It's now January so there a few months left before the summer GCSE Maths exams. With lots of other subjects to revise for as well as maths, good strategies are needed to help make best use of the time that has been allocated for your maths revision.

Past papers can be very helpful as they show the kind of questions that can be expected to appear. You have probably already gone through a past paper as one of your mock exams before Christmas.

I have spent some time looking through the Edexcel past papers for higher level GCSE Maths between 2012 and 2014 to investigate how many marks are allocated to each of the general subject areas number, algebra, statistics, geometry, ratio and graphs.

I looked at each question and decided which of the main subject areas it fell within and then made a note of how many marks were given for that question. Some questions required a bit of understanding from two or more of the main areas (e.g. algebra and geometry), so for those I allocated it to the subject area that would be used most in the answer.

The results are presented below in box plot form.

The raw data that went into the box plots is shown here in table form.

The box plots tell us which of the main subject areas are the most important, in the sense of which will give the most marks in the exam. The clear winner is algebra, with a mean number of 40.3 marks per paper. Geometry and statistics are next - they are fairly evenly matched and come in at a mean of 23.4 and 18.4 marks per paper respectively. The remaining subject areas graphs, number and ratio each have mean marks per paper of 6.6, 6 and 5.3 respectively.

The revision strategy suggested by this analysis is clear. Spend the bulk of your time to really understand and get good at algebra, then work at your geometry and statistics before brushing up on graphs, ratio and number.

However, a good understanding of number is required for all of the other subjects. Much of pre-GCSE arithmetic, fractions, decimals, square roots etc are expected to be understood well. Any student who struggles with the basic concepts of number will have trouble with more advanced algebra or geometry.

Ratio (which covers things like percentages, compound growth and unit conversions) is one of those areas of maths that is particularly useful in day to day life, so it is a little surprising that it is not featured more in the exam questions. At some point everyone needs to compare interest rates at different banks or calculate exchange rates before going on a holiday.

So if you want great marks in your GCSE Maths exam, work hard and become really good at algebra, then geometry and statistics!

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