GCSE Maths Help: Tips for the Exam



Sometimes it’s the little details that can give you the edge in the GCSE maths exam. To help ensure that you perform to the best of your ability on the day, we’ve put together our top tips. At Exam Papers Plus, we provide GCSE maths help in the form of maths practice papers that help boost students’ confidence, so we have plenty of wisdom to share.


Get Organised the Night Before


It may sound obvious, but being fully prepared the night before the GCSE maths exam can put an anxious mind at ease. It’s a good idea to remind yourself of the exam structure, so you’re clear on what to expect.


At GCSE level, you’ll have three test papers to sit: two with a calculator and one without. Each test lasts for 1.5 hours and is equally weighted at 33.3% of your overall score. For more information on the structure of the GCSE maths exam, you can refer to the AQA website.


Make sure that you double-check the time and location of the exam and plan how you’re going to get there in plenty of time.

Some things you’ll need to pack the night before include:


  • A scientific calculator that you’ve used before
  • Revision notes to read beforehand
  • Stationery, including: pens, a clear ruler, a protractor, a set square, a triangle ruler and a compass
  • Water to stay hydrated


Understand What the Examiner is Looking For


GCSE Maths tips and advice


If you understand what the examiner wants you to do with specific questions, you’ll find it easier to work your way through them. We’d recommend reading the GCSE maths marking scheme to become familiar with how points are awarded.


Once you know how examiners break down the individual elements of a question, you can review your answers to ensure that you have each part covered. You can read the GCSE Maths Scheme of Assessment on the AQA website, here.


In addition to knowing how papers are marked, you should consider the structure of your answer, including how to present your working and how to make your final answer clear. Put yourself in the examiner’s shoes and ask whether your final answer is obvious. Are each of the steps leading up to the answer easy to follow? Can you easily identify which parts of your answer you’ll be awarded points for?


Read Each Question Carefully


One of the most common mistakes that students make in maths exams is misunderstanding the question, or misreading a number. Take the time to read the question in full until you understand what it’s asking you to do. It’s a good idea to try and identify the ‘type’ of question that you’re being asked, i.e. is it a numeracy, fraction, percentage, algebra question etc.


If the question is unstructured, i.e. a ‘multi-step’ question, take the time to consider how you’ll tackle it before you begin. Having a rough plan beforehand can help you keep the ‘bigger picture’ in mind and ensure you don’t lose track of what’s actually being asked of you.


If the question is written, rather than simply presented as an equation, look for some keywords that could provide an indication to how the answer might look. For example, ‘calculate’ assumes that you’ll need to show your working, whereas ‘write down’ suggests that no further explanation is required. Likewise, ‘draw’, or ‘plot’ suggests that you’ll need to use a measuring tool like a ruler or protractor to arrive at the answer.


Show Your Working Where Necessary


If in doubt, it’s always best to show how you arrived at your answer. Sometimes the question will provide an indication as to whether you should show your working or not, but if you’re unsure, you won’t lose points for including it.


Understandably, answering maths questions under pressure can cause your handwriting to become a bit messier than usual. However, you need to ensure that what you write is still legible. Make sure that you present your working in an easy-to-follow way that won’t leave the examiner confused.


You should also try to read over each part of your answer before moving on. Although you should always allow time at the end of the exam to check your answers, it can help to review each one while you’re still in the mindset of that particular question type.


Here’s a useful video from AQA on how examiners mark ‘show your working’ maths questions:



GCSE Maths Help: Practice Tests


One of the most effective ways to put theory into practice is to use practice tests. At Exam Papers Plus, we publish maths packs that aim to improve students’ skills and confidence in the lead up to test day.


We’ve thoroughly analysed examiners’ reports from previous years to ensure that our GCSE Maths practice questions cover all the essential areas of the GCSE maths exam. Our questions also focus on topics that we know students consistently struggle with. Furthermore, all our practice papers are written and developed by former GCSE Maths examiners and markers.


Not only do our tests help students familiarise themselves with the exam format and question styles, they can also help improve time management skills.


Each pack focuses on the key skills required to do well in higher tier GCSE exams and includes detailed step-by-step answers and mark schemes for every question. Each question is labelled to identify the relevant exam boards.


We’d highly recommend the following resources for GCSE maths help:



GCSE Mathematics: Key Skills



All of our GCSE packs are available immediately after download.

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