How to get an A/A* in A-level Maths
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
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Let's start off with a bit of honesty. A-Level Maths is not easy. There are some A-levels you can cruise through but maths, as much as I wish it was, certainly isn't one of them. I say this not to discourage you but to encourage you to work hard from the start of year 12, making sure you really understand the concepts you are learning because you will build on a lot of it in y13.
Even though the degree I am doing has little to nothing to do with maths, I'm glad I chose it as an A-Level because I really enjoyed it (shout out to my two favourite maths teachers at my sixth form!) and eventually got an A at the end of y13.
Here's my advice for achieving those top grades in A-Level Maths:
1) Answer the hardest questions you can find for each maths topic. The difficulty with maths at A-Level is that it is far from black and white. You are going to get some pretty difficult questions in your summer exams where at times you won't even know what area of maths to use in the first place. Exposing yourself to hard questions once you understand mathematical concepts gets your brain used to thinking about complex problems, especially when they are presented in unusual contexts. For me, this was especially useful since I was the type of person to get thrown off by seeing an "impossible" question. Getting used to these types of questions reduces the chance of you panicking in the exam.
2) Have an open mind. This follows on from the above point as with A-level maths, more often than not there will be questions that look like they are asking you about one area of maths but by the time you get to the end of your working out, you needed to use a range of mathematical concepts. For example, you may get a differentiation question that required you to use the discriminant and compound angle rules to get your final answer. This happens a lot as examiners want to test you on as many areas of maths that they can. Be prepared to draw on your knowledge from other topics to answer questions and pick up as many marks as possible.
3) Make posters/mind maps on the rules and key pieces of knowledge for each maths topic. It is very important that you understand the principles of the maths that you are learning rather than memorising how to answer certain types of questions. Quite often you will be tested on this as in your paper you will be asked follow up questions that require you to apply your mathematical knowledge to the context of the question. For example in a mechanics question, you may get asked to explain the factors that aren't taken into account in your answer, such as air resistance (the most common answer!), and how it would affect your answer positively or negatively.
I made summary posters explaining how differentiation from first principles worked, or how to derive the compound angle formulas and much more, which helped me to then apply them in exam questions correctly.
4) Work methodically and neatly when answering questions worth those high marks. An examiner needs to be able to follow your train of thought. Unlike your teachers, they are not used to your handwriting and if there is anything they cannot read or understand clearly, you can't pick up the marks. It will be very frustrating to work so hard on a question where you maybe haven't gotten a final answer but used correct methods, but then pick up no marks because your working out is just all over the place. If you need more paper in your exams, ask for it and don't risk losing the marks you deserve.
5) Don't be afraid to answer questions. The amount of times I missed out questions that I could have picked up at least a few marks on in my mock exams was unreal. For me certainly, there was this fear of getting the answer wrong, so I didn't even attempt it in the first place. I had to realise that if you don't try, you're guaranteed no marks, whereas if I at least have a go, write down any formulas that may be relevant, and get as far as I could in answering the question, I could pick up some marks, which is definitely better than none.
6) Practice questions, practice questions, practice questions. The repetition is definitely needed because I cannot stress how important it is to be consistently applying your mathematical knowledge to past paper questions. Often students find that they understand logs, or differentiation for example, when they first learn it but are thrown off in exams. You may think you know a topic very well but to really test and cement that understanding, you need to be answering questions all throughout your time A-Level. They can be found on an abundance of revision sites (have a look at my post on the best ones for a level maths!) along with their mark schemes.
These tips are not here to guarantee you an A/A* in your exams but to help you structure your revision and just general A-level studies from the get go in order to help you work towards achieving those higher grades!
Lastly if you are looking to purchase some revision help, here are some of my recommended guides and work books!
1) These CGP revision guides are honestly amazing, and these ones come with practice questions and papers!
If you are looking for some textbooks to buy, here are a few listed below:
1) The CGP textbooks explain the A-Level Maths content in a way that is very accessible, however the questions don't often reflect the difficulty level of the sort of questions you may get in the exam.
If you are aiming for those higher grades and your exam board is either OCR/AQA, I really recommend purchasing the Cambridge press textbooks instead (since they are quite pricey)
Hi, I'm Aba and I started The Student Scope to give other students advice on their academic journey. Have a look around and enjoy!