Hints and tips - eight minute read
Following on from Neil Ogden’s blog Foundation or higher tier? Things to consider for GCSE (9-1) Mathematics, I will be looking at the range of OCR resources that teachers can use to help with GCSE (9-1) Maths tier entry decision making.
The table below summarises some of the key differences between foundation and higher tier exams:
*Grade 3 is awarded to candidates scoring a small number of marks below grade 4.
For higher tier, questions are not only pitched at the higher-grade range, but students are expected to know a wider range of topics and there is greater emphasis on topics that may be deemed more difficult, such as algebra. It also has a greater proportion of questions assessing reasoning (AO2) and problem-solving (AO3) than foundation
The higher/foundation split lies around grade 4/5. This is closer to the old B/C grade boundary for the legacy specification, which is a shift upwards from the former C/D split.
At least 20 marks worth of questions will be common to both tiers. These are set at the overlap grades of 4 and 5, so student performance in these questions can be very informative. If your students struggle to answer the overlap questions, they are unlikely to have a good experience with the higher tier exams. Likewise, if your students have weaker algebraic skills or struggle to access reasoning and problem-solving questions, the foundation tier exam may offer a better experience, allowing them to demonstrate their progress and build confidence.
A recommended approach would be to focus on gathering evidence on student performance in the following areas:
ExamBuilder is an extremely useful tool for creating bespoke assessments for your students and is completely free to use. You can quickly source questions from past papers (except those securely held on Interchange), the sample papers and three practice papers.
You can type in a key word to search for questions on something specific, or you can select questions by applying one or more filter. These are the most useful filters:
This allows you to create your own formative or summative assessments by extracting:
The mark schemes and examiners’ report comments for each question are also available for reference. Once you have created your test, you can export it to a Word file for further editing if you like.
You can also export entire past papers to Word documents, enabling you to adapt them to suit your specific needs. For example, you could change numbers to make questions easier or more difficult, remove questions on topics not covered, or shorten the paper length so papers can be administered in lesson time.
We’ve started creating examples of topic tests using ExamBuilder for each of the 12 content sections of the specification for both foundation and higher tier. We’ll add further tests as we produce them. There’s also a guide to help you create your own topic tests using ExamBuilder. The guide explains how to achieve the correct balance of questions and structure a test to reflect the overall assessment requirements for each tier.
We’ve published a complete set of Check In tests to use with students, available at initial learning, foundation and higher levels**. Zip folders of the tests are available from the bottom of each menu, along with a guide to using them.
**Sections 8.02, 9.03, 10.05 and 12.01 do not have an Initial learning test because there is no initial learning content. Section 7.03 has no initial learning or foundation test as it only has higher content.
Each test contains ten questions (plus an 11th ‘extension’ question) on a specific content sub-section. The content and level of demand of each test link to the three content columns in the specification.
The questions target the different assessment objectives. Each test is structured so that questions 1-5 are procedural (AO1), questions 6-8 are reasoning (AO2) and questions 9 and 10 are problem-solving (AO3).
The tests are available as Word documents, so you can edit them by amending the numbers to change the calculations required, or you can cut and paste questions from different tests together. This flexible design allows you to test by topic, level and assessment objective. Using the tests in succession also allows you to assess progress.
Section Check In tests are also available for each of the 12 content sections of the specification at foundation and higher tier. These are larger (20 question) tests covering a broader range of content. As with the Check In tests, the questions target the assessment objectives, and they can be used in similar ways.
Multiple sets of practice papers are available. Sets two and three are only available securely and have analysis grids available.
Alternative practice papers are amended versions of past papers. The wording and topics assessed are essentially the same as the original paper, but the responses students need to make will be different. Using both the alternative paper and the corresponding original question paper with your students at different points in the year will allow you to monitor how their learning has progressed in the time between the two papers.
Grades 1 to 4 practice materials may not be directly useful for tier entry decisions, but I have included them here for information. They can be used to support foundation students who are targeting grades 1 to 4, to build student confidence before attempting the standard foundation paper. They are made up of questions taken from previous series and there are two sets available.
Analysis grids are a ready-made tool for monitoring your students’ performance. Once you’ve done a mock assessment using our papers, the grids can provide an estimate of both class and individual student performance on the papers in:
Analysis grids are available for all past papers and practice paper sets two and three.
From 2020 onwards the grids have also been updated with a macro to help you export pdf files of individual student performance.
The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) provides baseline assessments to measure your student’s potential and measure progress. You can find out more about the Yellis assessment for 14-16 year old students.
You can find links to all of the resources discussed above, along with additional new resources, in the news article Extra support for maths teachers in 2020/21. Your students may find the foundation and higher revision checklists useful to maintain a record of what they can do and to reflect on their progress.
Please note that although the deadline for entries is 21 February every year, you do have a further two months until April to make any tier changes without charge.
If you have any queries, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths.
You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Ruth has worked in the OCR Maths team since 2014. Before joining OCR, Ruth taught maths in the UK, New Zealand, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Ruth worked on the development of the reformed A Level maths qualifications for first teaching in 2017 and she supports our Level 3 Maths qualifications.