Don’t rely on old GCSE revision guides hanging around the house for the new, tougher GCSE maths! The “9-1” specification has replaced letter grades (A* to G) with numbers, but this isn’t the only change — new topics have come in, others have been dropped, and the style of questions now puts greater focus on problem-solving. Here I take a look at some extra practice material now available , firstly from the perspective of parents wanting to give their children some more structure and support for their revision, and towards the bottom of the review there are particular recommendations for homeschooling.
EdExcel produce a blue-covered official Higher Tier revision guide which I strongly recommend. (There’s also an equivalent green Foundation tier revision guide — check with school or college to see which tier is appropriate for you.) The guide is well-organised and clearly structured, showing which grade each part of the book is pitched at: to aim for a 7, you can safely ignore most 8 and 9 topics but it’s vital to master the grade 5, 6 and 7 content. There are useful summaries and diagrams, and example questions that highlight common mistakes.
It’s an excellent book to recap from, as well as to organise revision around — it is easy to sort out what topics need more work, and ensure no topics are left out. Explanations are clear, but also short, so they work better as reminders rather than explaining something for the first time. If you need a book to learn topics from, not just revise them, or you need more of a refresher (e.g. if resitting GCSE after many years) then you should also invest in a good textbook.
Working through a revision guide consolidates key knowledge but can’t give vital practice for the exam — to secure your knowledge you need a source of questions to work through. This is where a revision workbook comes in handy to supplement past papers. The official EdExcel workbook closely matches the revision guide so they make a useful pair. There’s no need to work all the way through it, but to get up to exam standard on a weak area, it’s often worth targeting all questions in a section. Again, there is an equivalent green-covered Foundation tier workbook.
EdExcel also produce exam paper packs for both Higher tier and Foundation tier. While dozens of past papers are freely available online, they are almost all for the old syllabus and outdated! These papers have been written in the style of the new exams. Eventually there will be a good selection of 9-1 papers on the internet but until then these past paper packs are a useful alternative and I will recommend them, particularly for the later stages of revision. Helpfully they include full worked solutions, which are much easier to follow than the markschemes for most past papers online.
A popular alternative to the official books are the CGP guides, again available for Higher or Foundation. Students often find them simpler and more engaging than EdExcel’s — partly due to the humour, partly the step-by-way way topics are broken down.
These “Complete Revision and Practice” books contain revision summaries but also practice papers and worked solutions, though I felt EdExcel’s practice exams are more realistic. I’m not convinced CGP have got the balance quite right between keeping the book accessible, and preparing students for how tough the exam will be at the very highest grade levels, so students aiming for higher grades may be better to use EdExcel’s books. In fairness, CGP attempt to redress things with a separate Grade 9 Targeted Exam Practice Workbook that concentrates entirely on the very hardest type of questions. For someone whose target grade is 8/9, this is the only CGP book I would recommend.
What if someone needs lots of practice questions to gain skills and confidence? This is a common problem for homeschooled students, but also applies to anybody starting GCSE revision or tuition more than 12 months before the exam. Revision workbooks and past papers would run out far too soon. CGP usually publish slim revision guides, but they now publish far thicker entire coursebooks for GCSE and IGCSE (also available in green for Foundation tier).
For me, it doesn’t have enough explanations to be a good standalone textbook (the CGP revision guide can be a useful supplement to make up for this), but is an excellent source of practice questions. While most books with this many questions make them very repetitive, suggesting they were written in a lazy “copy and paste” way, this book impressed with the variety and ingenuity of its questions. Whenever I want an example of “what if the examiner changes the question around, and asks it this way instead?” there seems to be a variation of it here. A student with time to work through it has the chance to gain real mastery. You just have to be selective about which exercises and questions to take on — partly because there are so many of them, partly because some are based on the international IGCSE content which isn’t in the standard British GCSE. Overall this book has received strong praise from other tutors on its Amazon reviews. If I’ve got a year or two to prepare someone for GCSE, this would be my go-to book. Just don’t buy it as part of a last-minute revision panic!