With ever higher levels of education, some schools are looking for slightly better exam pass maths … regardless of the actual course. Want to study geography, childcare or German language? Ah, sorry, but you need a pretty good grade in something you’re not as interested in.
Maybe it’s a way of establishing educational commitment? Sieving out the less academic? Maintaining prestige? It’s fine for those students who are focussed on a career in the sciences – but what if you need to gain entry to a course that will never go near a quadratic equation?
Or you’ve been predicted to get a higher grade, but are struggling to achieve it?
Either way you need to meet the entry requirements, and here’s a few thoughts to help you get there.
Start writing stuff down
Grrrr. There’s definitely a culture of writing the minimum. Particularly with maths, a couple of quick squiggles is deemed to be sufficient. I do understand that you might work through a problem ‘mentally,’ but there are additional marks to be made by showing your method.
If the question is worth 4 marks, at least 2 of them are allocated for your working. That’s where you could lose credit. The examiner is not just looking at your answer – they need an indication that you have a clear approach to problem solving.
It’s not sufficient to think ‘I’ve done it in my head, and I know I’m right’ – you need to persuade the person marking the exam.
This might be quite difficult. While questions might seem straightforward, you should take a look at their value – and, hopefully, the mark allocation will indicate the amount of work required.
And it’s not just writing the method in the actual exam. I would also try to encourage you to write everything, even during your revision. The discipline of writing your thoughts helps to cement the topic in your mind – making it much easier when a similar question is asked in the future.
By way of illustration, here’s how a typical conversation might go with an average tutoring student:
‘What’s the formula for the area of a circle?’
‘C’mon you should know it’
‘Ah, er, we haven’t done this at school’
‘Yes, you have’
‘Er, can’t remember… something to do with pi?’
This continues in one of two ways:
‘It’s pi r squared’
‘Ahhhhhh yes, definitely remember’
‘It’s pi r squared’
More often, the first student is the one who consistently writes out formulas, and has taken the time (milliseconds) to add that extra depth to their work. Good formula writing is important to reinforce the method, provide a sense of direction, focus intelligent engagement with the problem and – ultimately – make for a better conversation with this tutor.
I’m almost persuaded that the difference between each student would be one whole grade, in a final exam pass. Certainly I’d have more confidence that the first candidate would be able to gain higher marks. But I’m going to say a whole grade. It sounds better.
Stop working on the easy stuff
Particularly during revision, it makes sense to try some slightly tougher questions than the ones you are usually comfortable with.
The first ten questions, of most papers, will give a bare exam pass – assuming that you achieve fairly good marks. Although it’s the second ten questions that make a difference… and they are the ones that should be practiced more frequently. I’m definitely not suggesting you ignore any revision topics that you are fairly comfortable with (a little repetition can go a long way). It’s just that a stretch into a more challenging question, can make a definite difference to your grade.
There might also be a secondary benefit. Real confidence. The ability to actually look back and say ‘I did that, and I understood it.’ For my money, that’s clearly a student that has progressed, and deserves to achieve higher grades.
One of the more common comments from students is that ‘I haven’t seen this before,’ or ‘we haven’t been taught that at school.’ But it shouldn’t stop a confident student from trying – perhaps adding a drawing or writing a formula. It might make all the difference. Anyway, isn’t that the point of exams? To test how your knowledge is applied, not just to redo questions that have been learned by rote?
So, here’s two tips to make you a maths exam superhero – and get that place to study German:
Fang an Sachen aufzuschreiben
Hör auf, an den einfachen Sachen zu arbeiten
Any thoughts, comments, ideas are always welcome!
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