GCSE Maths: How to Answer Problem Solving Questions
Amy studied at the University of Bristol and is our revision blog guru. She only graduated recently so understands the pressures of being a student better than most, and is here to share her wisdom so that you revise effectively, smash your exams, succeed at school and write cracking university and job applications.
In your GCSE Maths exams you’ll face lots of different types of questions, all of which demand a strong knowledge of the topics you’ve learnt during your course. To get an idea of the sorts of questions you’ll be asked, take a look at some GCSE Maths past papers (and make sure you get your school’s exam board right — you don’t want a folder full of Edexcel Maths past papers if you’re taking an OCR exam)!
The main thing you’ll notice about the new Maths GCSE is that applying what you’ve learnt to solve problems is key. Questions will often be worded in such a way as to make you think about what methods you should be applying to answer them; it might not be immediately obvious whether it’s a question about number, algebra, probability or something else.
Problem solving is what makes Maths useful in the real world. You need to know how to approach questions and scenarios and apply what you’ve learnt in order to make calculations and reach outcomes. Read on for our top problem solving tips…
Top Tip: We’ve got over 1,000 questions organised by topic (like this one) to help you revise for your GCSE Maths exam, and each one has a video solution which helps explain the problem solving process. Don’t forget to check them out!
1. Read the question thoroughly
It’s the simplest advice, but also the easiest to forget in the heat of the exam. Be conscious that the adrenaline of the exam setting can make you act rashly and skip over crucial details in the question, so read over each question at least twice and be completely sure of what it’s asking before working out an answer.
Slow down, keep your mind focused, and be sure to check all your answers at the end to ensure make sure you haven’t missed any key details.
2. Highlight the key information in each question
Reading the question carefully is half the battle; ensuring you’re not being sidetracked or misled by the wrong bits of information is equally as important.
Circling, underlining or highlighting the information you need to get to the answer will help you stay on track, particularly if the question is on the wordier side. This strategy will also help you out if you’re finding the question tricky and want to come back to it later. If you’ve highlighted key numbers and words you’ll be able to get into it quicker when you return to it.
3. Check your units
What units are used in the question, and is a particular unit specified on the answer line? Are the units the same throughout the question, or have they used different ones to check you’ve read it properly?
Ensure you’re using the right units, and make any necessary conversions before writing down your final answer.
It’s easier than you think to accidentally jot your answer down in grams when the question asks for kg, for example. Check, check, and double check!
4. Write out all of your workings to show every bit of your process
As you will probably know by now, whether it’s a calculator or non-calculator paper, it’s absolutely necessary to write out all of your workings. Writing out your working should help you ensure you’re working methodically, logically and accurately, so that you do get to the right answer. It also means that when you come to check your answers at the end you can see exactly how you reached each one and quickly assess whether you’re happy with what you’ve written down, or not.
Also, method marks are always awarded in Maths exams, so even if you end up with the wrong answer, you could still get a few marks for your processes.
5. Double check everything
When problem solving in Maths it can be painfully easy to make the smallest error in your workings and have it lead you to the wrong answer. Don’t let a moment of carelessness undo all your hard work over the last two years! It may seem a bit annoying to go back over every bit of a question you’ve just done, but it’s definitely worth it. Don’t take avoidable risks. Double check everything before you leave that exam room!
After more examples and practice questions? Check out our Equations & Problem Solving Topic Questions and Video Solutions here!