188 state school students holding conditional offers to study Mathematics at Cambridge joined us in March 2017 for an intensive day of STEP preparation support.

STEP is an additional mathematics examination which forms part of conditional offers to applicants for mathematics, and some related degress, at Cambridge and a number of other universities. The STEP exam covers content based on the A-level Maths and Further Maths syllabus, but questions are different in style, and designed to be more like those you meet at university.

Our new STEP Support Programme is designed to help university applicants develop their advanced problem-solving skills and prepare for sitting STEP exams. The main component of the STEP Support Programme is a course of free online modules for individual additional study. These are designed for students to work on weekly, starting in the summer of Y12 (although it is possible for students starting later to catch up). Each module consists of a structured mathematical problem-solving assignment, leading to work on selected STEP questions, with support material and partial solutions to help students assess their progress and identify areas that need more work. The online programme is free and open to everyone, regardless of which university they are applying to.

To complement and extend the new online programme, we ran two full-day STEP Support events for state-school students holding conditional offers from the University of Cambridge on Tuesday 7 and Thursday 9 March 2017. Every UK state school student holding an offer from the University of Cambridge to study Mathematics was invited to attend one of these days, plus a small number of Computer Science offer-holders whose offer included STEP II and III.

Two-thirds of the students who were offered the opportunity accepted the invitation, and 188 state school students holding a conditional Cambridge offer, from all over the UK, participated in the events. The days included talks by Dr Stephen Siklos and NRICH staff working on the STEP Support Programme, plus workshops led by staff from NRICH and Underground Mathematics. The workshops also included small-group mentoring by current undergraduate student volunteers (32 undergraduates volunteered over the two days), and a panel discussion where current students shared their experiences of preparing for STEP.

Feedback from the days was extremely positive. 'Built a lot of confidence', said one student. 'It was great and very helpful', another said, commenting that one of the most useful aspects was 'Working through new problems with help from peers and STEP mentors'. The students also commented on how useful they were finding the online STEP Support Programme: 'The "preparation" section is brilliant'; 'The structure of the assignments is very approachable'; 'I find the layout great - the warm up and preparation preparing you for the STEP question helps me to understand how to think about a question when I start'.

The online STEP Support Programme is free and open to everyone - find all the assignments at maths.org/step.