My Thoughts: Maths Non-Calculator Exam – 9 November 2011

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UPDATE: I later found out that my GCSE Maths result, with the calculator and non-calculator results combined, was an A.

Click here to read my thoughts on the calculator paper.

It’s true that, in the past, similar such ‘post-exam thoughts’ posts have appeared to suggest that I was certain that I’d failed, whereas when the results actually came through, I’d done a lot better. That said, I’ve never come out of an exam and wanted to burst into tears as much as I did after today’s Edexcel Maths Non-Calculator one.

As one would expect, my maths-teacher mother had worked tirelessly with me. Naturally, she’d warned me of the amount of time the A* pupils she’d tutored had put in in revision, and whilst I’d originally intended to start revising a year ago, in reality I didn’t begin proper until the end of the summer. Even so, I probably did spend just as long doing past papers and going over key areas as her candidates from last year did.

Yet despite this, today’s paper came as a shock. My friend Isa Nazir recently posted on Facebook "past papers = easy, real exam paper = hard….straight up". I’d boasted beforehand that I could do the first twenty of the thirty questions in as many minutes, but tended to get stuck completely with the last ten. Unfortunately, I knew before I began that it’d be a harder paper; this 100-mark exam had just 22 questions. A quick mental calculation averaged each question as worth just under five marks – a lot more than the average in the papers with more questions (and the same number of marks).

The first question was a lot harder than the first question of papers I’d done in the past. Whilst I don’t blame a lack of confidence for how difficult I found the paper, it certainly was a harsh question to start with. But it was only a sign of things to come: the exam tested me on subjects I’d never even learnt, let alone revised.

I have slow processing skills, and a five-mark question involving the reading of a road atlas extract, the conversion of distance (at a set speed) to time, and concluding with working out the estimated time of arrival having set off at 9:00am, saw me wasting valuable. Outside, after the exam, I joked with my friend Sarah Donlon that "It’s a pointless question anyway. Why can’t they just buy a TomTom? It’ll even plan the route for them too."

Unfortunately, despite how hard I found the paper, it’s not over yet. Ahead of me is a weekend of further Maths revision, this time for the calculator paper on Monday. But then, as this is the linear exam (sat six months early by the entire of Year 11), I’ve effectively completed KS4 Maths. That said, we’ll have to wait until after Christmas to find out the results of this and the next paper.


POST-EXAM THOUGHTS_The post-exam poll I created.

As usual, I used Facebook to poll my friends and classmates on their post-exam thoughts. Nobody had found it ‘easy’, or even ‘moderate’, but the largest percentage of people were slightly more positive about it than I.


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Andrew Burdett

Andrew Burdett is a 20-year-old from Maidenhead in Berkshire. A self-professed "lover of life", he enjoys a busy calendar of activities and engagements. With regular involvement in the Scout Association and his church, he was made Head Boy in his final year at school. After a gap-year spent as a Teaching Assistant at a local junior school, he is now half-way through his Journalism Studies degree at the University of Sheffield. In his spare time, he swims, reads, and enjoys writing about himself in the third-person.

20 Responses

  1. Emma says:

    Hardest. Freaking. Exam. EVER!!! I swear i revised everything and the questions were ridiculously hard. Now we’ve got the frickin calculator exam tomorrow… Looks like everyone found it hard though so hopefully the grade boundaries will be really really low :L Thanks for giving me hope:’) PLEASE DONT MAKE ME RETAKE EDEXCEL!!:L

  2. liam says:

    hi everyone, took the linear exam and my god was it hard. I had done a week of mocks and past papers, mostly getting A’s in them. However this was something else. Surds in triangles, do they want me to die. We hadn’t even covered most of the topics. The only question i actually liked was the ratio question and the probobility question at the end. Please let the calculator paper be easier

  3. zara says:

    I found the foundation quite easy but it did get alot harder towards the end but ive done alot of revision since then for the monday calculator exam. Good Luck!!!!!!!!

  4. tonybloke says:

    I am ‘second in science’ my wife is ‘head of maths’; we had to go out to dinner last night to debrief this exam as she was so distraught; never in 30 years of teaching has she seen such a bastard of an exam; our students were so up for it, attending extensive revision sessions, to be hit with a format of questions not seen before (for a long time); edexcel should be ashamed of themselves for their lack of transparency; this exam was set up for 15/16 year olds to ‘fail’! Schools now need to vote with their feet and go to an awarding body they can trust. Good luck to you all on Monday, no matter what has happend, keep your spirits up and accept there are some ‘sad’ bastards being allowed to determine your future. What relevance where the majority of these quetions challenging your mathematical skills needed/wanted by industry?

  5. Anna says:

    Because the specification is changing next year, Edexcel are doing a March entry as well this year. The new spec will be harder so it would be ebst to either get the grade you want in these exams or retake in March. Next November the paper will contain more functional skills based questions, which will be very wordy an worth up to 10 marks per question!

    Good luck on Monday!

  6. No worries. 🙂 I was told it was a probability of some sort which seemed easy until my friend explained the procedure. Turns out Edexcel succeeded in screwing over a whole lot of people. 🙁 Yeah I will, I’ll have to spend the whole weekend revising calculator topics after this.

