Maths at secondary school can be a pretty daunting thing, as you will start learning more complicated and challenging maths concepts as you progress.

Secondary school in the UK starts at year 7 and finishes at year 11 with GCSE exams, so an age range of 11-16. This encompasses key stages 1, 2, 3 and 4.

At the GCSE stage of your secondary school career, you will start thinking about where you will go afterwards and what kind of pathway you'd like to choose. This could range from starting A-levels or an international baccalaureate, doing a vocational course or an apprenticeship, for example.

But what can you expect from maths at secondary school? Where can a maths GCSE qualification lead you to? And if you choose to carry it forward to post-16 study, where could A-level maths take you?

These are all questions frequently asked by students and parents alike, so have a look through our list of FAQs and answers to see what maths at secondary school has in store for you.

What Can I Expect from Maths Classes During Key Stage 3?

Key Stage 3 (commonly abbreviated to KS3) consists of years seven, eight and nine – so students aged 11 – 14 in secondary school in the UK. This is the section of secondary study before students start their GCSEs in year 10 and choose which subjects they will carry on with.

Years 7, 8 and 9 are full of wonderful challenges!
Key Stage 3 maths can be a really exciting journey! Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Websites such as BBC Bitesize contain the entire syllabus for KS3 Maths, along with all other subjects.

KS3 Maths Syllabus

KS3 maths topics according to the UK national curriculum include:

  • Algebra
  • Shape, space and measures
  • Numbers
  • Handling data
  • Functional maths

Within these topics are lots of subtopics, all of which are broken down in class and will usually have individual lessons. These topics can also be found online, for revision and extra study.

KS3 maths lessons are where you’ll start seeing more difficult maths and mathematical theory.

Subjects you might not be familiar with such as trigonometry, Pythagoras, equations, probability, coordinates, powers and roots, and angles are all examples of maths that you will start learning.

These can be quite tough sometimes, but your teachers will ease you in slowly and you’ll start noticing how these topics build on from your current maths knowledge.

KS3 Maths Assessment

Schools in UK can have varying approaches to assessment at KS3. There will usually be a certain amount of formative assessment that support student progression throughout their courses. This could include coursework and tests.

Maths lessons at KS3 will get more and more challenging as you progress, so it’s important to keep up as much as you can and try to do some extra work at home if possible as well to help you get your head around things.

There are lots of maths games and quizzes available to learn maths online and to help with difficult concepts, which can make learning maths easier and more fun.

One of the most crucial things to learn during KS3 – if you haven’t already! – is your times tables. All of the work covered will rely on basic maths knowledge, and knowing your multiplications will help you no end when it comes to the trickier stuff.

Tips for GCSE Maths Revision

GCSE maths revision can get really tough, and you might come across hurdles you didn’t expect or problems you don’t know how to solve.

Revision doesn't have to be all doom and gloom!
GCSE revision getting you down? Photo via Visualhunt

Hire a Maths Tutor

One of the best ways of overcoming problems during your maths revision GCSE is to ask for help. Some students get so caught up in trying to teach themselves topics they find tricky, and really all they need is someone to explain it to them.

Maths tutors are a great opportunity to ask all your questions and fix any problems you’ve been having during your revision and exam preparation. You can easily find maths tutors online through platforms such as Superprof, or via social media sites. You can also keep an eye out in your school, library and local community for tutoring adverts.

An experienced tutor can help you with your maths and work through challenges at a pace that suits you, honing in on the thing you find most difficult. Whether it’s problems with specific topics such as algebra, trigonometry, probability, or geometry, or if you just need maths help for homework, there’s a tutor out there to help you through it.

With online tutoring sites like Superprof you can also find online tutors who are able to teach you over a video call. This means you can study from the comfort of your own home, whilst receiving brilliant personal teaching tailored to you.

Speaking of brilliant teaching... can you name the UK's top universities for maths studies?

Maths Online

The internet is such a great resource if you’re struggling with revision. With a few simple searches you’ll find games, quizzes and other revision aids to help you get your head round difficult maths GCSE topics.

Websites such as BBC Bitesize, MyMaths and even just having a look through YouTube videos can help to simplify things a bit and make maths more fun and much easier to understand.

Studying for A-level Maths

Maths A-level, starting with AS level in year 12, builds upon what you have been learning at GCSE. You will start cultivating the maths skills that you started learning throughout your GCSE, but you will develop this further and fine-tune subject knowledge on your way to handling much more complicated mathematics.

A-level Maths Curriculum

AS and A2 maths consists of topics you will already be familiar with, as well as a few new concepts too. These are mainly outlined as:

  • Algebra and functions
  • Geometry
  • Sequences and series
  • Trigonometry
  • Exponentials and logarithms
  • Differentiation
  • Integration
  • Numerical methods
  • Vectors
  • Statistical sampling
  • Data presentation and interpretation
  • Probability
  • Statistical distribution and hypothesis testing
  • Quantities and units in mechanics
  • Kinematics
  • Forces and Newton’s laws
  • Moments

Some of these will be built on in more detail and at a more difficult level if you opt for further maths.

You will probably be familiar with the majority of these topics, and others might be completely new. You'll find that most of them will link back to topics you have seen at GCSE, and your teachers will show you how the maths you already know can be developed further.

