Tag Archives: underachieving in maths

7 Reasons Why Students Underachieve In Maths

Here is a summary of our GCSE results, as a whole:

gcse maths results uk

As you can see, approximately 40% of students fail the subject altogether. 50% of students get an average C/B grade and only 10% score a top A/A* grade. This means 90% of students are underachieving in their maths exams.

So why do a large majority of students underperform in their maths exams? After working closely with a number of students in the past, I’ve identified 7 reason why:

  1. Students are not applying themselves at home: At school, students are engaged, working hard and making progress but as soon as they go home, revision and results both decline. This is due to a lack of guidance at home and not having the right resources. There are many resources out there on the market but most of them fail to provide clear instructions on how to boost one’s grade in GCSE maths. Almost every resource focus on just one aspect of revision; for instance, mastering a particular topic but do not consider the revision process as a whole. Remember, revision consists of several elements and each one of these have to be addressed accordingly to get the best results. My revision program, on the other hand, addresses all of these elements and provides a clear path on boosting one’s maths grade. He/she has to simply complete task 1, 2, 3 and so on and their result will improve.
  2. Students do not follow a scientific approach to their revision: This is crucial if students want to boost their GCSE maths grade. By a scientific approach, I mean students have to track their results as they go along and critically analyse whether they’re making progress or not. The only way a student can measure their progress is via results in practice papers. It’s very simple. If results in past papers improve, they’re making progress. If they don’t improve or they go down, they’re falling behind. There has to be a stronger focus on past papers because this is the only way we can determine a student’s progress.
  3. Students partake in inefficient revision activities: Writing notes from a large textbook is the most inefficient activity a student can partake in and it has virtually zero impact on results. Why? Because it can take you hours to write notes on a section in a revision guide yet you only retain 10% of what you’ve just written. It’s only when you read over the section a second time around, it begins to stick. This is highly inefficient. Students spend too much time on writing notes without dedicating as much time to the application-side of revision. It’s only through application, students will identify their weaknesses, rectify them and therefore, grades will improve. In my revision program, I rewrote the entire syllabus in note-form so students don’t have to worry about taking notes. They just have to read over it and thus, they’ll immediately cut their revision time in half. This will allow them to dedicate more time to the areas that will directly improve their results – past papers and review.
  4. Students are not reviewing their work: At present, students are not reviewing their past papers as much. Answering a past paper without marking it is as beneficial as not doing the past paper in the first place. Why? Because students will never know where they went wrong. If they don’t know where they go wrong, how will they ever address their weaknesses? Consider this scenario. If I gave a student 10 past papers to complete, one after the other, without spending any time on reviewing their work, what will happen? He/she will get the same result in every paper. Hence, no progress. This is because, after each paper, they did not spend any time identifying and rectifying their mistakes. This is why I feel reviewing your work is more important than completing the past papers themselves. Students should review their own papers. They should not leave this duty to their teacher or parent. They must see, first hand, where they’re going wrong and why.
  5. Students do not know how to revise for multiple exams: In this day and age, it is unlikely for a student to take a single maths exam. They have many other GCSE exams to revise for. As students don’t know how to balance-out revision, results decline across the board. Obviously other exams have affected the validity of my program in the past because it was geared towards students taking a single maths exam but I recently added a bonus guide to my program on ‘How To Maximise Your Result in Every GCSE Exam’. This guide contains a set of guidelines for students to follow in order to balance-out revision. Students have to follow them and their results will improve across the board.
  6. Students are focusing too much on the negative aspect of revision: There is no doubt about it. Revision is a tedious process. Students have to do the ‘nitty gritty’ in order to boost results. If they don’t, results will not improve. It’s important not to ‘glamorise’ revision because students will gravitate towards this belief. They feel revision should be fun or they will not bother to do it. How do we overcome the tedious nature of revision? The simple answer is we can’t but what we can do is stress the importance or the euphoria of good results. For instance, how would you feel if you achieved an ‘A’ grade in maths? What would it lead to? Eligibility to study A-levels or get a specific job? In my program, I provide a number of motivational techniques I used to get through revision with ease during my school days. We already know that the theory section of my program is written in note-form and that the student does not have to take any notes themselves. This will immediately cut their revision time in half so they can spend time doing other things they enjoy. By giving away all of the above in my program, students will see why revision does not necessarily have to be a painful experience.
  7. Students are simply confused: I get asked frequently, “Jeevan, how shall I revise? What is the best resource to use?” There are far too many resources out there: YouTube, revision websites, CGP textbooks, MathsWatch etc. ‘They’ say the more resources, the better. I totally disagree. Too many resources are not good for the student. It only causes confusion and confusion leads to poor results. What students need is a simple resource to refer to when learning a new concept or answering past paper questions. That’s why I created: GCSE Maths in Four Weeks. I gathered all the information you need to achieve a top grade in GCSE maths, condensed it right down and presented it in a way which is easy to read and digest. A student simply has to follow it and their maths results are guaranteed to improve. The danger with these other resources (YouTube, revision guides, MathsWatch) is there is little application on the student’s part. Reading and watching videos endlessly does not lead to better results. Continuous application through the use of a pen and paper does.

Why You’re Conditioned To Underachieve In Your Maths Exams

I touched upon this issue briefly in my video, but I felt a more detailed explanation was necessary.

