Here’s a nice long video for you – I realised that the A Level exams are just around the corner for 2017 and the panic-frenzy will be really kicking in soon. But ther’s still time to get well prepared for your exams if you start your revision and everything now.

This is a video that I made to point out some of the bear-traps that people very commonly fall into when studing for their A Level Maths and Further Maths and when preparing for their exams. All of the points that I make in this video are based on my personal experiences as a maths tutor over the last several years – they are mistakes that I see people make time and time again, year in and year out and they are mistakes that could cost you quite dearly if you persist with them either knowingly or unknowingly.

Obviously I can’t cover every single eventuality but I’ve tried to focus on the main things that people do wrong. Equally obviously, there is no magic wand that I can wave to make everything better and to guarantee the result that you want. Whether you get the result that you want is entirely down to your own level of work and your own attitude but I hope that the points that I make in this video will point you in the right direction at least.

If this video was useful to you then you might also want to watch my other A Level Maths videos – one is for A Level Maths and Further Maths and the other video is for those taking the STEP Papers.

 

It’s coming up to that time of year again for GCSE and A Level maths students – exam time! If it hasn’t already done so then the past-paper frenzy will start very soon. I’m not against the use of past-papers as I think they fulfil a very important role; I do ask my students, on occasions, to complete past papers for me between lessons as this allows me to identify any gaps in knowledge that may have been overlooked – some of them do past-papers whether I ask them to or not which I don’t really have a problem with at all. I have a problem with past-papers being used excessively and effectively replacing actual teaching which seems to happen in many schools now; textbooks being almost non-existent in the classroom after February or March and teaching to understand is completely subordinated to teaching to pass an exam which I feel is a very short-term outlook and much less effective.

But the reality is that past-papers are used and they can be very useful when used properly. I want to point some mistakes that people make when using past-papers to prepare for their exams. I don’t think one post will suffice for this so I think there will be a couple of posts. But let’s make a start…

The first mistake that people make is to be obsessed with the time-limit for the exam. I recognise that there is a time limit in all exams and that when you sit your exam for real then you have no choice but to stick to the time limit that you have. BUT…when you do your first few past-papers (maybe not applicable if you’re doing the new 1-9 GCSE maths exams as there aren’t really any past-papers) YOU DO NOT need to worry about time-limits and, in my opinion, it could be very detrimental to you to worry about it. If the time limit when the exam was actually sat was 90 minutes then forget about it – for your first batch of past-papers take as much time as you need.

When I ask my students to do a past-paper for me for the first time I will say to them, “Forget about time-limits and take as long as you need. Use your class notes or our lesson notes, refer to your textbook if you need reminding about how to do something; use the resources that you have avilable to you. Work through the paper with a friend if you want (not get them to do it for you, though). Just, whatever you do, avoid the temptation to look at the mark-scheme” Almost invariably I’m completely ignored and they will just give themselves as much time as the time-limit stipulates and try to do the whole thing under exam conditions.

And then I look at their paper the next lesson and it’s only half done – if that! Most of the problems will be poorly answered, if at all; the ones that have been answered will be virtually incomprehensible and solutions will be riddled with silly mistakes. I’ll ask them, “How much did you learn when you did this?” – I know the answer before they even open their mouths; “Well I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that and then I just ran out of time.” See what I mean about being ignored!

I would much much MUCH rather that this person had taken their time and figured out solutions to as many problems as they could, even if that meant that they had to take two or three times a long to complete the paper as the time-limit gives. I don’t want them to do it under exam conditions because they’re not ready for that yet. I want them to refer to their textbooks, online videos and other resources so that if they’ve forgotten how to do something then they will end up revising and learning as they go. There is NO POINT in doing a past paper under exam conditions unless you’re prepared for it.

That’s not to say that there doesn’t come a time when past-papers need to be done under exam conditions – but not from the outset. If you don’t give yourself the time that you need to start with then you will learn nothing – or at least significantly less than you would. The speed and confidence that you need for your final exam will naturally come about if you give it chance. If you try to go too fast too soon then, ironically, although you think that you’re going fast – you’re going much more slowly than if you slowed down a bit to start with. A pianist wouldn’t learn to play fast by going fast to start with – but by going sloooooooooooooooooowly to start and building up speed gradually and naturally. This is no different.

There’s some more things that I want to talk about here but I think I’ll leave them for the post next week – see you then.

 

It’s getting ever closer to that time of year again when the revision and cramming commences for GCSE and A Level Maths exams. It’s usually around April time that people start running around like headless chickens because they’ve suddenly realised just how much they need to do to prepare for their GCSE or A Level maths exams….in a month.

But why exactly is revision so stressful? Well, I think first of all it’s because what many people are doing is not revision; I’ve just looked up the word revise in the dictionary, just to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken on it’s meaning, and as a transitive verb, revise means to examine and correct; to make anew, improved version of; to study anew; to look at again. So, revision is, I guess, looking over something that has already been learned at some point to make sure that it is still well understood or to see if there are any corrections or additions to be made. However – when it comes to ‘revision’ for exams, I’ve found that many people are, essentially, learning for the first time. So instead of taking a whole year to learn something gradually, little by little, and then revise that knowledge in the last few weeks before the exam a lot of people fall in to the trap of not bothering to do the learning little by little over a period of time but leave everything until the last few weeks and cramming as much as they can into their heads in a short period of time. This is not revision – this is learning something for the first time. Revision and cramming are not the same and it is the latter that causes the stress.

Revision, if done properly, doesn’t need to be excessively stressful. There will always be a certain amount of stress around exam periods but this stress can be minimised by using your time earlier in the year more wisely. Once you’ve learned something then your revision of what you have learned needs to begin straight away, even if that something that you learn is in September and your exam isn’t until June the next year. During my A Level studies I didn’t cram for a single one of my exams whether maths or otherwise; on the other hand I revised constantly throughout the year. This meant that when it was getting close to exam time my revision was relatively straightforward and stress-free compared to the rough time that some of my less organised peers were having; by starting my revision early in the academic year all of the topics had had time to be absorbed and understood – something that cramming can never achieve. This also meant that I was able to go into exams knowing that I would do well; a very nice feeling to have. The end result was that I did do very well in my A Level exams not because I had any extraordinary talents or was intellectually gifted but because I was disciplined about my learning and revision. (In a way it could be said that I was cramming all year, particularly for my maths exams, because I was keen to learn as much as I could about the subject that I was reading off-syllabus about all sorts of things. I encourage you to do the same…it really helps.)

So revision and cramming are not synonymous. Know the difference between the two. Cramming piles on the pressure and doesn’t give you enough chance to take in all of the knowledge or to look at things from several different angles and see the many different ways in which things might be applied. Revision is much more easy going once you get into a routine – but you have to be disciplined and start your revision early in the year. I’m writing this in early January 2017 which means that most GCSE and A Level maths exams will be in four or five months – if you haven’t started your revision yet then I strongly suggest that you start NOW!