Help with GCSE Maths Questions!


February 16, 2017

The current Maths 9-1 GCSE includes new material and different grading system. This means there is little information about how to answer many of the new GCSE Maths questions. So we asked experienced teacher Adam S to give us his top tips on how to answer the more challenging questions.

If you are struggling with these exam style questions this is the perfect resource for you as Adam gives some useful top tips on how to improve your grade.

Adam also walks us through a grade 9 targeted question (grade 9 equates to an A*) for the new Maths GCSE 9-1.

This resource is relevant for any student sitting Edexcel, OCR or AQA Maths GCSE papers.

It can also be useful for students studying the foundation paper, as similar steps should be taken in answering those GCSE Maths questions.

Adam’s number one tip is to always:
Read the question twice and make a plan

This may seem simple but you’d be amazed by the amount of people who don’t do this.

So, these are the steps you should be following when faced with a challenging question:

  1. RTQ (read the question) at least twice!

  2. Figure out what information you have

  3. Figure out what you are being asked to do

  4. Make a plan that takes you from what you have, to what you are being asked to do.

If you do these 4 things, you will find it much easier to solve grade 9 questions.

Here is some expansion on each point and advice on how to do it, with a sample grade 9 question and solution.

  1. Read the question from start to finish. Take your time doing this.

Then read it again even more carefully from start to finish underlining anything in the question that may give you some information. Do this before you even begin calculating!

‘RTQ’(Read The Question)is most commonly heard uttered in mathematics classrooms near exam time for good reason. Students who are very capable and keen to show off their mathematical skills jump straight into a question before reading it carefully, thinking about what information is provided, and what they are required to figure out.

You see a triangle and think ‘Ah! I can use the sine rule here… let me work out the size of the missing angle…, but it doesn’t give me two sides and an angle so I can’t do it… ahhhhhhh I give up’.

If this how you find yourself tackling the question then you should try instead to follow Adam’s words of advice.

If you had carefully read the question, it may have told you that the triangle is an isosceles triangle. This information can then be used to help make the question easier to solve. There may be a diagram that has two sets of parallel lines indicating you can calculate an interior angle using other information provided on the diagram.

So give yourself time to read each question through slowly from start to finish twice before attempting it. May be even a third and fourth time might required before that inspiration hits you . When it does though, it's an amazing feeling!

2. Figure out what information you have (A)
3. Figure out what you are being asked to do (B)
4. Make a plan to get from A to B

There is always enough information in the question for you to work out a solution for what you are asked to find. Examiners are nice like that. Although it may not always be obvious, it’s your job to put on a Sherlock hat, grab a magnifying glass and figure out what information is useful. It’s a shame you can’t bring an assistant like Watson into the exam hall to help trigger moments of inspiration…

This is especially important for grade 9 questions that often involve multiple areas of mathematics that overlap. The question may appear to be about probability, but the information they give you can be modelled algebraically. You may have to manipulate that algebraic information by using fraction operations, while considering what it means in the context of probability.

This question was on a GCSE exam a couple of years ago and it will almost certainly be considered as a grade 7, 8, or 9 question on future papers. Students found it so baffling that the question trended on twitter (not common for maths to trend on a social network!) and a student made a petition about it that had some coverage from popular news outlets:

I believe this question appears hard because there are missing links. It’s all about reading the question carefully, working out what information there is and finally working out how to get from the information given (point A) to the destination of a solution (point B).

Task: Try this question out for before finding the solution below.

Information given:

1) 6 sweets are orange
2) 6 less than n are yellow (this can be written as n-6)
3) a first sweet is removed
4) a second sweet is removed
5) the chance of both the removed sweets being orange is 1 time in every 3


Plan to get there:

1) Represent every bit of information given algebraically in terms of ‘n’.
2) Make an equation with ‘n’
3) Rearrange the equation.

So, hard maths exam questions are like puzzles. They provide a small amount of information, and ask a question that is sometimes seemingly unrelated. It’s your job to create a plan of action to get there.

For those of you that tried out the question, here’s the solution for you:

Looking for more blogs on the new 9-1 GCSE?

In this blog, New Maths 9-1 GCSE, Adam S outlines explains all you need to know about the new maths 9-1 GCSE providing sample papers  for all exam boards as well as insight into the exam itself.  

If you have any questions for Adam S or would like him as a tutor for your child, please send him a message through his profile.

Alternatively, on the Tutorfair website enter your postcode and Tutorfair will show you GCSE Maths tutors in your area, with the top rated tutors!

Checkout out more Tutorfair blogs here:

1.Maths GCSE Syllabus: What's new?

2.Edexcel Maths  GCSE Grade Boundaries