18 May 2024

Assessing Year 10

We disagree about a lot of things in maths education but I think there’s one thing that makes total sense to everyone: we should never assess students on content they haven’t yet been taught. Doing so has absolutely no benefit to their learning.

Picture the scene:

A Year 10 student works hard and wants to do well. They enjoy maths and they always get good marks in end of topic tests. In the summer term they have been taught some challenging topics: probability, surface area and inequalities. They have a strong understanding of these topics.

As their end of year assessments approach, they put a lot of effort into their revision in all of their subjects. They diligently practise all the topics they’ve been taught in maths throughout Year 10, working particularly hard on surds and quadratics which they learnt back in September but feel a bit rusty on.

This student has been taught well and they have worked hard, so they feel confident and motivated. They look forward showing off what they've learnt in their end of year assessments. They want to make their parents and teachers proud.

The day of their end of year maths assessment arrives. They sit at their desk in the exam hall. Their stomach flips and their mind races as they look through the questions. It is a full GCSE paper. They haven’t been taught half of the content yet.

They leave the assessment with tears in their eyes. Not a single question came up on surface area and inequalities. All that work in the summer term and all that revision… and not a single question. And worse – there were big questions on vectors, iteration, circle theorems and functions. Five markers. But they’ve never been taught these topics so how could they possibly know how to do them?

This student is really upset. They worked so hard and they were not given the opportunity to show what they knew. What was the point in the questions on topics they'd not been taught? They don't understand. They ask their teacher who mumbles something about data. It makes no sense.

The child feels let down. They lose their confidence and their motivation.


To those schools who still do this, I would love to know what your rationale is. In the past I have heard teachers try to justify it but none of their reasons make any sense to me.

We wouldn't dream of giving A level students a full A level paper halfway through the course, so why on earth would we do it at GCSE? An English teacher wouldn't dream of giving an assessment on a book they hadn't yet taught.

It is not difficult to make a more suitable Year 10 assessment. The easiest approach is to take a past GCSE paper (choose one that specifically includes questions on topics you've recently taught) and remove the question on topics they haven't studied yet. Replace them with equivalent difficulty questions on topics that they have studied. Simple. It doesn't take long. If you're struggling to do this, feel free to email me for support and advice.


  1. I think everything swings on “purpose” and in my experience purpose is so rarely mentioned that I’ve had to conclude that the majority of assessments are conducted at particular times because they’ve always happened that way. I was excited that with no KS2 data for current Y9 and Y10 we could wrangle as a subject discipline with that tricky “why.” What rationales have teachers shared that seemed nonsensical to you? You’ve named some impacts (motivation, informing parents, ‘showing off what was learned’)… Are these the same as purpose? What happens when different stakeholders have different (conflicting) purposes? Is that why “school” level is the level at which you pose the question? Thank you for the opportunity to reflect, and for your annual resources and contributions to secondary maths teaching.

  2. The rationales I've heard mainly revolve around grade boundaries, where Heads of Maths aren't confident setting these themselves so just want to use an on-the-shelf assessment. I have also heard things about trying to demonstrate progress in Y11 (not sure who they're demonstrating to though). And I've seen teachers say they do it to ensure they are including challenge for students (but this is perfectly possible within any topic. Challenge in maths should come through reasoning not acceleration).

    I do think that Year 10 assessments have a purpose. The main one is the opportunity to consolidate, revise and review learning. It benefits students in Year 11 if they've done this well at the end of Year 10. There are also advantages to teachers: checking understanding and identifying gaps is important as it may inform future teaching. Parents also want to know predicted grades, this is totally understandable, so grading the assessments is unavoidable. Grading can also help teachers make tiering decisions. What conflicting purposes are you referring to?

  3. I like using full papers - having warned students in advance - for a number of reasons. (1) Aspects of the harder questions are sometimes accessible (2) by the end of Y10 we have covered well over half the content. (3) Taking out the harder questions and replacing with easier creates a false impression and makes the Nov Mocks more if a shock. (4) Most students - weak F and weak H - end up sitting papers they can't do the end of, so experiencing this and learning to use time effectively is valuable. (5) Lots of students/parents argue about tiering because they have "done lots more with their tutor". Doing full papers means they can show this is true - and we can enter them for H - or that it isn't - and we have better evidence to enter them for F. (6) We do Y20 in July and Mocks in October. The extra teaching time between them doesn't make a huge difference to how much content we will have covered and yet there's never any questions about doing full papers for Mocks despite not having finished teaching the curriculum.

