal experience, majority of students who did all or most of these papers ended up with good results. If you do the calculation you can see the it takes about 100 hours to complete these papers under exam conditions. However, you will spend a lot more time than 1.5 hours for each paper when you practice and struggle with hard questions. So, in my experience, realistically you need at least 150 hours just to do past papers. Corrections and re-learning will be on top of this. I showed the above calculations to emphasize you one thing, That is....


Many students think that they need to first learn the whole specification and be very confident on all subject content before they attempt past paper questions. This feels like good logic, but nine out of ten times end up in disaster due to following reasons.

1. You may not feel that you've learnt enough until the end of year 11 and you can delay doing past papers until the last week or so if you use this approach.

2. You will not have enough time to do all past papers due to lack of time as I have calculated above.

3. All your GCSE exams come up around the same time and you have to compromise the time you put to each subject and this means you cannot realistically do all past papers in Maths.

4. You can feel anxious and stressed out when you wait until the last moment to do your past papers and many students do not perform well under stress.

5. You can get upset or scared if you find past paper questions difficult especially when the exam is around the corner.

So, what is the solution?

I suggest that you need to start past papers at least at the beginning of year 11 (the earlier the better). Most of my students experience their first GCSE Maths past paper as young as year 9. Many students say, that they haven't even learnt the full specification yet. However, a good student in year 8 is capable of getting a C pass (level 4-5) in GCSEs as there are loads of basic questions in GCSEs that you can do from your KS3 knowledge. Moreover, a student does not feel any exam pressure when they are in year 9 and they actually feel good when they get a level 4 or 5 as they see it as " I can pass my GCSE Maths now with a level 4 and I am still in year 9. I need to work harder and when I am in year 11 I am going to get a level 9". The have enough time to change that level 5 to a 9 gradually. On the other hand if a student did not perform well in the paper in year 9 or so, they still have time to make things work better. They then understand that they need to work differently on Maths and they can progress over time. An experienced tutor can show where he/she has lost marks and how to avoid them in the future. Some students show a rapid improvement and I have witnessed year 7 students learning GCSE content and becoming competent enough to get a level 8 or 9 by year 8. Most students show a steady progress and achieve this over 1-2 years gradually.

Key Points

1. Have a written plan- You need to have a table to record your performance in exam practice. This should be used to record your marks and the date on which you did the paper.

You can download our form for free from MathSci Education.

2. Do two past papers (one calculator and one non-calculator) and get them professionally marked according to the official mark scheme. Record these in your record sheet above.

3. Make a list of weaknesses (where you lost marks).

4. Learn/ recap or re-learn the identified topics. (This will take a few days or even weeks and don't rush; Learn them well).

5. Correct the mistakes you've made using a green pen. (So that later you can identify the questions that you did not get right in your first attempt).

6. Do another set of past papers and get it marked by a professional teacher/tutor. Record your marks. See how much you have improved.

7. Repeat the same process.

Every time you repeat it, you will get more marks. May be you'll grow slowly at first, but keep on working. Please make sure you re-learn the topics where you made mistakes. You can use a tutor or an online resource such as mathswatch to do this.

With my experience in teaching over 14 years and marking GCSE papers I know this is a very powerful method. But there is one problem; many students do not have enough self-discipline to follow this process on their own.

This is where adults can take control and help their children to succeed. May be parents can keep a copy of the mark sheet and overlook the process with their children. We do this with all our students at MathSci Education Centre.

You need to file all past papers you've done as you need to glance over the completed papers in the last few days just before your GCSE examination to remind you where you went wrong and how you corrected them. This reduces the chance of making similar mistakes in the upcoming exam. I am certain that you can perform better in your GCSE Maths examination if you follow this process correctly.

See how this works for you and let me know how you find this method.

-by Dushan Attanayake

(B.Sc.Hons- Geo.Sp. MA Education (STEM).Lond. QTLS)

Maths and Science Teacher/tutor and GCSE Examiner

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