• Making the leap from GCSE to A-Level: A focus on Maths

    The GCSE system has been a subject of discussion in recent years due to how much depends on strong A Level results.

    The A-Level qualification is the ‘pinch point’, the time when students have to transition from the arguably lighter work load of the GCSE to the academic rigour of the universities. For example, for the sciences, universities still have the same complexity in the outside world. While technology has advanced in, for example, microscopy and digitisation, our minds need just as much training to tackle the natural world as we always did. The findings that the binary world will not be complex enough to capture the analogue world is key in training the next generation of scientists.

    The Maths GCSE is considered largely intuitive for many Maths A-Level students. While some attempts have been brought into introduce such topics as differentiation and proof, a child can get a good A grade with little comprehension of these subjects. Expanding brackets and manipulating equations will see most students right.

    In contrast the A-Level requires logic, mental agility and the discipline to apply a technique meticulously even when we don’t know where we are going. At A-Level students start to learn tools for the job, be that differentiation, the binomial expansion or statistical testing. This is a sizeable step and with large class sizes, students understandably need additional support.

    There are a few things students can do to aid their progress.

    1. Students need to own the problem: I have the “A” grades I need to do the job I love. Each student should appreciate tough questions are only there to help.
    2. Time management is key: A-Levels are the first-time students experience a lack of structure in their day. Fewer subjects and free periods were a time for me to chat to friends. Nevertheless, by the spring term, a knowledge of one’s own best working practices, especially with different subjects to balance is key.
    3. Learn the technique: I tutored in an inner-city school and so many students would start applying a technique, then change to do what they wanted to. Artistic flair is key even in the sciences, but correct application of methods is also important.
    4. Do homework individually: The rise of working as a team at A-Level is a personal concern. In my experience, the top performers can do their homework themselves. It is a falsehood that working together always means we learn together.
    5. Aim to sit exams once: Resits are boring and time consuming. Often schools do not support students retaking exams. Most importantly however, how a student excels at differentiation in the second year of maths A-Level, if he didn’t grasp it in the first year will mean the lack of knowledge will follow him into this second year irrespective of when the student resits the exam.

    Not an omission, but an overarching problem is that of social media. It is not the aim of this article to investigate why students cannot live without continuous stimulus from friends they see daily. Nor to understand why these friends do not provide genuine friendship to the point of the growing epidemic of loneliness amongst the young. It is, however, intuitive that constant interruptions are detrimental to study and children, like parents, must exercise discipline.

    I graduated in Chemical Engineering many years ago and even then, the number of graduates was small. Hopefully, if students absorb some of the points listed above, there may be higher grades in maths and more students will attempt engineering. Fingers crossed.

    Dorothy graduated in Chemical Engineering, became a qualified chartered accountant (ACA). In the recent past, she returned to university to study a PhD and tutors Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Finance/ Accounting.

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