About to start A Level maths?


So you have your GCSE maths result and you are all set for A Level maths. You got an 8 or even a 9, just as you hoped. You are good at maths and you are ready to carry on and learn some more stuff. How hard can it be?


Very hard. I don’t like to be the party pooper when you are still riding high, but be under no illusion; A Level maths is hard. Much harder than GCSE. You need to take that on board right now. It’s all too easy to go into A Level assuming your good performance up to now will just carry on. That is a mistake I see way too many students making. It is far from unusual for top GCSE performance to get transformed into D’s and U’s at the end of Year 12, and that hurts.


So it’s time right now to take a reality check. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you won’t do well. A lot of you will do very well. But you need to take it seriously right from Day One and not underestimate the effort that will be required.


There is a world of difference between GCSE and A Level maths. You could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a different subject altogether at times. The maths you are familiar with gets extended and, little by little, it all gets more abstract. You will be learning a lot of new maths too, and new ideas take time to sink in. The problem is, the syllabus is large and there is only so much teaching time available. Naturally, topics will get covered at a fast pace – and getting faster as you progress through Years 12 and 13. There will probably be some chapters in the textbooks you need to study on your own. Yes, there are textbooks – something that many GCSE maths students have never really used before. You will find that reading maths books can take some getting used to. Above all, you need to practice answering questions. Do not underestimate the amount of practice needed.


A Level maths is a “doing” subject. No-one learns this sort of maths by just sitting and reading a book and memorising equations. You learn by doing questions. Don’t just settle for the homework questions set by your teacher. Do more. As many as possible. Your textbook will have more than enough. This is especially important when it comes to calculus* and solving trigonometric equations.


Get to grips with new material. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense first of all. That’s the deal with maths at this level and above. Read. Practice. Read again. Ask questions. You need to work at it, make no mistake.


Above all, don’t get disheartened when you hit a brick wall. It’s probably never happened before now and, when it does, it can really knock your confidence. Notice how I say “when”. Not “if”.


I’m sure the last thing you are thinking about are the end of Year 12 exams. After all, they are next May/June!! Ages away. Fair enough. But take this advice on board right now; you will need to practice a whole heap of past papers under exam conditions if you want to do well. That doesn’t mean looking at the answers going, “yeah, I see how that works”. It’s all about Doing. Have I said that before?


If you are stuck, talk to friends. Maths is collaborative at the research-end of things. You might not be quite ready for that yet, but it should be just the same for you. So work with others in your class. Form study groups and help each other - there is no better way to understand something than by having to explain it to someone else. Your teacher is there to help too. Or find a tutor like me. Just don’t sit and struggle and hope it will all work out with enough pre-exam cramming. It won’t. It will be too late then.


Wish you hadn’t bothered reading this? Well, I’m sorry but, as I’ve said, I have seen too many students coming unstuck at A Level just because they assumed their GCSE performance would see them through OK. Don’t let it happen to you.


Now go off and enjoy A Level – some really interesting maths awaits.


*Google it if the word means nothing to you