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  • Carl Evans

7 ways to succeed at GCSE maths

Updated: Feb 13, 2023



1. Adopt a Growth Mindset


An important factor in determining whether a child is going to be successful in their GCSE maths exams is whether or not they believe that they are capable of doing well.


Maths anxiety is very common and holds back many students who feel they do not have the ability, or perhaps lack 'the right kind of brain'.


Although a study did show that the variation in the results from GCSE maths exams (attributed to genetics) was 58%, the remaining factors were family, schools and the environment specific to each child.


Rather than being a depressive statistic, this particular study did show that a large part of academic success can be influenced by controllable factors.



Adopting a growth mindset can help students become really good at GCSE maths.


Many schools are now teaching the 'growth mindset' spearheaded by the American academic Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. By adopting a growth mindset, Dweck argues that people can achieve and be successful through hard work, irrespective of their genetic predisposition.


In short, unless someone has a diagnosed learning disability, everyone can succeed at maths if they put in enough effort, have support at home and have good teacher/tutors. I believe that mindset plays a huge role in learning maths, and with hard work and determination, a student's true potential will be reached.


2. Don't Fear Failure


Like most things in life, such as learning to play a musical instrument or speaking a fluent second language, constant practice and repeated failure followed by small increments of success is necessary.


“Failure is Success in Progress” - Albert Einstein

Fully understanding a mathematical concept will develop when problems presented in different contexts are practiced repeatedly, together with understanding why certain lines of reasoning are invalid.

Every time you get a question wrong, consider it a good thing, and know that it's just a part of the learning process.


3. Practice, Practice, Practice


Unlike some subjects like history, you don't learn maths through reading. You learn maths through struggling and working through problems. Don't fall into the trap of reading a section of your maths textbook, understanding the worked example, and thinking you fully understand.


Girl studying GCSE maths.

But by working through hundreds of problems for each maths topic, you reduce your chances of being flummoxed because you've likely encountered a similar problem before, and know an angle of attack.


There are loads of great resources for GCSE maths on the internet. Some good sites with past papers with model solutions are Maths Genie, Corbett Maths and Maths Made Easy.


4. Attempt GCSE Maths Papers Early


As soon as you have learnt a topic at school, find a GCSE maths exam paper and work through any questions related to that topic. Chances are you will find them difficult at first, but the more exposure you have at an early stage, the less likely you will be surprised and shocked nearer to the exam.


About six months prior to your exams, you should be attempting whole exam papers answering questions on the entire syllabus.


Mark your work by referring to the mark scheme, using it to see how marks are awarded and how they expect you to present your answers.


5. Don't Look at Answers


When attempting textbook questions, don't be tempted to look up the answer as soon as you feel you're stuck. Struggle through, and take a break if you don't seem to be making any progress.


When you come back, you may find you have an idea where to start. If all fails, take a look at the first line of the answer as a hint, but don't read the whole solution. Then see if you can make further progress.


If watching a video exam solution, pause and attempt before revealing how to do the whole thing.


6. Ensure You Master The Basics


Maths is a hierarchical subject where foundational topics are needed in order to progress to more demanding topics. By automating basic mathematical procedures, our limited working memory is then able to focus on problem solving and look for relationships that could lead to possible solutions.


At the beginning of chapters in most maths textbooks, there is a 'prior knowledge check' section, and this is to ensure you have mastered the basics before attempting more challenging questions.


7. Teach a Friend


A great way to get better at GCSE maths is to help someone who is struggling with a topic you understand fairly well. Maybe a classmate still doesn't understand a past exam question, but you do.


The best way to learn is to teach - Frank Oppenheimer

The simple act of attempting to explain something to another person will improve your own understanding and can reveal whether or not you fully understand yourself! As the saying goes, the best way to learn is to teach.


So, in summary, here are 7 ways to succeed at GCSE maths:


  1. Adopt a growth mindset.

  2. Don't fear failure.

  3. Practice, practice, practice.

  4. Attempt GCSE maths papers early.

  5. Don't look at answers.

  6. Ensure you master the basics.

  7. Teach a friend.


1-1 online maths tuition is another really good way to become better at maths. If your child is struggling with their GCSE maths, see how I can help here.




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