Monthly Archives: September 2018

Was the Criticism the 2015 higher maths paper faced justifiable

When I was in fifth year at High School in 2016 I studied higher mathematics and the legacy left behind by the terrifying 2015 Higher Mathematics paper still lingered throughout the school and to a vast extent the entire country.


With all the stigma circulating around the paper I decided to look at it, to see exactly what it was that was responsible for the social media revolution against the SQA. I read the questions and thought to myself if I was in the shoes of the pupils who sat this exam I would have been horrified to be faced with this paper. The exam was “wordy” and didn’t specifically tell you what you had  to do or what formula to use. It instead required you to demonstrate your understanding of the content of the Higher Mathematics course to try and solve the problem and to figure out which equations you needed to use. Looking at this now from a different perspective, I believe that the way most pupils were taught was through relational understanding this, is when the pupils know a process and how to use it but not why it is used. As a result of this they have difficulty in answering questions that do not tell them what process to use or say a question in an unfamiliar way. However, there is also conceptual understanding   and I believe that pupils who scored well in this paper had a conceptual understanding of mathematics meaning that they understood not only the how but also the why of mathematics and as a result of this they knew exactly how to apply it even when it wasn’t completely obvious and required them to problem solve.


As someone who needs to know why we are doing a certain process in maths I recently looked over the paper again and thought to myself yet again. If I was faced with this in an exam situation I would be panicked. However as a result of the understanding I have now developed through studying the why and not just the how of mathematics, I think I would of scored reasonably well. Looking at the paper from a different perspective as a student teacher rather than as a pupil I now believe that the SQA had the right idea. The majority of people on the (MA) Education course  concurred in a lecture that they wished the education system was designed to enhance the understanding  of the subjects  studied and not just about remembering processes in order to pass exams. So as I look at the paper now keeping these desired motifs of education in mind I would now deem the paper as an ideal paper for meeting this criteria. Whilst I agree it was a difficult paper to sit, especially as it was the first year of the new Higher paper, it actually requires pupils to have an indepth understanding of mathematical processes and I believe that is what we want our pupils to develop, the skillset to do.


To conclude I believe that the Higher Maths paper of 2015 was significant in highlighting that as a nation our pupils do not have a conceptual understanding of mathematics and therefore when they are faced with problems where they are required to think about what they are doing, then they struggle. In my opinion this does not equip pupils with the skills they need for work. So how do we move forward? I have used the dreaded exam paper as a rational behind my future way of teaching mathematics, I am not going to rush pupils through work just, so I can tick off the boxes in the CFE experience and outcomes. Instead I am going to spend the time to allow my pupils to develop not only the how’s but also the whys of mathematics. This in turn I believe will change pupils out look of mathematics as it will make more sense to them and will hopefully result in them studying maths further along their education journey and thus further prepare them for the world of work and daily life.



 Ali, A. (2018). Exam board admits Higher Maths exam was ‘too hard’. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep. 2018].


Skemp, R. (2009). The Psychology of Learning Mathematics. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.


reflection on first year

My first year at university has been a great year for reflection. I feel that I have invested great thought and effort into deciding my professional and personal values and these values I believe have shaped me not only as the teacher I want to be but also the man I want to be.


At the start of placement, I was worried that my behaviour management would not be up to the mark and so thought the best way to make my presence known was to be very strict and “scary”. Whilst I believe being strict is important to show the class you are not a “push over” at the start of placement I felt I was being too distant with the children for the first few days and did not interact with the pupils as much as I could have. However, on the third day I began to talk to pupils more about their lives in and out of school and we soon developed mutual respect for one and other and this in turn had a huge impact on behaviour within the classroom. I was so happy that my class knew we were friendly but were not friends and respected me as their teacher but still felt they could talk to me about anything and without being judged. This helped to develop my confidence and I began to love doing class lessons and interacting with everyone in the school both students and staff.


Whilst I was on placement I believe I learnt a great deal about myself not only as a teacher but also as a person. To begin with I was very nervous about doing my own class lesson and turning the theory we have been learning about in class into practice. However, after a few class lessons I began to become more confident in my ability and allowed for my personality to shine through, this enabled me to develop a strong relationship with my class. This was a huge stepping stone in my professional career as to begin with I just wanted to ensure the children were learning about academic subjects, however within a few days of placement I began to focus more on the relationships I was beginning to develop as well as equipping the pupils with the essential academic and personal skills they will need for life and work. This to me is what teaching is all about; the relationships we build and the lasting impact we can have on pupils in our class no matter how small the positive impact is it could have huge implications on the child and we may not even know it! I grew in confidence as a result of these professional relationships I had developed with pupils and teachers, and I feel this impacted on my teaching massively.


In conclusion whilst my class were challenging I loved every minute of teaching them and this was to me is the most important thing I learnt in the entire year: even though teaching is difficult and there are bad days it is by far the best job in the world and I cannot wait to have my own class someday.