Preparing students for resits

Julia Smith is a GCSE Maths resit specialist and AQA Expert Panel member. Here, she shares her tips on how to make a success of this year’s GCSE Maths resit exams.

Although this year they won’t be resitters!

I’ve put together a collection of ideas and considerations when contemplating curriculum design for your GCSE Maths resit groups for teaching from September 2020. This year, over any other, it will be a curriculum that connects with the fact that students have not yet had their first attempt at the GCSE. We will also be connecting in a very different way; online, blended and little face to face contact for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do? Actually, quite a lot!

November entry

The further away students are from year 11, the less likely they are to gain grade 4.

The very best time to resit is at the closest point to the year 11 exam. Data from the FFT Datalab analysis shows that in 2018 22.3% of 17 year olds gained a grade 4, while only 14.3% of 18 year olds did. In 2019, 21.5% of 17 year olds gained a grade 4 compared to 13.4% of 18 year olds.

Aim to put as many of your students as possible in for the November or January exam series. This means you have to hit the ground running as soon as you meet your cohort. Early diagnostic testing with the three AQA Basic Skills tests will identify gaps in the nine basic skills. Plug these gaps first with number work early on, as this will pay dividends in the first eight questions in the exam paper.

Assessment Objectives

50% of the foundation paper is testing Assessment Objective 1.

AO1: use and apply standard techniques. Students should be able to:

  • accurately recall facts, terminology and definitions
  • use and interpret notation correctly
  • accurately carry out routine procedures or set tasks requiring multi-step solutions.

Share this knowledge with students and emphasise what the focus should be in the final assessment. The first eight questions are crucial: they settle students into the exam, few errors should be made but often are, and students could pick up a lot of the marks they need to gain a grade 4 by being fluent with AO1 work.

Fluency of the basics – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, percentages, scale and ratio – requires student effort. Daily practice is key. Just half an hour of skills practice will benefit students in AO1 and there are multiple practice sites which will provide instant feedback.


You’re dealing with RHINOs – really here in name only!

This term, coined by Professor Susan Wallace means that attendance and engagement are crucial – even more so in an online space. Many students come to a resit class reluctantly; it’s not their main aim in being at college. How will you engage and encourage them to join you in an online space? Online certificates, coffee vouchers and stationery are some of the incentives on offer. National Numeracy tells us students have to value the qualification, have a belief they will pass it this time round and then put the effort in.

Daily maths

Practise until you can’t get it wrong; not simply until you get it right.

A little bit of maths every day, even just 20-30 minutes, is enough. Malcolm Gladwell in his 10,000 hours to become an expert study, proposed daily deliberate practice and mastery in order to become a world class expert. Half an hour of focused maths practice every day will pay enormous dividends for resitters. Padlet, a content curation site can offer somewhere for students to go for purposeful practice. Resources that provide answers will encourage self-study and self-assessment. All About Maths has many resources linked to a post-16 one year curriculum, that can also be used for this purpose.

Curriculum content

Students have seen enough maths to gain a grade 4, even a grade 5.

Your students should have seen enough maths during their time at school to enable them to pass comfortably. They just can’t do it all. They’ll have gaps in their knowledge and some misunderstandings. Focus your curriculum on what they can do and plug the gaps in what they can somewhat do. You won’t have time for much else, certainly nothing new until that work has been done. All About Maths has a list of topic areas to focus on initially.


Teach them how to revise.

A resit is all about revision; re-vision the maths so students see it differently second, third or fourth time round.

With only a few weeks to the November/January exam, it will be crucial students can start revising straight away, with a toolbox of materials that you are providing. But don’t assume they can revise. There is an excellent NCETM Revision Professional Development module you can use. It asks:

  • Why revise?
  • What can you revise?
  • When can you revise?
  • How can you revise?
  • Where can you revise?
  • Who can you revise with?

Mathematical methods

Any valid mathematical method gains the marks.

The DfE curriculum document states that ‘any valid mathematical method’ will gain the marks. This statement is a small one, but probably has the biggest impact for our resit learners.

Stephen Chinn (2007) tells us “if children don’t learn the way we teach, we have to teach them the way they learn” as he discusses teaching styles. We will be seeing students who, after 11 years of compulsory education, will have fundamental difficulties with the basics.

Fill your toolbox

Arm yourself with a toolbox of mathematical methods and digital tools to enhance the learning experience.

I could list 100 tech tools for you to consider; some create new content, some test and assess, some teach through video, some ask for learner response, some flip the learning. Consider just a few; one or two learner responses methodologies, one video teaching site, one or two practice question areas, and perhaps a visualiser too. Being able to demonstrate methods live is fundamental to online delivery.

Reports on the exam

Reports on the exam tell us what students struggle with – so teach that.

Key elements of your work should focus on:

  • using a compass, protractor and ruler
  • making numbers look like numbers and big enough to read
  • using a calculator
  • checking numbers have been copied correctly
  • estimating amounts and answers
  • drawing, plotting and interpreting graphs and charts.

We know this because the Reports on the Exam have told us where common difficulties apply.

The AQA resource Small change, big difference available on Teachit will be essential reading for you and for focused work with your students.