A student asks… I need to get my grade up: HELP!

A student asks:

I'm currently getting a G in maths and I need to get a C within 6 months - what am I going to do? Help!

I wish I had a magic bullet for you, but I'm afraid the bad news is you'll need to work quite hard over the next six months to get your grade up. You can totally do it - but you'll need to put a big effort in.

So, here are my best tips...

1. Ditch the excuses

It's really tempting, when things go wrong, to look for excuses: I moved school, I had two weeks off sick, my teacher is rubbish, I don't have tiiiiiiime!

The hard truth is: even if those things are true, dwelling on them isn't going to get you your grade; you don't get a certificate that says "E (but had to move schools)". If you're behind, for whatever reason, it's up to you to catch up.

2. Break the problem down

You've got six months to improve by four grades - which means you'll want to be improving by a grade (roughly) every six weeks. In a linear foundation paper, that means you need to figure out how to get about four or five extra marks in the exam every week from now until the summer1

That doesn't seem as tough, does it? Every week, find a couple of types of question you don't know how to do, and find out how to do it. Test yourself every few weeks - draw a graph to track your improvement!

3. Look at your mock - carefully

A good way to figure out what to work on is to look at your mock paper and say "what did I get nearly right? and what went wrong there?" Go through and work out which questions you got right (and were confident about), the ones you got right (but were lucky), the ones you got wrong (but were unlucky) and the ones you got wrong (because you didn't know). I'd focus on the middle two areas first.

4. Ask for specific help

You've already done this by getting in touch - well done! You'll get better help if you ask people for specific help, though. Remember, the people around you want you to do well: your family, your friends, even your teacher. Ask them for help with a specific topic - and explain exactly what it is you don't get. If they say something unhelpful, like "I'm not good at maths," you should say "OK, then, I'll teach you!" and try to explain the topic to them.

If it's an option, you can look at getting hold of a private tutor to help you. I'm afraid I don't teach Foundation GCSE, but there's probably someone near you, and certainly someone online, who will. Try searching the Tutor Pages to see who looks affordable and good.

5. Manage your mistakes

I mess up all the time. It's part of the learning experience. The difference between a good mathematician and a poor one is often that the poor one says "I got it wrong, I must be rubbish at maths." The good one says "I got it wrong - that's interesting! Why was that?" If you make a mistake, see if you can figure out what's gone wrong - ask someone for help if you can't quite fathom it - and then put it right. You'll be surprised how much easier it is the next time!

6. Practise, practise, practise

Get into a regular habit of doing a few maths exercises, several times a week. Pick random chapters from your textbook, go on MyMaths if your school uses it, or you could even get hold of Basic Maths Practice Problems For Dummies2. The more you practise - especially if you manage your mistakes well - the better you'll do.

7. Believe!

I believe you can do it. You should be telling yourself "this is going to be hard, but I'm going to do it." Stay positive, remember your brain is just as brilliant as everyone else's, and then work your socks off.

Good luck!


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

  1. A G is typically about 50 out of 200; A C is 150; you have about 25 weeks, which works out to four marks per week... but aim for more to give yourself a buffer. []
  2. not that I think you're a dummy! It's just a pretty good book for getting up to speed with some Foundation GCSE-type questions - even if I say so myself []


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Where do you teach?

I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

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