Turn on thread page Beta
    • TSR Support Team
    • Thread Starter

    TSR Support Team
    This subject is usually compulsory at GCSE level - but what should you expect from your maths course? Here, we will answer all of the FAQ regarding GCSE and A Level, giving you an insight into what's studied and whether it's right for you.

    If you are looking for the guide to the new A level specification, you can find it in posts 2-4 here.

    What skills will you need to successfully complete this GCSE?
    Mathematical knowledge learnt in KS3 is often assumed within this course. You should also have a basic fluency in English to enable you to access the questions in the exam paper. Students are expected to learn most of the formulas, although a few will be given to you if you will need them in that particular question. Here is a link to all the formulas you need to learn for Edexcel (similar for the other exam boards). All other formulas are provided.

    What is the workload like?
    The workload for maths totally depends on your starting point and your natural mathematical ability. It can be anything from your easiest subject where you simply have to complete your work in lessons plus homework to fullying understand all the content, to your most difficult subject which needs lots of additional practise to understand the content and get the grade you want.

    What are the differences between foundation and higher tier?
    Foundation tier covers grades 1-5 while higher tier covers grades 4-9. All of your papers must be taken on the same tier.
    The emphasis on the foundation tier will be the topic areas of number and ratio, proportion and rates of change. This means that the content is standardly much easier. Certain more complex topics will never appear on a foundation paper (more explained below).
    On higher tier, the emphasis within questions is much more heavily on algebra, with up to a third of each paper being on this topic. There is also a greater weighting on geometry and measures but a lesser weighting on the number unit.

    What sort of topics will be studied?
    There are six sub-topics which will be assessed:
    Note that some of the material below will only be on the higher tier papers, hence if you are taking foundation then some of these topics are unlikely to be taught to you. The topics in bold are typically only on the higher tier.
    • Number (basic operations, fractions, estimation, rounding, bounds and surds)
    • Algebra (notation, substition, changing the subject of the formula, factorising, expanding brackets, algebraic proofs, quadratics, functions, graphs, equations of circles, sequences and simaltaneous equations)
    • Ratio, proportion and rates of change (scale factors, percentages, direct and inverse proportion, tangents, compound interest and iteration)
    • Geometry and measures (constructions and loci, congruency, properties of common shapes, angle theorems, triangles, transformations of shapes, circle theorems and their proofs, sine and cosine rule cones and spheres, trigonometry, vectors and vector proofs)
    • Probability (frequency diagrams, probability scales, tree diagrams, venn diagrams and two way tables)
    • Statistics (sampling, interpretation and construction of charts and graphs, averages, correlation and lines of best fit)

    How will it be assessed?
    All the main exams boards are 100% exam. Edexcel and AQA have three 90 minute, 80 mark exams, while OCR has three 90 minute, 100 mark exams. Each of the exam boards have one non-calculator paper (paper 1) and two calculator papers (papers 2 & 3). This is the same regardless of if you are taking foundation or higher tier, and all three papers are equally weighted (meaning they are worth 33.3% each)

    What is it useful for post-GCSE?
    The mathematics specification not only develops your maths skills, but also your problem solving, logic and comprehension skills. People who enjoy and are good at mathematics often go on to study subjects at A level such as mathematics, further mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, economics or computer science.

    A Level (written by Notnek)
    Why is studying A Level Maths useful?

    A Level maths is an interesting and rewarding course which extends the topics you learnt at GCSE and applies these topics to mechanics and statistics. Through taking A Level maths, you will enhance your numeracy, logic and reasoning skills plus the problem solving work that you will do will help you to think creatively. All of these skills are highly valued by employers and universities which is why A Level Maths is such a useful course. There is currently a huge demand from employers for STEM students and A Level Maths is often a requirement for most university courses in these fields.

    What skills will I need to be able to do A Level maths?

    Schools/colleges will provide you with the minimum GCSE requirement to study A Level maths. The most important GCSE topic that you will need for A Level maths is algebra since it will be used in nearly every A Level maths topic. It's very important that you are comfortable with GCSE algebra before beginning the A Level course.

    What is the workload like?

    The workload is high for maths since you will need to understand a topic as well as attempt lots of questions. But if you enjoy a certain topic or find it easy, you may be able to plough through a set of questions and the workload may seem low compared to other subjects. But on the other hand, if you don't like a topic then attempting 20 questions on this topic may take up a lot of your time. Comparing A Level to GCSE, most students will say that the initial difficulty level is similar to GCSE but it doesn't take long for the difficulty to increase and the second year of the course will be a step up from the first year.

    What topics will I study?

    The content is the same across all examination boards and is divided into pure maths and applied maths which includes statistics and mechanics. The topics that you will learn are shown below:

    Pure mathematics (2/3 of the content) : Algebra and functions, proof, coordinate geometry, sequences and series, trigonometry, logarithms, calculus, numerical methods, vectors
    Statistics (1/6 of the content) : Sampling, data representation, probability, probability distributions, hypothesis testing
    Mechanics (1/6 of the content) : Mechanical quantities and units, kinematics, forces and Newton's laws, moments

    Exam boards provide a "large data set" which you will work with throughout the statistics course and you will need to be familiar with it for the final exam.

