Hardest A-Level Maths Questions

Top 3 Hardest A-Level Maths Questions in 2021

In A-Level by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

We’ve looked at the hardest GCSE Maths questions, so it only makes sense to look at the next level up and assess the hardest A-Level Maths questions. In this article, we will list the five hardest A-Level Maths questions and talk about what makes them difficult and why students tend to struggle with them.

Disclaimer: this list is the representation of one student’s opinion and is not to be taken as fact. Students have different mathematical strengths and weaknesses and therefore some A-Level Maths questions will be considered easy by some students and hard by others. Due to this, there really isn’t a single hardest A-Level Maths question for all students.

3. Edexcel June 2018 Paper 3 – Question 1

The examiner report for this question, which can be downloaded from here, stated that this question “was supposed to be a gentle starter, making use of the student’s knowledge of the dataset”. However, this question certainly did not feel like a “gentle starter” for the over 50% of students who failed to score even a single mark for this four-part question. This statistic was provided by the examiner’s report for the paper, which can again be found here. This question that so many A-Level Maths students scored so terribly in is shown below.

Doesn’t look that scary at all does it? For you seasoned A-Level Maths students out there, you will most likely see this as a nice introduction question that is nothing to worry about. So, where did over 50% of exam candidates go wrong? Well, it is important to remember that the examiner’s report stated that this question makes use of the “students’ knowledge of the dataset”. This is your clue to where students went wrong.

Not many A-Level Maths students actually took the time to look at the dataset before their paper 3 maths exam and it cost them. To solve this question properly, you had to remember that cloud cover was measured in a unit called Oktas, something that was stated on the dataset. In addition to this, you had to remember that the Oktas scale was initiated at 0, instead of the commonly mistaken value of 1. This mistake and forgotten dataset detail cost many students to not score a mark for part A.

To see just how simple this question is if students take the time to remember the information contained within the dataset, take a look at the mark scheme for this question below.

As you can see from the mark scheme above, the question really is very easy for the standard that most A-Level Maths students get to. Therefore, the reason this question has made it onto the list is purely due to the difficulty of having to remember a very small detail contained within the dataset. It is not a surprise that many students struggled with this question as the study of the dataset is usually put on the back burner and not favoured over other important areas of the A-Level Maths syllabus.

If you wish to download the paper, check out the Edexcel past paper section, which you can find here.

2. OCR June 2018 Pure Mathematics and Statistics Paper – Question 13

Firstly, it is worth pointing out that the OCR exam board does things a little different than the Edexcel exam board in the way that exams are structured. With Edexcel, there is a single combined statistics and mechanics paper, whereas with OCR, there are two papers that contain non-pure: pure mathematics with statistics and pure mathematics with mechanics. This question was found in the Pure Mathematics and Statistics paper. The question is shown below.

Despite this question coming from a pure mathematics and statistics paper, part iii had students not very happy at all when they came across it. As a matter of fact, students have actually had a debate about how hard this question is on this student room forum. The question itself could be seen as not that tricky but it is where it is placed that is the problem for most students. When students prepare for this particular paper (commonly labelled as paper 2) they usually prioritise statistics revision as the impression is that there will be less pure mathematical content and more of a statistical focus. This means that questions that primarily focus on pure content usually take students by surprise.

This doesn’t mean it was unfair of OCR to place this question and it is actually in line with the new exam style questions. That said, the examiner’s report that year was quoted saying that “almost no students gave a correct solution based on their answer to part (iii)(a)”. It’s just not an easy question and that is why we have found students talking about it a lot! Part of the solution for this question can be seen below.

The mark scheme for this question is not massively descriptive and makes the question look fairly simplistic. That being said, the question does test fundamental A-Level Maths principles, just in a context you may not already be familiar with.

If you wish to download the paper, check out the OCR past paper section, which you can find here.

1. Edexcel June 2018 Paper 3 – Question 9

This next question is based off the mechanics section of the A-Level Maths syllabus. This question was mentioned for the physical amount of text within it. It has a very long explanation, making students have to really concentrate when completing the question. The question is shown below.

As seen above, this question consists of three distinct sections and contains lots of introduction. Some students see this amount of wording as a good thing as it means the problem is explained clearly and extensively, whereas, other students see this quantity of wording as a mountain they have to overcome.

Not dissimilar to the disclaimer above, some students would find this question dead easy and some students would really struggle with this question. It is all down to student’s individual and unique approaches to mathematical questions.

The solution to this question can be seen below.

If you wish to download the paper, check out the Edexcel past paper section, which you can find here.

So there it is, that is my take on the hardest A-Level Maths exam questions. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comment section below and if you do disagree, tell me which question you find more difficult!

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