Getting started with A-Level or GCSE maths revision can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. It can be really hard knowing where to start, how to revise best, and what resources you should be using.

To get the ball rolling with maths revision GCSE it’s important to know exactly what could come up in your exams. This means going over all of the syllabus content that you’ve covered over the term or year, and making sure you learn it.

There are loads of ways to revise your maths syllabus for school. You can use all sorts of tools and resources such as your past notes and workbooks, websites containing course content, games and quizzes, and attending revision sessions that your teacher might put on.

Active revision with past papers is the key to success!
Textbooks aren't always the most beneficial form of revision, try something more practical! Photo credit: UGL_UIUC via Visual hunt

Once you think you’ve gotten up to speed with all the course content and you’ve revised all the necessary topics for your exam, it’s time to start properly preparing for the actual exam paper.

Benefits of Revision with Past Maths Papers

Finding and working through copies of A-level past maths exam papers can be a really excellent way of preparing for your exam. Practising past papers will give you a clear idea of what you can expect in your upcoming exams, and will help you to:

  • Familiarise yourself with the style of questions and format
  • Recognise the command terms used
  • Know the length of the paper and how to manage your time
  • Understand how marks are allocated

Many students and teachers would argue that past papers are the best form of revision. They allow you to really prepare and rehearse for your exam and get more comfortable with the questions and how you should go about answering them.

Tips for Efficient Maths Revision

When sitting down to do a past paper, make sure you do it properly. Sit somewhere quiet with no distractions, and set a timer so that you don’t run over the allowed time. Don’t have anything present that you wouldn’t be allowed in the exam – so no phones, music, books or notes!

Start by reading the paper from cover to cover. This will help you understand how the paper is laid out, and where the marks are being allocated. You will also see from doing this how much time you should roughly spend on each question.

Make sure you read the information on the front of the exam. This will clarify exactly which paper you are doing, how much time you have, and the basic rules you need to know when taking the exam.

Thoroughly check the format of the paper and the individual questions. You don’t want to answer too few or too many questions if you’re not supposed to! Although exams aren’t trying to catch you out, it can be easy to fall into traps if you’re not careful.

Read all the questions really carefully, as some of them might have instructions such as ‘answer two questions from part one’ or ‘answer one question from each section’, for example.

Making mistakes when it comes to reading the questions and answering in enough depth can be easily avoided – so take your time to understand what each question wants so that you don’t lose marks needlessly.

In fact, along with dedicated study and judicious use of the best tools and apps for studying math, you should cultivate your understanding of word problems...

Misreading exams can lead to disaster!
Make sure you read the paper in detail to avoid mistakes! Photo credit: albertogp123 via VisualHunt / CC BY

It’s also really important that you pay close attention to the command words being used in the exam questions. These will indicate how you should answer the question. Words can vary between ‘explain’, ‘describe’, ‘compare’, ‘list’, for example.

These words are huge hints as to how much you will need to write in your answer, and what exactly the question wants you to do.

There are loads of different command words used in exams, so make sure you learn what each one means and is asking of you. Do this well ahead of time, you don’t want any surprises in the exam hall!

If you see a command word that you are unfamiliar with in the exam paper, remember not to panic. Use your initiative and take an educated guess – it’s usually a case of common sense. Whether the word suggests you should be saying a lot or just giving a simple answer, look at the marks available and write what seems appropriate.

Make sure you look at the marks on offer for each question, this is a big indicator of what you need to do and what the command word means as well. If the question says ‘list’, and it has a maximum of three marks, you can be pretty sure that you should list three things.

It is also crucial with maths exams that you read the question to see if you need to show your working. If this is explicitly asked for, you will know that some of the marks are awarded to showing how you got the answer.

Some maths problems might be looking for a particular way of working out as well. So think carefully about what the question is asking you and how you should go about solving the problem, and remember to show all of your working in the answer book.   

Time management is absolutely key when sitting an exam. You can get a rough idea of how much time you should spend on each question by comparing their marks. For example, you shouldn’t spend ten minutes on a one-mark question, and then only leave yourself three minutes for a five-mark question.

A great way of learning to manage your time in practice papers is to add up all the marks in your paper and divide that by how many minutes you have to complete the exam. You will get a basic idea of how many minutes you should spend per mark, which will show you roughly how much time you have for each question.

It’s important to do this as part of your practice though – try not to do it in your actual exam as it will eat into your time too much. Before sitting the real exam you should know the paper layout well, including its total marks and how many questions to expect.

Where to Find Past Papers for Maths Tuition

Past papers can usually be supplied by your teacher or subject department at school. They might have copies ready to hand from previous years, or they might be stored on an online database that you can access yourself. Speak to your teachers to find out how you can access the past papers that your school uses.

It is also important that you get a copy of the mark scheme to go with the exam if you can, so that you can mark your work and see where you did well and where you might need to put a bit more work in.

The papers you need will depend on the exam board that your school is using. Check with your school who the exam board is so that you can find the right past exam and mark scheme to work from.

The most common exam boards for the UK national curriculum are AQA, Edexcel and WJEC.

For most examination board websites, you will need to be a teacher or education professional to access the past papers and any information. Your school will have access to the appropriate past papers for your revision, so don’t hesitate to ask for some.

Maths Made Easy is a brilliant website that not only gives you access to revision notes, presentations, guides and support, but also lets you download past papers to practise.

This site is aimed at years 1 to 13, so it includes all keys stages 1 to 4, and A-Level too. Simply click on your age level you need and have a browse of what the site has to offer.

You can also specify which exam board you need between Edexcel and AQA to make sure you are practising the right stuff!

Would you be terribly surprised to learn that the UK's top universities also provide review materials for your exams?

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is key to success!
Don't hesitate to get some help and guidance with your past papers! Photo credit: NEC Corporation of America via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Find a Maths Tutor

If you have private maths tutors, they might be able to find you some past papers to work through in your lessons at home, but they can usually be found directly through your school or maths department for KS3 or above.

The most important part of doing past exam papers is understanding how you can improve for the real exam. This means you will need to mark the paper as accurately as possible according to the mark scheme, or ask a maths teacher or tutor to do it for you.

Going through practise exams and obtaining maths help in general with your tutor is a great idea, as they can give you individual feedback and guidance on how to improve for the real thing. Your tutor will be able to notice any weak spots and where you need to put in some more practise.

If you don’t have a private tutor, you can see if your teacher will mark your past paper or go through your results to see where your revision might need a bit more attention and fine-tuning.

Was there anything in the practice paper that was particularly challenging? Or something that just completely stumped you? These are the things that you should make more room for in your study plan so that you are ready to answer them in the real exam.

Discover how useful maths can be in life and why you should consider studying it.

Need a Maths teacher?

Did you like this article?

5.00/5 - 1 vote(s)


Ellen is a writer and translator with a passion for literature, traveling and learning new languages.