Steven Walker, Maths Subject Advisor
This blog was originally published 22 September 2020
In this blog I will look at the specific issue of preparing students for the comprehension section of A Level Mathematics B (MEI) H640. This follows on from my previous blog, Mathematics – Using legacy A Level questions, where I discussed the general issues involved in adapting legacy questions for use with current A Level classes.
A Level Mathematics B (MEI) examination is made up of three papers:
H640/01 - Pure and Mechanics
H640/02 - Pure and Statistics
H640/03 - Pure and Comprehension
One of the unique features of this qualification is the comprehension section on H640/03.
From at least 2005 there has been a comprehension paper or section in the MEI A Level. There are plenty of examples to work from and the examiners have lots of experience at setting them. When considering how to prepare your students for this section in the exam, it is worth thinking about why it has been included in the first place.
All specifications for A Level Mathematics were accredited based upon covering the DfE Mathematics AS and A Level content April 2016, which includes in its aims and objectives that:
AS and A Level specifications in mathematics must encourage students to:
A few weeks after taking their A Levels, a large proportion of the students will be in higher education. Students are expected to be able to learn for themselves through reading. For many students, including those studying any of the STEM subjects, social sciences, or the humanities they will have to read some mathematics or statistics.
Where do students learn the skills to do this? The answer is – in preparing for the comprehension section of the MEI A Level.
It’s about equipping students to become independent learners. The comprehension section in the exam is a way of setting exam questions that encourages this independent learning skill.
Students should be encouraged to ‘read around’ the subject, which will support preparing for this section of the assessment. A good start is the intro sections of each chapter in the textbook. Also try the range of articles available on sites such as:
To access past paper examples written for H640:
Log into your Interchange account to access the 2021 past papers and the four sets of practice papers.
If you are a new OCR centre, you can sign-up for an Interchange account, or speak to your exams officer.
For examples from the legacy 7895 MEI A Level Maths, see unit 4754 Core 4 Paper B. Past papers are available from the ‘Withdrawn Qualifications’ section of the H640 Assessment page. Recent examples include:
2016: Photomontages. This article applies trigonometry in a practical situation and would be appropriate for an extension task in GCSE and accessible for AS classes. Article, Question paper, Mark scheme.
2017: Feigenbaum’s constant. This article investigates recurrence relationships in a population growth context. The mathematical techniques feature in the stage 2 content of the sequences and series (b) section of H640. Article, Question paper, Mark scheme.
2018: Rain stopped play. This article looks at the various models used to estimate fair results in cricket. This task involves the application of mathematical formulae and substitution and demonstrates how mathematics can be applied in a non-mathematical context. This would be accessible for an AS/stage 1 class and would be appropriate as an extension task at GCSE. Article, Question paper, Mark scheme.
2019: Double integrals. This article is more abstract, expanding on area under a graph integration into volume under a surface. Although the concepts covered are quite challenging, the mathematical functions are accessible for AS/stage 1 students. The 2019 series is currently held on Interchange.
There are slight changes in style between the reformed and legacy qualification comprehension assessment:
An example of a full set of H640 papers made up of adapted legacy questions can be seen in the stage 2 formative assessment papers (Interchange access required), which include an adapted legacy comprehension section within H640/03.
MEI has run online webinar sessions focused on preparing for the comprehension section, which can be found on the MEI Staffroom. This is a place within Integral, a comprehensive website run by MEI, with extra free A Level (and other) resources and professional development for mathematics.
The MEI conference (scheduled for 30 June - 1 July at Keele University in 2022) includes sessions that either explicitly cover the comprehension section, or introduce material that could be used to prompt mathematical discussion in lessons.
In looking for articles to use in class why not start with the Highway Code section on the thinking and braking distances?
Share your suggestions in the comment box below. If you have any queries or questions, email us via firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or follow us @OCR_Maths.
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Steven Walker, OCR Maths Subject Advisor
Steven joined OCR in 2014 and has worked on the redevelopment of OCR’s Entry Level, GCSE (9-1), FSMQ and A Level Mathematics/Further Maths qualifications. He now focuses mainly on supporting the Level 3 qualifications. Steven originally studied engineering before completing a PGCE in secondary mathematics. He began his teaching career with VSO in Malawi and has taught maths in both the UK and overseas.