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A Level Maths and Further Maths: SLT’s Advice Guide

Did you know that Maths is the most commonly taken subject at A Level? Our guide to A Level Maths distils our experience in preparing students for this subject since 2009, unpacking what Maths is like to study, whether it is the right subject for you, and how to secure top grades in the final exams.

Should I take Maths for A Level?

Maths has long been the most popular subject at A Level (sitting consistently clear of Psychology in second place). But before you sign up for it yourself, we advise that you ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do you enjoy Maths?

This may seem an obvious one to start with, but it is worth taking a step back and remembering that A Levels are your first opportunity to be highly selective about the subjects you study. In sixth form, students can specialise in the areas which really interest them. This is a wonderful opportunity and our advice is not to waste it by studying certain subjects simply because you feel you ought to. In our experience, students are happier, more motivated and, yes, more academically successful, when they study subjects they are genuinely interested in. If languages or the humanities are your calling, then pursue them – they will lead you to fascinating and wonderful places. But if you enjoy Maths at GCSE, relish the challenge presented by the harder questions on the syllabus, and want to discover more about the beautiful and intricate world of Mathematics, then A Level Maths is right for you.

  1. What are your predicted GCSE grades?

Many schools will require students to achieve a grade 7 or above in Maths GCSE before they will allow them to study Maths at A Level. This is because they need to be confident that students can meet the demands of the A Level curriculum. If you are expecting to fall short of this mark, A Level Maths may not be the right fit.

  1. What are your ambitions for your career and future study?

University may still seem a long way off, but A Level choices are a time to bring your long-term ambitions into sharper focus. STEM courses at many universities will include A Level Maths in their entry requirements, so if you have your eye on a degree like Maths itself, Physics, Engineering, Medicine, or Computer Science, taking A Level Maths is likely to be at the least highly advisable, and often absolutely necessary.

Looking even further ahead, one of the reasons A Level Maths is such a popular choice is that it is well regarded by employers. And not only in jobs specifically requiring quantitative or data analysis knowledge – the skills of problem-solving and attention to detail acquired by strong Maths students are prized by a wide range of businesses.

What is the difference between A Level Maths and Further Maths?

Further Maths is a separate A Level from Maths – but it can only be taken if you are also taking the ‘standard’ Maths A Level. Further Maths builds upon the content covered in A Level Maths and is, as you might expect, more demanding.

For that reason, it is considered ideal preparation for students looking to study Maths or related disciplines at university level. Particularly for competitive courses at leading universities, good performance in Further Maths is a strong indication that a student is capable of making the transition to university study. However, as some schools do not offer Further Maths, it is usually not strictly required as part of universities’ entry requirements.

How hard is A Level Maths?

As you might expect, A Level Maths presents a significant step-up in difficulty from GCSE. Topics which may scarcely have been touched on at GCSE, like calculus, mechanics and statistics, will be covered in much more detail. The question types are harder, too. A Level papers typically include more advanced problem-solving questions which demand a higher level of mathematical reasoning.

That said, a strong performance at A Level should not be out of the reach of anyone who did well at GCSE – by which we mean secured at least a grade 7, or preferably higher. Provided you work hard and have the support of a good Maths teacher or private tutor, success in A Level Maths is achievable.

How to get an A* in A Level Maths

Regular revision: Revision should not just be saved for the final weeks before the exam. Regularly revisiting the content you have covered in class throughout your sixth-form studies will enable you to consolidate your knowledge and take the pressure of the run-up to your exams. You should ask your teacher or tutor to go back over any material you are unsure about. Weaknesses which go unaddressed early in Year 12 can compound into Year 13 and become harder to solve.

Past paper practice: Past exam papers are a vital resource. When beginning your past paper practice, feel free to take the time you need and consult your notes when answering. Look at mark schemes afterwards and compare your answers with the model answers. To begin with, this should be a familiarisation exercise as you get used to the types of question which are asked and how you are expected to answer them. As the exams approach, you should sit past papers under test conditions to simulate what it will be like in the exam hall. Building up your time management skills and exam technique will be crucial.

Exam technique: On the day of the exam itself, it is common to gain (or lose) a grade or more through your application of exam technique. Even if the mathematical knowledge and skills are there, making sure you read each question carefully, check your working, answer clearly and legibly, and manage your time effectively, can be the difference between an A and an A*. Past paper practice and reading examiners’ reports will give you a clear indication of where you can win and lose the all-important marks.

