Today (June 11) marks the day thousands of teenagers across schools in the UK did maths for the last time – well, at school.
Technically then, it should be a time to celebrate, because who isn’t glad to see the back of maths? Especially when you’re 16 years old and couldn’t think of anything worse than algebra.
However, GCSE students have been left ‘distraught’ after taking Edexcel Maths Paper Three, which brought with it tears, stress, and even more tears.
In fact, many have said the exam was so hard there’s no way anyone could get a good grade, even if they’d been revising for months in advance.
Why was it so difficult, you might ask? Some of you might even be thinking this is just a ploy by students who hadn’t revised, made up so that when they fail, it won’t reflect badly on them.
But here’s the thing: it isn’t just a select few saying this exam was ridiculously difficult. It isn’t just those who did zero preparation and are now regretting it.
Students who had been revising solidly for months and were dedicated to getting good grades were caught out by the paper, even referring to it as ‘impossible’.
UNILAD spoke to 16-year-old Esme Beacham, from Birmingham, who said she found the maths paper more difficult than any she’d ever done before. Having studied heavily for the subject, the teenager says no amount of revision would have prepared her for this paper.
I feel that in general I didn’t have enough time to answer the questions. I knew what to do, I just didn’t have the time to do it. The first few questions were fine but there were some questions where I didn’t understand at all what they wanted me to do.
For example, one of the questions asked me how long it would take some machines to make a cartoon number of boxes – but it didn’t say how many boxes needed to be made, so it seemed basically impossible to do. That then set the trend for the remainder of the paper.
Esme was confident she would do well having completed around 25 practice papers for the exam. However, she came out of the exam hall feeling ‘very upset’ and ‘on the verge of tears’.
The 16-year-old said everybody in her year was ‘just as upset’ as her, with some people crying about how difficult they found the exam – even people who usually did really well in the subject.
Esme isn’t the only student to have struggled with the paper; 16-year-old Oliver Banks, from Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, told UNILAD he had to miss out a few ‘very large’ questions which were a lot to get his head around. ‘I’m sure many other students felt the same way,’ he explained.
There were some questions which required knowledge, which my class thought we had. However, it was applied in numerous different contexts. This, for me, made it difficult to spot the areas of maths which applied to the question.
The teenager felt extremely prepared walking into the exam because he had revised ‘so much’ for it and felt as though maths was one of his strongest subjects.
However, both he and the rest of his class – who were in the top set – were ‘surprised’ at how difficult the exam was, with Oliver witnessing many people with their heads in their hands after the papers had been collected.
In fact, the 16-year-old explained, no one stayed around to talk about the exam afterwards because ‘they were too stressed to talk about it’.
Ben Gazzard, 16, from Wiltshire, agreed, stating that while this paper had ‘fun’ questions, they were really hard and he predicts his answers will be wrong.
When asked why this particular paper was so difficult, Ben explained:
The wording of the questions shadowed the reality of what the question answers, and two mark questions took longer than four mark questions, which made you doubt your answers.
As we expected this to be the nicer paper out of the three, my standards were high and this paper fell into the category of ‘fun but really hard and my answers are wrong’.
The teenager agrees that not enough time was given to answer the questions, stating that the supposedly ‘easy’ questions at the start ate into time for the more difficult ones towards the end.
The exam was so hard that even teachers struggled to answer some of the questions, with one student stating it took their maths teacher 10 minutes to answer one after they’d recited it to them after the exam.
Shanice, 16, from Buckinghamshire said there were ‘a lot more’ of the upper grade nine questions than there were grades five to seven, which made many of the questions hard to understand.
The teenager explained:
I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was, but as someone who hasn’t been doing the best in maths all year it was at times worse than expected.
Most people who have been on [high grades] all year said they struggled with the test and found it disheartening as they’d revised a lot and still struggled. I think a big thing was just trying to decipher what the question actually wanted.
The last question was very hard, even the maths teachers looked at it and said it was a horrible question to ask. They struggled with answering it, I think it took them about ten minutes, so that’s already showing how hard it was.
Fingers crossed the grade boundaries will be kind to everyone so they don’t have to see another maths paper ever again.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).