Overcoming GCSE maths
Posted on 15th September 2019 at 16:57
My dyslexic daughter struggled with maths at school (as well as every other subject). She needed a C grade in Maths to pursue her hope to be a veterinary nurse.
I engaged a private maths tutor at great expense who, after a year of tutoring and 3 weeks before the GCSE exam, said my daughter would fail!
I decided we were not going to give up and I would help her myself, even though I am super- unconfident at maths. We worked for half an hour every evening on old exam papers.
At this point I discovered her school maths teacher had instructed her only to attempt the first 15 questions on the paper, which were the ‘easier’ questions. He said on no account should she attempt the ‘harder’ questions towards the back of the paper.
We started off by following this advice. Question 1 – in theory the ‘easiest’ question – was typically a problem which started with half a page of text (Mary is having a birthday party. She wants to make a cake. A cake needs 2 eggs, 200 grams of flour and 150 grams of butter. Mary buys a pack of 6 eggs, a 500 gram bag of flour.... etc etc – you get the gist). After five minutes of trying to make sense of the text, my daughter struggled through the arithmetic, referring over and over again to the lengthy paragraphs. It was painful to watch. Her confidence had already been completely knocked by all those words, and the words got tangled into the arithmetic, and after 20 minutes she would have got the whole problem wrong and be panicking because she had taken too long. Disaster.
But gradually it dawned on me that the first 15 questions had the most words in them. And that the ‘harder’ questions she was forbidden to try had the least words. So, with 2 weeks to go until the exam, we started working on the ‘hardest’ questions at the back of the paper, which might have only 1 word e.g. ‘Solve: 3x + 2y = 17; 4x – y = 30’.
Wow! What a difference! She could get straight into the maths, without any words. She didn’t get them all right, because she hadn’t had any practise in school over the last two years, but she would get the early steps correct, and each correctly written step attracted a mark. She started realising that she wasn’t as bad at maths as the school had always assumed, and her confidence grew.
It also dawned on me that this method worked for dyslexics for another reason: for the harder questions, the formulae were provided, but for the easier questions the formula was not provided. E.g. the formula for the surface area of a sphere was printed on the paper, but the formula for the area of a triangle wasn’t printed – you had to remember it. My daughter could not remember formulae very well, so the ‘easy’ questions in the first half of the paper about the area of a triangular garden plot were not easy for her. But in the ‘hard’ question at the back of the paper which asked for the surface area of a sphere, she could get a mark just for re-writing the given formula with the value of the radius (e.g. 3 cm).
So we worked exactly opposite to the teacher’s advice: from the back of the paper towards the front, picking out the questions with the least words (even after her maths teacher became angry with her for trying simultaneous equations during a practise lesson at school...).
She got a C, and she’s now training as a vet nurse. Since then I’ve tried to share this knowledge, but the school, maths teacher and maths tutor did not appear to be interested...
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