When I am approached by a new student who is working towards their GCSE in Maths, the first thing I ask them to do is to try a “skills check” sheet of questions. The purpose of this exercise is for me to establish how good a grasp they have of the basic skills that they should have covered before the end of Key Stage 3, so that I know what level we are starting from and can plan accordingly.
I don’t want them to see it as a test and feel under pressure. Calculators aren’t allowed, but I don’t mind if they need to look a few things up to remind themselves of how to do them; I’m more interested in their understanding of the underlying concepts, and the way they apply this understanding. Maths should make sense; not only is it a lot more enjoyable if you understand it, but if the basics don’t make sense to the learner then what hope do they have of getting to grips with the harder material needed for the exam?
Skills that I ask them to demonstrate are:
Some may question when they would ever use these skills in the real world, and sometimes that’s hard to answer. However, every one of these skills is still examined at GCSE, and some of the techniques – such as arithmetic with fractions – will be needed if the student goes on to study Maths at a higher level. It always surprises me how many students starting A-level Maths can’t remember how to divide by a fraction!
At the student’s initial consultation we’ll run through the exercise – which ideally they’ll already have worked through beforehand – and identify the gaps in their knowledge, addressing some of them there and then. The rest – as well as revisiting those newly addressed – can be worked into the first few lessons.
We’ll also discuss any areas of the GCSE course that they feel need special attention; perhaps they have struggled with the material in a particular topic or maybe they have missed out on teaching due to illness or a change of teaching set. We will of course aim to cover all the topics in the relevant exam specification (provided that there is enough time left before the exams), but this initial discussion allows me to plan for that particular student’s immediate needs.