Which tier to enter?

GCSE Mathematics is available at Foundation and Higher tier. Read our guidance if you’re not sure which tier to enter your students for.

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Where is your student now? Recommended level
Has achieved level 6 at KS3 Higher Tier
Has not achieved level 6 at KS3 Foundation Tier
Most likely to achieve B, A or A* Higher Tier
Mostly likely to achieve E, F or G Foundation Tier
For which tier should I enter a borderline C/D student?

These questions should help you decide:

1. Will your student go on to take a level 3 qualification in mathematics (such as AS or A level or FSMQ)?

If yes: Higher tier. (Your student will need to be taught at least some of the Higher tier material if they are to progress further).

If no: Foundation tier.

2. Is your student better at number than algebra?

At Foundation tier, the ratio of marks given on each paper for number to algebra is 3:2, and so Foundation may be more suitable than Higher tier (where the ratio is 2:3) for such students.

3. Do you want to cover each topic?

At Foundation tier, all topics will be focused on, or below, the level of demand at which the student is expected to perform.

At Higher tier, half the questions are focused on a level of demand above which the students are expected to perform - so you may wish to omit some of the higher demand topics.

4. Do you want to spend less time on revision?

If you are teaching the Foundation tier, there will be fewer topics to revise.

If you are teaching Higher tier there will be more topics to cover - although you may wish to omit some of the more demanding topics. You could suggest to students that they miss out such questions if they appear on the paper, though this might make the paper less accessible.

5. Should your student be able to answer most of the questions on the paper?

On the Foundation tier paper this is more likely, since 50% of the paper will be low demand (G/F), 20–25% mid-demand (E) and 25–30% high demand (C/D).

On the Higher tier, this will be less likely, since 50% of the paper will be low demand (C/D), 20–25% mid-demand (B) and 25–30% high demand (A/A*).

Most teachers report that students who sit a paper that is more accessible to them achieve better results and have a better experience of the examination.

The best advice we receive from teachers is that C/D borderline students should be entered for Foundation tier, since:

  • the paper is more accessible to them
  • there are fewer demanding topics
  • there is no need to omit any topics
  • there are more number questions than algebra questions
  • students have a more positive experience and feel more confident during the examination – so they perform better.

6. What if we are offering specification B for our C/D borderline students?

Specification B comprises three discrete units, and students may be entered for different tiers across these units. The number of UMS points that the student accumulates at the end will determine the student’s final grade. This means students can achieve a grade C or above even if they take Unit 3 at Foundation tier, provided that Unit 1 and/or Unit 2 are taken at Higher tier.