How I passed the QTS maths test – part 1

Like a lot of people, I was always scared of maths. I hated it at school – somehow those numbers never made as much sense to me as they did to my peers. But because claiming to be bad at maths is seen as something to be proud of in this country – it’s up there with not being able to speak another language – I never really worried about it.

I’d somehow managed to scrape through O level, and somewhere along the way I learnt how to work out a gross profit margin, which was all I needed to do my job, so everything was fine. Until I decided I wanted to retrain as a teacher.

Suddenly I had the prospect of the QTS skills test looming over me. I wasn’t worried about the English and ICT ones, but the maths one filled me with fear. I tried the online practice test and ended up a weeping, soggy mess on my desk. So how did I get from there to where I am now, which is a qualified teacher who

  • passed the skills test first time
  • has the confidence to teach maths up to Y6
  • is able to tutor pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 in maths
  • tutors trainee teachers to help them pass the same test

The short answer is practice! The longer answer is more practice and a lot of help, and I began by dividing the test into its two parts: the mental arithmetic section and the traditional pen and paper maths section. I tackled each part separately, and in the next two posts I will explain how.

Related posts: Passing the QTS maths skills test – Part 2, Passing the QTS maths skills test – Part 3

Top Ten Random Posts on Education

I’ve never written a round-up post before, but I’ve been blogging for a while and now seemed like a good time to take stock of which posts people have read the most and to reshare them. I’ve decided to group them by topic rather than a charts-style Top 10, so here goes….

The maths ones
These are all inter-linked, so I think people have clicked from one to another. Teaching Number Bonds and Teaching the Times Tables both have suggestions for helping children get to grips with these areas. They’re based on things I have tried and found to work well. What’s the Best Order to Learn the Times Tables does what it says on the tin!

The English ones
VCOP is a little out-of-fashion these days, but I don’t think it hurts to remind children to think about it. VCOP Display is a display with a twist that throws in a bit of SPaG with it. A Disco in my Classroom is all about teaching verbs in an intervention group.

The guest post
Teachers- it’s time to face the music was written by the very talented daughter of a friend of mine. A must read for all teachers – see if you can guess which one you are!

The growth mindset ones
Of Einstein and Fish is all about why I hate that picture of the animals standing in a line and being told to climb a tree. In my opinion it’s annoying, nonsensical and a cop-out! When is a test not a test? explains how I turned end of unit tests into a bit of fun and helped the children to become more active learners.

The personal one
I wrote What do you say to someone who’s grieving? when I lost my mom. It’s something we all struggle with but it’s something that rarely gets talked about. A lot of people have told me that they really appreciated me writing this and that they found it very useful.

The random one
I have no idea why Who or what is La Befana? has been so popular. I’m not complaining – just bemused!

It’s a bit of an eclectic mix, but those are the 10 best performing posts on my blog.




Teaching Algebra – it’s just like fractions!

I wrote a while ago about teaching basic algebra to children and taking away their fear. But what do you do when it becomes a little more complicated?

When working with a pupil recently we came across this problem:


and the child was unsure how to start. I reminded her of when we had looked at ordering fractions and asked how she did that.

“I can’t do 3/5, 8/10 and 12/15,” she said “because they are all different, so I have to make them the same. I know 10÷2 is 5 so I can do 8÷2 and turn 8/10 into 4/5, and I know that 15÷3 is 5, so I can 12÷3 and turn 12/15 into 4/5. Then I put them into order – 3/5, 4/5, 4/5 – and then I turn them back so 3/5 is the smallest and 8/10 and 12/15 are the same.”

I praised her for remembering so well and then told her this problem was just the same. It looked hard because k, m and n were all different, but maybe she could make them the same.

As soon as she started to think of the problem in that way she was able to see that m could be changed into 3n and k could be changed into 2n, so the problem was 2n + 3n + n = 1500 or 6n = 1500. Once she had worked out that this meant that n must be 250 she had no problem at all in converting 2n back to k and 3n back to m, giving the solution k=500, m=750 and n=250.

Algebra – it’s not too hard. It’s just like ordering fractions!

If you live in north Birmingham and would like to book my services as a private maths tutor, please get in touch.

Free Maths Worksheets

One of the challenges of supply teaching is knowing where to find worksheets on a range of topics that can be accessed quickly, printed free of charge, and adapted easily to suit the need of a class you barely know.

Here are some of my favourite sites for maths worksheets, all of which were free to use at the time of writing this post. Some of them are American, so this needs to be considered when teaching about money – although some of them allow you to change the currency.

Many thanks to Erin Edwards for the following suggestions:

What other sites do you use for maths worksheets?  Why not leave your suggestions in the comments below?

What’s the Point of Homework?

Before I begin, I feel I should point out that I agree with homework. I quite often set homework at the end of a tutoring session: sometimes it’s because I can see they understand what we have been working on but I feel that they need more practice for the method to become embedded. Sometimes it’s because I want to see whether they have the confidence to work through a problem without me sitting next to them saying, “Yes” every time they ask, “Is this what I do next?” And sometimes it’s because I want to see how they do with a particular topic before I decide how, or if, I need to teach it.

Regardless of the reason, we’ll go through the homework together afterwards. If it’s maths, we’ll address any areas where they went wrong; if it’s English, we’ll look at what was good about what they wrote, and identify any areas where they could improve. But their independent work is always used as a basis for “where next?”

When I go to a child’s house to tutor, they or their parents will often ask me to help with homework. I’m happy to do that – helping children to understand what they do in school is my job. Obviously I never do the homework for them, but I make sure they understand how to approach it. Increasingly however the homework in question is some sort of puzzle such as sudoku or a wordsearch, which leaves me wondering, “What is the point?” What are the children going to learn from Sudoku? How is it embedding or improving their maths skills?

And wordsearches? So many times I have had children tell me they are stuck with their homework and saying they can’t find some of the words. I do give wordsearches sometimes –  I use them to help children focus on vocabulary or spellings, but I tell them why they have a wordsearch and what to do if they can’t find the words. Where is the learning in not being able to find the words in a wordsearch?

As I said at the beginning – I do believe homework is a useful idea….as long as it is meaningful. I can’t help but feel sometimes that children are given homework for the sake of homework.

What do you think? Do you agree with giving homework and how do you decide what to set?