Private tuition: If you are aiming for top grades, working 1-1 with an experienced private Maths tutor can make all the difference. Unlike in a group class environment, a tutor will tailor their approach specifically to your needs – racing through the content which comes naturally to you and taking more time to explain the areas you find difficult. This ensures that you are working as efficiently as possible. All of the private tutors we work with know the exam boards and their requirements inside-out, and can guide you through your classwork and revision, all the way up to the day of the exam itself. The results are often transformative.

Common pitfalls of A Level revision

It is well worth reading the examiners’ reports for the exam board which you are taking. These include invaluable advice on what gets rewarded, what doesn’t, and where students commonly slip up. Most examiners report a similar set of mistakes and challenges:

Exam technique: The single biggest cause of lost marks is a lack of attention to exam technique. Marks are avoidably lost through careless errors such as:

  • Using the wrong units in your answer
  • Not reading the question
  • Putting decimal points in the wrong place
  • Not checking your working

Proof: Examiners report that questions requiring proof or for students to explain their reasoning often present challenges. For these questions, you should make sure you write your answer in full, clear sentences, include a concluding statement which summarises your reasoning, and ensure that your answer is specific to the precise question you have been asked and avoids generalisation.

Trigonometry: Make sure that you fully understand the foundations of Trigonometry as covered at GCSE. The A Level syllabus will build on this to a high level of complexity. Trigonometric Identities are often a cause of particular concern, so revising these in detail is advisable.

Calculus: Perhaps the most infamous topic in the A Level Maths syllabus, calculus continues to trip students up. Ensuring you have a rigorous command of the process used in Integration and Differentiation will help you tackle harder calculus questions.

How to revise for A Level Maths

Productive revision requires a clear and structured approach.

Begin by reviewing the syllabus, making sure you are aware of every topic you need to cover, and noting the topics which will need the most attention. When creating a revision timetable, factor in the relative amount of time you will need to spend on each topic – not forgetting to include regular breaks to avoid burnout.

For each topic, revisit the basic concepts and formulae you need to cover. Then work through a variety of example problems to reinforce your understanding. Pay attention to the different problem-solving techniques and strategies required for each type of question.

Depending on how you learn, methods such as self-testing using flashcards can reinforce your recall. Then, once you have covered the syllabus, it is time to practise using past papers. Review all the information available from examiners (including their reports and mark schemes) to ensure you are making best use of your practice. Don’t neglect to test yourself under exam conditions in the final weeks before your A Levels.

A Level Maths resources (including past papers)

A range of online Maths resources are available to support your studies:

  • Past papers for a range of exam boards.
  • Dr Frost Maths – PowerPoints on the whole A Level syllabus
  • Eddie Woo YouTube Channel – good for particular topics you find challenging

What are the best universities for a Maths degree?

If, once your A Levels are completed, you are thinking of studying Maths at a UK university, there is a lot to take into account – from the size and location of the institution, to the course’s content and entry requirements. The ‘best’ university for a Maths degree will vary from student to student, depending on your particular preferences and requirements. Nonetheless, a number of institutions typically feature at the top of university rankings lists for Maths. These include:

If you would like support with your application to study Maths at university, our university admissions consultants would be glad to help. They will help you select the right courses to apply for, and guide you through all aspects of the application – from writing the personal statement to wider subject engagement and in-depth preparation for any admissions tests.

Frequently asked questions

How to get an A* in A Level Maths

A Level Maths is challenging and securing an A* is no mean feat. However, working diligently and productively will significantly increase your chances. We advise regularly revising the course content during Year 12 and Year 13, making use of in-class and online resources to help you with any challenging topics. Plenty of past paper practice and mastering exam technique typically makes a difference of one or two grades in the final A Levels. For the most targeted preparation, we recommend working 1-1 with an experienced private Maths tutor.

Is an A* in A Level Maths hard?

Only around 1 in 6 A Level Maths students receive an A*. However, there are several things you can do to improve your chances, including creating a clear and structured programme of revision; making use of past papers, mark schemes and examiners’ reports; and working with an expert private tutor to prepare you for the exams.

How many people get an A* in A Level Maths?

Results vary from year to year, but typically around 1 in 6 of the approximately 90,000 students taking A Level Maths receive an A*.

What is Further Maths at A Level?

Further Maths is a separate A Level from Maths, typically taken only by the strongest Maths students. It is more demanding than the standard A Level Maths and is considered by many universities to be the best preparation for studying Maths or a related discipline at degree level.