## Additional Mathematics O-level 1979

Yesterday a comment appeared on an old post of mine about the O-level Examination I took in Mathematics when I was at School. With a shock that reminded me that it was FORTY years ago this summer that I was taking my O-levels at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle. That’s a memory lane down which I wasn’t anxious to take a trip.

For any youngsters reading this, the GCE (General Certificate of Education) Ordinary Level Examinations O-levels were taken at age sixteen in the United Kingdom back in the day; they were replaced during the 1980s by the modern GCSE Examination. For readers in Ireland the O-levels were roughly equivalent to the Junior Certificate, just as A-levels are roughly equivalent to the Leaving Certificate.

Anyway, that also reminded me that I never got round to posting the other O-level I took in Mathematics that summer, in *Additional Mathematics*. I thought I’d remedy that failing now, so here are the two papers I took (on Tuesday 26 June 1979 and Thursday 5 July respectively.

I had forgotten that there was so much mechanics in this actually (Section C of each paper). Is that different from equivalent papers nowadays? In fact I’d be interested in comments about the content and level of difficulty of this compared to modern examinations in mathematics via the box below.

P.S. I did ten O-levels that summer of ’79: Mathematics; Additional Mathematics; Combined Science (2); English Language; English Literature; French; Latin; History; and Geography. I still have all the papers and have only posted a subset. If anyone has requests for any others please let me know and I’ll scan them.

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July 1, 2019 at 2:29 pm

No mechanics is covered in the modern GCSE papers. Some of the mechanics questions are comparable to what AS/A Level students sit nowadays. Very difficult to say ‘equivalent papers’ as papers written now benefit from a range of resources that were not necessarily available to the paper setters of the ’70s.

July 1, 2019 at 4:11 pm

I did calculus in my GCE Maths, now many students don’t cover it until University!

July 1, 2019 at 6:16 pm

The A-level Physics paper I did in 1981 required calculus. Physics A-levels no longer do, as far as I know.

July 2, 2019 at 5:41 pm

Additional maths looks striking from a contemporary perspective. Then (I took the paper in 1972) it was about picking kids who showed aptitude for maths and pushing them harder than would have been possible within the confines of the standard O level (which the students did as well). As a result, aged 15, you were getting introduced to calculus – which otherwise you would have had to wait for the start of A level to meet. But with Additional Maths under your belt, you were primed for a flying start to A level – and once you get ahead of the game, it’s much easier to stay there. I think I can attribute a good slice of my subsequent academic success to this early start in key bits of maths. And such material just goes in much more easily when you’re young: recently, I had to lecture maths for physics, which largely amounted to exposing 19-year-olds to the same material I got in Additional Maths aged 15 – and they found it hard, even though they’d passed A-levels or the Scottish Advanced Highers. I don’t believe any course equivalent to Additional Maths exists in schools today, which I think is a tragedy. It was explicitly elitist, but it gave such a benefit to those who were selected to take it. Maybe the worry today is that you will not always pick the right students – but the result is just that the mathematical attainments of young people are held back uniformly.

July 2, 2019 at 6:00 pm

“Scottish Advanced HighersSounds like some sports team. 🙂

July 2, 2019 at 8:56 pm

At the time I thought it was odd that we all did Combined Science for 2 O-levels instead of one each in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Looking back though I’m glad about that because I could do Additional Mathematics as well as as two languages (French & Latin).

July 2, 2019 at 11:11 pm

I went to a state grammar school which was very academic… The “A” stream took 4 O-levels (Maths, Physics, Chemistry and one that I’ve forgotten) after 4 years instead of the nominal 5. Then we did Additional Maths in the 5th form – and made a start on A level Physics and Chemistry – so at the end of the Lower 6th we took A level Pure Maths and A level Physics, leaving Further Maths and Pure&Applied Maths for the end of Upper 6th (along with S levels). What I don’t understand is how it is possible to do physics without calculus. My recollection is that Additional Maths had a lot of calculus and made physics (laws of motion, heat conduction etc) much easier than it would be with the work-arounds needed in its absence. [Just as vector algebra in the Further Maths course was much more comprehensible than the 3D coordinate geometry in the single maths – and made electromagnetism so much easier.]