Step and AEA Papers
What are they?
STEP stands for Sixth Term Examination Papers. They are administered by Cambridge Assessment (the parent company of OCR). They were designed by Cambridge University to aid their admissions process, and are now used by other institutions.
AEA papers are Advanced Extension Award papers. They are administered by Edexcel. They are designed to provide specialist extension materials for students studying A level across a wide range of subjects. In most subject areas, they have become the normal extension paper. However, in Mathematics, STEP has proved a durable and useful tool.
Some Universities (such as Cambridge) use them formally and make them part of all their offers. We at Bristol value them greatly as good preparation, but we are concerned about the access that students have to guidance when taking these papers. (The same is true of Further Mathematics as an A level subject). Making AEA or STEP part of our offer might deter some excellent students from applying. Their school or college may not have a tradition of doing STEP and AEA papers, or staff may not have lessons in which to teach these papers or may not be familiar with them. We therefore have a range of offers. All applicants will have an offer based only on A levels (or equivalents such as IB or the Pre U). Those who have indicated that they are taking STEP papers may also have an offer with slightly lower A level grades and success in a STEP examination.
We are clear that the study of the type of questions in these papers is good preparation for degree level mathematics. Applicants are encouraged to attempt such questions even if they do not take a formal examination. They enable applicants to show skills that are specific to mathematics as a degree subject. In particular, students can address longer and more intricate problems, show their ability to adapt their skills to new situations and demonstrate algebraic and analytic skills at a higher level.
Both STEP and AEA papers provide an opportunity for applicants to show an interest in and aptitude for Mathematics. STEP is probably the more accessible examination in that we have been able to find more resources (open to any student) on the internet that support this examination. AEA papers will probably look more like an A level paper to students (for example, you have to answer all the questions on an AEA paper but would have a choice on STEP). We are very interested in any extension work that applicants undertake in mathematics, and mention STEP and AEA as being among the most familiar. Please read the above as advice rather than as an instruction
How do these papers differ from A levels?
The examinations differ in two ways. Firstly they measure things that A levels do not measure and secondly they target different groups of students.
A typical STEP paper will offer a choice of 13 difficult questions. 8 questions will be on Pure Maths topics, but there will also be 3 Mechanics and 2 Statistics questions. The papers are set at three levels to suit students taking single Maths A level (Papers I and II) or Maths and Further Maths (Paper III). You will be graded on your best six responses. In reality four complete answers is considered good. The questions are thus longer and more challenging. They often require a student to demonstrate a technique and then to adapt it for a new situation (the second step is not often seen at A level). They also bring together knowledge from several branches of mathematics, something A levels find less easy because of the modular nature of the courses.
A typical AEA paper will concentrate on the content of the C1 to C4 modules of the Mathematics syllabus. It will comprise about seven multipart questions and you will need to answer them all to obtain full marks. The paper is set at one level only. The questions are challenging, of a standard similar to STEP, although the scope is necessarily narrower.
The target group differs from the general A level cohort in two ways. Most students taking A level Mathematics will not pursue the subject to degree level. They will follow other courses (perhaps in science or engineering). A level exams are written with this in mind. STEP in particular is specifically designed to prepare you for degree level mathematics. Also, STEP and AEA are unashamedly aimed at the most able students of mathematics whereas the A level papers are aimed at the whole entry.
Finally, success in any field requires commitment. Just think of the hours of practice undertaken by a musician or the training programme of an athlete. Engagement with STEP and AEA is just one way in which a student can demonstrate their commitment to mathematics as a degree level subject.
Where can I find details and help?
STEP is the easier paper for which to find resources. The sites listed below are open access and require no special passwords or privileges.
The link www.maths.cam.ac.uk/undergrad/admissions/step will guide you to many other resources (including those below).
There is a booklet called Advanced Problems in Core Mathematics by Stephen Siklos (pdf) which is an excellent staring point, with many worked examples.
The Cambridge Assessment STEP web site is also useful.
Here you can download past STEP papers.
Meikleriggs has solutions to old STEP papers (but you have register as a user).
For AEA papers, Edexcel is a good place to visit. They have copies of sample papers and marking schemes available as pdf files. At the time of writing, access to other materials requires registration as an authorised Edexcel Online user.