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Reflections on AQA Paper 1 Core Maths

It’s been a great year getting to know the Core Maths team of teachers on twitter and also finding my way around the course. There have been a number of issues to deal with (lack of time, lack of understanding about some topics, differentiation and more) but there have been many highlights too. At the moment, we are between exam papers with the first one being last week and the next one in three days time. Here are my thoughts about paper 1 for AQA.

Before that, I’ll mention that I have applied to be an examiner for this paper and was turned down last year (due to not having the relevant experience) and I think I must have missed the window for this year. I’ll try again next year as I think it’d be a great insight into some aspects of teaching this course.

Obviously, I’m not going to reveal any of the questions because people will be using these for mocks next year although if any students read this, they will get a sense of what to expect. I will assume you have access to a copy of the paper so you can see what I’m talking about! If you don’t teach AQA, you might want to skip to the end section.

Level 3 Certificate – Mathematical Studies

I have to say that I was somewhat relieved and surprised to find that this paper was pretty much exactly what I’d expected. I had (wrongly) predicted that the first question would be a percentages one but otherwise, the paper was very close to what I’d told my students to expect.

Question by question break down

  1. Totally fair. Part a is easy but part b will have caught some out. I’ll be interested to see the mark scheme for that.
  2. Some of my students were a little worried about how spreadsheets would be asked so I think they’ll have been happy with this one. Seems to be a fairly straight forward set of questions. I wasn’t expected the Student Loans question to be asked by itself and I think the marks for this seem a little more than I’d planned for.
  3. Fully routine and very similar to a past question. A bit tedious finding the median and I’m sure some of mine will have made mistakes. Part b is a gift of 3 marks. The comparison *should* be straight forward but I think a lot of students find this difficult.
  4. Pretty easy and should be a guaranteed 1 mark for all really. A lot of my students should get 3 but we’ll wait and seen.
  5. In my opinion, there’s too much detail in this question. It feels a bit too much like students are being lead through this and I’d expect (hope that) most of mine to get the 4 marks here.
  6. Straight forward and I can’t see how this is 4 marks rather than 3.
  7. I was expecting a little twist on the Tax/NI question and seems to fit the bill. One extra little wrinkle in what should otherwise be a fairly routine question.
  8. Part a is as straightforward as possible and could easily be on a GCSE paper. Part b is awkward enough that it will have put some of mine off (although I know it shouldn’t have). I’m curious to see what is needed to get 1 or 2 marks here. Part c: Easy, easy, easy.
  9. All of the students I’ve talked have said that the motorway question was very nice and more or less exactly as anticipated. “You didn’t even have to worry about the thickness!”, I was told. 9b is a classic.

Anyway, on balance, I am pleased it feels like it’s gone well. That’s much better than having students come back saying they didn’t feel prepared for it.

I’ll end with a quick note: There were no APR/AER questions on paper 1 but they could still be on paper 2. It wouldn’t hurt to mention this to your students.

What were your thoughts? Leave a comment!

Overall thoughts

This exam has put my students in a very positive frame of mind. They think it went well so they think they stand a good chance of getting a good grade overall. I’m inclined to agree with them. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, I actually think it was too easy. I’m a little disappointed that these questions were quite as predictable as they were and I don’t think it will have stretched my very top end of students. I think the estimation question should have been a little more ‘open’ and I also think that some of the skills (sampling, histograms, box plots) were asked in a manner that was too routine. Why does this matter? Well, my concerns are:

  • This will have lulled some of my weaker students that didn’t revise too hard for ppr1 into thinking they don’t really need to. ‘Winging it’ is a legitimate strategy.
  • Paper 2 may simply be harder to compensate.
  • The grade boundaries may need to be noticeably higher to accommodate the fact that many students will probably have done well this time.
  • In terms of preparing students for next year, it will be tempting the think that exam questions have become ‘predictable’ and teachers/students will be caught out by relying on past papers too much.

