About STEP

“What is STEP?”, “How do I revise for STEP?”, “How do I get a 1 in STEP?” are maybe a few questions you have asked yourself since finding out you need STEP for your university offer. This page collates many invaluable resources for STEP, some of which I’ve created, others of which I’ve come across during my own preparation, in order to be a valuable tool during your own STEP revision and preparation.

Below, I answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the STEP exams, such as “How do I do well in STEP?”, “What formulae do I need to know?”, “What content is assessed?”, plus many more. They are written by myself, a Cambridge Mathematics graduate who achieved 1,1 in STEP 2 and STEP 3, in hopes of helping current candidates perform well in STEP. I provide some invaluable revision and preparation advice, based upon my own successful personal experience of preparing for STEP.

STEP, more formally known as the Sixth Term Examination Paper is a mathematics examination which is sat by students in their sixth term of college (i.e. around the time of their A Levels). It is designed to test students on questions that are similar in style to undergraduate mathematics, but requiring only knowledge of the A Level Maths and A level Further Maths syllabus.

Questions may test a candidates ability to apply their mathematical knowledge in unfamiliar ways and so good understanding of A-Level concepts is key. Solutions will often require insight, ingenuity, persistence and the ability to work through significant algebraic manipulation – and so one-to-one tutoring can be an invaluable aid in this respect.

STEP consists of two papers, STEP 2 and STEP 3.  In previous years, there was a third paper, STEP 1, which has now been discontinued and so the content which used to be assessed in that paper is now assessed in STEP 2.

Each of the STEP papers is 3 hours long and no formulae book is provided – all the formulae you are expected to know is given in a later drop down menu.

Both STEP 2 and STEP 3 papers consist of 12 questions which are split into 3 sections. There are 8 pure questions, 2 mechanics questions and 2 probability/statistics questions.

Each question is marked out of 20 and for each paper, the candidate will be assessed on the 6 questions they answer best. All questions that are attempted by a candidate will be marked. It is advised to choose no more than 6 questions to answer and focus on getting more complete answers to those, rather than trying larger numbers of questions with more incomplete answers.

The mark schemes are designed to reward candidates who make good progress towards a complete solution and correct answers will receive full marks regardless of the method used (unless the question specifies otherwise).

There are 5 possible grades:

  • S – Outstanding
  • 1 – Very good
  • 2 – Good
  • 3 – Satisfactory
  • U – Unclassified

To see grade boundaries from the last 20 years for each of these grades, see one of the later drop downs.

The STEP Papers run in parallel with the A Levels in such a way that STEP 2 is based on content from A Level Maths and AS Further Maths, and STEP 3 is based on content from A Level Maths and A Level Further Maths.

For STEP 2, understanding of content from Mathematics 1 and Mathematics 2 are assumed and for STEP 3, content from Mathematics 1, Mathematics 2 and Mathematics 3 are assumed.

The following pdfs are extracts from the 2022 STEP specification which outline what content is in Mathematics 1, 2 and 3:

Below are four graphs, one for each grade, S, 1, 2 and 3. Each graph shows the mark required in STEP 2 and in STEP 3, for that particular grade, for years 2000 to 2020.

STEP is often required as part of the student’s offer from universities such as the University of Cambridge, the University of Warwick and Imperial College London.  For the University of Cambridge, the most common offer for STEP is to achieve 1,1 in STEP 2 and STEP 3 respectively.

The following pdf is an extract from the 2021 specification outlining which formulae you are expected to know and be able to use without them being provided. If other formulae are required for a question, it will be given or you will be asked to derive them.

The following pdf extract from the 2021 specification outlines what notation you should be familiar with when sitting the STEP examinations.

Because this is such an important question, and one I’m asked very frequently by students I tutor, I have dedicated an entire page where I have written an article highlighting valuable tips and advice on how to revise for STEP, along with several effective approaches which will help you do well in STEP. These allowed me to achieve 1,1 in STEP 2 and STEP 3 respectively when I sat the exams. I also outline some useful resources I came across in my own preparation, plus some of the resources I have created myself to aid students with their STEP preparation. Read the article here.

There are no calculators or formula sheets allowed in the test. 

All you should need is:

  • some black or blue pens
  • pencils (for sketches or rough work)
  • a ruler
  • a rubber
  • a few coloured pens (for underlying key information in the questions or for help with collecting together terms in long algebraic expressions).

STEP Questions and Worked Solutions

Here, you will find an easy to use STEP question database for every STEP 2 and STEP 3 question from 1998 to 2020. Each row of the table contains a pdf of each STEP question, an extract from the official mark scheme (where available) and the examiner’s comment for that question (where available). It also classifies which current spec paper that particular STEP question could be found on, so you don’t have to worry about any specification changes since the table will do that for you. The table is searchable and can be sorted in several ways to promote efficient and easy use.

STEP Questions by Topic

Here, you can find categorised STEP Questions aligned with the new specification sorted into user-friendly tables. 

Each topic has it’s own table and in each row, there is a pdf of the STEP question, an extract from the official mark scheme (where available) and the examiner’s comment (where available).

These are incredibly useful when revising to allow you to fully master a particular topic in STEP and feel confident to answer any question on it in the exam. 

STEP Papers

Here, you can find all STEP 2 and STEP 3 full papers, along with examiner’s comments and official mark schemes.

How to prepare for STEP

Here you will find an article outlining how best to prepare and revise for your STEP exams.