Material for students making the transition to university

This Summer we’ve supervised a group of student interns creating a bank of Numbas questions to support students making the transition from school to university. The genus of the project was the realisation that many degree courses around the university require a level of mathematical ability that students don’t expect when they apply, and might have lost in the years since GCSE. We aimed to create a bank of practice material that students can be directed to, following diagnostic tests or visits to our maths support service at the start of the academic year.

Bradley, Lauren, Stanislav, Aiden, Elliott and Hannah have done a sterling job, creating over 150 questions in six weeks, covering topics mainly at the English GCSE level (exams taken at age 16, and many students’ last encounter with formal maths).

Before beginning the project, we surveyed a few lecturers to find out what topics they believe many of their students need help with. We used this information to draw up a list of topics for our interns to cover, and cross-referenced it against the GCSE maths syllabus.

The students used Post-It notes to keep track of who was assigned to each topic. We never worked out what the columns were for!

Both staff and students learned a lot from this project. It was valuable to observe a group of people, with no prior experience, learning to use the Numbas editor; we made a lot of notes about how we can improve the documentation and the editor interface. We’re aiming to prepare a paper describing our experiences, with input from the students as well as our own thoughts.

The material is collected in a “Transition to university” project on the editor, and is all available under a permissive Creative Commons Attribution license, like everything else we release.

It quickly became apparent that organising the questions in a way that would be useful to others required more careful thought than coming up with tags on our own. I spent a day adding the mathcentre taxonomy into the editor, to give us a structure on which we can pin the content. Each question is now tagged using the mathcentre taxonomy – for example, we have 8 questions to do with the metric system.

We’ve packaged the questions up into exams, each containing a few questions on a related topic. When collecting together material for your own use, you might want to start with one of our exams and supplement it with questions from elsewhere in the database.