You might find that some of these topics are quite challenging, and you could face a few hurdles during the transition from GCSE maths to AS level maths, and even further along in your A-level course as well.

Maths in sixth form is very advanced, so starting revision early is key!
A-level revision can be really tough, but there are lots of ways to tackle your problems! Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection via / CC BY-NC-ND

The Jump from GCSE to A-level Maths

Perhaps you are finding A-level maths especially difficult? Have you fallen behind in class and feel like you can’t catch up? Or maybe it’s just a specific concept that you can’t get your head around?

The gap between GCSE and A-level can sometimes feel quite big, and you might feel as though you aren't finding your feet as quickly or as easily as you expected. The main difference between GCSE and A-level is that before you were given a clear structure of what you needed to know, whereas with A-level you are required to take a bit more initiative and do more study in your own time.

With A-level maths - and all subjects for that matter - you will find that the biggest difference compared to GCSE is that you can't just get away with learning the content, you have to really understand it too. This means putting in the extra hours of work outside of the classroom, and trying not to fall behind.

You might want to consider hiring a private tutor for A-Level or International Baccalaureate maths revision to help you through the challenges you are facing.

A tutor with experience and expertise can sit with you and work through the problems at your own pace, to suit your particular way of learning.

As we've already said, it's less of a jump from GCSE, and more of a leap. You need to be able to understand the maths content you are learning, not just be able to regurgitate stuff in an exam. A home tutor can be the best way to make sure you're putting in the extra study time, and that you can keep up and feel confident with your maths learning.

One of the best things about sixth form or college studies is that classes are generally much smaller than they were at GCSE. This means your teachers will have a better chance of spending time with you on a more individual basis, and you will have more chances to speak up and receive attention on problem areas.

You might find, though, that you need a bit more of this individual attention and teaching, which is where a private tutor would come in very handy indeed when faced with maths A-level problems.

A level and GCSE Maths Past Papers

Benefits of using Past Papers

Copies of past exam papers can be a really excellent way of preparing for your exam. Practicing 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
Past papers are one of the best ways to revise!
Practicing past exam papers will prepare you for the real thing! Photo credit: Matti Mattila via

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

How to Use Maths Past Papers for GCSE and A-level?

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! Read questions carefully, as some might have instructions such as ‘answer two questions from part one’ or ‘answer one question from each section’, for example.
  • 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!

  • 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.
  • 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 managing your time 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.

Where Can I Find Maths Past Papers?

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.

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!

If you have a private tutor, 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.

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 teacher or tutor to do it for you.

Going through practice exams 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 practice.

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 practise 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.

What can I Study at University with a Maths GCSE or A-level?

Maths is a really important subject for so many courses at college and university. It is usually needed if you want to pursue subjects in the sciences, medicine and engineering to name a few.

An exciting future in maths could be for you!
Maths can lead to all sorts of academic and professional opportunities! Photo credit: trindade.joao via Visual hunt

Maths can open up so many doors

It’s important to think about what you might like to do after your GCSEs or A-levels so that you have the right grades and preparation you need to continue with certain studies.

With a GCSE in maths you could continue your maths study through to post-16 education. This could be A-levels, an international baccalaureate, BTEC, or an apprenticeship, for example.

If you choose do to a course such as maths or further maths, you will need a GCSE or equivalent, usually with a B-grade or higher. Some courses might accept a C-grade, but you will need to check this.

If you plan to do an international baccalaureate, it will be compulsory to take a maths subject. This could be maths at either higher or standard level, or maths studies which is a more basic maths course. You can also opt for further maths alongside your chosen maths pathway if you like, but access to this will depend on your GCSE maths grade.

If you’re unsure what post-16 courses your GCSEs will suit, or which university courses you’re A-levels or IB studies will suit, there are lots of helpful guides available, both online and on paper, to give you some direction.

Speak to your school’s careers and further education advice centre, or visit the Prospects website  for help.

The most obvious choice for what maths can allow you to study is more maths!

If you really love the stuff and can’t get enough of it, you might consider taking it further for A-Level, including the possibility of further maths, and you might even think about a degree in the subject too.

The most common courses that maths A-level students go on to take are:

  • Maths
  • Further maths
  • Natural science (physics, chemistry, biology)
  • Medicine, dentistry
  • Veterinary science
  • Engineering
  • Biomedical sciences
  • Pharmacology, physiotherapy
  • IT or computing
  • Economics
  • Business
  • Accountancy

Maths isn’t always necessary for certain courses, but it will help no end when it comes to subjects such as economics, business or accounting. You might need a minimum of a C grade for most courses like these, so make sure you do the right research if you want to apply for something.

For some subjects, it is compulsory to have a GCSE and A-level or equivalent in maths. For courses such as maths, medicine, sciences (including biomedical) and engineering, for example, you will most likely need a qualification in maths.

For a degree in maths you will need a high grade in your post-16 course, and a higher level maths course if you take the IB. You will usually need further maths too as part of you’re a-level or IB course.

You can check all the necessary requirements for different courses on their online specification pages, or in the course directories at the sixth form, college or university. Make sure you carefully check what is required to apply for the course so that you can be considered.

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