Calculated to succeed

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Chris Olley shows how to avoid panic on the day

There are still too many students who think it's impossible to revise for a maths exam. But you should be able to persuade even the most stubborn that these easy steps will make exam day less stressful and more successful.

Encourage them to create a curriculum map by sorting out connections in the maths they know. They should use a large piece of paper and start with number, algebra, shape and space, and data handling. They can add topics under the appropriate headings. They should add arrows to link topics and details such as formulae and key words to show what they know.

This is a good method of self-audit, and when you look at the maps you will quickly see any gaps in their knowledge.

The importance of coursework cannot be overstated. In problem solving, students need to ensure they have expressed algebra rules and explained how they work. For top marks they need to explain how the algebra describes the problem - just finding the rule is not enough.

In data-handling coursework, emphasise the need for a clearly stated hypothesis. Statistical calculations and charts are useful only to support or reject the hypothesis. Students must explain what their calculations say about the problem. Also, they must include at least one tricky technique, such as stratified sampling, so design projects that make good use of this.

Make sure students realise how easily these steps can change a D grade into a C. Give them plenty of practice papers under exam conditions: if possible, doing it in one go in the normal time allowed. They can mark each other's answers and then go back and repeat questions they got wrong.

Make sure they work hard to crack problems individually, categorising them: (a) where they came close but couldn't quite sort it out and (b) where they didn't have a clue. Category (a) questions should be the first target of the revision effort. Students will get new questions correct by sorting out the details.

For category (b), if a pattern of wrong answers emerges, you can slip in another session on the problem subject.

Get students to create individual revision books. containing a list of things they simply have to remember together with their own example. These three categories may be helpful:

* formulae - for example area and volume formulae; l

Pythagoras and trigonometry;

* methods - eg simultaneous questions, factorising quadratics, mean for grouped data, moving averages;

* key words, eg, locus, box-and-whisker plot, congruent.

They should create their own exam-style question in each case and give a worked solution. For key formulae and vocabulary, make sure they just memorise them.

Students are allowed to use a graphical calculator on the calculator paper.

This can be very helpful with certain questions so make sure they can borrow one. Invigilators can pass them round. Alternatively, make sure each student has access to a two-line display scientific calculator. Students should be properly equipped for the exam. They need spare pens, quality compasses, ruler, rubber, sharp pencils and a 360x angle measurer. Make sure you have some available for loan.

Emphasise the importance of the start of the exam when they will be at their best. Encourage them to spend five minutes reading through the questions, underlining all key details. They should put a cross against all questions they immediately know how to do and go back and do those first.

This way, they will complete their best questions when they are freshest and have the most time. Remind them of the importance of watching the time.

They shouldn't finish in a panicked flurry; they should save time at the end so they can check through carefully - do calculations again and ensure they have put in units where needed.

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