Personalised maths test to transform support for struggling students

Published: Friday 8 Mar 2024

A brand new personalised maths test will allow teachers to quickly pinpoint why their students are struggling.

AQA, an education charity that is England's biggest provider of GCSEs and A-levels, has been working on this approach for 18 months. It’s aimed at students in the first few years of secondary school or those preparing to study towards a maths GCSE resit.

Presently, many students aged between 11 and 16 years of age, and often from more disadvantaged families, struggle to make progress in maths. Earlier this week, a report by the Education Policy Institute think tank found that maths results from low income households are still lower than they were before the pandemic.

Part of the reason is that maths is hierarchical, which means, for example, that a student who struggles to get to grips with arithmetic in primary school will find solving equations in secondary school to be hard.

This new maths test, powered by adaptive technology that reacts to the answers a student gives, will allow a teacher to pinpoint gaps in a student's conceptual knowledge – saving the teacher time and empowering students who then know what they need to do to improve.

In the test, each student is asked between 30 and 40 questions from a bank of around 150 questions. The assessment analyses a student’s response and in turn offers the next question suited to their learning needs – this “Goldilocks” approach avoids questions that are either too hard or too easy, and quickly establishes a young person’s level of conceptual knowledge. This means that maths teachers know what they need to do to support young people to progress.

Fully funded by AQA, the test will be available to all schools in England from June, whether or not they are AQA customers. Schools and colleges will be able to register to use it from next month.

This maths test support:

  • is adaptive which means that it assesses a student’s accuracy and confidence in answering questions to determine how the test progresses
  • can be accessed by using a laptop or touch-screen device
  • has a choice of five topics from numbers, algebra, proportions, graphs or shapes – each test takes 20 minutes
  • empowers teachers to set the test when they think best for students
  • gives each student personalised learning content based on their results
  • offers rapid results to students and teachers – telling teachers straight away what they need to focus on to close knowledge gaps.

When AQA piloted the test, students told us that it helped to build confidence thanks to the rapid feedback. Students knew immediately which aspects of maths they needed to work on.

This maths test will help to embed digital testing in the classroom, and support schools to be more digital-ready. Last autumn, AQA was the first English exam board to set out plans, subject to Ofqual approval, to roll-out digital exams in an evolutionary, not revolutionary, way over a period of time. Today, AQA has said that it is continuing to talk to the regulator, school leaders, teachers and exams officers, and now plans to introduce digital Italian and Polish GCSE later.

Colin Hughes, AQA's CEO, said:

“I am delighted to offer this digital maths test to schools around the country. It will transform support for students and help teachers quickly identify gaps in conceptual understanding.

“We know that many students struggle in GCSE maths because they don’t have a firm understanding of its fundamental concepts. Students have told us that they find the new test engaging, since it offers rapid feedback that tells them what they need to work on.”

After the test, a student will receive a learning module that will allow them to strengthen their areas of weakness. AQA is also working on how this test data can be used at a large scale so that, for example, multi-academy trusts can see mathematical concepts students are struggling with across a wide number of schools.

Find out more about the AQA adaptive maths test

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