When taking GCSE Maths, there are bound to be questions that you find easier and ones that you find much harder. Which ones these are for you will depend on your own strengths and weaknesses and you may find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the ones included in this article. However, certain questions prove to be difficult for a wide range of students, making them debatably the hardest GCSE Maths questions.
Continue reading to learn more about the 10 GCSE Maths questions that can be considered the hardest for 2023. This article will tell you about the questions themselves and explain why students may have found them hard.
Disclaimer: Please note that the process of deciding which is the “hardest” is incredibly subjective and especially for subjects like GCSE Maths where students can have entirely different strengths and weaknesses. The following ranking is based off examiner’s reports and slightly less trustworthy sources, such as chatrooms and student threads. While these help to provide insight into what students find most difficult, please take this ranking with a pinch of salt and let us know which GCSE Maths question you think is the hardest.
10. June 2017, AQA Paper 2 Higher, Question 24
Extract taken from Summer 2017 AQA higher paper 2, which can be found here.
In 10th place in this ranking for the hardest GCSE Maths questions is a question from AQA’s 2017 higher tier paper 2. The key topic this question covers is histograms, a topic that students often struggle with.
In fact, when looking at practice questions, histograms will often be ranked between medium and hard as the difficulty level. For more about this, check out this page by Pi Academy for a range of practice histogram questions.
In this question, students were given a histogram and from this they needed to work out the interquartile range as an estimate. This is what proved to be the most challenging part of the question as students were often unable to work out both the upper quartile and the lower quartile if either at all.
Due to this, in the examiner’s report it was considered “one of the most challenging on the paper”. To learn more about this, check out this guide by AQA.
If you would like to see how students could have picked up marks on this question, even without getting the complete answer, check out the mark scheme by AQA here.
9. June 2018, Edexcel Paper 1 Higher, Question 6
Exam question extract taken from the May 2018 Pearson Edexcel GCSE Maths higher paper 1, which can be found here.
Taking 9th place is a question from paper 1 of the Summer 2018 Edexcel GCSE Maths exam series. While not a particularly difficult question to work out in the classroom, students can easily get stuck on this one in the stress of the exam. This may especially be as it is only question 6 and as the harder questions are normally at the end of the paper.
In this question, students were given a graph that contains 4 identical squares and the coordinates of the two furthest points. In the question, they were asked to figure out a specific point on this graph and these squares, marked ‘C’.
Students may have found this question tricky due to the fact that point ‘C’ isn’t at the midpoint of the squares on either side, and it isn’t connected to their corners. Due to this, in the stress of an exam, it can be easy to miss the patterns in the question, making it one of the hardest. To see how this question is marked, check out its mark scheme by Pearson Edexcel here.
8. November 2017, Edexcel Paper 3 Higher, Question 21
Exam question extract take from November 2017 Pearson Edexcel GCSE Maths higher paper 3, which can be found here.
Next on the list is a question from Pearson Edexcel’s November 2017 higher tier paper 3. In this question, students were given a vector diagram and had to find out what the value of ‘k’ is. Vectors are another mathematical topic that students struggle with and so this being one of the hardest questions in GCSE Maths makes a lot of sense.
Students may have struggled with the complexity of this question. This is especially as due to it being a 5-mark question, there are many different steps that students have to take before they can get to the answer.
Also, as this question blends together different mathematical concepts it can be even more complex. This is because it combines vectors, which is a hard enough topic on its own, with algebra, making it much more complex. To learn about how this question is marked, check out the mark scheme by Pearson Edexcel here.
7. June 2017, AQA Paper 1 Higher, Question 27
Exam question extract taken from Summer 2017 AQA higher paper 1, which can be found here.
In 7th place for the hardest GCSE Maths questions is a question from AQA’s Summer 2017 higher tier paper 1. This question is primarily focused on quadratics as well as circles and circle theorems. In the question, students were told to figure out the equation of a tangent at the point ‘P’, being given the coordinates of this point and the grid diagram to aid them.
In the official Summer 2017 exam with this question, it says that students didn’t perform very well across the board. For some students, this was due to misunderstanding how to start working out the equation. To learn more about this, check out the examiner’s report by AQA here.
Also, students may have felt slightly overwhelmed due to the set up of the question. This is because seeing the diagram and coordinates and how they match up may cause them to overthink what the question is asking them. This is particularly due to the stress and pressure of an exam environment.
To learn more about how this question was marked, check out this guide by AQA.
6. June 2017, AQA Paper 1 Higher, Question 29
Exam question extract taken from Summer 2017 AQA higher paper 1, which can be found here.
Next up the ranking for the most difficult GCSE Maths questions for 2023 is one from Summer 2017 that was on the AQA higher tier paper 1. This question covered more advanced forms of trigonometry and algebra.
Students were forced to rely on their memory of exact values in trigonometry in order to be able to access the question at all, due to being a non-calculator paper. If students weren’t entirely familiar with these, this may have led them to finding the question instantly one of the hardest due to not being able to access it.
However, the question also asked students to apply these exact values and then to rearrange the equation. Thus, making the question even harder as students had to use their critical thinking to apply their knowledge to the question correctly.
Getting the formula into the correct form appeared to be a large problem for students as the examiner’s report noted on many not being able to do this even if they gave the correct exact value. To learn more about this, check out this guide by AQA for the examiner’s report.
You can also see how this paper was marked by looking at the mark scheme here on the AQA website.
5. June 2019, AQA Paper 1 Higher, Question 22
Exam question extract taken from Summer 2019 AQA GCSE Maths higher paper 1, which can be found here.
