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Lisa – My Journey to GCSE Maths


Lisa shares her journey to success passing GCSE maths

Lisa – My Journey to Passing GCSE Maths! 

Lisa, is 42 and an undiagnosed Dyscalculic adult who has recently passed her GCSE maths! She shares her story with us here.

The School Years 

I am 42 and have struggled with maths for as long as I remember. I recall being taking out for maths when I was little and even crying about it then and it’s like it’s stayed with me. I have always found that I’ve needed to be shown things a few times and I taught myself in school that it was best to keep quiet as I just at times couldn’t grasp things.

The thing that has stayed the most with me in my younger years was when I was given my GCSEs I remember a lot of people cheering and happy teachers saying they had done well in the playground but then me going into a room with I’m pretty sure someone that didn’t normally teach me. I got the results and it really upset me thinking back I probably didn’t realise I could just take them home and run!!!

The College Years 

There has always been a fight with in me though and I went on to college I did try Maths and English again but I didn’t do very well again that’s a bit of a blur though I don’t remember getting those results! Maybe I blocked it out? I left it there.

Learning to Drive 

I did find as I went through my life that I found practical tasks hard for instance passing my driving test I could not grasp it when the instructor just spoke at me but then I went with an instructor who actually got to know me he found I struggled with roundabouts and actually brought a road and car toys and showed me it visually and it’s like something clicked in my mind and also showed me I’m very much a visual learner! I passed my driving test on the second attempt proving to myself again that I have to be shown first how things are done. I never gave up with it!

Working with children with SEND 

As I went through my life I found that I was going in my career down the SEND path at first in care work then in schools. I found that this was rewarding and I was able to help them maybe it’s because I understood how hard it can be? I get the different ways you can learn.

Functional skills maths as an adult

I wanted to try again in maths so I attempted functional skills maths… the problem was that it was an online course and I felt like I was left behind a lot.  I had to voice how hard I found things….  I kept trying though but at times in the lessons on my own I did get emotional! The questions were very wordy and difficult for me. I did either 2 or 3 exams and I knew after each one I had failed them I cried on the way home.

When I got the results back, and I have just looked back on the email and I can understand why it upset me so much, as you can see right at the top it says fail 😢 and the percentages of things I got wrong. You can also see what I got right but when you are in that mindset all you can focus on is the FAIL!

In the end I actually asked if I could have another go!!! But I couldn’t go through it again and I’m so glad I did stop as functional skills is definitely not for me! It’s so wordy and hard to break down for someone that struggles at time to process things.

GCSE English

I went on to a different learning centre and did my functional skills English and then on to GCSE English where I got my Grade 5 ❤️

I noticed I was heavy handed with the highlighter but it helped me to understand and I did it I PASSED!

GCSE Maths 

With this achievement in mind I asked about maths at this centre as they were so supportive and it felt the right place to try again.

They said I had to be assessed pre GCSE maths and I thought okay but no chance 😂 but I did it and they were willing to give me a chance to build me up to a grade 4!

This was an amazing move as my tutor was supportive and my group again was online but I could ask questions and say how I felt which made all the difference.  I wasn’t going to give up.

Access Arrangements

My tutor also spent time with me one to one help to build up my confidence.  As we were getting closer to exam time she suggested we try for a Form 8 with an accessor to see if I could get extra help in the exam.  The assessor found out I could get parts of the questions but get lost in the end part so needed time to process it all. The assessor agreed that I struggle with short term memory and found that I couldn’t grasp numbers backwards or in different orders; that really surprised me!

We discussed my anxiety around maths and the assessor came to the conclusion that rest breaks and extra time would help me. It was also suggested to try different coloured paper. I found yellow worked! It’s interesting to think that I could of used this with my English exam but then I think actually I was able to do that without and I’ve managed to fight through things without realising I maybe do need extra time and help?


As I carried on I actually started to click on how fractions worked and I stopped getting anxious around them… but then I met algebra and I still don’t understand algebra now!

I went through every single past paper! In time, I actually started to enjoy doing them! I couldn’t read up to revise but doing past papers and marking them helped me! I started to get better each time. When it came to my exams I found the extra time really helped me but the non calculator exam really made me anxious I remember crying and I had to have a rest break.


After 8 long weeks of waiting for my results, I saw at 8am the grade boundary for grade 4 was 158 – I knew I did not have a chance!!! The year before it had been 135..

I was upset before I even went in to collect my results and even more so when my tutor told me I had missed out by 1 mark! I was in a daze and  I was really upset.

I heard comments about appealing but it took a while for me to process everything as I was so upset.

I was adamant I’d do it again –  I wasn’t giving up!

So off I went again, revising I made myself learn trigonometry I pushed myself. No matter what I did though I couldn’t grasp algebra! When it came to the exams again the first exam broke me but the second two I pushed myself as I knew this was my chance to get this done!

I looked back through both papers and couldn’t believe silly mistakes I had made. It really does pay to look back!

I was proud of myself as I understood the linear question and the trigonometry. I broke down every question I really honestly pushed myself as I was worn out afterwards!


8 long weeks later and the grade boundary was 135 to pass this time! I was amazed – where was that last August! I got 152 and I was so overwhelmed and excited but the doubts still crept in as I felt like I was a fraud  as there were lots of algebra questions I didn’t understand! 

My tutor was so happy and it was amazing to me that someone took the time to find out how I work just like my driving instructor did too.

I am deeply grateful for her help and for this Dyscalculia Network group too as it’s inspiring to me that there is help out there.

My Future 

I am open and honest about how I process things now and I will say if I need help. It was so important for me to do this to say that I can do it! To help and hopefully inspire the children I work with too.

It’s made me quite emotional writing this! I actually did it! 

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