I’m off to let my students know when I’m available this week (as they’re on study leave). I’ll write a similar reflection on paper 2 once I’ve got to see it.


Core maths exam prep resources

The exams are getting really close now! I’ve put a few more resources together based on some things my students need to work on.

Normal Distribution

Normal distribution layout practice Just some very basic questions but designed to help get students used to laying the work out clearly. Assumed they’ll be using the Casio fx991.

(Questions are adapted from Exam Solutions)

Calculator Drills

Another few rounds of Calculator Drills. If you spot any errors, please let me know!

Calculator Drills 1 (posted this one before but it’s here for completeness)

Calculator Drills 2

Calculator Drills 3

Calculator Drills 4


Core Maths Revision

I’ve created two resources to help with revision. One is a series of slides with a couple of percentages questions and a fermi estimation question.

Calculator Drills (updated with correct answers!)

Example slide:

CORE Maths Starters

The other resource is a work in progress and will be a series of calculator drills on the main things that students should be able to just do without really thinking too hard. I’m intending to have enough that students can time how long they take and then, on another occasion, see if they can beat their time. I’ll try to think of a way to incorporate the importance of accuracy too!

Calculator Drills

Let me know what resources you’re using.

Key words and phrases – Quizlet

I’ve put together a set of key words and phrases aimed at the AQA Core Maths course (2A) option.

Please share with your students and recommend the flashcards and matching games.

If you have a computer room or students with phones, then using quizlet live is *very* engaging! (Quizlet Live guide here)


Preliminary Material Paper 1 AQA Questions for Core Maths

I’ve been working on some questions based on the preliminary material for AQA Core Maths. There are a number of groups of teachers working on this independently and I’m hoping that by sharing some here, it’ll encourage others to do the same.

Now, I’ll admit that I was a bit worried about what I am allowed (or not allowed) to share  as there is some intentional secrecy about the material, with this written on the front:

This Preliminary Material is to be seen by teachers and candidates only, for use during preparation for the examination on Wednesday 15 May 2019. It cannot be used by anyone else for any other purpose, other than as stated in the instructions issued, until after the examination date has passed.
It must not be provided to third parties.

That’s a pretty strong warning! So, I phoned AQA and asked about this. They were very helpful and after the conversation, sent me this clarifying email:

Thank you for your recent call regarding the preliminary material for our Level 3 Mathematical Studies.

I can confirm that you may not publicly share the document containing the preliminary material in any form. However you are free to create and share ideas of questions relating to the material, and to suggest possible resources that you feel might be useful for preparing students based on the material, and we would even encourage this kind of action. – Customer Services Adviser, Teacher Services AQA

So, with that cleared up, here are some questions I’ve created. These are all based on the paper 1 preliminary material, which I’ll assume you have access to!

Phoenix gets £16 500 a year and did not take a student loan.

How much tax does Phoenix pay?

How much national insurance does Phoenix pay?

Sam gets paid an annual salary of £40 000 and took out a student loan in 2015.

What is Sam’s monthly take-home pay?

Charlie earns an annual salary of £65 200 and took out a student loan in 2009.

What is Charlie’s monthly take-home pay?

I’ve also made this set of four questions relating to the second part of the preliminary material.
These took a while so I hope they’re useful!

Please get in touch if you have some questions of your own!

CPD with the NSTA

Just before half term, my school took part in the North Somerset Teaching Alliance’s joint Inset day. This involved seven local schools working together to share ideas on teaching and building networks. Here is my summary of the aspects I was involved in.

Subject specific teachmeet

Jimi talked through some approaches he uses for starters and some easy ways to vary tasks in a way that isn’t a lot of work for the teacher while still helping students approach questions in a variety of ways.

Tim showed us some nice Geogebra applets and encouraged us to explore the ready made ideas.

Jenny focused on recall starters making use of low stakes quizzes and diagnostic questions. She suggested we check out retrieval practice as a source for the thinking behind it.