The 5th ranked most difficult GCSE Maths question is from the AQA higher tier paper 1 for Summer 2019. This question once again covers vectors along with algebra, making it more difficult. Unlike the other questions in this ranking, this question is split into ‘Part A’ and ‘Part B’.
While this can help to make the question feel a little bit more manageable as a 1-mark question and a 3-mark question rather than a whole 4-mark question, students will still end up doing the same amount of work for if it was a single 4-mark question. Due to this, its difficulty shouldn’t be downplayed.
In ‘Part B’, students weren’t so successful in answering the question correctly or fully. This may partially have been due to students carrying out the working out in the wrong way.
For more on this, check out the AQA’s examiner’s report for the Summer 2019 higher tier paper 1 here. To learn more about how the question was marked as a whole, check out the mark scheme in this guide by AQA.
4. June 2019, Edexcel Paper 3 Higher, Question 22
Exam question extract taken from June 2019 Pearson Edexcel GCSE Maths higher paper 3, which can be found here.
Ranked in 4th place is Pearson Edexcel’s question 22 of the Summer 2019 higher tier paper 3. This question is once again focused on circles and circle theorems as well as algebra.
In this question, students need to find the value of ‘p’, which features in the coordinates of Point P. As a 4-mark question, students once again have quite a lot of steps to do in order to be able to answer this question.
Due to its complexity, many students were unable to answer the question fully and gain all of the marks for it as was noted in the examiner’s report. To learn more about this, check out this article by Studyply. You can also see how this question is marked by checking out its mark scheme made by Pearson Edexcel here.
3. June 2017, Edexcel Paper 2 Higher, Question 21
Exam question extract taken from Summer 2017 Pearson Edexcel GCSE Maths higher paper 2, which can be found here.
In this question, students had to work out the area of a rectangle using the 3 circles inside the triangle and the radius of each. This question only covers the topics of circles and area, neither of which are that complicated on their own.
However, as this question is a lot more abstract than most, it can be an incredibly difficult question. This is because students have to apply abstract problem-solving skills in order to figure out how to even go about answering this question. This can be made even worse in the stress of an exam, which may even cause students to panic or simply skip the question.
If you would like to understand more about how this question is marked, check out this guide by Pearson Edexcel to see the mark scheme.
2. June 2017, Edexcel Paper 1 Higher, Question 22
Exam question extract taken from Summer 2017 Pearson Edexcel GCSE maths higher paper 1, which can be found here.
In this question, students needed to prove that an angle was equal to a formula. This question covers a wide range of topics, and this is part of what makes it such a difficult question. These topics include congruency, proofs and the cosine rule, all of which are topics that students tend to struggle with when separate let alone when combined into a single question.
Also, students may find this question difficult due to how difficult it looks. This is because due to the additional stress and pressure that comes in exams, the amount of data on the diagram can throw some students off and leave them confused about what they need to do. To learn more about how it is marked, check out this guide by Pearson Edexcel.
1. June 2022, Edexcel Paper 1 Higher, Final question
Photo of question and information below, taken from this article by Hull Live.
In this ranking, the absolute hardest GCSE Maths question as of 2023 is from the higher tier paper 1 of Pearson Edexcel from Summer 2022. This question was similar in some regards to the #3 on this list, however, it’s a lot harder.
In this question, students were given 3 overlapping identical circles and had to find the area of the shaded region within these circles. This question is so difficult as students are given very little data to work off, particularly in regards to what they’re taught at GCSE.
Undergraduate or above level students in mathematical or scientific fields have commented themselves on how difficult the question is, despite being much more mathematically advanced than GCSE students. To learn more about this, check out the link above. Please note that there may be some exaggeration in this article so you may want to take the information included with a pinch of salt.
As the 2022 GCSE paper has not yet been released as of April 2023, I’m unable to link the mark scheme. However, click here to see the solution to this question by Owlcation.
How to practise GCSE Maths exam past papers?
In order to get better at difficult GCSE Maths exam questions, you need to practise them and familiarise yourself with them. However, it can be difficult to figure out how to do this. Check out the following section to learn about some great resources that can help you to practise GCSE Maths exam papers.
Revise content for GCSE Maths
In order to be able to access the questions, particularly the hardest questions, you need to be familiar with the GCSE Maths content. The best way to do this is to fully revise the content for GCSE Maths.
To start with, you should focus on the most difficult topics. This can enable you to access the most difficult questions, such as the ones listed above.
Some of these most difficult topics are in the following table, alongside a link to a great revision resource for them.
|Sine rule||BBC Bitesize|
|Cosine rule||BBC Bitesize|
|Exact values in trigonometry||Third Space Learning|
|Algebraic proofs||Save My Exams|
|Circle Theorems||Revision Maths|
|Vectors||Third Space Learning|
|Histograms||Save My Exams|
Do practice questions for GCSE Maths
Now that you’ve revised the GCSE Maths content, you are in a position to be able to practise GCSE exam past papers. However, I would recommend just starting with practice questions or only parts of a past paper rather than doing the whole thing at once.
This is because if you do specific practice or past paper questions, you will have the opportunity to target your own weaknesses and improve these in a way that you wouldn’t be able to when going through an entire past paper.
To do practice questions or past papers there are a range of different resources available to you. To begin with, you can find the past papers on exam board websites. To find these, click on their respective links in the list below.
You may also want to go to revision specific resources to enable you to practice your weaker areas. To find practice questions for some of the hard GCSE Maths topics, as listed above, check out the following table.
|Sine/ cosine rule||Corbett Maths|
|Exact values in trigonometry||MME Revise|
|Algebraic proofs||Corbett Maths|
|Circle theorems||Maths Genie|
|Histograms||Save My Exams|