    How will it be assessed?

    For the new linear course, the A Level will be assessed at the end of your course (normally at the end of the second year) and is 100% exam with no coursework. The exams will assess everything that you have learnt in pure maths, mechanics and statistics and will be graded from A* to E. Some schools will also offer AS Levels which will be taken at the end of the first year but these exams do not count towards the final A Level grade.

    Will not taking A Level Physics be a disadvantage?

    The general consensus is that studying mechanics as part of the maths course will help you with physics but the physics course won't help much with mechanics. While you will need to understand some physical concepts, in maths the focus is more on the applications of pure maths to physics questions. So you don't need to worry if your classmates are studying physics and you are not.


    Guide to Reformed A level Maths in England 2017/18

    A levels have undergone a significant update in the UK. New specifications for A level Maths have been introduced for teaching from September 2017 (2018 for CCEA). Different changes will be affecting students depending on whether they are in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. International A levels (IAL) from CIE and Pearson Edexcel are unaffected. The main purpose of this post is to answer the most frequently asked questions about the new specifications and final exams for the old specifications in England.

    Summary of changes in England


    AQA, OCR and Pearson Edexcel have produced new specifications for maths and further maths to meet Department for Education requirements. The main feature is that they are linear assessments where all of the content is assessed in a single set of exams at the end of the course. AS levels are available as optional, independent qualifications but the results gained no longer contribute to a final full A level grade. Exams for AS Maths, AS Further Maths and A level Maths will be available in summer 2018. A level Further Maths with be examined for the first time in summer 2019.

    The same DfE prescribed content for pure maths, mechanics and statistics is included in A level maths for all awarding organisations. The DfE required content is defined here:


    While the content is the same, there are some differences in how awarding organisations split the content between exam papers and each has their own question style.
    A comparison of the structure and contents of the papers for AS and A level is shown in the table below. OCR continue to offer two specifications, Specification A and an MEI version (Specification B). WJEC (Eduqas) have said they will not be offering A level maths in England after final resits of the old specification in summer 2019 (http://www.eduqas.co.uk/qualificatio...cs/as-a-level/).

    The further maths support network (http://furthermaths.org.uk) have produced a useful summary of the main content changes between the modular and new linear maths specifications: http://www.furthermaths.org.uk/files/2017-a-level-maths-fm-content.pdf

    There is flexibility in the content of further maths A level. Half is prescribed by DfE and will be common to all specifications, the rest is selected from options provided by the awarding organisations. Additional further maths is not available in the new specifications.

    For full details of exam structure and access to sample assessment materials, check the awarding organisation web sites here:




    Summary of changes in Wales


    Reformed A levels with the AS decoupled from the A Level will not be accredited for delivery in Wales. Reformed ‘Wales Only’ A level qualifications from WJEC will still consist of AS and A2 units. The new WJEC ispecification is the only A level maths accredited for delivery in government maintained schools in Wales. The new WJEC Maths AS is a stand-alone qualification that also contributes 40% towards the full A level qualification. The content of the new specification for maths is the same as the new specifications in England.


    Summary of changes in Northern Ireland

    Candidates in Northern Ireland may study specifications produced by CCEA or an approved qualification from other UK A level providers.

    CCEA will introduce their new A level in maths for first teaching in September 2018. If you school or college is teaching AQA, Pearson Edexcel or OCR then see above.

    Northern Ireland http://ccea.org.uk/regulation/qualsni/changes_levels

    Information for International candidates

    International A levels (IAL) from CIE and Pearson Edexcel are unaffected by these UK reforms. They continue to be modular qualifications.
    Pearson Edexcel
    Updated modular A levels in maths and further maths will be introduced for first teaching in September 2018.

    AQA have recently introduced international qualifications including A level maths and further maths


    Frequenly Asked Questions

    I’ve already done AS maths in 2017, will I be doing the new specification next year for A level?
    No, you will complete your A level with modular A2 exams. You can retake any AS exams in summer 2018 if you need to.

    Can I still retake exams from the ‘old’ specification?
    Yes. You can take any modular exams for the first time or retake them in summer 2018. There will be a final retake opportunity in summer 2019.

    I want to do an accelerated (1 year) maths A level in summer 2018, will I do the old or new specifications?
    Both are available in summer 2018. You can enter for the 6 modular units needed for the current specification. Examiners will also offer the full A level exams for the new specification in summer 2018 (A level further maths will not be available until summer 2019). You will need to find an examination centre that will enter you, not all centres will offer both options. Note: some centres are only accepting entries for the old specification from candidates who have at least completed the AS exams in a previous sitting. Candidates hoping to complete a full A level under the old specification should discuss this with their exam centre at the earliest opportunity.

    Is the new A level specification harder than the old one?
    How do you measure hardness? Some people will find the pressure of linear exams harder to deal with but since A2 has always built on foundations learnt in AS this may be less of an issue with maths than with other subjects. It may be harder for some schools to teach as it includes required elements of mechanics that some schools have not chosen to offer in the past. Many candidates have avoided mechanics units and that will no longer be an option. There is a greater emphasis on problem solving and modelling real world situations. The pure maths content hasn’t changed much. Looking at the additions and deletions to what needs to be learnt and attempting the sample exam papers produced so far, overall the new single A level in Maths seems of similar difficulty to what it is replacing.

