How Hard is Further Maths at GCSE?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

When it comes to GCSE subjects, there are so many of them and you can only take a limited number. Due to this, it can be difficult to figure out how hard they are in comparison to each other, as you can never take them all. This can be especially the case with GCSE subject options, such as GCSE Further Maths, which is less commonly offered to students.

In short, GCSE Further Maths is a fairly hard GCSE. Having taken it myself, I would say that this is due to the content being quite advanced and the exams often being hard to interpret. Despite this, the pass rates tend to be quite high, even being at 96% for the 2023 exam season. However, this is likely due to restrictions in place for who can take GCSE Further Maths.

Continue reading to get a better idea of how hard GCSE Further Maths is and what is involved in it. This article will be determining this based on the content, pass rates, success rates and my personal experience as a former GCSE Further Maths student.

What is involved in GCSE Further Maths?

The first thing that you need to know about GCSE Further Maths is that unlike other GCSEs, there can be major differences between each exam board. In fact, for some exam boards this qualification may not actually be a GCSE.

While CCEA does offer it as a GCSE, for Pearson Edexcel it is an IGCSE and for both AQA and WJEC it is a level 2 certificate.

Also, these exam boards have slightly different topics involved in their courses. Although all these topics are outside the regular GCSE Maths curriculum, and some are simpler versions of what is taught in A-Level Maths.

In the following list, you can see which topics are in each of these GCSE Further Maths courses and which areas of mathematics students would be unfamiliar with based on regular GCSE Maths.

  • AQA– The topics are number, algebra, coordinate geometry, calculus, matrix transformations and geometry. In this, the maths that students would generally be unfamiliar with include algebraic proofs, matrices, differentiation and geometric proofs. To learn more about this, check out this guide by AQA.
  • Pearson Edexcel– The topics are number, algebra and calculus and geometry and trigonometry. Included in this are areas that students would generally be unfamiliar with, such as logarithmic functions, the use of the ∑ (sigma) notation, the binomial series and differentiation. To learn more about this, check out this guide by Pearson Edexcel.
  • WJEC– The topics are algebra, coordinate geometry, mensuration, calculus and trigonometry. The areas that students are likely to be unfamiliar with include algebraic proofs, differentiation, integration, factor theorem and remainder theorem. To learn more about this, check out this guide by WJEC.
  • CCEA– The topics are pure maths, mechanics, statistics and discrete and decision mathematics. Unlike the other courses, students won’t be tested on all of these topics as they will only need to do pure maths and another 2 of the other topics. Within these topics, students are likely to be unfamiliar with areas, such as differentiation, logarithms, matrices, integration, kinematics, binomial distribution, normal distribution and bivariate analysis. To learn more about this, check out this guide by CCEA.

How many exams are there for GCSE Further Maths?

In the previous section, we looked at the content of GCSE Further Maths and from this we can see how the advanced level of this content would put it as a difficult GCSE. Another way to see this is to look at how this content is actually tested.

For all the exam board, GCSE Further Maths is assessed solely using exams. These exams are linear, meaning that students will take all exams required at the end of their course, rather than at the end of a unit or in some other interval.

However, where the exam boards slightly differ is in the number of exams that students will need to take and what exactly is on each exam. In the following table, you can see how many exams students will need to take for each exam board.

Exam board Number of exams
Pearson Edexcel 2
CCEA 3 (1 mandatory unit, 2 out of 3 options required)

As many GCSEs have 2 or 3 exams required as part of the course, it would appear that GCSE Further Maths is pretty standard in this way. As WJEC only has one, it may suggest that this exam is harder to make up for this. However, to properly be able to see how hard these exams are, we need to look at what is on each one.

What are the GCSE Further Maths exams like?

Have a look at the following table to see a breakdown of each of the GCSE Further Maths exams. In this table, we will compare the length of the exam, the number of marks and what content is being tested.

Exam Duration of exam Marks Calculator/ non-calculator Content
AQA paper 1 1 hour and 45 minutes 80 Non-calculator All content
AQA paper 2 1 hour and 45 minutes 80 Calculator All content
Pearson Edexcel paper 1 2 hours 100 marks Calculator All content
Pearson Edexcel paper 2 2 hours 100 marks Calculator All content
WJEC paper 1 2 hours and 30 minutes 100 marks Calculator All content
CCEA Pure Mathematics paper (mandatory) 2 hours 100 marks Calculator Pure maths unit only
CCEA Mechanics paper (optional) 1 hour 50 marks Calculator Mechanics unit only
CCEA Statistics paper (optional) 1 hour 50 marks Calculator Statistics unit only
CCEA Discrete and Decision Mathematics paper (optional) 1 hour 50 marks Calculator Discrete and decision maths unit only

From this, we can see that the nature of the exams does vary quit a lot between each exam board. Although, how they are each broken up can suggest that these exes are quite difficult.

