At this time of year students are going through past exam questions. It’s tough getting through the AS syllabus in time as the content is very heavy, and to make matters worse, the exam is very early (22nd May). I was somewhat relieved to see (it’s not only me having time problems), and have every sympathy for, Hannah O’Rourke who is an A level student and who writes in this week’s Education Guardian
- … stop and look at your teachers. They’re usually a surprisingly good indicator of whether you should start worrying. If they look calm, cool and collected, relax. My maths A-level exams are coming up in about three weeks and we still haven’t covered three chapters in the textbook, but my teacher’s not panicking, so I’m not panicking … yet.
Revision has highlighted a problem with recent AS papers. Instead of asking you to solve a problem directly the questions take you very slowly though the method required to reach the solution, dividing it up into a number of steps. This suits British students who have been used to answering GCSE questions written in this style. But international students find it confusing, particularly if the exam insists on using a particular method. They are used to being tested for their ability to find the most appropriate method to reach a solution.
Also, one question in a recent paper tells you that then asks you to use the Remainder Theorem to find the remainder when is divided by . The question is written this way because most British students are not taught long division of polynomials. However, international students usually have a much stronger algebra background and are tempted to use long division to find the remainder. But the examiners say:
- Some candidates clearly did not understand the meaning of the Remainder Theorem or the Factor Theorem and approached each of these by long division. They need to realise that when a particular method is stipulated in the question, any other approach is unacceptable.
I’m really not convinced by this – yes the Remainder Theorem is the easiest and quickest way to find the remainder, but what is wrong with using the (harder) good old long division? That technique should be encouraged.