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Reflections on AQA Paper 1 Core Maths

May 19, 2019

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.

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