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What is GCSE Mathematics Coursework? Information for Parents and Students

By Nicholas Pinhey

(1) What is GCSE Mathematics Coursework?

The coursework element of GCSE Maths consists of two extended tasks (investigations), each worth 10% of the final mark. Altogether coursework is worth twenty percent of the Maths GCSE. One task is an Algebraic Investigation, and one task is a Statistical Data Handling Project. Each piece is done under the teacher's supervision in the classroom, not under exam conditions, so students are allowed to discuss their ideas with each other. Extra time is usually allowed at home, and the total duration is usually about two weeks. The teacher is allowed to support and direct the students, but the students will need to work more independently and be able to think mathematically for themselves, finding their own mathematical conclusions.

(2) What does the Maths Teacher do?

The maths teacher has to work differently during GCSE coursework tasks, as it is not possible just to tell the pupils what to do, or to give undue assistance. Some students find this change hard, as it means that they have to be less dependent upon their teacher for advice. The teacher can help the students (usually by asking questions) so the students can then come to their own conclusions about the work. The teacher can help the students stay on track but if the teacher has to give assistance and has to tell a student what to do, then the student is not eligible for those marks. The teacher can note any relevant verbal contribution if it has not been written down in the final written work. Usually the students own class teacher marks the coursework, using the exam board guidelines, and the marks are sent off to the exam boards in April each year.

(3) Why is GCSE Maths Coursework different from normal lessons?

GCSE Maths coursework is different from normal lessons as students have to work on a larger extended task, rather than answer lots of smaller questions from a text book. They also have to come up with their own questions about the task, which they then try and answer. The students need to work consistently over a longer period and also need to write down and explain what they are doing, and what they have found, using sentences (which pupils don't usually do in maths lessons).

(4) What are the most common problems faced by students?

Some students find adjusting to these more open-ended tasks quite difficult. Usually work in GCSE maths lessons is broken up into many smaller questions, whereas in maths coursework they have to break the task into smaller parts for themselves. (Teachers can help direct students, and help them with short term goals). Students often find it hard to think for themselves about what they should be finding out, as usually they are told what they should be doing - in GCSE coursework tasks, students need to come up with their own questions, which they can find very hard. This means it can take students longer to get started on each section. Some students also find it very difficult to write down everything that they have done and found out - it is a requirement that there is evidence of all the pupil's work. Students often don't finish because they take it too easy in the first week and then run out of time in the second week.

(5) How can students be helped with Maths GCSE coursework?

Although it may be tempting to help students, it is important that students are NOT told what to do by someone else. They can be asked questions about the work, and then they can use the answers they give to help them decide what to do next. It is important that undue assistance is NOT given, as their teacher needs to be sure that it is all the student's own work.

A problem can happen when a maths tutor, or another person, has given too much help to the student, who then hands in work of a much higher standard than usual. This is a common scenario for the maths teacher to sort out if undue assistance has been given. Usually this is the case when the language and methods used are different from those that were taught by the teacher. The teacher then has to find out which parts are the student's own work, and which parts they have had help on. If there is any doubt about whose work it is, then the coursework may be given a zero mark and the student's conduct investigated by the exam board. The best advice is to try and avoid this situation altogether: the pupil should see their own maths teacher if they have any questions, and to ask their teacher what they should do next. This way the maths teacher stays in touch with what they are doing and how they are doing it.

(6) Plagiarism

On no account should pupils use the internet and the pieces of coursework that are available there. Plagiarism is taken very seriously by the exam boards - if discovered, this would put into jeopardy all the GCSE exams that the student is entering. Possible warning signs to look out for are:

- a sudden increase in volume of computer printed work

- a different writing style or more mature use of vocabulary

- an unusual credit card payment (as payment is usually needed)

(7) Conclusions

Although Mathematics GCSE coursework is worth twenty percent of the final overall mark, it is not worth the student jeopardising their exam future by getting undue assistance in the form of extra help, or using coursework from the internet. The difference between these extra marks, and what the pupil could actually produce themselves, is usually quite small, and worth only a few marks. In any case it is certainly not worth the risk of what would happen if they were found out, so the student should do their own coursework tasks. Students should allow more time to complete coursework tasks as they take up more time than a usual homework.

(8) Revision is Four Times more Important

Even more important is the other 80% of the marks on the GCSE Mathematics exam papers. It is essential that the students have revised enough of the syllabus in order to get enough marks on the exam. When students are revising all their GCSE subjects, it is important to choose revision materials that will enable fast and efficient revision for each subject's exam.

Nicholas Pinhey is a leading teacher/author, and is the designer of fast Revision Cards for Intermediate and Higher GCSE Mathematics.

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