Home > Curriculum, Education Policy, GCSE, Maths, Teaching > The new maths GCSE

The new maths GCSE

The new maths GCSEs have been approved, and schools now face the prospect of selecting which board they are going to go for from next year. A few weeks ago I attended an exam board briefing which included presentations from the three main boards. Today I’ve been working on a presentation to share what I’d learned there with the department and I thought I’d share a few thoughts, and a few of the questions from the sample assessment materials, here.

The compulsory stuff

Obviously, all three boards are constrained by the curriculum set out by the government, if you’re still unfamiliar with the new curriculum (get your act together!) there’s a lovely summary here and you can download it here. They had the option to add extra stuff in, but according to the presentations none of them have. Although stem and leaf diagrams have been removed from the national curriculum but still appear on the Edexcel sample materials.

The exam papers have to run for a total of 4.5 hours, with at least half being calculator assessed. These three have all gone for three 1.5 hour papers, with one non-calculator. I believe the Welsh board have gone for two 2.25 hour papers, one of each. I think the three paper option is sensible, although I would have preferred them to have two non-calculator exams. Edexcel and AQA have assigned 80 marks per paper, where as OCR have assigned 100.

The make up of the tiers will be different, the new 4 will be equal to the old C and the new 7 the old A. That is to say the bottom of each will be the same. Foundation will test 1-5, with 50% coming from 1-3 and 50% coming from 4&5. Likewise, higher will be 4-9 with 50% 4-6 and the rest 7+. The gradings at the top will be slightly different, with the top ten percent getting 9 and the rest being split between 7 and 8. I’m not sure I agree with this. One year a 7 and a 9 maybe a couple of marks different, and one year they may be a ton. It’s a weird hybrid of curve grading and criteria grading and it will potentially confuse folk.

So what are they offering?

As far as the support goes, I think any of the exam boards would be a great call. All offer things that are exceptionally good. AQAs free interactive route maps and all that comes with them are a massive selling point, Edexcel’s free results plus service is phenomenal and OCR are offering a free mock exam service which in the first instance negates the lack of past papers and going forward offers a fresh mock paper so pupils haven’t seen then before. On top of this they all offer an exam paper builder, although OCR charge for this.

So how can we choose?

Given that up until now all three boards seem to be pretty equal, I guess the final choice will cone down to the sample assessment materials. It is here where we see a major difference, particularly in the foundation paper.

AQA, during the briefing, were particularly keen to get across the idea that they’d worked hard to ensure they had the lowest word count. The briefing saw the representatives have some amusing banter over this, with Edexcel suggesting “we’ve always used words, we gone for the best, accessible questions, rather than counting words”! Although I’d question the accedibility of a foundation paper that has questions like this on it:


And this:


I also find that at times the Edexcel foundation papers overcomplicate some of the questions:




Then there’s this, which I’m not really sure the point of:


Obviously, the content has to be harder, that’s part of the constraints, but I feel these questions are overly complicated for what they are. There are good questions on there too though. I love this one:


All 6 questions appear on Edexcel foundation SAMs.

The other boards, for me, are much more accessible. OCR have a much more accessible approach to standard form:


But they are still a little overcomplicated at times:


Both from OCR foundation SAMs

AQA have really worked to eliminate unnecessary and confusing wording:



And this question is my favourite on any of the Foundation SAMs:


All 3 taken from AQA Foundation SAMs.

I think I prefer the AQA FN papers at the moment, but I’m still looking at them.

What about the higher papers?

The higher papers are, for me, all superb. I like the fact the content is much tougher, and I feel all three boards have done a great job putting the higher tier papers together. We will need to ensure all members of staff in our departments are secure in their pedagogical subject knowledge of the new curriculum, as there are some tricky topics that haven’t previously been taught until A – Level.

Here are some examples of questions not on the current syllabus:













All these questions are, in my opinion, excellent. They are challenging and require a good amount of mathematical thinking. On the whole, I’d be happy sitting my learners any of the higher papers, so I think the decision will probably come down to the foundation papers.

I’m excited by the new curriculum, and I’m now excited by the sample assessments. I can’t wait to get into the teaching of it! I also can’t wait for the exam boards to release the new A Level specs and sample assessments!

  1. November 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. mathsjem
    November 6, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Hi Cav. This post is incredibly helpful. What with all the changes at GCSE and A level and the inevitable sales pitches from exam boards, it’s fantastic to read a succinct analysis of the key comparisons.

    There’s two points that struck me as particularly interesting. First, regarding support offered by the exam boards. I’m currently an Edexcel user and benefit from downloading and analysing data through ResultsPlus – the tool has room for improvement but is very helpful. I just assumed that all exam boards offered something similar but from your post I gather that this is not the case? I’m surprised as I think it should come as standard.

    Also, OCR say they will make a new mock exam available every year. A great idea – this means that schools will be able to issue a mock paper that contains questions students have not seen before (unless students have friends at others school where the same mock exam was done a few weeks earlier!). As all schools do mocks at different times of year, the mock idea isn’t flawless, but still welcome. Again, I’m surprised that all boards don’t offer this service.

    Finally on the subject of support, I’m disappointed to hear that OCR charge extra for their exam paper writing software. This software saves teachers a lot of time in writing tests, revision material etc.

    My second point is regarding the ‘wordiness’ of exam questions. I know it’s a controversial opinion, but I believe in minimising the words in maths questions where possible. If unnecessary words are removed from maths exams then when I look at a person’s qualifications I am better able to judge their strengths. If they have low grades in English and humanities but a high grade in maths then I may be able to conclude that they are intelligent and an able mathematician and problem solver, but perhaps English is not their first language. If maths exams require a high standard of English comprehension then EAL students may get low grades across all qualifications, not reflecting their true abilities.

    No matter what their understanding of English is, students should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their mathematical understanding. I wouldn’t want a strong mathematician’s talents to go unnoticed and underdeveloped because they have to focus on interpreting questions that are unnecessarily wordy.

    When the genius mathematician Ramanujan first contacted English mathematicians in 1913, one said that he ‘lacked the educational background and foundation needed to be accepted by mathematicians’. Let’s not make the mistake of losing potentially great mathematical minds because we’re focused on whether they can make sense of contrived ‘real-life’ contexts.

    For these reasons I’m in support of the principle underpinning AQA’s intention to lower word count. It’s an interesting debate though.


    • November 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Aye, I certainly agree with you on all counts, especially regarding the wordiness of questions.

      OCR do charge for their exampro. And Edexcel are, as far as I’m aware, the only board who offer a resultsplus type service, which is indeed a shame.

  3. November 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I think edexcel are right that it shouldn’t be about minimising word count at all costs but about creating the clearest possible questions. It is a shame that they don’t seem to have done that based on the examples above.

    I quite like the (1/8)+(1/5) question though. Perfect for a low literacy but relatively strong mathematician.

  4. Raja
    November 6, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    The higher papers are similar to iGCSE papers – composite functions and venom diagrams are on iGCSE all the time.

  1. March 9, 2016 at 8:21 pm
  2. March 9, 2016 at 8:24 pm
  3. March 30, 2016 at 7:01 pm
  4. March 30, 2016 at 7:03 pm

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