How to Pass IGCSE Maths exam: Options and Strategies

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IGCSE Maths exam … these words cause a mix of excitement and fear in many students. And it’s clear why – the sheer number of concepts, calculations, and formulas to master can feel overwhelming. But whether you need a good grade to pursue further studies in a Maths-related field or your dream university requires a strong Maths foundation, or you just want to get a pass,  achieving your goal isn’t something impossible. With this guide on how to pass IGCSE Maths, you’ll learn strategies and tips to ace your exam.

Before we dive into tips and tricks, let’s take a moment to understand the exam itself.

IGCSE Maths Options

The IGCSE Maths exam offers two options for different skill levels and academic goals. Both are available across the major exam boards, though the names slightly differ:

  • Cambridge: Core and Extended Levels;
  • Edexcel: Foundation and Higher Tier;
  • Oxford: Core and Extension Levels.

A Foundation/Core tier is a great option for students who only want to focus on the fundamental mathematical concepts. It covers the most essential topics and provides practical skills for further studies that don’t require advanced Maths. The highest grade you can receive in Foundation/Core is a 5.

Higher/Extended tier is a better option for further education paths that demand strong mathematical skills. It takes a closer look at complex concepts and helps develop a more analytical problem-solving approach. It is also the right choice for students who excel in Maths and want to receive the highest grade (9/A*).

Before picking either tier, it makes sense to think about your academic goals and interest in solving Mathematical problems.

What Topics are Found in the IGCSE Maths Exam

The IGCSE Maths exam covers a range of topics to assess your mathematical knowledge and problem-solving skills. The specific topics you’ll get on the exam will depend on two factors:

  • Exam Board. Cambridge, Edexcel, and Oxford AQA have their own syllabus (although there’s a lot of overlap in their content). The good news is that the exam content is based on the official syllabus of your exact board. Therefore, there won’t be any unexpected topics in your exam papers.
  • Level. You’ll take either the Foundation/Core or Higher/Extended level exam. Each level features a different set of topics and depth of understanding.

So, taking these factors into account, there is a list of topics you might encounter on your IGCSE Maths exam (Zoom in):

IGCSE Maths exam in Cambridge, Edexcel, Oxford

IGCSE Maths Exam Grading System

The IGCSE Maths exam uses different grading systems depending on your exam board.

  • Edexcel uses the 9-1 grading system for all IGCSE subjects. According to the grade scale, 9 is the highest score and 1 is the lowest. The minimum grade for university entrance is the so-called “standard pass”, which is 4.
  • Oxford AQA exam board follows the same 9-1 grading system where 9 is the maximum and 1 is the minimum.
  • Cambridge offers two grading systems. Which one applies to you depends on your school:
    • 9-1 System is similar to the previous boards – 9 as the top score and 1 as the bottom. Here too, 4 is the minimum passing grade. This system applies to the Cambridge 0972 IGCSE Maths exam.
    • A*-G System uses A* as the highest grade, G as the lowest, and C as a passing grade. This applies to the Cambridge 0625 IGCSE Maths exam.

How to Prepare for IGCSE Maths

Now you know which options and topics you can expect on your exam. Now let’s talk about how to pass IGCSE Maths. The following tips will help you make the most of your revision time and approach D-Day confidently.

Plan Your Revision Schedule

Your IGCSE exams will come up sooner than you think. With the little time you have for revision, it is important to plan everything wisely.

First of all, you have to realise that you can’t cram everything in at the last minute. This is the road to failure. Instead, it makes sense to break down your revision into manageable daily or weekly tasks. This way, you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed and keep yourself motivated throughout the process.

While repetition is important, it can get boring. That’s why reading and practising with Maths questions is not enough. What you should do to keep your revision sessions effective is use a variety of study methods. For example, you can try to explain concepts to a friend (even if they’re imaginary!) or create mind maps, diagrams, flashcards, etc. Variety keeps things interesting and helps the information stick in your head.

Having said that, revision isn’t only about learning. Keeping a healthy lifestyle during your exam season is much more important. First of all, you need to ensure that you get enough sleep. After all, a well-rested mind is a sharp mind.