    Will there be coursework in the new specifications?

    When will I take exams? (answer fron Notnek)
    You need to ask your school/college what their exam plans are. Most schools have decided not to enter candiates for the optional AS exams if they are intending to take the full A level. You should expect to take internal exams at the end of year 12 to assess your progress if you don't do the AS.
    If you are just doing maths (and not further maths) then you will learn all of the content over two years and take the A Level exams at the end of Year 13.
    If you are taking maths and further maths then some students will do the maths exams in Y12 and the further maths exams in Y13 while others will take all exams in Y13.

    Will it be possible to do retakes with the new specification exams?
    Yes. However you can’t just repeat individual papers that you want to improve, because they are linear qualifications you would have to retake all of the exams that make up the qualification.

    How are grades calculated with the new specification?
    In the new, linear A levels there are no UMS marks. The total mark for all of the papers will be calculated. Senior examiners will use statistical predictions to identify an overall subject-level grade boundary for A*, A and E. The B, C and D grades will be set arithmetically in between the A and E grades.

    I have/will complete my A level maths on the old modular specification. Can I take A level Further Maths on the new one?
    I asked AQA, Edexcel and OCR to comment on this. All confirmed that a candidate could take A level Further Maths on the NEW specfication having completed A level Maths under the OLD specification. Edexcel did warn that the NEW Further Maths assumes knowledge gained in the NEW A level Maths. Due to the flexibility of unit combinations, students of the OLD A level would have gaps in their knowledge.

    Which calculator should I buy for the new A level?
    Your school or college may have a standard calculator that they plan to use in classroom activities so take advice from your maths department. While some benefit may be gained from the capabilities of a graphical calculator, they are not absolutely essential. Candidates will need to decide for themselves whether the cost is worth the benefit gained.
    Ofqual state that calculators used must include the following features:
    an iterative function
    the ability to compute summary statistics and access probabilities from standard statistical distributions (Binomial and Normal probabilities)
    the ability to perform calculations with matrices up to at least order 3 x 3 (Further Maths only)

    An advanced scientific calculator such as the Casio 991EX ClassWiz has the capabilities needed. Many maths departments are offering these to students at a reduced price. The MEI web site suggests that the TI-30X Pro is also suitable ( http://mei.org.uk/calculators ). There’s a really good article about calculators on the OCR web site. http://ocr.org.uk/qualifications/by-...aths-a-levels/

    DO NOT PURCHASE the Casio 991 ES plus. Although the packaging in some shops indicates it is suitable for A level, it doesn't have the statistics capabilities required for the new specification.

    If you do decide to invest in a graphic calculator then the Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX is a popular choice. The cheaper Casio fx-CG50 is being promoted by Edexcel with substantial discounts available, some of their resources focus on it's capabilities. Ask your school for advice, they may specify which calculator they want you to have. Calculators with CAS capabilities are still prohibited for A level exams.

    What text book/revision guide should I buy?
    Publishers have begun to release new textbooks and more will become available over the coming months. Many schools will continue to use text books from the old specification, especially for the pure maths content. Follow the recommendations from your teaching staff. Until there has been enough time to evaluate all of the alternatives, private candidates should probably pick officially endorsed text books listed on their examiners web site.

    Update: For Edexcel the majority of schools I have spoken to have chosen this text book series
    One reason may be the availability of an online version for their students to access (if you purchase a book privately you also get online access to it). The books look like updated versions of the previous popular series for the old specification.
    One school has chosen this alternative:

    Will Examsolutions be updated for the new specifications?
    Yes. The Maths AS and A level content has been updated for all examiners. Updates to further maths content is underway.

    People recommend using past papers for revision but there are no past papers for the new spec maths and the old spec ones aren't relevant and have different modules? ([QUOTE=GCSE 9;73782358])

    It would be worth doing C1 - C4 papers from the old specification and if you are doing Edexcel, C12/C34 papers from the international A level. While the style of some questions will be changing and it's not exactly the same specification there is a huge overlap in content. Practice for the applications components would be trickier as content appears in M1, M2, S1 and S2 (depending on the examiner). In the past, when new specifications were introduced, examiners produced practice papers matched to the new specifications and they have said they will do so later this year. Several independent publishers are working on practice papers which some schools will buy for their students to use and some won't.
Submit reply
Turn on thread page Beta
Updated: July 19, 2017
Do you think parents should charge rent?
Useful resources

Make your revision easier


Maths Forum posting guidelines

Not sure where to post? Read the updated guidelines here


How to use LaTex

Writing equations the easy way

Student revising

Study habits of A* students

Top tips from students who have already aced their exams

Study Planner

Create your own Study Planner

Never miss a deadline again

Polling station sign

Thinking about a maths degree?

Chat with other maths applicants

Can you help? Study help unanswered threads

Groups associated with this forum:

View associated groups

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

Write a reply...
Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.