For more information about the CCEA exams, have a look at this page on their website. For the others, this will be linked at the end with their specifications.

Having done GCSE Further Maths with the AQA exam board myself, I personally found how the exams were set up to be pretty difficult. I feel that while this was partially due to the difficulty of the content, it was made worse by the way questions were worded, similarly to in regular GCSE Maths exams, as well as the everything being tested at once, making it more difficult to revise for everything.

What is the pass rate of GCSE Further Maths?

One of the ways that tends to help see how difficult an exam and by extension the course is, is by looking at the pass rate. We can see the overall pass rate for GCSE Further Maths from the data released by JCQ.

Look at the following table to see the pass rate for GCSE Further Maths for 2023, 2022 and 2019, to get a bit of a comparison. This pass rate is of students receiving grades 4 or C and above.

Year Pass rate
2023 96%
2022 97.8%
2019 94.8%

From this, we a see that the pass rates are incredibly high, which would suggest that students find it easy to pass. However, it’s important to note that much of the time the students who can take GCSE Further Maths is restricted.

Therefore, these students would already have fairly strong mathematical ability, making it easier for so many of them to pass. Due to this, it actually suggests that GCSE Further Maths is incredibly difficult due to such restrictions being in place.

Moreover, we can look at the proportion of students that get the top grades for GCSE Further Maths. Look at the following table to see the percentage of students getting grades A or grade 7 and above in the same years.

Year Students getting grades A/7 or above
2023 64.1%
2022 67.4%
2019 57.9%

Once again, this is much higher than most other subjects, with the regular GCSE Maths success rate being 17.5% for 2023.

You can see these statistics by checking out this page of the JCQ website. Please note, in this data, the course is referred to as Mathematics (Additional), although this is the same course.

How hard is GCSE Further Maths?

Personally, I would say that GCSE Further Maths is a very hard GCSE, particularly in comparison to other subjects. Despite this, I personally felt that some of the GCSE Further Maths content was easier to understand than some of the regular GCSE Maths content. Due to this, I would say that how hard you find it will be down to your personal strengths and you may even find that, like me, it can vary between different topics.

Other than just me, many other students consider GCSE Further Maths to be one of the hardest GCSE subjects. In 2023, we asked real students what they felt was the hardest GCSE subject with 9.79% choosing GCSE Further Maths, placing in 6th place in our ranking. You can learn more about this in this Think Student article.

From a more objective standpoint, looking at all the information that we’ve already considered in this article, we can definitely deem GCSE Further Maths as a hard GCSE. This is especially when it comes to the content being so unfamiliar and at times being more similar to A-Level content than the regular GCSE. Also, the fact that only certain students are even able to do GCSE Further Maths, suggests that it is very difficult.

Is GCSE Further Maths worth it?

Choosing your GCSE options can be difficult and when it comes to subjects like GCSE Further Maths, which are similar but also very different to subjects you’ve done previously, it can be difficult to make your decision. As we’ve just looked at how hard GCSE Further Maths is, you may be feeling a bit turned off or maybe just confused by the option of GCSE Further Maths.

However, I would say that deciding on whether or not you should take it and if it will be worth it for you, will depend on your situation, your mathematical abilities and what you wish to go onto in the future.

You may find that it helps for further study as some topics in this GCSE will be developed on in A-Level Maths and some areas of maths may even be involved in other A-Level subjects, particularly the likes of A-Level Physics and A-Level Chemistry. However, other students, who don’t do GCSE Further Maths aren’t at a disadvantage as it is all taught from the beginning and so it’s not particularly worth it with this in mind.

Although, if it’s a subject you enjoy and something you want to take then yes it will probably be worth it for you. This is especially as it builds on some pre-existing knowledge, although it takes it further.

For more considerations on whether GCSE Further Maths is worth it or not, have a look at this Think Student article.

*The information referring to the individual GCSE Further Maths courses is taken from their respective course specifications, which you can find by following the respective link: AQA, Pearson Edexcel, WJEC, CCEA.

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