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Why do students find A-level maths hard?

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by stevencarrwork, Mar 12, 2010.

  1. Probably children have already chosen which A-levels they want to do, perhaps based on expected grades.

    Some will have chosen to do maths, perhaps conditionally on getting an A or a B.

    Why do some (many?) students who get an A at GCSE struggle with C1,C2?
    Opinions requested please.

  2. mathsnmusic

    mathsnmusic New commenter

    Our y12 students claim to find the subject hard but I think its just that we give them a lot more work than other subjects and they find it hard work! It is maybe because of this that all of the year 12s I have spoken to since yesterday received a better result on C1 than in any of the other subjects they are studying at AS.
  3. auntiemaisie

    auntiemaisie New commenter

    I've read this after looking at the suggested yr12 tests on a previous post. I teach in a sixth form college and I can't believe how difficult the 'suitability/entrance' test! If we used that for our courses we would have very few students. I wonder if schools with their own sixth forms can afford to be more selective? Or perhaps our feeder schools just cover enough to get through the exams and have no idea what will be required for A/AS level since I'm in an area with only 11-16 schools.
    Lots of grade A students struggle because of poor algebraic skills and because they have poor study skills - they have not been used to doing much homework. A more taxing GCSE exam might help?
  4. Are there any other subjects where students who get an A at GCSE struggle with A-Level?
  5. To get an A at GCSE requires a fairly humble total UMS
    The standard of GCSE is now laughable which leads to the gap simply being too big a jump for those who, 15 years ago, would have been C grade students at best.
  6. It is quite interesting that students think that they have done far worse in their A level maths exams than in their other subjects and yet their results indicate something else.

    Clearly they find the exam 'hard' and yet their performance reflect a better understanding of the material than the student beleives they possess.
    Is this because maths teachers ensure that students work at the level required by the exam? Do other subjects forget to give their students pass paper questions to practice on?
    I took a car load of students to college yesterday and they all expected to get E's or less in C1. They had also sat various other subject modules and they all expected to gain higher grades in the other subjects compared to maths.
    They all gained better grades in maths than in their other subjects. Some gaining B or C grades in maths with their other subjects coming in at D and E. A small sample I know but interesting that the students just can't tell how well they have done. They were all convinced that they would get C or B's in their other subjects so were really shocked to not have performed as well as they thought.
    I can accept that they believe maths to be hard and so underestimate how well they have done. But why are they over estimating their performance in other subjects.
  7. I completely agree that this is the problem.
    They come out of their Maths GCSE exam thinking that they have done really badly and are amazed when they get an A on results day (with a score of 60%). Having not got any of the algebra or Trig questions correct.
    They then think that they must be good at Maths, so why not do A-level? And amazingly (!) they struggle.
  8. My point exactly.
    Compare the ease of that with ANYTHING at GCSE.
    I think the A-level course is brilliant, further maths better still. Not too much content, not too difficult questions, not unthinkable concepts. But my point is that A-level maths represents a huge paradigm shift for even the most able pupil- that this causes discomfort, moreover, difficulty.
    It's not that GCSE isn't hard enough. I only got an A in mine and went on to sail through further maths. A-level is just different, and different in a way that some people find hard to deal with.
  9. Are some schools forcing Maths departments to enter students for C1 in January? We do C1 and C2 (and an applied module) in May/June because we feel January is too early. We still tend to have the same problem with there usually being a clear dividing line between those who pass relatively well and those who get lost without a trace but I can usually forecast grade fairly accurately by then.

    Our Head will not allow me to impose entry constraints on students except that they must have studied at Higher Tier. A few years back I did get an A level pass from a student who got a D at Foundation Tier then re-sat to get a B at Intermediate before starting his A level course but he was very determined. Nowadays I really don't expect a grade C Higher student to pass and have given up worrying about it. Bums on seats seems to be the main thing now. It sounds terrible but after 1 and half terms of year 12 I have also stopped worrying about students who don't do the homework I set. I'm not allowed to throw anybody off the course and am not prepared to give up my time to supervise detentions. I send a few letters home with a copy to the Head of Year so that it doesn't come as a shock to the parents and then let them take responsibility. The worst drop it after year 12 and I can then concentrate on those who want to do well. Unfortunately, even the weakest students are made to study 4 subjects at AS level so we get far too many for whom Maths was one of their best subjects (even if they only just scraped a B). Sadly, it seems difficult to stop their attitude rubbing off onto the better students. I suspect that they don't want to be seen 'swotting' instead of playing games in the common room.
  10. The consensus seems to be that GCSE is not good preparation for A-Level.