Ross spent some time showing us how by thinking ahead for what your feedback might be, you can plan out some likely sentences as strengths and weaknesses. This makes feedback a lot quicker and shifts more of the work onto the students when they are looking at your feedback.

Debbie took us through a proof of sin (a + b) = sin a cos b + cos a sin b via a mostly diagrammatic approach.

Kevin showed us some initial work he’s been doing on collating whole class data on whole can do what when looking through books. This helps inform planning for future lessons.

Cross school groups

I lead a session with Jimi about how the KS3 curriculum works in Churchill. It’s been a very long time since I blogged about this (2013) and our approach has changed enough to make those posts out of date. It’s too big a topic to put here but I’ll summarise some of it:

  • We teach year 7 and 8 in mixed attainment groups
  • Each term has a single project that takes up the majority of that term
  • Each project has some clear key skills that students are aiming to learn
  • The key skills are checked twice during the project with low-stakes test with time to improve between the two checks

Obviously, that’s a very brief overview. If it’s something you’re interested in finding out more about, you could enquire about making use of my SLE role via the NSTA.

Discussion with own faculty

We had an hour to talk to our own faculty about what we’d heard from the cross school groups. This was a very useful session and it’s hard to pinpoint why it was so much better than a standard faculty meeting. I think I have to say that it had a lot to do with being in the middle of the day when no-one is tired. I also think that not having to have part of your mind on the afternoon or next day’s lesson makes a big difference.

I’m sure it’s pretty much impossible to timetable but having joint non-contact time in an afternoon slot would be excellent!

Presentation from Andy Buck

In the afternoon, we had a presentation from Andy Buck. I’m not going to try and summarise the whole talk here but I will mention one thing that I thought was particularly relevant for me.

Don’t repeat students’ responses. 

There were several reasons:

  • It encourages the student to mumble
  • It encourages others not to listen too carefully
  • When repeating what they say, you often will change it to make better use of language (and we should be giving students the opportunity to do that)

In summary

It was great to have a chance to work with the other teachers and see what is going on in other schools. I was impressed with how smoothly the day went (well done James for the maths parts) with such a large number of people to coordinate.

Critical Analysis of Data

I’m beginning to plan out my Critical Analysis lessons for Core Maths and I thought I’d share some of the plans and links.

This is an ‘article’ that I’ll show my students:

Superstition dies out in England

People have often been suspicious of the number 13, believing it brings bad luck. This meant that when new roads were built, developers would not include a house number 13 and blocks of flats would miss out floor 13. However, a recent poll suggests that almost half of the roads in England do have a house number 13 as modern developers have decided to go against tradition and include the ‘unlucky’ house.

The intention is to pick it apart and see how much of the article can be justified. I intend to show them the following poll I did as ‘research’ for the article.

Poll House 13

I will be making extensive use of the wonderful QUIBANS website (Questions Inspired By A News Story) by Mark Dawes. In particular, I’ll use one about Cambridge Violent Crime Rates and Manchester United’s pay. I discuss these in Episode 64 of Wrong but Useful with Colin and Belgin.

Steve Phelps shared This ‘nice’ example of a Trump poll on twitter.

I’ve also been shown the website What’s Going on in this Graph by Hannah on twitter. This is a great collection of interesting graphs to interrogate with suggested questions provided too. Here’s an example:

Here’s a collection of misleading graphs from TES which will make for useful discussion in class.

The Hodder and Staughton book I proof read has some free sample pages that include some critical analysis questions.

This fact checking lesson plan looks good if you have enough time.

This site has a few good examples of misleading claims that made it into the news or advertising. This one also runs through some common ways to mislead with statistics.

Quora provides this set of examples with a ludicrous upside-down chart for gun deaths and also a great chart demonstrating the popularity of baseball caps (I promise it’s worth a look).

Here are three further links (supplied to me by CoreMathsCat) that I haven’t fully explored yet but I’m sure they’ll be good!

Maths and Our Health

The Guardian Data

Statistics How To

As ever, if you have any suggestions or links, please do send them to me!