How to get an A* in A Level Maths
The short answer is yes. You are here, you are reading this so already you look to have cleared the hurdle of motivation. Secondly, if you are reading this you are most likely already enrolled on the A Level Maths course so your teachers clearly think that you have the ability to do well. But the missing ingredient you probably need to develop is organisation. And by that I don’t mean making endless amounts of lists that you probably will never get round to clearing. I mean taking a structured approach to revising; a routine. And that is the purpose of this article. To help you develop those skills that will give you the edge over other students; the skills that will help you get an A*. And know that these tips aren’t just my opinion; they are things that, over the years, I’ve seen my best performing students do in order to get that A*.
1. Have a list of all topics that appear in the course.
You don’t have to make this. I’ve done that part for you in compiling a comprehensive list of questions by category (click here) that cover every topic on the syllabus. This will be your bible when it comes to revising. Your record of the work you have done and the work that you will need to do. Another place to find a comprehensive list of what you need to know is by looking at the exam board’s own A Level Maths Specification documents, although be warned: this does make for heavey reading!
- Edexcel A Level Maths Specification
- OCR A Level Maths Specification
- OCR MEI A Level Maths Specification
- AQA A Level Maths Specification`
2. Use both AS and A Level papers from other exam boards to help expose you to a number of different ways that questions can be framed
I’ve heard advice given to students before that they should steer clear of papers from other exam boards and maybe in the past that was true. But the current A Level Mathematics specification requires the exam boards to be more aligned in the content that they examine than ever before (apart from the Statistics element, but I will get onto that in a moment). Granted, the style of question asked by the different exam boards differs, but when aiming for the top grade that is definitely a good thing! You want to make sure that you have been exposed to as many styles of exam question that you possibly can be and, that way, you will be more prepared on the day for that one fiendishly difficult curveball that they seem to throw. There is a warning however, and this is something I alluded to earlier. The statistics syllabuses are slightly more misaligned so I would steer clear of doing statistics questions from other exam boards. You can find all of the publicly available past papers here.
3. When you hit a question you can’t do on a paper stop there and then to address that issue.
By “address that issue”, I mean:
- Identify the relevant A Level Maths topic that question is on
- Look to the textbook for more introductory questions on that topic. You may also find my Ultimate Study Tool for A Level Maths useful for this: it has tutorial videos, worksheets and exam questions for every skill required by the A Level Maths specification.
- Look to other resources like YouTube. My own YouTube videos can be found alongside the comprehensive library of questions by category I have compiled (click here).
- Once you think you are more competent in that area, go and do some exam questions by category on that topic to build fluency. As an A* student you should be doing more than just practising until you get a question right. You need to practise until it cannot go wrong!
- Once you have done all of the above, re-attempt the question that caught you out, and hopefully now it will seem a lot easier
4. Plan your revision time, but don’t over-plan
Having a good idea of the amount of time and time of day that you will be revising to get your A* in A Level Maths is a good thing, but you need to be flexible. I’ve seen many a student in the past become overly stressed due to feeling that because they have fallen half an hour short of their target time for A Level Maths revision that week that they have, in some way, let themselves down. Conversely, students may think that they have spent too much time revising A Level Maths in a particular week and to the detriment of their other subjects. Deviating from a plan is not a bad thing. Adapting to the situation you are presented with is a valuable skill, and if the situation requires you to do a little bit more work on your A Level Maths in a particular week, then so be it. Similarly, if you have an important deadline in another subject, A Level Physics, say, then that will probably mean you won’t get as much A Level Maths done in a particular week. As long as you roughly stick to your time allocations for each subject in the long run, slight deviations from your plan won’t cost you the A*. You can find a good A Level revision timetable creator here.
Screenshot from https://getrevising.co.uk
5. When the time comes to be doing past papers, do them from back to front
A warning; DO NOT DO THIS IN THE REAL EXAM. For revision purposes, however, it is great advice. You revise not only to consolidate what you already know, but to try and root out the topics that you are not completely comfortable with too. And doing papers from back to front (i.e. the most complicated questions first) will help you root out such topics more quickly, making your revision regime more productive and maximising the chances of you getting that A* in A Level Maths.
6. Make worrying about doing exam papers in timed conditions the last thing you do
If you try to time yourself before you are completely secure with the content then you are setting yourself up to become more stressed than is necessary. To maximise your chances of getting that A* in A Level Maths you should be relaxed and confident that the work you have put in so far has put you in a much better place that had you not done so.
7. Get red hot at integration
This is purely my opinion, but this is the topic in my experiences as a teacher that sets the A* students apart from the rest. There are so many different methods for integration that choosing the correct one can be difficult and time consuming in any given situation. For this reason you should make sure that you put plenty of revision time aside to tackle integration, particularly looking at textbook mixed exercises or the questions by category that I have collated.
8. Look to advice from others who’ve already achieved an A* in A Level Maths
The best person to ask is “that student in the year above who got an A* who’s now at Oxbridge”. They will be able to give you the best insight into the mindset and the dedication needed to achieve the top grade. There are also a number of former A Level Maths students who have kindly posted their advice on YouTube, the most prominent of which is the following video by UnJaded Jade.
9. Ask for help if you need to
Students often fall into the trap of thinking that revision is purely a solitary task. We teachers love to help students and one of the most valuable resources that you have to hand in your school/college is the help of your teacher. We have seen students get A*s and we know what to do to try and shape you into one of those students. And if you feel you need extra help, I do offer one-to-one and group tuition. You can find out more by clicking/tapping here.