    1. Interesting points.
      1. Could you not include challenging questions where all elements are accessible for the very brightest? This would still allow less able students to recognise they could still gain marks from part a, or from demonstrating some working. This then still provides a high level of challenge for the brightest, as opposed to something they can't access.

      2. As the majority of content is covered by Y10 there's no shortage of covered content to select questions from. This would be more useful from a formative/learning perspective. I think sometimes it can be forgotten that summative assessments can still serve as opportunities to assess levels of understanding at a far more useful level than grading.

      3. Harder questions shouldn't be replaced with easier questions, but equally challenging questions that are relevant to the learning. This doesn't create a false impression of the final exam, as students would still be sitting an assessment relevant to the level of content covered at that stage of the course.

      4. Weaker students on each tier would struggle with the end of papers with either model. With relevant content, they may be able to pick up marks through working, or answering certain aspects, as you've mentioned in your first point.

      5. Perhaps this overestimates the number of students that are privately tutored (at least in a state sector setting), and also the number of tutors that choose to teach new content, rather than identify and resolve knowledge gaps. I would guess most schools provide students with reports on assessment performance, including areas of strength/weakness. Parents and tutors could be directed to focus on those gaps - topics that are more likely to support a students' understanding of mathematics than the remaining Y11 topics.

      6. Y11 Nov/Dec mocks would also ideally based on content covered. I understand why this rarely happens but I don't think having a less than ideal situation at that stage should justify having another less than ideal assessment at the end of Y10.

      It takes time, skill and experience to adapt papers and maintain a similar level of challenge. I would hope this doesn't stop schools from trying, although I appreciate it's a lot for one person to achieve. Perhaps it comes down to an argument about whether the priority is accurate reporting, or student learning. I personally feel a well designed assessment means neither are compromised.

    2. I totally disagree that removing the Year 11 topics from papers makes them easier. I guess that depends on your SoW though. For example we teach surds and quadratics and sine/cosine rule in Year 10. In this years Edexcel and AQA Paper 1, the final questions were topics we teach in Year 10.

      Also agree with the reply above about private tutoring. We don't have a big tutoring culture at my school but even if we did this wouldn't have any bearing on my decision making.

      Also worth noting that our first Y11 mock is also a GCSE paper with untaught topics removed. We don't do a full GCSE paper until March of Year 11, and by then we've taught everything.

      As all these comments are anonymous I can't see who it is I'm agreeing with - but the reply above is all spot on imo.

      Thanks all for your comments.

  4. Have you done this in the past with a year 10 cohort and can say that by the time that they did a mock exam in year 11 students weren't shocked. Case studies from students would support your claim rather than essentially what everyone is arguing about - teacher opinion

    My problem with your view point, although I fully get it, is the lack of honesty that comes from amending a paper. A grade will be given after it. By year 10 students and parents understand the significance of grades and giving anyone a false impression, even if unintentional, of where they stand is so damaging when the earlier you know where you stand, the more time you have to act or evidence you are where you want to be

    I also feel that your view point is more applicable to higher students than foundation. Most students don't do higher - FACT. It is unlikely over half the paper can't be accessed in year 10 foundation which does apply to many in higher. A student being able to answer questions not taught in foundation is also helpful in identifying whether they should given a chance to higher without any other evidence available.

    1. Fairy easy to work out an accurate grade on an adjusted paper where you have just removed the questions on topics not yet studied (my preferred option as do we really need to be sitting 3 x full papers in y10 - opportunity cost of lost teaching time).

      Remove the questions on topics not studied and assume 0 points on those questions. Inevitably this will be harsh as they may have picked up a method mark here or there. As an aside - if question 26 has 3 parts and I have taught parts a and b, I only omit part c.

      Then use the published mark scheme and grade boundaries.

      Report to parents as such -

      "We used a real gcse paper with questions not yet taught removed. Your child scored 126. The maximum possible score was 176. The highest possible grade at this time was a 7. The score your child gained, at this time, equates to a grade 6 ie. If they sat the full gcse today this is the grade they would most likely have achieved.

    2. It's so obvious that my post is about Higher Tier, it goes without saying. Foundation tier students have done almost all the content at KS3 so there's very little that's 'untaught'. I have no problem with Foundation students being given full GCSE papers. My school is 75% higher.

  5. We stopped using full papers for year 10 2 years ago. We use a stripped shadow papers for higher which take out year 11 topics. We can still use grade boundaries (inflated a bit) - gives pupils the experience, us a good picture and allows any set tweaks. Also allows for PLCs to be a true reflection.