Establishing the basics for GCSE Maths

When I meet a new GCSE Maths tutee, the first thing I ask them to do is a skills check. They shouldn’t view this as a test; they can look things up and take their time, doing it over two or three short sessions if they choose. The aim is to identify any gaps in the basic maths skills that they should have covered before the end of KS3. Most of it should be fairly straightforward, but even with a very able student I can usually show them one or two things they didn’t already know.


Skills that they are asked to demonstrate within GCSE Maths – including showing valid methods of working, and without using a calculator – are:

  • Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (including long multiplication and long division)
  • Using place value to sort positive and negative numbers into order
  • Rounding to a specified degree of accuracy (nearest 10, nearest tenth, 2 decimal places, 3 significant figures)
  • Order of operations (BIDMAS) to evaluate an expression
  • Fractions: finding a fraction of an amount, working with equivalent fractions, arithmetic with fractions
  • Finding simple percentages of amounts
  • Multiplying and dividing with decimals
  • Solving simple equations

maths book and pen - GCSE MathsYou may think that some of these skills are of little use in the real world, but even if that were true, they are still examined at GCSE… and some of the techniques – for example arithmetic with fractions – will be needed if the student goes on to study Maths at a higher level. It’s surprising how many students starting the A-level Maths course can’t remember how to add two fractions with different denominators!

At the student’s initial consultation we’ll go through the exercise – which ideally they’ll already have worked through beforehand – and identify the gaps in their knowledge, addressing some of them there and then.

We’ll also discuss any areas of the GCSE Maths course that they feel need particular attention, either because they have struggled with the material or because they have missed out on teaching, perhaps due to illness or a change of teaching set.

We will of course cover all the topics in the relevant exam specification (provided that there is enough time left before the exams), but this initial discussion allows me to plan for that particular student’s immediate needs.

Maths should make sense, and a good tutor can be a great help here. If the basics don’t make sense to the learner then what hope do they have of getting to grips with the harder material in the exam specification?


Lynne is a recommended TeachAllAboutIT Tutor. Her profile can be found here, or you can visit her website B28MathsTutor.

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