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Spotlight on Cambridge Pre-U Mathematics

Three teachers of Cambridge Pre-U Mathematics share their experience of teaching the course

Posted by Hannah Vickers | February 17, 2017 | Teaching

Who's who:

  • Matt Baker - Head of Mathematics at Rugby School where currently 55 per cent of the lower sixth take maths, with over half the students opting for the Cambridge Pre-U course
  • Martin Elston - Head of Mathematics at Charterhouse, which has offered the course since it first launched. It is the popular subject in the sixth form
  • Katherine Henson - Director of Curriculum Administration at Downe House, where 50 per cent of the sixth form take Cambridge Pre-U Mathematics

➡ What are the key benefits of the course? 

Matt Baker (MB): We were attracted to Cambridge Pre-U Mathematics because it was a linear qualification with an interesting syllabus, designed to allow students to deepen their understanding of the mathematical ideas underpinning required techniques, and to neatly bring together knowledge from a variety of areas when problem-solving. For example, numerical methods – a topic which can lead to routine number crunching – instead asks students to consider the rates of convergence of iterative processes and the concept of error terms, which is an interesting perspective on the subject. 

Katharine Henson (KH): The linear approach is a significant benefit because there are no ‘artificial stops’ to learning. Students can then revisit subjects as they progress through the course and often find, as they mature, that they are better able to cope with subjects they originally thought difficult.

➡ Is the course suitable for the full ability range?

MB: For the brightest students, it is reassuring to know that the D2 grade (A* equivalent) is examined from the perspective of talent and understanding which means that a few small errors are less likely to affect the final grade. The D1 grade asks very strong students to enrich their mathematical knowledge beyond the level usually experienced in the sixth form, and this encourages them to attempt more complex questions.

Martin Elston (ME): The exam paper is structured in such a way that less able students can tackle earlier questions with confidence, even though later questions may be too difficult. 

All students also benefit from the emphasis on problem-solving and thinking skills.

➡ What is Cambridge Pre-U Mathematics like to teach? 

ME: Our teachers certainly enjoy teaching the broader syllabus, and this enjoyment filters down to the students. Subjects such as complex numbers, for example, are rarely found in comparable qualifications yet students find this topic very interesting and also useful if they hope to study science at university. 

KH: The flexibility of the syllabus is one of its chief benefits for the teacher, and from my perspective it has proved to be quite a liberating course to teach. We are free to build our own schemes of work, for example, which allows us to respond to the needs of the students and to exploit the strengths of the faculty. 

➡ What do your pupils think of the course?

MB: Our pupils certainly enjoy the emphasis on understanding as well as technique. For example, topics within applied maths focus less on the reproduction of statistical diagrams and more on the maths behind these techniques – such as the use of residuals in regression or an in-depth examination of combinations – which our students have thoroughly enjoyed. We also find that the course encourages curiosity – students rarely ask if a topic is ‘on the syllabus’.

KH: Students have to have ‘stickability’ as they will be studying maths for two years, but I find that this encourages unexpected resilience, and a determination in students to work hard and keep up with their peers.  


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