The GCSE Mathematics exam is one of the mandatory GCSEs that all pupils across the UK must complete at some point during their secondary education years. With the recent reforms to the GCSE exams, the Maths exam has also been affected. These changes are to be implemented in the upcoming 2017 testing season, so preparing for the exam is more important than ever. Familiarising yourself or your pupils with the changes, as well as with the test format and past papers, will ensure a successful testing experience. Read on to learn more about the reforms and how to prepare for the upcoming GCSE Maths exam.

2017 Changes: GCSE Maths Reforms

As of 2017, the GCSE exams have adapted a new grading structure. Students taking the GCSEs this year and onwards will no longer receive letter grades in the form of A–G, but rather numerical grades ranging from 9–1. More significantly, the structure of many of the GCSE subject exams have also undergone changes, including the GCSE Maths exam.

The two tiers in the Math GCSE consist of a Maths foundation level (1–5) and a Maths higher level (4–9). The new structure has resulted in the following reforms:

  • A stronger emphasis has been placed on mathematical reasoning and problem solving.
  • The content has increased in volume, meaning teachers now need to dedicate more time to teaching it.
  • In addition to the increased content, the content itself has grown in difficulty, which means pupils will need more study time.
  • The number of papers students must sit has increased from two to three.
  • Pupils will be provided with fewer formulas at the exam. Correspondingly, they will have to memorise and master more formulas.

To access practice tests and sample questions for the new GCSE, visit our GCSE Teacher’s page. Read on to learn more about the test structure in each tier of the GCSE Maths exam. For a more extensive list of the GCSE reforms in general, visit our GCSE Past Papers page.

Foundation GCSE Maths Papers

The most significant change to the GCSE Maths foundation tier is the new subject matters that were once part of the higher tier. Some of these subject matters include numeric and algebraic index laws, vectors, linear equations, mensuration problems, and trigonometric ratios, amongst others. The breakdown of content domains have also been altered to include the following:

  • 15% Geometry and Measures
  • 15% Statistics and Probability (which has decreased in emphasis since the 2010 foundation tier papers)
  • 20% Algebra
  • 25% Ratio, Proportion, and Rates of Change—an entirely new subject matter introduced to the foundation tier papers
  • 25% Number

Due to these reforms, more pupils have been entered for the foundation tier Maths GCSE instead of the higher tier papers. Teachers have been dedicating more time to the foundation tier curriculum as a result. Visit our GCSE Past Papers page and gain access to sample questions and practice tests equipped to prepare you for the foundation tier Maths GCSE papers.

Higher GCSE Maths Papers

Like the foundation tier, the GCSE Maths higher tier has adapted to new subject matters. The GCSE now includes expanding the products of binomials, completing the square, calculating conditional probabilities, and more. With these additions have also come omissions of topics that were previously part of the higher tier GCSE Maths papers. These topics include isometric grids, 3D coordinates, and imperial units of measure, amongst others.

Below is a breakdown of content domains making up the new higher tier GCSE Maths papers:

  • 20% Geometry and Measures
  • 15% Statistics and Probability
  • 30% Algebra
  • 20% Ratio, Proportion, and Rates of Change
  • 15% Numbers

This new structure places less of an emphasis on the once stressed Statistics and Probability domain and more of a stress on Algebra. The Ratio and Proportion domain has also been adapted to its own content area, whereas it was previously intertwined with various other content areas.

These reforms have all been made with the intention of creating a more challenging exam for the more academically gifted pupils. Those who choose to sit the higher tier papers should receive excellent preparation for A Level Mathematics.

AQA, Edexcel, and OCR Past Maths Papers and Practice

The following problem is an example of a foundation tier Maths GCSE problem.*

*Note: You must answer this question without a calculator.

Exam Mark Scheme




1.    a)







C1 for appropriate example shown, eg 16.


C1 for conclusion and appropriate example shown, eg 63.


Student Explanation

a) If you halve 6, you will get 3, but with larger numbers this is not always the case. Work backwards and think if there are other numbers that will end in a 6 when they are doubled. 3 will always end in a 6, but so will 8, as

Therefore, 16 is one example of a number that will not end in a 3 when it is halved. There are other examples here you could choose, for example 36, 56, etc.

 b) For a number to be prime, it must have only two factors: itself and 1.

For example, the factors of 13 are 1 and 13. Thus, it is prime.

The factors of 15 are 1, 3, 5, and 15. As it has more than two factors, it is not prime.

Su thinks that all numbers which end in 3 are prime. To prove if she is correct or not, try out some numbers first.

23: This has only two factors: 1 and 23. Thus, it is prime.

33: This has four factors: 1, 3, 11, and 33. So, it is not a prime number.

Therefore, you can conclude that she is wrong, as you have found an example where a number ends in 3 but is not prime.

There are, in fact, an infinite number of examples to prove she is wrong. For example: 63, 93, 123, etc.

The following is an example of a higher tier Maths GCSE problem.*

*Note: You must answer this question without a calculator.

Exam Mark Scheme


Student Explanation

For Lucy to pick one card of each colour, she either has to choose a red then a black or a black then a red.

You must consider both of these options when calculating the probability. Remember that in probability:

AND means  x

OR means  +

So, to find probability of a red AND then a black, you must multiply the probabilities.

Use the probability formula to correctly write your expressions:


Now, consider the second option, which was picking a black card and then a red. Notice, the denominators have switched as there are always 11 cards at the start and then 10 after she has made her first selection.


Practise for the GCSE Papers

Are you a teacher preparing your students for the upcoming Maths GCSEs? Or do you simply want more practice questions like the ones above? Visit our GCSE Teacher’s page for even more practice and free sample questions.

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