Also, don’t forget to fuel your brain with nutritious meals and snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the day. Don’t forget to schedule some regular exercises, too, since they are a great way to de-stress and improve your focus.

Pay Attention to the Topics You Don’t Understand

A revision leading to a good score in your IGCSE Maths exam starts with a plan that considers your priorities, strengths, and weaknesses. We suggest that you look closely at all the topics you have already learned during your two years in high school and break them into three categories:

  1. Challenging topics. There are topics you struggle with or don’t understand at all. But even though some material isn’t to your liking, it doesn’t mean you can skip it. What if you get one of these tough questions on your exam? Are you ready to lose marks just because certain topics seem too complicated? No! What you really should do is study them even harder. Start your revision with the topics you feel less confident with and give them up to 50% of your revision time. It is a good idea to break down the most complicated ones into smaller, more manageable sections and slowly but surely figure out what they are all about.
  2. Topics that need polishing. These are areas you have a basic understanding of but could benefit from more studying. Make sure you give around 30% of your revision time to improving your knowledge of key concepts and clearing up any uncertainties.
  3. Topics you understand well. Although you’re confident in these areas, you must include them in your revision schedule. This can help you refresh your memory and catch any forgotten details.

Practice Questions from Past Papers

Past papers are excellent tools when it comes to identifying gaps in your knowledge and concepts you’re struggling with.

To do so, answer a few past papers, assess your performance, and see where you were wrong. If you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, it means you need to spend more time revising that topic or even studying it again from a different angle.

How to pass IGCSE math

By working with past papers, you can also understand the exam process. Even though the questions change every year, you can get an idea of what to expect on your upcoming exam – the types of questions, how many marks they’re worth, how much time you have to answer them, and so on.

Dive Deeper into Mistakes You Have Made

They say that we learn from our mistakes. It’s certainly true for studying for your IGCSE Maths exam. Looking at the mistakes you made on past papers can make you see where you need to work harder. But past papers aren’t the only things that can help you improve.

The whole two years of your studies can give you a lot to think about. Every homework assignment, every class test, every project you got a grade for – all of this is something you can learn from. Look closely at your mistakes, especially the ones you keep making. If you don’t understand why you lost marks or what you did wrong, ask your teacher. They should be able to explain what was incorrect and how you could have solved the problems better.

As we have said, your Maths mistakes show your weak areas. Once you know where they lie, you can plan your revision better. Don’t think of them as something negative as they are your chance to grow as a mathematician.

Seek Help from a Tutor

Your Maths teacher is there for you. When you have questions or something is unclear, they should be the first ones you ask. Oftentimes, however, they just don’t have enough time to give everyone one-on-one attention. Moreover, their teaching style might not exactly match your learning style.

If you feel that there are gaps in your knowledge and you are not able to bridge them with the resources available, our best advice is to seek help from a professional tutor.

You’re not quite sure which topics to focus on during your revision sessions? Let a tutor assess your knowledge and pinpoint the areas you’re lagging behind. Then they will be able to suggest a plan to maximise your chances of receiving the grade you hope for.

The biggest benefit of hiring a Maths tutor is their individual approach. Thanks to their enormous experience and passion for Maths, they can explain things in a way that makes sense for YOU. They’ll figure out how you learn best and adjust their teaching to match your needs.

Getting extra help from someone knowledgeable and friendly can give you more confidence when it’s time to sit your Maths exam. At TutorsPlus, we take pride in our team of talented Maths tutors. Not only that, but they are also experienced teachers and examiners. That’s why they know the criteria for the top grade and can guide you to reach it.

General Tips to Help You Pass IGCSE Maths

The exam is already tomorrow and you’re still not sure if you’re going to get through it? Here is one more set of tips on how to pass IGCSE Maths – this time they concern the exam day itself.

Try not to Be Nervous and Trust Yourself

You’ve put in the hard work and studied diligently to ace your exam. But then, you pick up the exam paper, scan the questions, and a wave of panic washes over you. Your mind goes blank, and all those months of preparation just go down the tubes.

Exam stress is a real thing. Unfortunately, it has a great impact on your performance. The fear of failure and the uncertainty of the exam can contribute to anxiety and nervousness. These emotions impair your memory and make it difficult to focus.