    I would also agree that taking C1 exams in January is too early. Some schools seem to use them as progress reports!
  11. DM

    DM New commenter

    Nationally, the mean number of sittings of Core 1 is 2.4 which indicates that most centres are indeed using the January of Year 12 session as an expensive rehearsal for the real deal.
  12. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    I don't have much experience of As Level, but here goes.
    We don't enter C1 in Jan of Year 12, because it seems to be a rush to be ready for that. Maybe if pupils started straight after GCSEs.
    (Ours actually take GCSE Maths early and then do GCSE Stats in 6 months, maybe that means they haven't done algebra for C1 for nearly a year...)
    From a pupil's perspective. Most students take 4 AS levels, then drop one at the end of Year 12. Maybe the amount of work they are putting into maths is much greater than other subjects, at least initially. Maybe some find the whole experience of 6th Form a bit too much freedom and take their foot off the pedal. Maybe soft reasons/excuses?
    Maybe they've got a little too spoonfed at GCSE and expect the same treatment, just at the same time as we are expecting them to 'suddenly' become more independent.
  13. maths126

    maths126 New commenter

    In my opinion the revised GCSE will help here. We are likely to see a drop in A*-C passes as more rote-learners and last-minute crammers get caught out by the new requirement to THINK rather than regurgitate the same model answers as previous papers with just different numbers.
    As the new style becomes familiar, the expectation to use reason and understanding will help us train young mathematicians more effectively from KS3 and beyond. When the current Year 7s get up to A Level I suspect the problem will be much less of an issue.
  14. mathsnmusic

    mathsnmusic New commenter

    Thats really interesting. Where did you get that stat? Can we have some more?
    We are looking at a mean of 1.4, so who has the 3.4?!
  15. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Or does 2.4 mean JuneYr12, Jan Yr13 and JuneYr13 ?
  16. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Maybe the Jan Yr12 is a wakeup/cutoff point for schools to get rid of pupils who aren't up to scratch? Rather late to be getting rid of someone then though.
  17. A few more thoughts:
    -Some of my level 6 students in year 7 cannot do their times tables.
    -The same pupils cannot make any conection between topics
    -Their retention is poor
    -Our Modular system of GCSE allows for pupils to learn, peak and forget fundamental skills
    -There are very average pupils getting weak A grades which they believe makes them suitable for A level
    -I recently sat the AQA module 3 higher paper which required 49-40 for an A* out of 70 (based on last years paper) and 90% of the questions were on foundation papers in the early 90s. There was only one half tasty one which was laid on a plate anyway. This means the gulf between GCSE and AS/A2 is only getting bigger.
  18. DM

    DM New commenter

    I was surprised by it too. I got it from a report on the modularisation of A Level mathematics a couple of years ago but I can't remember which one and I am not sure Googling for it will help as it was buried in the meat of the text.
  19. BillyBobJoe

    BillyBobJoe Lead commenter

    Maybe we're not as adept as most at spoonfeeding our students through the GCSE, but we've regularly had successful A-Level candidates from Grade B GCSE, some converting that to a B at A-Level. I don't really recognise the idea that we should exclude A grade candidates at GCSE from the A-Level.
  20. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    I agree that A grade doesn't mean that you shouldn't takeA Level, but maybe there are a few who sneak into A grade because they are good at practicing particular questions (and maybe they are taught particular methods- for example I tell my pupils how to spot a Pythag question-either triangle, coordinates or ladders). Then maybe they get less adept at knowing how to solve it at A level.
    Maybe the B grades are succeeding because they aren't thinking along such narrow lines in my lessons? then are better trained for A level.
    I think there is an analogy with football? GCSE gets the kids to practice dribbling, penalties etc. A level is a game situation where they need to react to space on the left, etc. Maybe I've got my puils very good at the drills and skills, but I need (somehow) to give them more game time where they need to learn how to react.

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