Tag Archives: exam

289. The secret formula for success

You may remember this advert for Frosties cereal (US Frosted Flakes) from your childhood. If you do you’ve been around as long as me:

What was Tony’s secret formula? We never found out!

Enough reminiscing I hear you cry! How does this help anyone?

Well, in the new GCSE exam specifications the formulae sheets have gone. Specific formulae may be given in an individual question, but due to the lack of a working crystal ball we don’t know the frequency with which this will happen. To help with this I have typed up the Edexcel formulae into a PowerPoint. You can print it out and put it around the room, you could have a formula of the week, you could leave a slideshow running while students work, you could even print it small on card and make a pack of flashcards. Mine are laminated and hanging from a washing line, I’m going to move them around so that students have a varied view.

Whatever you do, increased familiarity improves retention – just think back to the posters you regularly saw as a child. I have made different versions for different situations – Edexcel vs no exam board, white background vs pale blue background, pdf vs pptx. Download whichever version you need:

Edexcel No Formulae Sheet blue (pptx)

Edexcel No Formulae sheet wihite (pptx)

Edexcel No Formulae Sheet blue (pdf)

Edexcel No Formulae Sheet white (pdf)

GCSE No Formulae Sheet blue (pptx)

GCSE No Formulae Sheet white (pptx)

GCSE No Formulae Sheet blue (pdf)

GCSE No Formulae Sheet white (pdf)

260. Filter Maths

There is a moment of satisfaction to be had when the last drip of filter coffee drops into the jug: a lovely aroma of fresh coffee and the anticipation of a well-earned drink.


Image Credit: http://vidacoffeeco.com/

Don’t worry, the ‘Sandpit’ hasn’t gone all hipster foodie overnight! The slow drip of coffee leading to a rewarding cup matches perfectly with the slow drip of revision, leading to a rewarding grade.

The exam season is fast approaching and the photocopiers are starting to crank out past papers. You start handing out papers and expect them to hand them in …

That’s the point it starts to go wrong:

  • They don’t hand them in.
  • They give up halfway through.
  • They skip pages and it takes you ages to find what they’ve done.
  • They lose confidence.
  • If you issue A5 size booklets they lose them.
  • If you issue A4 size booklets, they complain and the booklets get mangled.
  • You get frustrated – don’t they realise it’s for their own good!

This year, why not try out this idea instead:

  • Hand out the exam board formulae sheet.
  • Hand out the grade boundaries.
  • Hand out the first four pages reduced to A4, back to back.
  • Collect in the first sheet.
  • Repeat for the next four pages.
  • Collect in the second sheet.
  • Repeat until the questions start getting harder, then¬†decrease it to two pages back to back.
  • Continue until the paper is finished.

This is time-consuming and it is best started well in advance of the main revision period, but it works. The individual sheets have a manageable amount of content and are less intimidating – they also weigh a lot less than 33 exam papers. As a teacher, you get a clear picture of which areas to revisit as the topic list is short. Each student keeps a running total of how they are doing on the paper. The grade boundaries sheet lets them keep track of their progress towards their target grade.

The consequence of doing this process with a couple of papers is that students feel more confident approaching papers. They will start to notice themes in the wording and topics. They will also realise that it’s important to ‘bank’ as many marks as they can in the first half of an exam paper.

My class responded well to this drip-feed of questions. After the first sheet they felt proud of themselves when they realised they’d achieved a grade D in just four pages of a Higher paper and were calculating how many marks they’d need for a C. The number of late homeworks dramatically dropped and the effort level went up.

This idea is simple and non-subject specific. It would work equally well with physics, chemistry, biology … in fact any paper which has a fair number of questions.

Good luck with the revision!



140. Cut out the Quartiles

Quartiles on cumulative frequency graphs are such easy questions when you get ‘it’. The hair pulling, nail biting wrong answers you see on exam papers make you wonder if you’ve ever taught the topic. Time for the scissors again …

This activity demonstrates in a practical and visual way how to set up the quartiles on a graph.

Printed cf graphs
Coloured pens

1. Cut out the area to the left of the graph. Leave a column of graph squares next to the y-axis, for scale. Cut exactly to the top of the curve.


2. Fold the graph in half, parallel to the x-axis, with the maximum value just touching the axis.


Repeat the half fold again

3. Fold along the x-axis. Unfold – you’ve just divided the graph into quarters. This should reinforce that y-axis is split into quarters.


4. Stick down the axes. Place a ruler on the fold lines and join the ends of the folds to the y-axis.


5. If you fold the graph forward you get this:


6. Put a mark at the end of each line and continue with a dotted line. Discuss what proportion of the data each line represents and label it.


7. Fold the graph back and mark in the vertical lines. Solutions,can now be read from the x-axis.


8. The interquartile range can also be highlighted and calculated.


This activity covers a fair few learning styles and creates a visual/memorable resource,in their books. Since using it, the number of pupils who quarter the x-axis has dropped significantly. I hope it works for you.

63. How to make GCSE past papers fun

Well folks, the end is in sight! Soon Y11 will be on study leave. Sure, there will be those conscientious few who come in for help or revision sessions, but the majority of pupils need the next month to considate their learning and be ready for their exams.

Are these teenagers buzzing with energy and keen to work? No.


They are tired of being told about exam technique and interpreting questions. They are fed up with assessments and coursework. They are irritable with every non-teenager who mentions exams and ‘this is your future’. And most of all they are just tired because they are working late on deadlines that are suddenly tomorrow, rather than 6 months away.

How can you make yet another GCSE paper interesting?

It’s time to cut up the exam paper (see Foundation GCSE analysis for first scissor session).

Now this task will need some prep work. It is an adaptation of a Maths Relay.

*Enough copies of a GCSE paper for 1 between 2 or 3.
(Variation: A set of themed questions, for example 15 questions on Algebra of graduated difficulty)
*Roughly three copies of the mark scheme.
*Your best 3 or 4 students to help manage the task. Alternatively,  mathematically minded sixth former or spare teacher would do. You could even put two classes together.

Optional: A spreadsheet with the pairs of students in the first column

Prep Work
You need to slice the papers into individual questions. Lay out the piles in number order across a desk.
The desks in the room need to be arranged to allow pair/group work and also movement around the room.
Your helpers need to be briefed about the activity.

Each pair is given the first question face down. When you say ‘Start’, they may write down their names on the question and answer the question.
When they have an answer, they must bring it to be checked.

Correct: it is ticked and they are issued with the next question.
Wrong: it is crossed and they try again.
Wrong twice: they are issued with the next question.

By using your most able student as checkers, you are enabling them to practise effectively checking work quickly and give hints. If they can check their own work in exams quickly, then they will have more time to answer harder questions. By giving hints they are consolidating their learning. Of course, the rest of the class can’t complain that the brightest will win as they are not taking part.

If you have a mixed tier/ability class you can colour code two exam papers: yellow for foundation, pink for higher. They can still race each other but at a more appropriate level.

About that optional spreadsheet
Set up a spreadsheet with the first column for names, the next 15 columns labelled 1-15 and the last column for the total.
Once a question is finished with you record correct/wrong with a 1/0 . You can then keep track of who is on which question with what success rate.

The more ICT-friendly teacher could use conditional formatting to highlight the cells and which team is winning.

I have found it easiest to use helpers for checking and leave the spreadsheet recording to the class teacher. This allows the teacher to oversee and troubleshoot as required.


I’ve done this with low-ability Y11 last lesson on a Friday and was stunned at the engagement. Although that might have had something to do with the prize of first choice from a box of fondant fancies …