How to succeed in A-Level Maths?

The third post of our A-Level revision series, focusing on Maths.

May 2022
Chandan Sekhon
Cambridge University - 1st Year Medical Student

This is the third post of the A-Level revision series and focuses on one of the most popular A-Level subjects – Maths! As I am sure most of you have noticed, there is a huge jump in difficulty from GCSE to A-Level Maths and it can be extremely difficult to keep up with the subject if you are not organised. For myself, Maths was the most challenging subject I took. This meant it was important for me to work out how best to go about studying for it. In this post, I will provide you with my tips on how to study for and succeed in the subject!

How do you learn A-Level Maths content?

For maths, one of the interesting features of the course is that there is not a great deal of memorisation and facts you have to learn. It is very much skills-based and requires you to practice! For the content that you do have to memorise (e.g. trigonometric functions, equations, graphs etc.), I wholly recommend flashcards. Making these is a quick and effective way to help you learn the information you have to learn, thereby allowing you to apply it to exam questions. By utilising active recall methods, you can effectively understand the basic concepts needed to succeed in the subject.

How do you succeed in A-Level Maths?

Like chemistry (see the previous post), I recommend making active recall and fact memorisation a very small proportion of your revision time. For maths, it goes without saying, practice is of utmost importance. This should be the vast majority of your revision. Textbooks are excellent question banks for you to practise questions for every topic that is in your specification. Your school should have these in abundance, but if not, then there are plenty of textbooks and revision guides that are available online (for free!). In my opinion, there is no need to spend money on additional resources! The website PhysicsandMathsTutor has an abundance of practice questions for you to use. This includes a huge array of past papers that are divided by topic. I would suggest you do as many of these as you can – even papers from different exam boards, as there is very little difference between boards. Also, do not neglect papers that were given before specification changes – again, the questions that are likely to come up are very similar so use all these resources to supplement your revision.

If there are questions that you have no idea how to approach, I would recommend starting with what you can. Similarly to A-level chemistry, things can fall into place once you get started with long questions. However, sometimes this isn’t enough. If this is the case, I would suggest flagging the question and speaking to teachers about how to solve it. Then once you learn how to answer the question, find similar questions online and practice this style of question. Keep a folder of past papers and worked solutions. Use post-it notes or similar to keep track of the questions that you got wrong or struggled on, and make sure to have worked solutions for them so you can refer to them in the future. By doing this, it was easy for me to identify the topics and questions styles that I found more difficult. I was then able to tailor my revision appropriately, focussing on these until I was reassured that I could answer similar questions with ease.

Timing is crucial for maths. When revising, make sure to do any practice papers under timed conditions. Personally, if there was a question I wasn’t sure how to approach, or I made a mistake early on, I would spend ages on it and lose time to complete the rest of the paper, meaning I would miss the final questions (which are often worth more marks). The only way to get around making mistakes that cost you valuable marks at the end of the paper is to practice and improve your ability to gauge when it may be useful for you to move on and return to the question if you have time at the end.

When it comes to Statistics and Mechanics, these are subjects that require a different skillset than pure maths, so you should make sure to practice them (timed, of course!). These subjects used to be separate from Pure Maths before the specification changed, so they are often separate papers. As such, you should make use of this to compartmentalise topics and sections to focus on at a time. Worked solutions were particularly helpful for both mechanics and statistics, I found. Similarly, for proofs (probably my least favourite topic of all!), worked solutions helped me learn how to answer a vast array of questions and answer many of the key proofs that could come up in an exam.

It is important to note that everyone has different strengths across the Maths sub-sections (ie. Pure, Statistics and Mechanics). Therefore, it is important to identify the areas you may be weaker in and distribute your revision time appropriately – don’t feel that you should spend an equal amount of time on each as this may be an ineffective use of time for you! Similarly, don’t be influenced by how others are spending their time as although this may work for them, it may not work for you!

To Conclude…

A-Level Maths is a tricky subject – but definitely doable! ‘Revising’ the subject in the traditional sense of looking over notes and trying to memorise techniques can only get you so far. You should prioritise practicing questions, especially for topics you struggle with. Ensure to make use of your teachers and any other resources you have at your disposal. Good luck and I wish you all the best for your exams!

Author: Chandan Sekhon

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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