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Five tips for supporting A-Level maths learners

Five tips for supporting A-Level maths learners


An A-Level has a recommended number of guided learning hours of 360 hours over two years; 180 each year. This breaks down to around 5 hours per week of guided learning hours (the time spent with a teacher literally at the front of the class). However, for each hour of teaching, it is reasonable to assume that a student needs to commit to between 30 minutes and 90 minutes of private study to allow digestion of the material and completion of any associated work.

This gives somewhere between 180 and 540 hours of private study for an A-Level in maths. (of course, given that students are regularly studying four A-Levels, this means that students need between 720 and 2080 hours of private study on top of the 1440 hours of guided learning time.

What does this mean in real terms; well four A-Levels correspond to 20 hours a week, with between 10 and 30 hours of private study on top of the guided learning hours. Essentially, this means that the A-Level courses represent a commitment of at least that of a full-time job, and probably significantly more.


Your student is doing close to a full time job AFTER they arrive home, in terms of their private study. During furlough, many of us carved out a niche space to allow ourselves to work from home – have you done something similar for your student? If they don’t have a space to complete their work, how can they reasonably be expected to perform? The joy of mathematics at A-Level is that one is relatively unencumbered with requirements for success, but there are some, and one is space.


Get them a decent lever arch file and a secondary file for taking to college… and punch reinforcers – why two files? Because from personal experience, at least once a term a student inadvertently leaves their maths folder on the college bus. And it is lost. Forever. (usually because they’ve been trying to cram in an extra 30 minutes of study). With a two file solution, they only risk losing about one month’s work – rather than two years’ worth.

(Depending on the requirements of the school, I would instead suggest hardback books for their note taking – but not all schools permit this - I love moleskine books and have all the notes I've taken in lectures since about 2010, all my lesson plans, examples and lecture plans that I've ever made - which admittedly take up a fair bit of space!)


Obviously student need pens, pencils and paper; the more complicated question is that of the necessity of a graphical calculator.

It is true that a student doesn’t need a graphical calculator – but this is very much like saying you don’t need a JCB for preparing the foundations of a house and that it can be done with a spade. It’s a completely true statement, but you’ll be slower, less skilled at using technology and exhausted by the time you come to start the next task.  

As a counterpoint, you also need to be taught how to use both the JCB and graphical calculator or calamity can ensue (with that in mind, if I get sufficient interest, I’ll dedicate a region of my website to effective calculator use).

Buying a graphical calculator is something of a minefield (the JCQ regulations can be found here (page 19)) but I would suggest you buy the one recommended by the college, if however, the college doesn’t recommend one – which indicates the college won’t offer effective training in their use, then I would recommend either the Casio fx-9860GII  (~£70) or the Casio FX-CG50 (~£110). Be careful to buy one that is permitted, there are some graphical calculators that do some advanced algebra and are significantly cheaper, but are not permitted in the exams. 


Tuition is a complex issue. I offer private tuition through but acknowledge that it is not necessarily a solution for all.

I have had a lot of experience of students wanting tuition to, in some sense, reduce the amount of work they need to do, whereas in reality, for every hour of tuition I provide, I would expect a student to do an additional two hours of study.

Private tuition works best when highly targeted at individual issues that a student is struggling with, not as a general solution to a poor grade! In many cases, a student would be better to just do a few hours extra private study than to hire a tutor. Having said all of that, a tutor can help focus a student on what they need to do to improve, and an hour of tuition may be a better solution than a student wasting five hours on an intractable topic!