    I sincerely hope they do. I didn’t attempt June’s paper but flicked through it and it was definitely easier than the one we did, although quite hard compared to the previous ones. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we can get something in the high 60s and low 70s in regards to grade boundaries.

    I will. 🙂 Good luck on your calculator paper. Nice blog you have 🙂

  7. Duffdude says:

    Do you think the calculator paper will follow on from this or will it be much easier?

  8. Hey Andrew,

    I completely agree with you. I went through the marks I was sure I got right and it was ~65. That put me down so much and the fact that everyone else found the exam hard wasn’t much of a reassurance. It seems the people that took it at my school weren’t the only ones finding it hard but how do you think the grade boundaries will pan out? Will the calculator paper be in the normal format or be much like the one we did today? I was gutted when I found out I missed the 6 mark question at the back after handing it in.

    This exam was a total disaster. 🙁

    • Hi Mohammed. Thanks for commenting. Despite seeing it, I couldn’t do the six-mark question on the back, so you won’t be missing out on any marks compared to me! I’d love to hear how you actually got on when you find out – perhaps you could post a follow-up comment?

      As for grade boundaries, I guess all we can do is hope and pray that they bend in our favour – if they move at all, I doubt highly that they’ll move in the opposite direction, given the level of negative feelings towards this paper.

      All the best! Andrew

  9. Aaron says:

    I always find with exams like this that my opinion seems to be opposite of the majority. If a test is viewed as easy, I probably struggled. And, just like today, if a test is considered difficult i’ll breeze through it.

    Today’s test had no surprise topics, no massively difficult questions and no silly mistakes.

    So, clearly that means I’ve failed. Unfortunately.

    • Hi Aaron. Thanks for commenting. I’m pretty sure that if you answered all the questions (as your comment suggests) then you’ll do better than people who, like me, couldn’t. I’d love to hear a follow-up comment, if possible, when you find out your results.

  10. Josh says:

    I posted this exact question/chat on Yahoo! Answers. You said that everyone seems to have found it easier than you, but that’s just bravado. People will either say “I don’t care” or they’ll say “that’s easy”. For example, in top set English last January people were saying “that was so easy” after they’d finished the exam and that they expect “at least an A”. What did they get? C’s. I prefer to either keep quite or play down my feelings so that I don’t look like a tw*t when I walk out with a C when i’m predicted A* Anyway, this is the question I posted on Yahoo Answers

    Anyone else do the Edexcel maths GCSE today?
    In all of the practice papers (one’s from previous years), I got either a high A or just scraped an A*, however i’m sure this paper was WAY harder than all the previous ones. Usually the grade boundries are 85%-90% for an A*, but in June 2011 it was only 72%. I honestly think that this (Nov 2011) exam is as hard if not harder than that one. The other thing that was annoying was that they’d changed the style of the paper eg only 22 questions, more practical etc

    I find the practical questions easy (percentages, ratios, money, conversion etc), it’s the algebra that normally tricks me. These were the questions that I found difficult (…well the ones I can remember):

    Q2 – 999^2 + 1001^2 I can work out the answer using a multiplication grid, but I could work it out using the sequence. We’ve never learnt how to do that and it’s not even in EDEXCEL revision guide!?!? Usually Q2 would be “find 15% of 200” or something

    That re-arranging formula one. I think i got x=square root(2p-2y/q)

    The surd triangle. I worked out the area of the triangle, but didn’t know how to express it in surd form

    That ***** of a quadratic formula…I factorisied it but couldn’t solve it when it equalled the other expression

    On a side note, I heard at least 10 people say that they missed the probability question out on the last page. Luckily I read the there were 22 questions on the front page, otherwise I would have probably missed it out too.

    Edexcel are trying to “make radical changes” to the GCSE, but they should at least publish a mock paper and update their revision guides when doing that! I’ve got the 2011/12 Edexcel revsion guide and it doesn’t tell you how to do most of the questions in that paper.

    After the exam, everyone said that it was impossible and even our teachers agreed! Hopefully I would have got at least 70% which should be an A minimum. What about you?

    • Thanks for your comment. Like you, I don’t like to say what I expect I got because, frankly, it’s a pointless exercise: as moving grade boundaries (based on national averages) allows somebody who left multiple questions out to get an A*, it’s impossible to say what I think I will get on my grade-card in January. And, let’s not forget there’s a whole other paper still to sit. I’d better get revising!

  11. Olivia says:

    I completely agree with you about the Edexcel exam paper. I found it incredibly hard. Much more harder than any recent past paper. Even when I done a mock on the June 2011 (which is a little harder than usual, specially the last couple of questions), I found today’s one so much harder. The layout, wording of the questions were different. Difficult. Coming out of the exams and talking to friends I found that I’d made so many silly mistakes, (mistakes that I do tend to make). I calculated how many mark I think I got it was hardly anywhere near what I usually get in the mocks/past papers.

    I was wondering whether you may know when the retakes are? And isn’t there a new specimen starting in June, will it be harder?

    • Thanks for your comment. I believe that this was indeed the last of the ‘old-style’ linear exam, due to be replaced with a style of paper requiring much more processing. Though the skills needed to answer the exam will be different, I think the core underlying maths will be the same.

      As for the date of that exam, it’s up to your education establishment to decide when to enter you, but I don’t think there’s a similar exam with Edexcel until the summer exam period.