3 changes to make when teaching the new A Level Maths
With the first mock exams coming up soon, we are hearing from many teachers who are concerned about where they can find appropriate practice material for students, without using up the precious specimen papers.
Until this year, there were hundreds of papers to choose from. The smooth running machine of being able to set past papers for prep has been disrupted this year. Our resource pool has shrunk from hundreds of papers to a set of 6 specimen papers from each exam board, or at least it feels that way.
My job at MarkIt is to create exam style questions from scratch that are completely tailored to the new specification. I have seen first hand how there is so much temptation to fall back on using harder questions from the legacy specification. Here are 3 ways to avoid being blindsided and preparing students for what’s new.
1. Have high standards for exam questions
This means keeping the overarching themes of proof, modelling and problem solving top of mind when looking at exam style questions. The questions must deliver on these themes, even if it means students do five instead of ten questions on a topic.
The legacy spec was not written to test the same things
Examiners are now looking for ways to incorporate proof and modelling into topics where they have never been seen before. So even the trickiest questions on quadratic equations will not fully prepare students for what quadratics could look like in the 2018 exams.
You can find a breakdown of all the overarching themes on the new A Level and how these change the style of the exam questions here.
There will be blind spots : where examiners have not tested students before
Even though the content of the specification has not changed drastically, the inclusion of proof and mathematical argument brings out the darker edges of topics that we knew were unlikely to come up before. These will be breeding ground for new style exam questions as they so easily lend themselves to stretching students beyond just algorithmic calculations.
2. Be smart with resources
Look beyond the usual places.
Try NOT looking for A Level questions, but for questions that A Level students should be able to do. The Test of Mathematics for University Admission (TMUA) exams have been running for two years. There are two papers in each exam series sat by students wishing to study highly mathematical courses at universities such as Warwick, Durham and Lancaster. Here is more on how they test problem solving within the remit of A level Maths.
What does ‘good enough’ look like? Use a checklist to assess resources.
There are no longer going to be ‘types of questions’ for each topic so we need another way to establish if students are sufficiently prepared. The checklist to follow now should be focused on what students are able to do with the learning from a topic.
Can they compose mathematical arguments and proofs? Can they understand how the topic comes into modelling a real life scenario that may require tweaking if certain parameters change? Here is the checklist we use.
3. Confront old habits that handicap students
Over relying on calculators from the start - don't let the C1 mentality die!
Calculators being allowed in every new spec exam is a controversial change that has hidden loopholes. It does not mean that students will not need to know how to survive without them. Examiners will be testing non calc skills by setting ‘show that’ questions where students will need to be very fluent with algebraic operations. Here is a brief rant about this.
Being afraid of sketching curves - make sketching a tool rather than a task!
When attending a seminar on the new A Level, there was unanimous agreement that problem solving will be tested more than before. How does this change exam questions? There will be less ‘hand holding’ through parts a), b) and c). Instead, problems will be posed as one big injection of information and students will need to know how to digest what’s given. Sketching curves will become a vital tool, rather than a specifically tested skill. Here are some ways to create this mindset from the start.