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#Maths #Oxbridge: Mark Limits

STEP is a better predictor of success in the Mathematical Tripos than A-levels, partly because
the questions are less standard and less structured, which helps to distinguish between ability (or
potential) and good teaching.
2. Preparation for STEP also serves as useful preparation for our course.
3. The STEP marks and the scripts themselves are available for inspection by college staff. This
means that it is possible to make allowances for a near miss and to make judgements on the actual
work rather than on just the marks or grades.
4. The meaning of A-level grades may differ significantly between the different boards, so STEP
provides a fairer across-the-board comparison.
If you live in the UK, you should be able to sit the STEP examinations in your school. If you live
abroad, then it is still possible for you to sit STEP at your own school providing your examinations
officer is happy to administer the test. This may involve setting up the school as a CIE (Cambridge
International Examinations) examination centre; further information can be obtained from the STEP
e-mail help line (see above). Alternatively, you can sit the examination at a British Council office, but
the British Council may apply a significant additional fee; or the STEP help line may be able to advise
you of a nearby school in which candidates are taking STEP papers.
Here are two important pieces of advice:
• Do not worry if your school is not able to provide much help with STEP.
There is plenty of material with which you can help yourself. The best preparation for STEP is to
work through past papers. Full solutions (and much more) are available to guide you if you get stuck
from the Meiklriggs mathematics site http://meikleriggs.org.uk/ and other help for some papers is available from the Cambridge Assessment STEP website (http://www.stepmathematics.org.uk)
in the same zip file as the examination papers.
You will find the following booklets useful. Both are down-loadable from
– Advanced Problems in Core Mathematics; this would be a good starting point for your STEP
– Advanced Problems in Mathematics; this consists of 43 STEP-like problems with discussion,
hints and full solutions.
You can get tuition and much more from the Further Mathematics Support programme:


You can get online help (including a discussion forum) from the NRICH
NRICH is a free website produced at the University of Cambridge, with thousands of mathematical
resources designed to develop your problem-solving skills, mathematical confidence and mathematical thinking. As well as AskNRICH which as mentioned above, you might like to look at the more
general NRICH site (http://nrich.maths.org/university) which is intended to help students
to prepare for studying mathematics at university.
Finally, if you are from a non-selective UK state school that offers no help with STEP preparation,
and you hold a conditional offer to read mathematics, you may qualify for the Easter STEP Study
School, which is held over four days in Cambridge. The college to which you apply is responsible
for nominating you, and this happens in January after you receive a conditional offer; no need for
you to apply yourself.
3• Do not worry if the STEP questions seem very difficult.
STEP is supposed to be difficult: it is aimed at the top 2% or so of all A-level candidates. It is
therefore important to adjust your sights when tackling a STEP paper. The questions are much
longer and more demanding than A-level questions (they are intended to take about 45 minutes,
rather than the 10 or so minutes for an A-level question). They therefore look daunting; but you
should not be daunted. In most years, good answers to four questions are sufficient for a grade 1.
You may be interested to know the exact borderlines in terms of marks. They vary from year to
year, since the marks are not scaled to fit pre-stated borderlines (such as UMS marks at A-level).
Here are some examples (questions marked out of 20); more information can be found on the
Cambridge Assessment STEP web site.
2009 S/1 1/2 2/3
Paper 1 95 72 58
Paper 2 98 71 61
Paper 3 95 67 55
2003 S/1 1/2 2/3
Paper 1 94 73 55
Paper 2 95 70 55
Paper 3 77 56 43