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Do you want to help with GCSE maths revision but find it too difficult?

Has this ever happened to you? Your teen has come home from school and said they are finding maths a bit of a struggle. Or maybe your teen's test results have led you to that conclusion. They want to do well and you want to help, so you sit down with them and open their maths textbooks. Your stomach sinks, your head swims and your palms become sweaty. You ask yourself “What on earth is this? How am I ever going to be able to help with this?”

The good news is, you’re not alone. Far from it. The chances are you haven’t studied maths for at least 20 years and most of us don’t study it any further than GCSE level. In our daily lives, not many people are regularly required to calculate the volume of a cylinder and, even if we learned to do it when we were 16, we have probably forgotten by now.

And it is not just a question of forgetting. You were never even taught much of what is on today’s GCSE Maths papers unless you studied it to AS / A Level. The reforms of 2016 are most famous for replacing the A* to G grading system with grades that go from 9 to 1. But they also dramatically increased both the amount of content that students need to know and the degree of challenge they face.

Mother helps teenage boy with maths GCSE revision

Generous GCSE Maths Grade Boundaries

From 2016, GCSEs got more difficult. That’s a fact. The rationale behind this was to move England’s educational system up the rankings in international comparisons such as PISA. It was also intended to create greater differentiation between the most-able students. The thinking was, If everybody has 8 A* grades, it is impossible to identify the very strongest student.

A group of students sitting their maths GCSE paper in the great hall

But the post-2016 GCSEs still had to be comparable to those that came before in terms of the numbers of students achieving “good passes”. Before 2016, that began with C grades. Under the new system, “good passes” start at Grade 4. This need to have a certain percentage of students achieving “good passes” combined with the increased level of difficulty has led to some eye-catching grade boundaries.

In June 2022, the grade boundary for a Grade 4 in maths on the Edexcel higher paper was just 16%. So a student could answer less than one in five questions correctly and still be awarded a “good pass” in GCSE maths. And maths is no outlier here. In 2022, the grade boundary for a Grade 4 in physics on the OCR board’s higher paper was just 19%. To get a Grade 4 in biology on AQA’s higher paper you needed 25%.

Put simply, today’s GCSEs are hard. And stressful. If your teen is answering just one in four questions correctly, they might be on course for a pass but it certainly won’t feel like it to them. So, as a parent who desperately wants to help but is out of their academic depth, what are the options?

The Trouble With Tutors

Given the changes and challenges posed by GCSEs since 2016, it is perhaps no surprise that the number of people engaging a private tutor has exploded in recent years. The National Tutoring Programme provided government funding to schools with the aim of helping students catch up time lost during the pandemic lockdowns. The combination of these two factors has turbo-charged the tutoring industry and there are now companies that offer one-to-one tutoring for every GCSE subject there is.

But tutoring might not be the solution it first appears. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Hiring a highly-qualified, skilled and experienced tutor is not going to be cheap. And they are not going to be offering quick and easy solutions. If you secure the services of a tutor, it could be a substantial outgoing for a significant period of time.

And which subjects are you going to engage a tutor to help with? Which ones do you prioritise? Most people go for the core subjects of maths, physics, biology, chemistry and english. But where there is more demand, there is more cost.

Female student receiving help from a private tutor before sitting GCSE maths exam

Unlike schools, there is no OFSTED for private tutors and it is very difficult to get an accurate appraisal of a tutor's abilities before you engage them. By the time you work out they are not having the impact you hoped, it could be too late.

There is also the inconvenience and extra burden of a tutor to factor in. Even if the tutoring takes place remotely, your teen still has to be in front of a computer at a specific time to have, what is in effect, a private lesson. The chances are, they are already working very hard in their lessons and receiving extra ‘booster’ sessions before and after school. There is a very real danger that engaging a tutor could extend their school day - or make them feel like they now have lessons at the weekend. For teens that are already under significant amounts of pressure, this could be counter-productive.

Male student revising in bedroom using textbook

The Restrictions of Revision Guides

An age-old response to helping a teen with their exam preparation has been to buy revision guides. Every GCSE subject for every exam board is catered for by a variety of publishers and schools often invest in copies for their students to take home. They certainly cover all the content that your teen will need to know and can be an invaluable source of information for making revision index cards.

But what about subjects, such as maths, that are skills based? Who is going to mark your teen’s work? The answers might well be in the back of the book but checking answers does not explain why your teen got a question right or, more importantly, wrong. And, without that, how can they learn from their mistakes?

Female student using Albert Teen for maths GCSE revision

Albert Teen - The Tutor in Their Pocket

The answer to your teen’s revision problems could well be quite literally under their nose. You don’t need to be told how much of their lives are lived through their phones. They use them to socialise and shop - so why not study? This is obviously not a new idea and EdTech companies have been refining and improving online learning for a number of years.

Albert Teen has already been an invaluable virtual tutor to over 100,000 students. With exercises and activities developed by teachers who know what needs to be learnt and the best ways to teach it. Students can take control of their maths, physics and biology studies at times and in ways that suit them.

Having supported students through online learning since 2016, all of the Albert Teen activities are free, online and available at any time. If the App (need link here) is installed it introduces a whole new level of gamification where trophies can be won and progress can be saved.

Turn Your Teen’s Phone Into the Ultimate Revision Aid

It is important to understand that you are not inadequate or failing as a parent because you find it all but impossible to help with GCSE revision. So much of what we learn for exams, we remember because we need to - and then forget in the months and years that follow. Seriously, how many of us look at the periodic table on a regular basis after we have left school? Or a diagram of the heart? Or formulas for physics equations?

The challenge posed by today’s GCSEs means your teen is going to need subject-specific specialist help. You may have started to look upon your teen’s phone as a constant distraction and the enemy of revision. It could actually turn out to be your greatest ally and mean that there is a very cost-effective maths, physics and biology tutor in their pocket, ready and waiting to be called upon whenever the time suits.


Revise for the GCSEs with Albert Teen

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