While it’s impossible to eliminate stress entirely, you can certainly minimise its negative effects. The key here is to prepare yourself for the exam pressure long before the exam day.

Regular practice is what you need to build confidence and get to know the exam format. Thanks to past papers, you can simulate the actual exam experience and develop a better sense of time management.

Visualisation is another great tool to boost your confidence. Imagine yourself walking into the exam hall prepared and focused. You take your paper and successfully answer each question. You calmly review your work and hand it in your paper with a sense of accomplishment.

Positive affirmations can also reduce the level of stress. Instead of dwelling on what you might not know, focus on your ability to tackle the challenges ahead. Remind yourself that you’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to showcase what you know and what you can do.

In the weeks before your exam ensure that you get enough sleep and have the right diet. Right before the exam, go to bed earlier and eat a healthy breakfast in the morning. A well-rested mind and a nourished body will enhance your focus and overall performance.

Manage Your Time Wisely

It doesn’t matter how much you know if you can’t showcase your knowledge within a limited timeframe. This means that besides a solid grasp of Maths concepts you need to develop your time management skills.

You can get comfortable working against the clock by practising with past papers under timed conditions. Set a timer for each section and answer the questions as quickly and accurately as possible. As you do it, take notes on how much time it took you to answer certain types of questions.

After you answer and analyse a few past papers, you’ll start noticing patterns in terms of time requirements. Some questions will naturally take longer than others.

Use this knowledge on exam day to prioritise the questions you know you can answer quickly and efficiently. If you get stuck on a tough one, don’t waste precious time – move on and come back later. Such time management practices will ensure that you waste no time and attempt all the questions on the exam.

Pay Attention to the Answers You Write

Don’t rush to provide answers as soon as you get your Maths exam paper. Instead, take your time to read each question carefully. Make sure you understand everything it asks before you start writing as missing key details can lead to incorrect answers. This means you will lose marks even though you know the underlying concepts.

You should pay close attention to the command words used in each question. These words tell you exactly what the examiner is looking for in your answer. For example, ”write down’ requires you to provide the final answer without showing your calculations. On the other hand, ‘Work out’ means that you need to show your working and thought process clearly.

How to Prepare for IGCSE Math

If you show your calculations when it is not needed, you will waste valuable time that you could use on other questions. However, if you fail to show your process with ‘work out’ type of questions, you will lose marks.

No matter which type of questions you’re working on, you need to present your answer in a logical way that an examiner can easily understand. A well-organised answer sheet can make a big difference – even if you weren’t 100% correct, a clear approach can still earn marks.

Last but not least, pay attention to units, decimal points, and rounding. It would be a pity to get fewer marks for right calculations with wrong units.

Check Your Calculations

Once you’ve finished your paper, don’t hand it in right away. Take a few minutes to look through your answers once again. This is your chance to catch careless mistakes that could cost you marks.

If your paper allows using a calculator, don’t ignore the opportunity. It’s not worth wasting your time on complex calculations, which you can do with a few button presses. However, if time allows, it might be a good idea to redo calculations manually. If the answers don’t match, there is a chance that you’ve missed something. Double-check to identify where you were wrong.

How to Pass IGCSE Maths Exams: Conclusion

These were our strategies and tips on how to pass IGCSE Maths exams with minimum stress and maximum efficiency.

Summing up, there is no magic recipe for success. You need to study hard, and, at the same time, wisely. Your priorities are revision with a focus on reducing your weak areas and practising with past papers. If something is not clear at all, don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows Maths better – your teacher, a friend, Maths forum users, or one of our IGCSE Maths tutors.

TutorsPlus takes pride in our team of knowledgeable and friendly tutors who have guided dozens of students to their success. You might struggle to comprehend Maths concepts, not sure how to apply those concepts to solve problems, or can’t cope with the time pressure associated with timed exams. Whatever your stumbling block is, we can help you overcome any obstacles.

So, are you ready to ace your IGCSE Maths exams? Our tutors are at your disposal, just contact us at info@tutorsplus.com or 022 731 8148.

By Sara Lloyd

Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for 15 years, and is an expert on international IB education.  She is also a parent of two lively children.

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