As part of the new, more challenging GCSE Maths that will be taught in schools from 2015, all students will have to handle more open-ended questions which can be tackled in more than one way. While some assessment will look familiar to current students, there will be a reduction in the number of ‘closed’, short questions and fewer formulae on exam papers.
OCR’s trial involved nearly 300 Year 12 students, who had recently completed their GCSEs at the end of Year 11, attending seven schools in different parts of the country.
The majority of the trial focused on questions aimed at reasoning, interpretation, communication and problem solving. Students worked through a pack of five new style questions in a 30-minute test. One part of the trial focused on statistics in which students took two longer new statistics questions. The findings from the trial will help to shape OCR’s new GCSE Maths.
Eddie Wilde, OCR Head of Maths, commented: “As part of our development of a relevant and resilient new GCSE in Maths, we’ve focused on the role of the questions themselves in supporting and encouraging higher mathematical skills. Currently, many statistics questions expect candidates to routinely process data, for example, and they don’t really assess statistical reasoning and interpretation at all. We want to change how statistics is assessed within Maths at GCSE. Our trial will also help us find ways for all students to deal with unseen problem solving and differentiate between the most able.”
Two questions from the trial to exemplify the new approach are given below. In contrast to current exam questions, the problem-solving question is an unstructured multiple-step problem that requires candidates to make connections between different parts of mathematics. The statistics question starts in a familiar way, but goes on to encourage candidates to interpret and explore.
Feedback from Maths teachers in the trial has been positive, with many commenting that new style questions would fill a gap in current assessment methods. Resources and extra guidance would be needed, teachers felt, to help students prepare for the more open-ended questions. Faced with an unfamiliar style of ‘wordy’ maths questions, most students enjoyed the challenge.
Tuxford Academy in Nottinghamshire was one of the schools involved in the trial. Jenny Taylor, the Academy’s Associate Principal, Maths, said: “We know that the new Maths GCSEs will focus on testing problem solving but are unsure as to the way this will be done. As a teacher, this is quite worrying. Seeing these questions, but more importantly, the way our students reacted to them, has been a valuable insight.
“We are very careful at Tuxford to review our teaching methods,” she said. “We are now making sure that every Maths teacher here is not only teaching problem solving but that it’s integrated into every lesson. It will be easy to support students in this by teacher, peer and self-assessment, so seeing the style of these questions has opened up lots of possibilities.”
Mark Dawe, OCR Chief Executive, concluded: “We are encouraged by the results of the trial, which will help to underpin the new approach to GCSE Maths. Teachers can rest assured that OCR will provide all the necessary support – classroom resources, face-to-face training and email updates – to enable as smooth an introduction as possible of the new approach, for teachers with different teaching styles and with different levels of maths specialism.”
The development of OCR’s new Maths GCSE is taking place with the expert input of OCR’s subject forums and advisory groups, made up of teachers, university academics, subject associations and employers. The new qualification will be supported with innovative resources from key partners to help teachers to meet the challenge and successfully introduce the new Maths into the classroom.
For more information, visit our GCSE and A Level reform pages.