One of the reasons why you’ve been conditioned to underachieve in your maths exams is due to advice given by your peers and teachers. Us human beings have a tendency to imitate what others around us are doing. We see somebody or hear about somebody writing notes from a revision guide and we feel it’s the right thing to do. However, if somebody else is doing it, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. It’s kind of like the ‘if he/she jumped off a bridge, would you?’ Writing notes from a revision guide is one of the most inefficient activities you can do during revision. When you’re revising, you have to weigh up activity against time. Time is your most valuable asset and you cannot afford to waste it on activities that will not directly improve your grades.

The reason why note-taking is impractical is because you won’t remember everything you’ve written down on the first occasion. You could spend hours writing notes on a few chapters from a revision guide yet you’ll only retain 10% of what you’ve just written. It’s only when you revisit those chapters several times and make additional notes, it begins to stick. You’re probably experiencing this right now in your revision. Thus, note-taking is not a good memory retention tool from the outset (and remember, one of the key ingredients for exam success is memory!) In my revision program, I flip the typical revision process on it’s head. I advise my students to write notes at the end, just days/weeks before an exam. You may think we’re leaving it too late but believe me, this is when note-taking is at it’s most effective.

You’re conditioned to underachieve in your maths from an early age; as soon as you begin year 4/5. This is because the school divides the year group into sets of varying ability. For instance, the high attaining students are in the top set, average attaining students are in the middle sets and low attaining students are in the bottom set.

China, on the other hand, don’t believe in this philosophy. Their classes hold up to 50 students of mixed ability. I agree with this approach because it places everybody on a equal footing. Views such as “I’m in a lower set so I can’t achieve an A grade” do not exist. Instead, every student is pushed to achieve the best grades. That is why Chinese students do exceptionally well in their studies in comparison to British students. As a matter of fact, when Chinese students reach 16 years of age, they are already 3 years ahead of their British counterparts.

An experiment was carried out in Bohunt School (Hampshire) recently to see if the Chinese way of teaching would outperform the British set-up. You may have seen it on TV. The programme was called ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough?’ and it featured on BBC Two. Five Chinese teachers took over a class of 50 year 9 students for four weeks. When the results were released, the Chinese teachers won by a clear distance.

Segmenting students based on ability is a dangerous thing to do because if you happen to fall into one of the average/low achieving sets, they’re instilling the belief in you that you’re ‘just an average achieving student’. By setting you lower level work and assessments, it’s difficult for you to strive for the best grades. After a while, you are convinced that this is the level you should be working at and the best grades are simply out of your reach. This belief stays with you throughout your school life and as a result, you only achieve mediocre grades such as B’s, C’s and D’s. Mediocre grades will seriously jeopardise your career prospects in the future.

This doesn’t happen to everybody, however. In rare cases, the student can overcome this perceived view about their ability. I was an example of this. At school, teachers used to say repeatedly that I wasn’t working hard enough (I’ll come to this in a minute) and I would underachieve in my maths exams but I never let this go to my head. I was confident in my ability and I ‘knew’ I was going to score top grades. This is because I understood the revision process really well. I knew what activities would directly improve my grades and which ones didn’t. There were students in my class who worked around-the-clock yet still underachieved in their exams and there was me who put in half the amount of effort and scored very good grades.

It’s crucial to have a positive outlook on your studies. Don’t let the predictions of others or teachers get the better of you. As soon as it does, you’ve already lost the revision battle and you might as well give up. Always strive for the best results because it’s not impossible. You just have to be focused, consistent and put in a bit of concentrated effort when it’s required. There was a student at my university who had failed his GCSE maths in the past. However, with a shift in mindset, he was able to score A/A* in his GCSE and A-level maths, and then study the subject at a top 10 university in the UK. This proves that you can achieve any grade you desire as long as you have a positive attitude and the right revision tools at your disposal.

A misconception held by the majority of students is that you have to work hard to get the best results. There is a common notion that the more you work, the better the results. However, the opposite is true. You can work less and score better grades providing that you focus solely on the the more important areas of your revision. Have you heard of Pareto’s law? Pareto was an Italian economist and he said that 80% of your results come from only 20% of your activities. This is a universal law and can be applied to revision and taking exams. Only 20% of what you do in your revision will contribute to 80% of your grades in the end. Do you ever wonder how some students can revise ‘last minute’ or days before an exam and still score a good grade? It’s because they’re focusing on just this 20% of activities in the run up to their exam.

Diya, an ex-student of ours, understood this 80/20 rule really well and this allowed her to go to Thorpe Park just 2 days before her final maths exam. It didn’t affect her at all because up to this point, she’d followed all of my revision principles. In the end, she still scored a solid ‘A’ grade (up from a C). Proof of this is given below. This is her tweet posted on the 7th June 2014 (her final exam was on the 9th June 2014):

Diya Sharma Thorpe Park

Diya Sharma Results

My revision program abides by this 80/20 rule. What I’ve done, in my program, is removed the activities that will not directly contribute to your end result such as writing copious notes and focuses on activities that will. You just simply have to follow everything I’ve set out in the program and results will drastically improve. It’s important that you follow this program, not only because it will boost your results in the long run but it’s good for your mental and physical well being too. It is unnatural for human beings to barricade themselves in a room, sit at a desk and write notes from a textbook. I strongly advise against this. You still need to mix with your peers and stay active. I used to do this myself during exams and I still achieved the top grades so there is no reason why you can’t do it too.