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Maths and STEP

(14 Posts)
STEP234 Fri 27-Oct-17 08:34:23

Hi all,

(Long time member, set up a new account for this...)

Trying to spread the word about the "STEP support programme" run by the University of Cambridge. STEP is a series of three (maths!) papers which are much harder than A-levels. They have been part of Cambridge Maths offers for years, but now other universities are giving reduced offers to students who get a certain grade in any STEP paper (including the easiest, STEP I). These universities include Warwick, Bath. Lancaster, ... and this could be very useful to very good mathematicians who are uncertain of getting an A in their third subject.

The STEP support programme www.maths.org/step has been created to help students whose schools cannot offer much support in preparing for these exams. All the resources are completely free!

user918273645 Sat 28-Oct-17 08:51:42

You know that none of this is new, right? Universities such as Warwick , Bath, Southampton, ... have been using STEP for some time. STEP resources have also been available online for a long time. The main resource is the Stephen Siklos collection of past questions/answers: you cannot train for STEP by learning question type. Instead you prepare for STEP for getting into the mindset of answering STEP questions.

In reality it is very unlikely that STEP plays a role for admissions outside Cambridge and Warwick: STEP is indeed significantly harder than A levels. So it is very unusual for students to get their STEP grade and miss their A level grade in their third A level.....

GrumpyOldBag Sat 28-Oct-17 11:57:16

it is very unusual for students to get their STEP grade and miss their A level grade in their third A level.....

Yup. With DS it was his 4th A-level actually - he only got a B. And didn't get the 2 he needed in STEP either. So didn't get into Warwick (offer 2A*s 2As).

But is very happy where he is! And probably Warwick wasn't the right place for him, with hindsight.

I actually wish we hadn't insisted on him taking STEP at all. The school did not prep him well enough for it (although it's an independent school) and it added extra stress.

CatAfterCat Sat 28-Oct-17 13:23:21

STEP is indeed significantly harder than A levels. So it is very unusual for students to get their STEP grade and miss their A level grade in their third A level
Yes, that was DS experience. He comfortably got 4xA* at A level but missed his STEP grades in spite of spending more time on STEP than his A levels. Help such as the OP describes would have been useful as schools seem clueless about STEP.

user918273645 Sat 28-Oct-17 13:29:08

Such online help has been in place for years - I am extremely surprised that Cambridge did not send this information out with the offer (as it has been standard practice to do so for quite some time.)

BTW a few years back UCL were offering online classes for STEP. I'm not sure if they are still doing so - but in any case I was never convinced that this was particularly helpful. The main thing to do is to practice questions from Siklos' collections - then read the answers after having a good try at each question. Tutoring really does not help in this case - you have to be able to work it out independently and get into the mindset, as the exam questions are very different every year.

I am often asked to tutor for STEP - or recommend tutors for STEP - but it doesn't help. What does help is having been involved with Olympiads and the like - and this is where there is a benefit from being at schools which do a lot of these - hence occasional offers involving S grades.

user918273645 Sat 28-Oct-17 13:31:58

The school did not prep him well enough for it.

Just to reiterate - the school cannot prep. It has to come from the student, working independently. Regardless of whether the school teacher understands the STEP questions (and many won't, as they wouldn't have been able to get into Cambridge maths themselves), the teacher's help is more or less irrelevant.

I do also think that STEP tests innate ability in mathematics i.e. no amount of prepping will help a weaker student do much better in STEP. It is interesting that STEP results do correlate quite strongly with degree outcome and progress into mathematics research. (There are always counterexamples of course....)

EllenJanethickerknickers Sat 28-Oct-17 13:37:02

DS1 was lucky that there was help provided for all schools in our area centred at his school by coincidence. He found that doing STEP exercises made his A levels seem easy in comparison and felt it helped him get his A* grades. He missed out on a grade 1 in STEP by a few marks but still made his offer at Warwick. He feels he may have missed out on his A* in FM without the STEP preparation.

GrumpyOldBag Sat 28-Oct-17 14:05:23

In DS's case though the school expected him to do all his STEP practise alone - there was no encouraging him to look at questions or download past papers or anything. I felt this might have been beneficial, as it was it was down to his parents to nag him to do this. DS is not great at working independently. They could have helped him with the process. And his Head of Maths was an Oxbridge grad so I think he'd have understood many if not all of the questions.

user918273645 Sat 28-Oct-17 15:37:28

DS is not great at working independently.

OK, but then how would he function in Cambridge maths, where students really do need to do a lot of work independently, outside lectures - more so than at lower ranked university courses.

Of course one or two years maturity helps with this - but being able to work through material on one's own (with no nagging) is essential at the top courses, where more is expected from students right from the start.

GrumpyOldBag Sat 28-Oct-17 16:48:55

As I said user, with hindsight Warwick wouldn't have been the right place for him. He is absolutely thriving at the Uni he did get into which is still one of the top 10 for his subject. And is coping very well with independent learning now he is in a Uni setting - particularly as he only has one subject to focus on, compared with 4 A levels, one of which was a language.

Like many very good Mathematicians DS is also slightly ASD which means he finds adapting to new ways of thinking harder than many.

CatAfterCat Sat 28-Oct-17 17:45:48

DS2 did end up at Warwick and it's certainly true they have to work independently. DD at her uni (RG but not Maths) is positively spoonfed by comparison.
He did get a first but it was a slog and he is most definitely not heading into mathematical research, so maybe the STEP was a predictor grin.

STEP234 Mon 30-Oct-17 10:52:08

user918273645 whilst it is true that you cannot tutor students though STEP, there are some things that can be done to support them. One of the major problems is a lack of confidence, these are students who have always found maths easy and then they suddenly are faced with Maths questions they cannot do. There is also a certain "Style" to STEP and familiarity with this is key.

The best way to prepare for STEP is to do questions, however it is a bit daunting to start with a full STEP paper in front of you. Stephen's book is excellent, but does not cover STEP III. Stephen was the driving force behind the "STEP correspondence course" which was the foundations for the STEP support programme.

The STEP support programme starts with 25 "Foundation" modules which aim to gently introduce STEP questions (from Christmas of year 12) and also cover some things which are taught towards the end of a single A-level (such as chain/product/quotient rule) so that the students are able to start working through papers earlier.

There are then "STEP II" and "STEP III" modules which have STEP questions, hints (so if you are stuck - after having had a good long try - you can get a hint rather than a full solution), solutions and "Topic notes", so that if something has not yet been covered in school, the student can still try the questions. We do recommend that students work through past papers in the last couple of months before the exams.

Another issue is that it can be a very lonely experience preparing for STEP if you are the only student at your school doing it. We have a forum on the website where students can ask questions and see others struggling with things smile.

Whilst there have been online courses for a while (run by MEI/FMSP and some companies), these are usually charged for, or some universities run courses but these are only for students applying to their university. We have put together a course which is completely free and available to everyone!

If you have any suggestions for how we can improve the website, please send me a message. Cheers!

STEP234 Mon 30-Oct-17 11:09:53

CatAfterCat
Help such as the OP describes would have been useful as schools seem clueless about STEP.

For many schools they may only have just an occasional student who needs STEP, so it's understandable that they might not know much about it. Information about the programme has been in all the Nrich newsletters for the past year, and I am trying to reach students directly via The Student Room. Thought mumsnet might be a good way to reach some more people smile.

STEP234 Mon 30-Oct-17 11:13:52

I have given talks to teachers about STEP, and one of things I have said is that you cannot prepare them (they have to do the work themselves), but you can support them. Just someone taking an interest and asking how it is going would be beneficial to a student feeling that they are struggling on their own.

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