Enhancing a one-to-one maths support service with online formative tests

Chris Graham
E-Learning Unit, School of Mathematics, Statistics & Physics
Newcastle University

Thanks to:
Christian Lawson-Perfect, George Stagg, Vicky Hall, Claire Irving.


I lead a small e-learning unit at Newcastle University, using technology to support learning and teaching of maths around our university.

In this short talk I will cover our approaches to aiding the transition to higher education with formative tests, and how we are integrating those into our maths support service.

I would like to concentrate on the challenges faced by subjects outside of our own maths department.

Challenges outside the maths department

Our issues are not unusual...

  • Students with disparate mathematical backgrounds. At Newcastle, subjects such as biology or psychology, students with maths A level to GCSE grade B.
  • Students often require a significant (unexpected?) level of mathematical proficiency in order to fulfil their potential.

Maths Support

At Newcastle we have a one-to-one maths support service: 1-2 staff members, open around 20 hours per week.

Over the past 3 years, our e-learning team has modernised the service and helped to build online material to supplement the one-to-one provision.

E-Learning Team: What do we do?

A broad range of things...

  • Assessment and online exams
  • Transition / diagnostic testing
  • Distance learning
  • Outreach activity
  • Enriching lecture notes

Most of our applications involve Numbas.

What is Numbas?

An open-source system developed by the E-Learning Unit of Newcastle University's School of Mathematics, Statistics & Physics

It is aimed at numerate disciplines.

Browser-based, flexible and customisable.

Large database of existing questions, with an intuitive question editor.

Numbas Features



Endless practice

Endless practice

Specific advice

Interactive content

Interactive content

Transition to University Project 2017

In the summer of 2017 we built up a bank of around 150 questions, specifically for students making the transition to university.

Topics include data collection and presentation, probability, statistics, units of measurement, area and volume, algebraic manipulation, sequences and many more...

Written by students, for students.

The resources are available under a creative commons license on the Numbas Editor.

Maths support c. 2015

Session records filled by hand and later added to an Excel spreadsheet.

Excellent online resources, but barely used by students.

Bringing it all together

We aimed to expand on online resources and enhance one-to-one sessions, whilst maintaining a careful balance between the two.

They should complement and cross-promote eachother.

Online resources: New 'ASK' website

Digital session manager with resources

Integrating resources

Integrating resources

Integrating resources

Integrating resources

User Statistics

Online Resources:

YearUnique page views
2015/16all pages<100
2016/17Hypothesis testing page882
2016/17all pages18700
2017/18all pages27200

Steady use of one-to-one service, ~400 visits per academic year


"Students have responded really well to the maths resources on our student support website; these are consistently the most visited pages. Students have commented on the opportunity to put into practice what they have just learned through the formative Numbas tests included in the section"

Claire Irving, ASK Project Coordinator


Online resources